Last Aug-Sep I took a trip to Paraguay and Chile. I posted the first half of my report earlier...here's the sequel..."The Long Ride Home."
1 Sep SCL-ASU (TAM F-100)
After an incredible week of touring and skiing in the Andes, my friend and I once again a boarded a TAM F-100 (LAN Chile codeshare) flight to go back to Asuncion to catch our flight home. Check in at Santiago was a little confusing because we were routed back to TAM even though our tickets said LAN, and the LAN counter had a line for TAM code-share passengers. My friend had his little backpack wrapped in plastic at a little station next to the ticket counter, it looked like a beach ball! Visited several gift shops in the main terminal before heading to the gate. Some nice book and chocolate shops in the concourse too! Watched a LAN Chile 767-300 at our gate load up for Mexico City. It had a strange door configuration with a larger door behind the wings instead of the two overwing exits. LAN Chile’s planes really look nice in their blue white and red color scheme. Also saw an American 767 and MD-11 parked away from the terminal awaiting their next flight. Our TAM flight boarded on time, and once again, we were underway immediately. This F-100 had grey cloth seats instead of leather ones, and an older paint job (blue tail with red stripes). I couldn’t believe TAM scheduled such a small plane for this trip, which takes almost 5 hours! The seat belt sign went out almost on rotation, and sure enough, everyone started walking around. The majority of passengers were a Chilean bowling team, and they were all over the place visiting each other. After about two hours, we hit a weather front, and spent the rest of the flight in thick clouds and moderate to heavy turbulence. The seat belt light never came on, nor did the attendants ever stop service or ask people to sit. This made me a little nervous, because some people were holding on to keep from falling down...if we had hit a really bad spot, we would have had people and trays on the ceiling. We made a transit stop in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, which appears to have a good-sized terminal, although couldn’t see much in the dark and rain. The final leg to Asuncion was about 45 min, more turbulence and clouds. I was very happy to finally land in Asuncion! We spent the night in Asuncion with friends.
2 Sep ASU-GRU (767-300), GRU-DFW (MD-11), DFW-TUS (MD-80)
I was actually looking forward to the ride back, because I had spent some hard-earned miles to upgrade to Business Class (even confirmed while in Santiago). Imagine my surprise when the agent gave me a regular coach seat and told me she was “not authorized” to upgrade me! There was little I could do in ASU, but I vowed to straighten it out in Sao Paulo. I got even more aggravated when I walked through the Business Class cabin on the AA 767 and saw NO passengers. Not one! What cheered me up was I got to sit next to my friend, and we did have an exit row, so there was plenty of room. A crowd of schoolchildren was watching our plane from the observation deck, and they all waved when we pushed back. It was very cute. Taxi and takeoff was very quick, and we seemed to get to cruising altitude almost immediately. Although the flight started out smooth, we started to hit more clouds and turbulence (maybe from the storm the day before), with a lot of stomach-flopping drops. I actually put my drink on the floor so it wouldn’t fall over. The flight was about 2 hours long, and it stayed like that most of the way. The regular “Eye on American” played on the video monitors, with an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond that I had seen on my way TO Asuncion. Had a three-hour wait in Sao Paulo...goody! Nothing to do whatsoever except for one duty-free shop. The American concourse at GRU is strait out of the 70s with orange carpet and brown seats. It’s easy to imagine getting onto a Braniff 747 from a terminal like that! I saw my friend off to Miami, then went to find my missing upgrade. Got a very helpful (AA’s GRU staff is very nice) Special Services Agent, who told me my upgrade had been cancelled for some reason. I have no idea why. He took me to the Admiral’s Club and got me on the Platinum hotline, and presto! got my upgrade back with seconds to spare before I missed the flight to DFW. Another MD-11, but now I was flying with the "Beautiful People" . The Business Class seats on the MD-11s are superb, big mocha-colored leather and sheepskin armchairs with legrests. The cabin had only one empty seat (I was in 11B). The guy next to me turned out to be very friendly, a software trainer from Dallas. The cabin crew handed out menus and took dinner orders before takeoff. If anything, this flight was even rougher than the first. In fact, the captain suspended service and made the crew strap in. My stomach was in my throat every ten seconds. My seatmate wasn’t too keen on the bumps either, so we sort of bonded. After about TWO hours of this, it smoothed out enough to get dinner, although the bumps didn’t really go away totally until 6 hours into the trip or so. Dinner was great, warm nuts, wine, steak with potatoes, and white chocolate mousse for dessert. Personal video players were handed out, and I got a tape of “The Negotiator” which I watched for about 10 minutes before falling asleep. I woke up about 4 hours later, the longest I’ve ever slept in a plane, just as they were serving breakfast. The choices were eggs or cereal (which I had), fruit, and an assortment of rolls. More than enough to eat, and not as greasy as the standard cheese croissant in coach. We took a non-standard approach into DFW, flying past it, then doing a 180 and landing. The airport looks really cool from the air. We landed at about 6:30am. Customs and Immigration at American’s DFW terminal was a snap. Since I had a Business Class Int’l ticket, I was able to use the Admirals Club for my 4-hour layover. Comfy, but I felt out of place, so I left and went down to the concourse to watch the people and planes. The flight to Tucson was unremarkable, another boring AA MD-80, but they must have redone the windows, and did a horrible job, because they were so wavy it made me dizzy to look out! Also, the new First Class seats are not nearly as comfortable as the old ones, even with the adjustable headrests! One final surprise, at the baggage claim in Tucson, I started talking to another man from my flight...turns out he had been skiing at the same place in Chile the week before!! Small world, huh? All in all a great trip, and I get to do it again next month!