Welcome to my 2nd tripreport!
This report covers my recent flight aboard TAM's A340-500 from Milan Malpensa (MXP) to São Paulo-Guarulhos (GRU).
Whereas in my report about my first flight on this itinerary from MUC to MXP,
A Failed Escape From The Drunkards: EN/Y/MUC-MXP (by volvair Oct 13 2011 in Trip Reports)
I did not yet explain my full itinerary. I shall do so now:
It is, that I am off to La Paz, Bolivia for a couple of months. Sadly, flights from Europe to Bolivia tend to be rather pricey. Among the cheapest connections available from Munich is a BA/AA combo for about 1250€, including the enourmous pleasure of spending a 7 hour red-eye in an AA 757. No thanks. So, one has to be creative in order to lower prices and get more interesting airline and aircraft combinations.
So, I spent several days looking into the many options you have from Europe to South America. My main criteria for the flights beside the price were the existence of IFE (which completetly ruled out Iberia), no transit in the US and no overnight layover at an airport. Due to the limited amount of South American hubs from where LPB can be conveniently reached (GRU, EZE, LIM, to a lesser extent maybe also SCL and GIG), the number of possibilities is quickly reduced. In the end I fixed up an itinerary ex-MXP featuring the TAM A340-500 to GRU and a connection on AeroSur via VVI to LPB on the outbound.
The A340-500 is a rare species, not only in TAM's fleet with only two examples, but also in general, with only 32 delivered frames. Since the arrival of the 772LR - at the latest - there are only very few routes where the employment of this ultra-longhauler proves economically sensible. About one month before my departure, TAM came to this very conclusion:
Tam To Reduce Offer To Europe, A345 To Be Grounded (by LipeGIG Aug 30 2011 in Civil Aviation)
...but luckily it turned out that TAM would change the equipment from an A345 to an A332 six days after my departure. Boy, was I relieved!
My itinerary included a very long layover in GRU (11 hours), but I did not plan to visit the city, instead I chose to spend the time at the airport, spotting and lounge-hopping.
The AeroSur flights GRU-VVI and VVI-LPB were scheduled to be operated by a B734 and B733, respectively, but who came across this thread,
Aerosur 727 Question - Urgent (by ogre727 Aug 16 2011 in Aviation Polls)
knows about how reliable this information is.
Milan Malpensa Airport
After my arrival from my previous flight I made my way up the escalators to the departure level at MXP. At the FIDS, I located my check-in area.
So far, JJ8063 seems to be on time this evening
The ckeck-in area is very crowded, no wonder, with the EK flight to Dubai and WY to Muscat sharing the check-in area with TAM.
Lots of passengers with lots of luggage.
There were a total of five check-in desks for our flight this evening, one for business class, one for passengers with need for special attention and three check-in desks for economy passengers. I lined up and after twenty minutes, shortly before it was my turn, I was approached by a TAM employee enquiring about my destination. After leaving with my passport and typing something into her computer she told me that my luggage will not be sent through to La Paz. Instead I would have to claim it in GRU and check it in with AeroSur. Well, seeing as I had an 11 hour layover and was not planning to leave GRU anyway, I would have asked to send my suitcase only to GRU, even if TAM and AeroSur would interline.
After that, I went up to the check-in counter where I was attended by a friendly agent. He informed my in detail about the connection procedure in GRU and also requested an emergency telephone number from me. Although I had problems understanding his English at times, he already left a positive impression of his company. After that, I made a beeline for security and passport control, considering the EK, WY and AZ crowds to come after me. I cleared security and only about one hour after I stepped off the Air Dolomiti E195 which brought me to MXP I found myself in the boarding area of my flight to São Paulo-Guarulhos.
A less crowded part of MXP's check-in area
On the escalator down to security
The walkway to the gates
MXP FIDS and Signage
Air China A330-200
Gate B10 today for flight JJ8063
I quickly gave up on spotting as there was not much to see around the gate and taking photos of the airplanes parked at the gates proved to be difficult due to the reflections at the terminal windows. Instead, I settled down on one of those comfortable chairs with legrests they have in MXP and browsed through the latest Time and Newsweek issues which I nicked from the Air China gate area.
