Review: LAN Economy Class Santiago to Sao Paulo on the B787

I was scheduled to have about an hour and twenty minutes on the ground in Santiago between my incoming flight from New York-JFK and my connecting flight to Sao Paulo.  After a quick trip to freshen up in the LAN Mistral VIP Salon, I made my way to the gate, passing Dreamliner after Dreamliner.  Santiago is truly a B787 Dreamliner paradise, as LAN has taken delivery to quite a number of the new aircraft.  During the mid-morning hours, the LAN B787 fleet all seems to be back in Santiago before dispersing to other locales around the globe.

IMG_9699

My LAN B787-8 awaiting departure for Sao Paulo

I boarded my flight to Sao Paulo with the first group.  My visa was then verified and I made my way to the sparkling new Dreamliner. Continue Reading →

Review: LAN Economy Class New York – JFK to Santiago on the B787

I recently attempted a weekend trip to Iguazu Falls, Argentina and failed miserably.  So many things went wrong that ultimately led me to ditching the itinerary in Sao Paulo and returning to New York.  But what let up to that point?

A comedy of errors on this itinerary resulted in me getting pretty much no sleep, which led to exhaustion and my eventual decision to fly home before making it to my intended destination.

It all started Thursday morning as I attempted to check-in for my flight with LAN.  The problem first arose when the LAN website indicated that my confirmation number was not valid.  As such, I called LAN to see what was wrong.  The agent with LAN told me that my SCL-GRU segment of my itinerary was showing a significant delay, and I would mis-connect in Sao Paulo for my flight to Foz do Iguazu.

He offered me two options — to overnight in Sao Paulo and get to Iguazu on Saturday afternoon.  I declined this option, as it would only leave me a day in Iguazu.  The second option was to take an earlier flight from JFK to Santiago and on to Sao Paulo on the LAN 787 Dreamliner, then have a ten-hour layover in Sao Paulo before continuing on to Iguazu on the same flight.  In order to do this, I had to leave work three hours earlier and confirm standby space on an earlier flight from DCA-JFK.  After speaking to American about changing my DCA-JFK flight, I decided on this option.

I figured that I could ultimately deal with this undesirable itinerary as long as I was able to sleep on my flight to Santiago.  I didn’t think this would be much of a problem since I’d been assured a bulkhead seat by the phone agent (I had a bulkhead seat on my original flight booked for six months).

Again, when he changed my flights, the LAN agent assured me that I had confirmed a bulkhead, window seat on the 787, seat 12L.  At 6’4″, an exit row or a bulkhead seat is a necessity for me traveling long-haul in economy — I just need the extra leg room, otherwise I’m miserable. Continue Reading →

A Long Weekend in Iguazu Falls

After much internal debate, I’ve finally decided to go through with my trip this coming long weekend to Iguazu Falls via pretty much every major airport in South America.

Am I insane?

Probably.

Back this Spring, LAN offered a very, very cheap rate from New York to Iguazu Falls on both LAN and TAM metal.  Naturally, I made a game of finding the most absurd routing possible to get to Iguazu Falls.  That seemed like a fun thing at the time.  It was also one of the cheapest routings, to boot.

And Now?

Yeah, I’m pretty much dreading the flights.  Over 32 hours of flying in coach, on FIVE flights to get from DC to freakin’ Foz do Iguazu, Brazil at 1am, only to have to taxi into Puerto Iguassu, Argentina in the wee hours of the morning.

Five flights?  Four transfers?  A late-night border crossing between Brazil and Argentina?

What possibly could go wrong?

In the end, I’ve decided that an opportunity to see one of the Natural Wonders of the World – Iguazu Falls – is just too good to miss, despite the absolute absurdity that I’m putting myself through to get there.  Oh yeah – I’ve also already put too much of a financial investment in this trip to just see it go to waste.

During my time there this weekend, I plan on seeing the Falls from both the Argentina and Brazil sides, as well as spending some time in Puerto Iguazu.  Since I’m rockin’ this trip solo, I’ll be staying at a hostel in order to keep costs down.  So I’ll for sure get to Brazil and Argentina on this trip.  If I play my cards right, I may be able to get into neighboring Paraguay for a bit, but we’ll see how that goes when I get down there.  Mix in the quality time I’ll get to spend during my layovers in Lima, Peru, and that’s possibly four countries in one weekend (though I hesitate to count Peru if I don’t leave the Lima Airport).

