A little bit late but better late than never. I've divided my trip report to Belem into two parts as it would have become very long otherwise.
I've been looking forward to this trip ever since I booked the trip back in January. After booking I received my preliminary schedule. I would fly ,AMS-FRA on LH, FRA-GRU on TAM followed by a CGH-BEL flight on TAM. However just a few weeks after I booked I read a thread here on airliners.net that TAM was to suspend its FRA-GRU flight. I immediately contacted the tour company and the knew nothing. Therefore I kept wondering how I would fly to Belem. The answer came two weeks prior to my departure. The rerouted my (and the rest of the group) via CDG. My final schedule was as followed:
AMS - CDG on AF2041, CDG - GRU on JJ8097, GRU - REC on JJ3506 and REC - BEL on JJ3892. Total travel time was 31 according to the schedule (flying time 21 hours). I jumped into the air when I saw this trip. Three flights on an A330 and my first Fokker 100 flight!!
Saturday April 13th, the day has finally come that I will go to the Amazon. I pack my backpack and head for the airport at around 13.00. A little bit early (my flight would leave at 18.10) but you never know these days what you can expect on your way to the airport. I arrive at the airport around 14.00. It's a bit early as I don't have my tickets yet (someone from the tourcompany would give it to me at the airport) and thus can't check in. I decide to go to the spectators terrace to watch some planes. At around 15.00 I return to the terminal where the representative hasn't arrived yet. Fortunately after 30 minutes he finally shows up and gives to me my tickets for the trip. I check my tickets (is my name spelled correctly) and proceed, together with two fellow travelers on my tour to the check-in desk.
It's early and thus the check-in staff doesn't have much to do. A lady behind the Air France L'espace counter asks whether I would to check in at her desk as she has nothing to do. I say yes and proceed to her counter (the third time I checked in at the business class desk while flying economy). She looks at my ticket and asks "Where is Belem?" I reply that Belem is located in Brazil and she immediately grabs her TIM (Travel Information Manual) to see how she has to check me in (she apologizes for the fact that she doesn't know where Belem is and how she has to check me in by heart as she doesn't get often people heading to for Belem). Fortunately TIM is a very useful source of information and I'm checked in to Sao Paulo and there I've to check in for the remainder of the trip. She wishes me a very good trip (thank you) and I proceed to the security screening.
Flight: AF 2041
Scheduled dep: 18.10
Scheduled arr: 19.20
The gate area is already full when I arrive at gate B09. I've been spotting at gate B20 for the previous hour and decided that it's time to go to the gate. I meet a couple of other fellow travelers on my tour and wait a couple of minutes before they start boarding the aircraft. It's now 17.45 and they've been boarding the aircraft for 10 minutes. I decide to board aswell. I board the aircraft and notice that the aircraft is pretty full in Y class. I sit in my and notice that Air France doesn't pay much attention to their seats. I look around and see the F/A's who appear to wear different uniforms and have multiple layers of make-up on them which doesn't improve their looks (sorry to say this). However, as long as they're friendly I don't care much.
The doors close at 18.00 and one quick look in Y class gives me the impression that AF has a 80% loadfactor in Y class. C-class has more empty seats but still I guess a 60% loadfactor. Not bad. Push back at 18.05 and there we go on the first leg of a very long trip to Belem. The engines start five minutes later and we're heading towards runway 01L-19R (soon to be redesignated) for departure.
The A321 takes off at 18.17. Right after departure the A321 makes a sharp turn to the right and is now heading south towards Paris. The weather is fine and as soon as the "fasten your seatbelt" sign has been switch off the f/a start ser4ving drinks and hand out some peanuts. The f/a aren't the best I've seen and I seriously hope that not all AF f/a are like the ones on my flight.
After more than 30 minutes we arrive in French airspace. The weather has turns bad and we get some minor turbulence. The f/a's collect all the rubbish and prepare themselves for arrival. The aircraft makes a few turns and before I know it it's on final approach for CDG. Just before we land I can see the TAM A330, which will take me to GRU, parked on the buffer close to Terminal 2F.
We land at 19.19 on runway 09/27. Just after landing the pilot immediately put on the trust reverse and the brakes as he probably wants to take the first possible exit. However he fails. He misses the first exit by a small margin and drives to the next exit. The aircraft turns off the runway and we're heading towards terminal 2F. However, before reaching terminal 2F we first must pass terminal one. He's suddenly in a hurry as he increases speed and we pass terminal one where an All Nippon 747 and both Varig B767 are waiting for departure later that evening. It doesn't take long before the A321 reaches terminal 2F where it has to wait a few minutes before it reaches its gate. The aircraft finally docks at the gate and I get off. I now have to wait until 23.00 at the airport.
Before I left AMS I decided not to go to Paris and just do some spotting. On the from the runway to terminal 2F I saw a friend of mine standing opposite the Sofitel and I decide to go there. I go to arrivals and see a crowd and some police standing in front of an escalator. It seems that someone has left some luggage unattended and thus the police sealed off the area. Fortunately, after a few minutes I can go to the bus which bring me to the busstation. Unfortunately, there aren't any buses going from terminal 2F to the busstation so I decide to go to Terminal 1 instead.
