Berlin to Canberra - the even longer return journey

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Mattg

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The historic city market:
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At this park there happened to be a street theatre performing a play. It attracted quite a crowd and my Portuguese-speaking friend said it was very good.

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There was a nice view of the city from the top of this hill:
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We saw the stadium where Australia played against the Netherlands during the World Cup last year. I still remember the game; I would consider it Australia’s best of the tournament, despite the fact that we lost.

One afternoon we got a ferry across to the town of Guaíba. There wasn't that much to do in Guaíba but there were some nice restaurants and we got some nice views of Porto Alegre on the other side of the river.

Guaíba:
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I’m told that Porto Alegre was full of Aussies for a few days last year when the Cup was on, but other than that, I don't think it's a place most Aussies would ever go to. It's not really a touristy city at all, although I personally don't mind that. Sometimes it's nice to get away from the hoards of tourists! But I’m not sure I would necessarily recommend visiting unless you know somebody there or have a particular reason to visit. It's a perfectly nice city, and I enjoyed my visit but in my opinion there is more to see and do in other Brazilian cities.
 

Mattg

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I keep seeing phone boxes like these in Brazil. Does the colour scheme and logo remind anyone else of a particular Aussie telco?

image.jpg


My love of Brazilian food has been rediscovered over the past week or so. In Rio de Janeiro I ate a lot of feijoada, a dish consisting of meat, rice, beans, chips and farofa on a plate.

My friend in Porto Alegre wanted me to try all sorts of different Brazilian foods and did her bit to ensure I ate way too much. The first night we went to this a Italian restaurant where I tried a delicious filé. The waiter barely spoke a word of English but was so excited to get a chance to practice it. It was quite funny.

We had several meals at all-you-can-eat restaurants. One of those was the Brazilian equivalent of a steakhouse, where they brought around many different kinds of meat in a yum-cha style arrangement. But my favourite meal was at an all-you-can-eat pizza restaurant. The waiters brought around many, many different types of pizza and, for a fixed price, you could take whatever you liked. Just when I thought I couldn't possibly eat any more, they brought around the dessert pizzas. Flavours with chocolate sauce included strawberry, m&m, coconut and banana. There were also a few flavours with a delicious white chocolate sauce.

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For lunch one day I tried something called Xis. It was like a giant cheeseburger filled with everything you could imagine, topped with beef stroganoff and crispy potato pieces. I got a half-sized one and couldn't finish even that. For scale, I have placed a 50 centavo piece on the table next to the dish here:

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Mattg

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I used the public buses in Rio and Porto Alegre quite a bit. Not because I wanted to, but because they were the only way to get where we were going without using taxis in some cases.

I don't really recommend it.
-Firstly, the bus drivers in Brazil would have to be the most reckless I've ever experienced.
-Secondly, many buses don't have air-conditioning.
-Thirdly, I'm surprised more people haven't fallen out of moving buses.
-Fourthly, there is definitely nowhere to store luggage so if going to/from the airport with a suitcase, don't even consider a public bus!

As soon as both your feet are on the bus, the driver will zoom off. Sometimes he will close the doors, sometimes not. You then have to pay the person sitting near the door before you can pass through the turnstile to the seats. At one point there was a line to pay and before I got to the front the driver slammed the brakes and opened the doors to let another passenger on the bus. If I hadn't been holding on, I probably would have fallen out of the bus!
 

Mattg

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I got to the airport in Porto Alegre about an hour before the scheduled departure time of my next flight on Wednesday afternoon. My next destination was calling: The southern hemisphere’s largest city, São Paulo! I planned to spend two nights in São Paulo, where I would meet a friend.

The whole process from checking in to boarding was genuinely seamless. There was a bit of a line to check in but I was able to use the priority check-in counter. I checked in straight away and went through security. There were plenty of people hanging around the departures area, but very few were actually flying so there was no line at security. It was then a short walk to the gate and boarding was underway about five minutes thereafter. There was a clearly marked priority boarding line I was able to use. I'm not convinced that they were checking the eligibility of those using the priority lane but the system seemed to work.