 The Routing

Yeah… it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 7.07.41 PM Yup.  That’s:

  • DCA-JFK on AA (my upgrade to First Class cleared!)
  • JFK-(LIM)-SCL on LAN in economy (stopover in Lima)
  • SCL-GRU on TAM in economy
  • GRU-IGU on TAM in economy

Return

  • IGU-LIM on LAN in economy
  • LIM-JFK on LAN in economy
  • JFK-DCA on AA in economy

So, over 13,000 miles of flying in a weekend.   Not bad.  Slightly insane, but not your typical weekend.  Whatever happens, it’ll be an adventure.  And for that, I’m thankful.  Now, about streaming the Auburn vs. Texas A&M game…


 Update:  This trip did NOT go as planned… the trip report is linked below:

A 36-hour Trip to Nowhere:  An Iguazu Fail

 

Review: JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro

In honor of the ongoing 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, I’ve decided to publish some previously un-published blog entries that I already had written about my trip there last September.  I’m not going to change anything since these were my thoughts immediately upon returning from Rio.  


 

Introduction
Ten Things I Did in Rio
Getting There, Getting Around, and General Impressions
JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro 


We arrived in the late morning after our overnight flight from Houston via a private transfer from the airport to the hotel. Though we arrived well before check-in time, they still had our room ready.  This was probably because my roommate this trip was Platinum Status with Marriott.  By comparison, I was only Gold status, which I received as a benefit of having United Premier 1K status.

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro

The JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro is located smack, dab in the middle of Copacabana Beach, making it one of the best situated hotels on Copacabana.  The lobby was undergoing renovations while we were there, so that was a bit obnoxious, but we got over it.  Despite the ongoing renovations, the two-story lobby was quite large and an overall attractive space.

We had a standard deluxe ocean-view room on the 11th floor with a beautiful view of Copacabana beach.  It was a good-sized room with a functional bathroom and very comfortable beds.  The highlight of the room was the view.

Since we were both Marriott elite, we had access to the concierge lounge.  The concierge lounge features a two-story glass wall overlooking Copacabana.  There is ample seating space with a couple of TVs and computers.  Breakfast is served in the lounge, and it was delicious.  They also serve a variety of tasty appetizers every evening, along with unlimited beer and wine.  I ended up spending more time in this lounge than I planned, but oh well!

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro Concierge Lounge

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro Concierge Lounge

One of my favorite features of the JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro is the stellar rooftop patio and pool.  The rooftop has an amazing view of Copacabana.  I spent one evening here around sunset, and it was beautiful.  There is a nice bar where one can order a beer or a fantastic caipirinha.  The rooftop pool looks inviting, though I didn’t take a dip.  From the south side of the roof deck, one can see the sunset behind the Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer statue.  It’s just a fantastic outdoor space, and one of my favorite things about the hotel.

All in all, this is probably one of the best hotels in all of Rio de Janeiro due primarily to its location.  Marriott is mighty proud of this hotel too, as it’s quite pricey.

How I booked it…

We booked this hotel with Marriott points.  My friend had a ton of points since he regularly stays with Marriott, so he used those.  The JW Marriott is a category 8 hotel, which requires 40,000 Marriott points per night.  This is still a decent deal considering the standard rates at this hotel are often well north of USD $400.

Marriott Rewards Free Night Award Chart

Marriott Rewards Free Night Award Chart

 

Labor Day Weekend in Rio: Getting There, Getting Around, and General Impressions

In honor of the ongoing 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, I’ve decided to publish some previously un-published blog entries that I already had written about my trip there last September.  I’m not going to change anything since these were my thoughts immediately upon returning from Rio.   Also included are some pictures from the soccer futbol game I attended at the famed Maracana Stadium.


 

For previous installments from this trip, please see the links below:

Introduction
Ten Things I Did in Rio
Revew:  JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro

An entry from a previous stop in Rio:  

Eight hours in Rio de Janeiro


Getting there and Getting around

As previously mentioned, a group of friends and I booked this trip down to Rio due to an extremely low price that was offered by United last February for Rio flights leaving Orlando. This forced me into a pretty crazy routing, as I flew all over the place to and from Rio. Getting down there, I flew Washington to Orlando to Houston to Rio. And on the way back, I flew Rio to Houston to Denver to Orlando to Washington. Yeah — that’s a lot of flying. But hey, I got mad miles for it, and I slept most of the time, so it wasn’t all that bad!