After some spotting in terminal 1 I decide to eat at McDonald's. Just like on the previous times I visited, the staff is rude especially if you don't speak French (fortunately I do speak French). After eating a very delicious burger I walk towards terminal 2F again. I've still a few hours left fore some spotting. However, it's getting dark and spotting is impossible. I walk into terminal 2F which is beautiful to see but not very user friendly. I feel sorry for anyone who has to wait at CDG for more than an hour and doesn't like watching aircraft as there's absolutely nothing to do (unlike AMS). I pass security and walk towards gate B51, where the TAM A330 is waiting to depart.The terminal is absolutely one of the most beautiful I've ever seen but, as I said before, there's nothing to do. Okay, there are a few shops and some places to drink but I'm very disappointed about the lack of entertainment.
At 22.20 it's time to board the A330, although.... After the first announcement everything is getting awfully quiet and there isn't much action at the gate. A French tour group is waiting anxiously to board but there is nobody to board the aircraft. Fortunately it doesn't take long for the gate agents to arrive (they're just 15 minutes late) and boarding starts. I wait until the French group has boarded the aircraft. When I give my boarding pass I'm stopped. The gate agents asks where all the others of my group are. I reply that I don't know. The gate agent looks as if I just have said something weird (why do you have to board as a group?) and she gives me my boarding passes for the Sao Paulo - Recife and the Recife - Belem flights). I collect the boarding passes and board the beautiful TAM A330, the PT-MVE.
Flight: JJ 8097
Scheduled dep: 23.00
Scheduled arr: 06.30
Cruising speed: between 800 - 900km/h (varied much during the flight)
Routing: Paris - Bay of Biscaye - La Coruna (Spain) - Atlantic Ocean - Fortaleze - Petrolina - GRU
When I sit in my seat 38C I discover that either the tour company or the airline (TAM) has made a mess of our seating. Not only have my group received the worst seats (last row), some of our group have been seated in another part of the airplane (so much for pre-arranged seating of groups). I've seat 38C but after discovering that a couple is separated I decide to switch seating and take seat 38D. I'm glad I do this as the purser sees that AF has made an error in assigning seats for two UMs. TAM wants UMs in the last row and thus those seated in 38A and 38C are moved forward so the UM's can sit in these seats. As I see the UM's moving in seats 38C and 38A I fear the worst (fortunately, the UM's were very quiet during the flight).
The door closes and the cabin crew welcomes everybody in English, Portuguese and French. The PTV's (much better than the one I had two years ago on a SQ B747) are starting to show the safety demonstration and I relax. The A330 is pushed back at 23.10 and we taxi towards 10R-28L, where we take off 23.24. The aircraft turns south west towards Paris. After we pass Paris (always nice to see at night) we head for the bay of Biscaye.
In the mean time the f/as start to warm up our meals and after 30 minutes in the air it's eating time. Unfortunately I've to wait. They start with the first rows in economy and as I'm sitting in the last row I wait for my meal. By the time they reach my row it appears that pasta is very popular on my flight and thus unavailable. I choose the chicken meal and enjoy the meal (the meal is actually good). During my meal I see on my PTV that we pass just north of La Coruna (nothern Spain) and head for the Atlantic. The f/a takes away my tray and I decide it's time to sleep. The lights in the cabin are dimmed. Fortunately sitting on the last row of a TAM A330 doesn't mean you can't recline your seat and before I know it I'm sleeping (with my PTV still tuned on the flighttracker channel).
I suddenly wake up when we fly close to the equator. We have some turbulence and I can't sleep. I buckle my seatbelt a little tighter and wait until the turbulence becomes less. I then walk to the galley (just behind me) and I take something to drink. The f/a asks whether or not I want something to eat. They've some snacks left over as many of the passengers (including myself) were sleeping during the snack round. I take a snack (not bad) and get back to my seat and fall asleep.
Not long thereafter I wake up and see that we're approaching the Brazilian coast. I see we pass Fortaleza, the city where I will stop 15 later on my flight from Recife to Belem. From this moment I can't sleep anymore. Two hour before we'll arrive in Sao Paulo we get our breakfast. It's not bad. The f/a's seem to be very happy that the flight is almost over and do their best (I must admit the f/a's are doing their job very well). After breakfast we approach Sao Paulo from the north, but don't go to GRU directly as we fly around the city, which is still sleeping. I look out of the window and see the lights of the shanty towns in the suburbs of Sao Paulo. I realize that although we're almost in Brazil I've to travel at least another 15 hours before I get to my final destination (Belem).
The sun has just come up when we land at 05.45 at GRU. A very beautiful sight. We taxi to our gate. I say goodbye to the crew (who were very good) and walk out of the aircraft. Together with the rest of my group I walk to immigration. It's very busy but the Brazilian immigration works efficient and it doesn't take long to clear immigration. My luggage is already on the belt and I pass customers. I'm finally in Brazil
I walk to the TAM check in desk to check in for my flight to Recife, but that's for part two of journey.