Flight 6: JJ3046 Porto Alegre – São Paulo
Airbus A320 | PT-MZG
Departure time – 17:19
Arrival time – 18:45

This was a full flight and I was seated by a window in row 4. The tray table of the man on the aisle was broken (the little latch used to lock the table in place had snapped). I pose you this question: How many Brazilians does it take to fix a broken latch? The answer: ten, and they didn't even fix it properly.

Upon boarding, the passenger alerted a member of the cabin crew who then informed the purser. Over the next twenty minutes, every member of the crew, both pilots and three ground staff came to inspect the tray table. Eventually a fourth member of the TAM ground crew, presumably a maintenance worker, came onboard to fix the problem. The solution? Stick some duct tape over it. For the record, the duct tape stopped sticking shortly after take-off.

I'm finding TAM’s safety video a bit tacky. It begins with an uplifting piece where a woman says something along the lines of “When I get on a plane, I feel whole” and “every flight is the beginning of a new adventure”, and so on. It then finishes with some an advertisement for a car rental company and I think a telco. To be frank, it's getting a bit cringeworthy.

We departed early and shortly after take-off a snack and drink was served. After getting a small bread roll with ham and cheese on both of my morning TAM flights I was interested to see what they would serve up on a late afternoon flight. You guessed it: a bread roll with ham and cheese!

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It was another relatively uneventful flight. We hit some strong turbulence on the descent to Congonhas but landed uneventfully and on-time.

Getting from the airport to the city in São Paulo is a bit of a challenge, regardless of which airport you fly into, although Congonhas is closer to the city centre. Like a lot of Brazil, São Paulo doesn't have fantastic infrastructure, including to and from the airports. I ended up taking a taxi to the nearest metro station (São Judas) and catching a train the rest of the way. The trip from Congonhas airport to São Judas metro station took around 20 minutes in moderate traffic (by São Paulo standards anyway) and cost 20 reals ($10). From there the metro cost 3.50 reals and took less than half an hour. I arrived at my destination just off Paulista Avenue in around an hour, which was a vast improvement on my travel time to/from Guarulhos, São Paulo’s bigger international airport, last year.
 

Mattg

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I had a short stay of just two nights in São Paulo, although it was really only one day as I arrived in the evening and left in the morning. I visited São Paulo last year so have already done a bit of sightseeing. This time I was there to meet a friend. It's a bit of a crazy city, with a population almost equivalent to that of Australia, if you count the surrounding metropolitan area. Traffic jams are a daily occurrence. But there’s a lot going for the city in my opinion and it's worth a visit.

We spent a bit of time in the city on Thursday despite the random torrential rain that came and went.

Around the historic city centre:
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Mercado Municipal de São Paulo, a food market:
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To get an excellent view of the city, we visited the Banespa building, also known as the Santander Tower. It had closed to visitors earlier in the day during the heavy rain but re-opened once the sun came out. Anyone can go up the top for free, but the visit is very much controlled. We first had to register at the desk, where I had to show my passport and bags had to be cloaked. We were then escorted in a small group up two lifts, followed by two flights of stairs. The actual viewing platform above the 34th floor was very small. We were told that we would only be allowed to stay for five minutes, and were to only walk around once in an anticlockwise direction. There were two security guards up the top to escort five people. Although we only got to see the view for five minutes, the whole process of going up and down took half an hour. But it was totally worth it! The views were incredible:


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In the afternoon we did the free walking tour of Paulista Avenue, where we learnt a bit about the history of the city and the area around the famous avenue.

Paulista Avenue:
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A piece of street art on the avenue. This recent work depicts Oscar Niemeyer, the architect who designed Brasilia:
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Mattg

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It was a shame to have to leave São Paulo early on Friday morning but I had a wedding to get to!

I have some friends in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte that I met in Germany and visited last year here in Brazil. Well, they just got married on the weekend and I was invited to the wedding. It was always going to be a bit of a long shot making it to the other side of the world on a specific day, but in this case I was able to make it work!

My alarm failed to go off in the morning, which could have ended in disaster as I woke up after the time I had actually planned to leave for the airport! But the trip to the airport ended up taking just 55 minutes using the metro + taxi method, so I made it to the airport in time.