About 45 minutes before scheduled time of departure, boarding for our flight began. Whereas business class passengers and those needing special attention where invited to board first, economy passengers were asked to line up in two rows, depending on their seat number. The whole boarding process was indeed quite civilized.
Boarding for our flight commences
03 October 2011
TAM Linhas Aéreas
2200-0500(+1) (arrival 15 minutes early)
Pictures of PT-MSN from the database:
Photo © Marco Toso - Malpensa Spotters Group
Photo © Roberto Rios
Previously registered as C-GKOL:
Photo © Mark Tang
Photo © Greg Gabbidon - t.dot photography
The aircraft was delivered to Air Canada in July 2004 and TAM has been leasing it from Air Canada since November 2007. This is the reason why you do not come across the "Magic Red Carpet", as TAM advertises itself but the original green/greyish Air Canada cabin.
Heading for my seat
Seats with blankets (on some seats they were red, on some olive-green), pillows and headphones.
I booked the flights through a German online travel agency. As soon as I had the Amadeus booking code, I could select my preferred seat on the TAM website. Extra legroom seats, however, were not available.
Settling in. Legroom is okay.
I am seated in an aisle seat in the third last row in the middle block. Due to the narrower aircraft in the back, there are only three seats in the middle. The 32'' legroom seems quite okay. I found the seats quite comfortable. They had a nice recline but also slit forward. Even when the seat in front of me was reclined, I did not feel too confined.
The overhead panel
The safety card
It turned out that this flight was booked solid in economy on this Monday evening. Before departure, the crew came around and distributed water cups and candy. Also, amenity kits were handed out before departure, containing toothbrush and toothpaste, socks and earplugs. So far, great service by TAM.
Pre-departure cup of water
Time for candy! Pre-departure passion fruit butter toffee. A very nice touch.
Then I started exploring the AVOD IFE. Just like the interior of the plane, the IFE is also Air Canada's, TAM have just placed the logo of their "Nas Nuvens" system over the "enRoute" logo.
The IFE on TAM's A340-500
As it is Air Canada's system, it is no surprise that you have the choice between English and French as menu language.
The system featured a "New Release" movie category, with about a dozen features, as well as a Brazilian category as well as a few classic movies.
Additionally, there was also a decent selection of music as well as some short comedy episodes and documentaries.
The picture quality was nothing to write home about.
Neither was the movie...
What I strongly missed, however, was an airshow. When I am flying half way around the globe at night I want to know where I am. Unfortunately the IFE did not have that feature. Still, I found a picture from sistership C-GKOM (from Air Canada times) in the database, with drop down screens featuring the airshow. So, I guess they also existed on my aircraft. If that is so, it is a pity TAM did not use them!
Photo © Kazim Alikhan - t.dot photography
Shortly before pushback the captain came on the speakers, wished the passengers a nice flight and announced a flight time of 11 hours and 40 minutes. This would be my longest flight to date. We then taxied out for our departure for a gently takeoff in northern direction. About half an hour after takeoff, the in-flight service commenced with the distribution of hot towels.
Pre-dinner hot towel
After that, dinner service started. At about 1 hour and 15 minutes after takeoff I was asked "Pasta" or "Paella". I chose the latter which turned out to be cheese tortellini. They were quite alright. The best part of the meal however was the chickpea salad, as it did not only taste good, but also was quite filling in addition to the tortellini. The dessert, Crema Catalana, however, tasted quite bland.
Ta Da! Doesn't look too bad, does it?
After Dinner service the lights were dimmed and most of the passengers went to sleep. During the night, the flight attendants passed through the cabin with water cups every hour or so. They also set up water cups for self-service in the galley. I finished my movie and then managed about 4 hours of sleep. Then I paid a visit to the loo and the rear galley. In the galley I chatted a little bit with a flight attendant about the aircraft being soon grounded. He said, he did not mind at all, he preferred the 777 anyway.