My routing:  US Airways in Red; United in Blue

My routing: DCA-MCO-IAH-GIG// GIG-IAH-DEN-MCO-DCA; US Airways in Red; United in Blue

The flights were nothing terrible, and nothing great to speak of. Since my long flights were in economy class, I don’t find those particularly interesting, so I’ll hold off on a full-fledged flight review.  I did get a very roomy first row of economy plus behind BusinessFirst on United’s B777-200 (two-class, pre-merger Continental configuration).  This was great because it featured even more leg room than the standard Economy Plus, and there was only a bulkhead in front of me — not another seat.

Getting to and from the Beaches from GIG

Ground Transportation to and from the beaches (Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, and Barra)

We arrived at Rio de Janeiro’s Galieleo International Airport around 9:30am and proceeded directly through immigration and customs. Since this was not my first time in Brazil, I already had obtained a Brazil Visa, which is necessary for entrance to the country for US citizens. We pre-arranged a shuttle to our hotels through shuttlerio.com. This cost 20 real per person, each way, and it a pretty good deal. Considering the Real Onibus is 13 real per person each way to the beaches, the extra 7 real is definitely worth it since the shuttle takes a much more direct path to the beach with fewer stops. The shuttle took a little less than an hour to get to the JW Marriott on Copacabana, while the bus can take 90 minutes to two hours at times.

For detailed information on taking the Real Onibus to or from GIG to the beaches, see this post:  Eight Hours in Rio de Janeiro.

Our trip back to the airport took well over two hours on the Real Onibus from Copacabana, so be sure to allot plenty of time.  In fact, be sure to allot plenty of time no matter which mode of transportation you choose — the traffic in Rio is horrendous.

During the next three days, I did a whole bunch of different activities. From lounging on Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches to visiting Cristo Redentor to attending a Botafogo soccer game at the famed Marancana Stadium – I had a packed three days.

Transportation along the beaches

The three major beaches in Rio are Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon (from north to south).  While Ipanema and Leblon are connected, there’s a mountain between Copacabana and Ipanema, so transit is needed.  There are a series of public buses that run every 5-10 minutes from multiple stops along all beaches, so that’s the cheapest and easiest way to get from one spot to another.  Since I was with a group, we found it easier to just take a cab to meet different parts of our group at Ipanema.  Split three ways, the cab was quick and cheap.

 Seeing the sights (Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain)

There are various tour operators that can arrange a trip for you to either of these landmarks.  Since we had a group, we hired a guide who took us everywhere in a minibus — it was really fantastic, and I highly recommend you look into that route just for convenience sake.  Otherwise, you can easily take a cab to Sugarloaf Mountain.  Cabbing to Christ the Redeemer could be a little more complicated.  You can either cab to the base of the mountain and take a tramway up, or you can cab all the way to the top.  You can likely negotiate a round trip rate for the cabbie to wait for you up top, but I imagine it would be a tad pricey.

General Impressions

Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive about my trip to Rio, simply because of Brazil’s somewhat negative reputation due to the violence in Rio and other large cities.  After spending four days there, I am happy to report that at no point did I feel in danger in any way, shape, or form.  Granted, you need to be aware as you do in any large city, but from my experience, the danger of Rio did not apply.  Now, do keep in mind that I stuck to the upper end beach communities of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon during my time, there – it wasn’t like I was roaming favelas at 3am.  Still, most tourists – especially from the US – focus their time on those beach communities anyway.

One big takeaway from the time I spent there was the terrible, terrible traffic.  It took two hours to get from the beach to the airport, and traffic in general was gridlock – especially during anytime close to traditional rush hours.

The single most attractive quality of Rio – its location on the ocean and along the mountains are it’s single biggest challenge.  Due to these geographical restrictions, infrastructure is pretty poor in Rio.  I honestly cannot imagine how they will successfully rectify their infrastructure and improve it enough to successfully host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.  I imagine the city will come to a literal stand-still for those 16 days.  Rio may survive next summer’s FIFA World Cup, simply because the event will be spread throughout 12 different cities in Brazil, and only 5-6 games will actually be held in Rio.