Flight 7: JJ3053 São Paulo (Congonhas) – Belo Horizonte
Airbus A320 | PR-MBS
Departure time – 10:05 (Actual – 10:35)
Arrival time – scheduled for 11:18 (Actual – not even close to the scheduled time… keep reading)

When I arrived at Congonhas airport that morning I noticed that none of the flights bound for Belo Horizonte had actually departed yet. There were four flights before mine that morning and all were displaying “Meteorological delay”. My flight was initially displaying as normal, but I wasn't surprised when a small delay was announced. In the end we pushed back only 30 minutes behind schedule.

The departures board that morning (I realise it's in Portuguese, sorry):
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As I boarded, I noticed that a lady was already sitting in my allocated seat of 3F. I told the flight attendant and she said “Oh, there’s free seating on this flight. Just sit in any vacant seat.” (Um? So why did I have a seat number on my boarding pass then? And why wasn't this the case on my other 3 TAM flights over the past week?)

The flight otherwise began reasonably well. The usual ham and cheese bread roll and drink was served and I happened to get served by a flight attendant who spoke English very well, which was a nice change.

The weather was not good at all when we began our descent into Belo Horizonte. The visibility was so bad, in fact, that you couldn't even see the wingtip out the window. Unsurprisingly, the captain came over the PA to advise us that Belo Horizonte’s airport was temporarily closed and that he expected us to remain in a holding pattern for the next twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes or so later the captain advised that the airport was still closed and as a result we would have to return to Congonhas Airport in São Paulo. This announcement (and all the rest after it) was only made in Portuguese, but the English-speaking flight attendant actually came to my seat to explain what the captain had said and to ask if I had any questions.

The plane did a 180 and started heading back to São Paulo. Around 30 minutes later the captain advised that ATC in São Paulo had given the flight a holding time of 50 minutes and as we didn't have enough fuel to hold for that long, we would be diverting instead to somewhere called Campinas.

Each time a new announcement was made, the flight attendant came to my seat to inform me. I am fairly sure that I was the only non-Brazilian on the flight, so maybe she thought it was easier just to pass on news in person than to make a PA for one person. Either way, I thought that was very nice of her.

But at this point I knew it wasn't going to end well. It didn't.

We eventually landed at Viracopos Airport in Campinas just before 1pm. Viracopos Airport, or VCP, is located about 100km north of São Paulo. Once we had landed, nobody knew what was going to happen. They kept us all on the plane for over an hour while we refuelled. At 1.40pm they announced that the airport in Belo Horizonte had re-opened and we would be departing again in twenty minutes. We didn't. 2pm came and we hadn't moved anywhere. It was getting very hot inside the plane.

Waiting on the plane at VCP:
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By around 2.30pm they announced that the airport had closed again and that we all had to get off the plane and wait in the terminal for further instructions.

I should point out that the cabin crew did an exceptionally good job of keeping passengers informed, retaining order and providing drinks while we were stuck in the plane on the ground. A special mention goes out to Laura, the flight attendant who kept me informed in English with a smile on her face. Sadly, the order and communication well and truly went down the drain the second we left the plane.

We disembarked at around 2.30pm and nobody had a clue what was going on. We waited inside the crowded terminal for an announcement but none was forthcoming. Nobody at the airport could speak English but I was fortunate that an English-speaking girl who was sitting near me on the flight helped me a lot. However, even she didn't know what was going on as a Portuguese speaker. No-one did. After a while we noticed many of the passengers from our flight were walking to the baggage claim area so we followed them there to find that our bags had magically appeared on the carrousel.

Inside the terminal at Campinas:
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Once we had collected our bags someone mentioned something about a bus. We were escorted to the carpark where a couple of rickety old buses awaited us.

This is the crowd of passengers but our bus wasn't as nice as the ones in this photo...
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Campinas is about a two hour drive from São Paulo so it seems that someone thought it would be a good idea to send us back there. We originally thought they would send us on buses to Guarulhos, São Paulo’s bigger airport (which is also closer to Campinas!) but we learned upon boarding that we were in fact heading back to Congonhas.

Some passengers left at Campinas but I didn't see the point in doing that myself - we were barely closer to our destination and I wouldn't have had a clue what to do. I'd never even heard of Campinas before. Besides, if I left then TAM would technically no longer be responsible for getting me to my destination.