A shot of the cabin shortly before it was lights out.
The rear galley
Notice the crew shift plan for the flight
A lavatory at about mid-flight
I then went back to watching a movie and trying to sleep. About 90 minutes before landing, breakfast service started with hot towels again. We were given the choice between a hot breakfast and a sandwich, I chose the hot breakfast which turned out to be a slice of Spanish tortilla with a sausage and a grape/melon/pineapple fruit salad. It was a good start to the day.
It's time for breakfast
We then landed in GRU and docked at our jetway about 15 minutes before our scheduled arrival time.
Having a very long layover, I decided to leave the plane as one of the last passengers. While waiting for the other passengers to leave the aircraft, I talked to another flight attendant about the upcoming grounding of the aircraft. For a passenger, she said, the A340 would be much more comfortable than the 777. Upon leaving, I took the opportunity to shoot some cabin pictures.
Y cabin seen from the back
J cabin after a long flight
Forward J cabin
Farewell, it was a nice ride!
Except for parts of the livery, there was nothing red about this plane
PT-MSN at GRU
Goodbye, PT-MSN. If you will fly again for TAM?
São Paulo-Guarulhos Airport
I then cleared passport control (took about half an hour waiting time), claimed my luggage and went outside for a quick fix of oxygen. Then I went back into the terminal and used the soft morning light for a quick spotting session.
A Lufthansa couple. A340-300 from MUC, B747-400 from FRA
The Avianca livery looks great on the A330
A bunch of red tails and a 727 in the back
Copa touching down in the back. A long flight for a 737
Catering for PT-MZE
After this short viewing-terrace intermezzo I still had to kill more than 9 hours at GRU before my next flight was due to depart. Luckily, my Diners Club membership grants me access to 3 lounges in GRU, 2 of which are located landside and can be visited without a boarding pass. I didn't take any photos of the lounges, but here is a short verdict:
Generic Diners Club Lounge, located in the corridor between Terminal 1 and 2, landside:
This was, at least from my impression, the newest lounge of all the three I visited. Food and beverage offerings are very, very poor, only coffee, tea, hot chocolate and selected soft drinks are available from bartenders. Food is limited to crackers only. You get served water in a 0.15l glass, which was just ridiculous. There are also no showers available. There are no tarmac views and only limited natural light. The advantage is that this lounge offers unrestricted internet access with a fast connection whereas in the other lounges you get a WiFi-Code that is only good for 2 hours. It was just because of that and the comfortable chairs with legrests that I spent more than 4 hours in there. It was also the only lounge I visited which featured a FIDS.
Smiles VIP lounge, terminal 2, landside, at the entrance to Domestic departures:
An older Varig lounge with showers (hot and powerful). The lounge shows its age, but it has some heated finger food (not too bad mini-quiches) and pre-packed sandwiches. Beer is also available. With tarmac views.
I was pleasantly surprised by TAM. From the friendly check-in agent to the quality of the meals, from the no-nonsense service to the on-time performance and the equipment used, my expectations where fulfilled. If I had to criticize something about TAM it would be the imperfect knowledge of English both from the check-in agent to the cabin crew. The announcements from the purser were hard to understand and the conversations with the flight attendants were limited to very small smalltalk. I realized only after the flight that I maybe should have communicated with them in Castellano. Also, one could complain about the size and the picture quality of the IFE screens. But if you book a much more expensive LH flight ex-FRA you will probably end up not having an IFE at all, so only limited complaints here. It is a pity that TAM is grounding their two A340-500s. I had a nice overnight flight on the A345 and they are simply great looking machines. It would be nice to see them return in the next year.
My next tripreport will cover the last two segments of my journey to Bolivia, with AeroSur from GRU to LPB via VVI. You will like the aircrafts I got to fly on, so stay tuned!
Thank you for reading!
Feedback is greatly appreciated!
[Edited 2011-10-22 15:26:17]