Despite these infrastructure deficiencies, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Rio.  It is one of the most beautiful cities I have  visited anywhere in the World.  I am completely looking forward to returning sometime soon… will I be there for the World Cup next summer?  There’s a very good chance!

Labor Day Weekend in Rio: Ten Things I Did in Rio

Introduction
Ten Things I Did in Rio
Getting There, Getting Around, and General Impressions
Review:  JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro


As detailed in an earlier post, I decided to head on down to Rio for Labor Day for a weekend of sun, fun, and caipirinhas!  Over four days and three nights, I managed to see and do a good bit.  There are several things that I’d like to do if I had more time, but all-in-all, four days is plenty of time to see most cities around the world.  Without further adieu, here’s ten crazy awesome things that I did in Rio…

Being a tourist

Being a tourist

Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

One of the eight wonders of the modern world, Cristo Redentor is a sight to behold.  Perched almost 3,000 feet over the city on the Corcavado, Cristo Redentor is a must while you’re in Rio.  Our group hired a private guide who took us in a bus up to the top of Corcovado.  The statue was impressive, and the views of Rio are purely spectacular.  This is one of the few places I’ve ever been where I got the chills taking in the views and just realizing where I was standing at that moment in time.  It’s truly the iconic symbol of Brazil, and it was surely an amazing experience.

The sights and sounds of Ipanema Beach

Ipanema is without a doubt the most active beach in Rio.  Centered around lifeguard post 9, Ipanema is the epicenter of scantily clad Brazilians of all shapes and sizes.  Spending a few hours here soaking in the sun and some cheap Brazilian beer is a must.  I ended up spending the better part of six hours on Ipanema with my group of about 12 friends.  Many beers were had.  Brazilian gifts were procured.  Dental floss bikinis were seen.  The weather was a perfect 80 degrees and sunny.  It was pretty much paradise.

 

Have a caipirinha along Copacabana

Copacabana Beach from the JW Marriott

Copacabana Beach from the JW Marriott

The caipirinha is the iconic adult beverage in Brazil, and there’s nowhere better to have it than on one of the country’s most famous beaches.  Our group had multiple caipirinhas during this trip, but none perhaps as memorable as late night along the sidewalk at Copacabana.  It was an awesome time just people watching and enjoying this Brazilian treat.

Visit the Feira de São Cristóvão marketplace for an authentic lunch

After the trip to Sugarloaf, the group was led by our guide, Carlos to a large market in downtown Rio called Feira de São Cristóvão.  Here, we at lunch at a fantastic spot called Estação Baião De Dois.  We got what amounted to a mound of meat – and that was fine by everyone.  Absolutely delicious.  We appeared to be the only Westerners in the place, and that was a good thing – the food was amazing.

Attend a futbol game at Maracanã StadiumIMG_4574

This was at the very top of my list!  I love going to sporting events when in other countries.  I always try to attend a futbol game when I’m in Europe or South America.  Maracanã is the epitome of international soccer.  In addition to being the de facto home of the Braziilian National Team, it was also home to the first FIFA World Cup Final.  It will be the home of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final.  And of course, it will also be the site for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.  Needless to say, I was pretty pumped about getting to see a soccer game in this venue – arguably the most famous soccer venue in the world (no disrespect to Wembley and Camp Nou).  We had amazing seats – about fifteen rows up from midfield for the game between Sao Paulo and hometown Botafogo (one of four teams that call Rio home).  This marked my second soccer game in South America in six months (River Plate in Buenos Aires last March), so naturally, I was thrilled.

Gorge yourself at a Brazilian Churrascarria

One of the first things people think of when they think of Brazillian food is the Brazilian steakhouse, or churrascaria.   Popularized by chains in the states such as Fogo de Chão and Texas de Brazil, these places are literally all you can eat steak… just delicious.  We ate at one of the more popular places in Rio called Porçao in Ipanema.  It was indeed delicious, albeit relatively expensive.  In the future, I’d probably head to a more low key place where I would likely get the same quantity and quality of food for maybe half the price.