The buses left around 3pm and reached Congonhas at 5.40pm. (We spent a LOT of time stuck in São Paulo traffic!) There was definitely no air-conditioning on the bus. More than seven hours since we had taken off, we were right back where we started. I assumed they would be putting us on new flights out of Congonhas, so you can imagine my surprise when we were escorted to… yet more buses!

There was no way I wanted to get on a bus to Belo Horizonte at this point. The journey would be around 600km and I was already over it. I asked a TAM employee if she could please explain to me in English what was going on and she pulled me aside while she looked for someone who could translate. Eventually she found someone and the lady basically just told me to get on the bus. I protested and said I would like to get on a flight but the lady insisted I should board the bus. My main gripe though is that some of the things she was saying to convince me to get on the bus were simply not true. Some things included:


  • The bus to Belo Horizonte takes 6 hours. You will arrive at midnight” – not true, it took 10 hours and we arrived at 4.30am the next morning.
  • No flights have landed in Belo Horizonte for two days” – again, simply not true. Hardly any flights were cancelled the previous day. On that day there had indeed been bad weather and a number of flights had been cancelled, however many flights had indeed landed there, and they continued to do so that evening and the next morning.
  • I asked if I would get a refund. “Yes you will, see the ground staff at Confins (the airport in Belo Horizonte)” – there were none there when we arrived, and when I went back the next day they told me they couldn't process a refund at the airport and I should call a certain number. I will do so tomorrow and keep you posted with the outcome, but I’m not holding my breath.
  • Finally, I asked why on earth they put us on buses to Congonhas, only to then put us onto new buses to Belo Horizonte. São Paulo is not at all between Campinas and Belo Horizonte, and I would estimate the detour added 4 hours of travel time if you consider the traffic in São Paulo. The lady told me that it was in fact quicker to come first back to São Paulo. Um, did she think I couldn't read a map? Just because I'm a gringo doesn't mean I'm stupid!

Ordinarily I would have persisted and tried to get on a flight anyway, even if it meant overnighting in São Paulo. Sitting on a bus all night was not an attractive option. (If I wanted to take a bus, I would have bought a bus ticket - and I would almost be there already!) But my friends’ wedding was the next day and I didn't want to risk missing it, so just gave in and boarded the bus. Upon boarding, everyone received a single bottle of water and two sandwiches. That was the only food provided during the entire delay. And get this – I asked if I could have a second bottle of water and the lady said no!

After 10 hours on what felt like the longest bus trip of my life, we finally arrived in Belo Horizonte at 4.30am the next morning, or just over 17 hours late. TAM had somehow managed to make a one hour flight into an 18 hour nightmare - quite an achievement!

When we arrived I was tired, hungry and frankly angry with TAM over the way they handled the whole situation. I wasn't the only one. I can understand if there is bad weather and I’m not suggesting for a second that they should have attempted to land if it is not safe to do so. But the lack of organisation, communication and even food during the whole ordeal was appalling. So many things went wrong that it's not funny. Just imagine the outcry if this happened in Australia!

On a positive note, it’s great to be back in Belo Horizonte. It’s been nice to see my friends again and the wedding was a blast! As I expected, I was the only non-Brazilian at the wedding but I was able to befriend a few English speakers so it was fine in that regard.

My friends have now left on their honeymoon and I will be in Belo Horizonte for one more night before I head off to my next destination.
 

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Oh wow. What a nightmare! I guess a bus is a hell of a lot cheaper than putting passengers into overnight accommodation. I hope you get compensation from TAM.
 

drron

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Wow what a saga.
Now Tony Hancock is an aficionado of Belo Horizonte.Strange he wasn't invited!:p:shock::D:p;)
 
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What a horror of a non-flight! At least you got there in time for the wedding! A big fail for TAM. By the sound of it.
 

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What an absolute Palaver!

TAM sound like they are a LCC & not a fully fledged member of One World :confused:

As always you Add some terrific " meat to the bone" with plenty of in depth detail.

Lov'n the trip review Matt! :)
 

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I flew back to Rio de Janeiro this evening. Sadly, my time in Brazil is just about over!

The flight from Belo Horizonte to Rio (that I just took) was the last leg of my domestic Brazilian itinerary and I will now pick my oneworld award back up here in Rio.

The airport in Belo Horizonte has improved since I passed through last year. It's still a construction zone but I think real progress has been made.

Some plane-spotting at CNF:
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After Friday's ordeal I was a little worried that TAM might totally screw up my final flight with them. I was particularly concerned as I only have a five hour layover in Rio with separate bookings, meaning I had to collect my bags and check-in again after landing in Rio. If the TAM flight (the last one to Rio) was cancelled, I would have been screwed.

I got a sense of deja-vu when a 35 minute delay to my flight was announced. The delays to my last flight began with just a small delay. Thankfully it was okay this time as the delay was kept to 40 minutes.


Flight 8: JJ3381 Belo Horizonte - Rio de Janeiro (GIG)
Airbus A320 | PR-MBF
Departure time - 18:55 (Actual - 19:35)
Arrival time - 19:57 (Actual - 20:36)

I don't think I mentioned this before, but I really like the colour scheme on board TAM aircraft. Check it out:
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On the ground at CNF:
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We took off around sunset and flew right over the city of Belo Horizonte:
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Other than the delay, the flight was totally fine in the end. Nothing out of the ordinary to report.

The bags took a while to appear on the belt after landing. This was the first time the TAM check-in agent bothered to attach a priority baggage tag to my suitcase, but it didn't actually work.

After entering the arrives hall at GIG I headed upstairs to the departures area and checked in with American Airlines for my red-eye flight to Miami. The guy who checked me in said he had to ask me some "security questions" and wanted to know all about my stay in Brazil and the address I will be staying at in the United States. I realised afterwards that it was probably because the magical "SSSS" had appeared on my boarding pass. A bit annoying, but not much I can do about it.

Brazil has once again blown me away. I think I love this country even more after my second visit!

I now find myself in the American Airlines lounge with around an hour until boarding. The lounge is nothing really special - there's a small selection of food (the highlight being the pea soup - so that's saying something!) as well as a decent range of drinks and wifi. Not much more I'm afraid.

Can't say I'm particularly looking forward to spending 9+ hours overnight on an American Airlines 767 in economy... I'm hoping the flight isn't full and I can at least spread out over a few seats and get some sleep.

(I'm having issues posting a picture of the lounge but it should be attached to this post.)
 

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vitagen

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Enjoying your travel diary! Unfortunate what happened to you with the buses but at least you made it to your friends wedding!
 
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Loving the updates Matt! As per usual, great posts.

I cant believe the drama you had, but as others have said, at least you made the wedding which is the main thing.

Looking forward to your next destinations in the US of A.
 

Mattg

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From Brazil I was flying to Miami, then onto Dallas. I left my oneworld award once again in Dallas, where I would pick up another booking paid for with cash after spending one night in the Texan city.

Flight 9: AA990 Rio de Janeiro (GIG) – Miami
Boeing 767-300 | N352AA
Departure time – 01:15
Arrival time – 07:24

I before I begin, I should mention that I’m not exactly American Airlines’ biggest fan after a bad experience with them last year. Having said that, I will try to be as objective and fair as possible when reviewing their in-flight service.

But man, they don't make it easy to focus on positives!

Boarding for the redeye flight to Miami was called at around 12.30am. The dreary-eyed passengers all had to answer a few security questions inside the airbridge but thanks to the “SSSS” on my boarding pass I was also pulled aside to have myself and all the contents of my bag swabbed. The officer was polite and it only lasted five minutes so it wasn't too bad.

As I boarded, I was handed a new boarding pass and told they had found me a better seat. My initial thoughts were that I had got an upgrade but the man went on to explain that he had moved me from an aisle seat in the middle block, next to two other passengers, to a vacant block of two seats by the window. Not an upgrade, but it was nice of him to do that and I was grateful. (I noticed when I boarded that the business cabin was full anyway.)

The Boeing 767 looked visibly old, both on the outside and inside. I looked up the age of the aircraft afterwards and was not surprised to read that she was delivered in 1988. :shock: There was definitely no AVOD in-flight entertainment on this flight; just a few overhead TVs. Nothing they played interested me. Even the in-flight magazine was old; the January edition was still in the seat pocket, even though it was the 10th of February.

On-board:
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I haven't seen an audio jack like this since… I flew on AA last year:

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There was a blanket and small pillow on every seat.