Rio and Sugar Loaf

Rio and Sugar Loaf

Sugarloaf Mountain

We took the tram up to Sugarloaf mountain – another popular landmark in Rio.  From here, you can see another angle of the beaches, and downtown, as well as a very unique view of planes approaching the Santos-Dumont Airport – from above!  The tram ride up to the mountain is fantastic featuring awesome views of the beaches and harbor.

Sample some cachaça at Academia de Cachaça

As the main liquor ingredient in the caipirinha, cachaça is a liquor that is foreign to most Americans.  So naturally, like good tourists, we set out to sample all sorts of cachaça at Academia de Cachaça in Leblon.  This place had dozens upon dozens of different flavors, types, and kinds of cachaça – it was pretty impressive.  I admittedly did not partake in too much of it since I was glued to my phone awaiting updates on the season opener for my beloved Auburn Tigers.  Needless to say, the rest of the group sampled multiple types of cachaça.

Sample the nightlife on a pub crawl

When I show up in a foreign city with no clue what to do as far as nightlife is concerned, I’ve found that a pub crawl is a great way to get introduced to some of the livelier neighborhoods in the city.  Three of use decided to partake in the Pub Crawl Carioca.  This was a good time with a  mix of locals and tourists.  We went to four places in Leblon, Ipanema, and Lagoa.  While some pub crawls are a bust, this one was most certainly not!

Take in sunset on Copacabana on the JW Marriott rooftop with a drink in hand

My hotel for the weekend was the JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro.  Its location in the middle of Copacabana is hard to beat.  The hotel itself is great — I really had no complaints, as the location really just makes the place probably the premier place to stay in Rio.  The room was more than adequate, and the club lounge was great.  One of the coolest features of the hotel is its 18th floor rooftop pool, bar, and terrace.  The views of Copacabana in the front, and Corcavado in the back are ridiculous.  With a few beers and caipirinha’s in hand, our group enjoyed the first evening on Friday night as the sun went below the mountains in the West.

Though three nights and four days is plenty of time to see Rio, there are still several things that I would have loved to do if I had even more time in Rio.  And that may happen in the near future, as I’m currently booked to return to Rio de Janeiro next June for the 2014 FIFA World Cup!

 

Labor Day Weekend in Rio: Introduction

Introduction
Ten Things I Did in Rio
Getting There, Getting Around, and General Impressions
Review:  JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro


As I landed in Istanbul last Valentine’s Day, I received an e-mail alerting me to an inordinately low fare to Rio de Janeiro on United for pretty much all year.  I just happened to be on this trip to Istanbul with a bunch of travel friends, so the only logical thing for us to do was to immediately book a trip together to Rio!

So there we were, drinking free alcohol from the Club Level of the Grand Hyatt Istanbul – just blocks from Taksim Square.  And what were we doing?  Planning out what to do in Istanbul that weekend?  Nope.

We were trying to book the most insane routings you could think of to get to Rio de Janeiro over Labor Day weekend and rack up as many miles as possible.  At the time, this was a great idea since I was gunning for United Premier 1K status.  Now, having achieved that status a few weeks ago, this routing looks pretty silly — even to me.Screen shot 2013-08-28 at 4.09.22 PM

Thursday morning, I will be flying to Orlando — and then Houston to catch my Thursday night redeye flight to Rio de Janeiro.  On Monday evening, I’ll be on the overnight flight back to Houston and then will be connecting to Denver, back to Orlando, and finally home to DC.  It’s a total of 14,812 miles in an airplane — a perfect way to spend the weekend, right?

This may not suck Courtesy:  JW Marriott Hotel Rio de Janeiro

This may not suck
Courtesy: JW Marriott Hotel Rio de Janeiro

There are at least a dozen travel / miles enthusiasts who are making this trip, and we have a bunch of events planned.   I’m slated to stay at the JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro — smack-dab in the middle of the famed Copacabana Beach.  I will be staying a total of four days and three nights in Rio – a perfect getaway for Labor Day weekend.  During my time here, I will be spending some time on the beach, touring various sights including Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer, and the beach neighborhoods of Leblon, Ipanema, and Copacabana.  I also plan on sampling a ton of Brazilian food including dinner at Porcao – one of the more famous churrascarias (Brazilian-style steakhouses).

Sunday, I’ll be attending a futbol (soccer) game at the famous Marancana Stadium — the future site of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final and the Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.  I especially can’t wait for that, as I love going to sporting events in other countries.

I’ve been to Rio before, but was only there for a few hours on Ipanema Beach during a layover to start out my crazy 15-day adventure this past June.  I’m definitely looking forward to spending some more time in Rio.  Who knows?  If I love it, I may just go back for the 2014 FIFA World Cup — I’ve already got award tickets booked just in case!

Does anyone have any suggestions for some other things to do or places to eat while in Rio?  If so, I’d love to hear them!

Six Observations from My 15-day Adventure

First of all, I’m back!   After fifteen days and 38,650 miles of travel, I’ve made it back home.

My Trip

My Trip

With that said, I want to apologize for the delay in my trip reports.  Since I arrived in Tokyo, I’ve been going non-stop.  I slept most of time during my flights back to DC yesterday, so I didn’t get too much time to work on anything.  The trip reports will be published, post by post in the coming days.

To whet your appetites until then, I’ll share six observations from my trip:

1.  I thought I’d had good sushi before — that is until yesterday

Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a sushi snob by any means, but I was pretty sure that I’d had some decent sushi before.  Granted, the sushi I have had up until yesterday was probably pretty good, but after my trip to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish market and subsequent breakfast at Daiwa-Zushi Thursday morning, my opinion of “what is good sushi” has drastically shifted.  After a set menu of everything sushi-related you could imagine, my mind was effectively blown.

My Thursday morning breakfast

My Thursday morning breakfast

I've never had a better piece of Tuna

I’ve never had a better piece of Tuna

More to come in my upcoming trip reports…

2.  The Park Hyatt Tokyo is simply stunning

Simply put, this is nicest hotel that I’ve ever been to — by far.  And I’ve been to many great hotels, including Park Hyatt properties in Dubai and Zurich, numerous Ritz Carltons, Conrads, and Intercontinentals.  But this place was just over the top.

My room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

My room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

From the incredible level of service (they did the check-in procedure in my room after being escorted by two people up there) to the beautiful hotel facilities to the amazing breakfasts at Girandole and drinks and steak at the iconic New York Bar & Grill.  The setting for the 2003 Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray film, Lost in Translation definitely lived  up to the hype.

The New York Bar, from "Lost in Translation" fame

The New York Bar, from “Lost in Translation” fame

3.  Now I now know what it’s like being a goldfish — and it’s weird

SCUBA diving.  In an aquarium.  In the middle of  a mall.  With sharks!

Yup, only in Dubai.

The Dubai Mall Aquarium offers an interesting experience where one can dive with sharks in their massive aquarium smack, dab in the middle of the Dubai Mall.

Only in Dubai... an aquarium inside a mall

Only in Dubai… an aquarium inside a mall

I’ve dived with sharks before, so the novelty of this dive was the fact that was the attraction in the aquarium.  It was quite strange having a crowd of people watching you dive and waving.

Chilin' with the fishies

Chilin’ with the fishies

4.  Two days is not enough in most cities,  but three days is fine

My short stay in Santiago was about a day short of ideal.

My short stay in Dubai was caused by a Dreamliner malfunctions on United Airlines.

Each of these stays left me wanting another day in each city.  I didn’t get to see all of Santiago, and I missed out on some events in Dubai such as tea at Burj Al Arab and dune bashing.

Jetting out of Dubai a day too soon

Jetting out of Dubai a day too soon

But I did have a full three days in Tokyo, and it was fine.  Tokyo is so huge, you couldn’t possibly see it all in a week or two.  It’s one of those cities that you must keep going back to and exploring.

The never-ending cityscape of Tokyo

The never-ending cityscape of Tokyo

But three days continues to be  my standard for adequate time to see a city.

5.  When in Tokyo, you must go to a Japanese baseball game, if possible

The game is the same, but it’s quite an experience.  Their fans are insane and out-of-control whacky.

Whacky fans...

Whacky fans…

And their beer distribution techniques are quite… interesting.

Yes, that's a mini keg... on her back.  And that's Kirin she's pouring.

Yes, that’s a mini keg… on her back. And that’s Kirin she’s pouring.