We pushed back a few minutes early. Just when they were about to play the safety demonstration video, the overhead screens failed so the purser had to manually read the announcement. The flight attendants in my section were running back and forth between the small Main Cabin Extra cabin at the front of economy and the front of the main economy cabin, repeating each demonstration. (Shouldn't they have enough flight attendants to do this properly?)

We took off and I got settled in for the nine hour flight. I decided to stay up for the meal but to be honest it wasn't really worth it. American’s so-called “flagship meal service” was pretty average. Not awful, but definitely nothing special. This was the “chicken” option:

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The flight attendants seemed very disinterested, I’m sorry to say. I did not see a single flight attendant smile during the entire meal service and the only thing any of them said was “chicken or pasta”. (I would have liked to know what kind of chicken and pasta, but felt I would have got a lecture had I asked.) I said “thanks very much” to the flight attendant and didn't even get a “you’re welcome” in reply.

After dinner the trays were cleared. The trolley used to clear the trays was fully stocked with drinks, but they weren’t proactively offered. In fact, I don't recall seeing anyone get a second drink.

Shortly after the duty free run the lights were switched off and I spread out over my pair of seats. Somewhat surprisingly, I managed to sleep for 3-4 hours. I think the alcohol in the lounge helped a little with that!

I woke up as the flight attendants were preparing the breakfast service, which looked something like this:

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I think the crew almost outdid themselves, providing an even more disinterested meal service than at dinner. One of the flight attendants was chewing gum the whole time and didn't say anything at all… all she did was place a tray in front of anyone who was awake. At least I managed to crack a half-smile out of the guy with the drinks cart!

For goodness sake American, I have had better service on Easyjet! At least the flight attendants smile!

To their credit, we did land around 40 minutes early in Miami, just before sunrise.

I’m sorry American, but I can't give you a glowing review for this flight. It was average at best. The flight was early, but your plane was old, the meals were so-so and your flight attendants need urgent customer service training!

They must be doing something right though as the flight was 80-90% full, and 100% where it counts (in business class). I just can't quite put my finger on what that “something” is.

Immigration at Miami was a breeze. I think around 7am was a good time to arrive as most of the South American red-eyes landed between 4am and 6am, and there are virtually no flights arriving from Europe in the morning. I was able to use the kiosk for ESTA holders. After answering a few questions and having my photo taken I talked to a guy for about 30 seconds, had my passport stamped and was on my way to the baggage carousel. I was in the Admirals Club within 40 minutes of arrival. Fantastic.
 

Mattg

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The flagship lounge in Miami at D30 is very nice. The food selection has improved slightly since my last visit, although it's still nothing to write home about. As it was breakfast time, there were bagels, oats, fruit, yoghurt, mini-muffins and the usual pretzels on offer. I was able to have a shower and freshen up. For an Admirals Club lounge I thought it was pretty good.

Flight 10: AA1437 Miami – Dallas/Fort Worth
Boeing 767-300 | N378AN
Departure time – 09:20 (Actual – 09:55)
Arrival time – 11:42 (Actual – 12:05)

The aircraft operating my next flight to DFW looked just as old as the previous flight’s but the plane at least had a new paint job.

I was able to use the priority boarding lane, which was well-policed, and was welcomed on board by cheery, smiling flight attendants! Hallelujah!

We sat on board for quite a long time in Miami waiting to depart. Finally we were told that one of the pilots had called in sick so we were waiting for the replacement pilot, who was stuck in Miami traffic. He turned up around half an hour after the scheduled departure time and we were on our way.

There is no such thing as a complimentary snack on American Airlines domestic flights; just one free non-alcoholic drink. For a flight the length of trans-Tasman, surely they could offer something!

The flight was nothing special but at least was relatively pleasant, if you brought your own entertainment and weren't hungry. We arrived a bit late but I don't blame AA that the pilot was sick.

It was a beautiful day in Dallas!

Downtown:
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Overflying Dallas Love Field airport:
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Platinum
AA is a completely different airline in Y vs F (J).

I see the 763 you got hadn't been refreshed. We travelled on a similarly old 763 DFW-SCL back in 2008 - probably the same aircraft with no improvements! AA seem to reserve their worst aircraft for the South American routes!



But kudos to AA for moving you to a free block of two - would put up with the "old" seats when you get two (and can raise the armrest).
 
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