6.  When the crew is on its game, United BusinessFirst just may be better than Cathay Pacific Business Class

When a United crew is as its best, as it was on my DEN-SEA and SEA-NRT 787 flights, United BusinessFirst is hard to beat.  The hard product is phenomenal, but the food and service really shined.  My four flights on Cathay Pacific in business class were all fine.  In fact, their international business seat cannot be beat.

Cathay Pacific's New Business Class seat

Cathay Pacific’s New Business Class seat

BusinessFirst cabin on United's 787 Dreamliner

BusinessFirst cabin on United’s 787 Dreamliner

But the food and service were just not up to par with United’s.

Cathay Beef Tenderloin

Cathay Beef Tenderloin

United Beef Tenderloin

United Beef Tenderloin

United Seabass

United Seabass

Cathay Halibut

Cathay Halibut

There, I said it.

And I know this defies all industry perceptions and subsequent accolades.

And yes, this shocked me too, but that was my experience.

Again, I’ll be making several more posts about this trip, including detailed accounts of what to do in Dubai and Tokyo.  So stay tuned!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Review: TAM Economy Class – Sao Paulo to New York JFK

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


After transiting through transfer security at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport, I headed to the United Club where I had a quick drink before heading down to the gate to board a TAM Airlines B777-300 bound for JFK.

TAM Airlines (JJ) 8080
Sao Paulo (GRU) – New York (JFK) 

Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 20A (Economy Class)

Sunday, June 16
10:30PM – 7:00AM (+1 day)
Duration: 9:30

As I boarded the aircraft, it was immediately apparent to me that the onboard hard product was substantially different than the somewhat dated interior of TAM’s A330-200 fleet, which I’ve flown long-haul three times before, including my outbound trip a few days earlier.

What we had here was a brand, spankin’ new B777-300ER.  The interior was sparkling, but my enthusiasm was short-lived as I realized that this particular aircraft was configured in a ten-abreast fashion (3-4-3) instead of the nine-abreast way that other 77W’s in the fleet indicated.  After the first and business cabins, there was a small, mini-cabin of about five “Space +” rows, followed by the high-density coach cabin.

Economy Class Cabin on TAM B777-300ER

Economy Class Cabin on TAM B777-300ER

Row 20 on TAM B777-300ER

Row 20 on TAM B777-300ER

I settled into my seat, 20A – an exit row, window seat.  I pre-booked TAM’s “Space +” seat, which gives you extra legroom for $75.  Given my height, I can easily justify this expense in the name of comfort.

My Seat - 20A on a TAM B777-300ER

My Seat – 20A on a TAM B777-300ER

Plenty of legroom

Plenty of legroom

This seat should have been the perfect economy class seat for sleeping.  I mean, since it was an exit row, it had over four feet of legroom.  The window was non-existent, so I had a flat wall on which I could lean my head to sleep.  In theory, this was a perfect setup.

However, that was not the case.  Why is that?

The new, slimline seat.  These seats are awful.  While tolerable for a shorter flight, they are almost inhumane for a ten hour flight.  It’s like sitting on a board.  Ultimately, I was more comfortable on my outbound flight – one which I had no legroom, but the seat was cushioned very well.  I sincerely struggled to sleep on this flight simply because I was so uncomfortable.  My butt hated me, and I had to continuously get up and move around because I couldn’t take sitting down another minute.

Sadly, this is the way airlines are going now.  The slimline seat saves carriers 1-2″ inches in seat pitch, allowing them to add more rows to the plane.  In the case of a B777-300ER, with a 10-abreast configuration, that translate very conservatively to an extra 2-3 rows, or 20-30 seats – that’s a lot of extra revenue we’re talking.  So you can see the business reason as to why the airlines (almost all of them) are going this way.  Unfortunately, it is at the cost of the passenger comfort.

I was able to sleep on-and-off for about three hours during the ten hour flight after watching Life of Pi on the very good Inflight Entertainment System.

Inflight Entertainment System

Inflight Entertainment System

Again, the dinner choice was beef or pasta.  As per usual in economy, I ordered the pasta.  It was decently tasty for an economy meal.  The desert was delicious – not sure what it as, but it was good.

Dinner

Dinner

Breakfast was served about 90 minutes out of New York, and as luck would have it, all the commotion for breakfast coincided with one of the few times during the night that I had actually dozed off.   The breakfast offering once again consisted of fruit, a roll, and a toasted sandwich, though this one was actually appetizing and pretty good, unlike my flight from New York to Rio.

Breakfast

Breakfast

We touched down in New York as scheduled, and arrived at the gate at 7:00am on the dot – just as scheduled.  Impressive punctuality right there, TAM.

Overall, the flight was fine.  The slimline seats that I’ve complained about are becoming an industry standard, so this isn’t so much a TAM problem as it is an industry issue for long-haul, economy flights.   Other than that, the plane truly was in great shape and was aesthetically pleasing.  The service was very good, the flight attendants were cheerful and friendly, and the food was decent.  Once again, for the price point at which I booked this flight, I really cannot complain.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Review: LAN Economy Class – Santiago to Sao Paulo

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


I was not looking forward to this segment of the trip simply because it was breaking pretty much every rule I set for myself when it comes to earning miles by flying.  Simply put:  it earned no mileage.

None.

Normally, I would not write about a short flight in economy class, but since this was my first time flying LAN, I decided to write about it.

I’d originally booked my ticket in November through Orbitz, and TAM changed the schedule a number of times.  Ultimately, for the Santiago – Sao Paulo segment, I ended up on a TAM-marketed, but LAN-operated flight.  What does that mean?  Well, based on the mileage earning rules for United, the miles get awarded based on the award chart set for the Star Alliance operating carrier.  In this case, LAN Chile is not even a Star Alliance partner, so that meant no United miles.   My backup plan was to credit these miles to my American account, but its mileage rule is that the award chart is dictated by the OneWorld partner airline who is the marketing carrier.  In this case, TAM – who is not a OneWorld carrier.  So essentially, I was in no-man’s land as far as mileage earning was concerned.

Anyway, I arrived in plenty time to deal with any potential complications that this codeshare ticket may have.  As it turns out, there were no  problems, but I did have to check in with LAN, as the TAM personnel at SCL were non-existent.   My next problem was that I was holding a ticket on LAN Chile – an airlines whose inclusion in the OneWorld alliance does absolutely nothing for my Star Alliance Gold status as far as lounge access was concerned.

Santiago is without a doubt, OneWorld country.  LAN dominates the airport along with its partner airlines.

Luckily, I recently acquired a one-day American Admirals pass from a friend, and was ultimately able to enter the Admirals Club at Santiago with my LAN ticket.

 

American Airlines Admiral Club in Santiago

American Airlines Admiral Club in Santiago

Admirals Club SCL spread

Admirals Club SCL spread

This was a nice space, and was barely even populated.  I almost had the lounge to myself.  It was a very comfortable space to pass a couple hours and get some work done.

LAN Chile Airlines (LA) 750
Santiago (SCL) to Sao Paulo (GRU)
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300ER
Seat: 12C (Economy)
Sunday, June 16
3:25PM – 8:25PM
Duration: 4:00

My first impressions upon boarding my LAN 767 were that the interior was brand new.  I walked through the extremely spacious and sparkling business class to my bulked aisle seat in the first row of the economy section.  From here I was able to look into the business class cabin for much of the flight.

My aisle, bulkhead seat 12C

My aisle, bulkhead seat 12C

Plenty of legroom - not really restricted by bulkhead

Plenty of legroom – not really restricted by bulkhead

Now, I’ve seen pictures of LAN’s business class before, but in person, it really did look like a fantastic product.

 

Business class from my seat

Business class from my seat

The economy product wasn’t too shabby either, as it featured the new, slimline seats and Panasonic IFE systems similar to what United has been installing in its international fleet.  The interior of the plane was very fresh looking, and provided a very good initial impression of the airline.

Entertainment System

Entertainment System

The meal consisted of a sandwich and some bread – not the highlight of the flight, as it was pretty tasteless.

A blah sandwich and an okay dessert

A blah sandwich and an okay dessert

After a little less than four hours of flight time, we touched down in Sao Paulo, and I proceeded through transfer security.

Flight path:  SCL-GRU

Flight path: SCL-GRU

Overall, I was pretty impressed with LAN.  Though I was still upset I didn’t earn any miles for this portion of my trip, I was definitely glad for the opportunity to try LAN.  Maybe next time I fly LAN, it will be in the front cabin to somewhere really cool – Easter Island, anyone?