Author Topic: An AAmerican Bonanza w/ some Brazilian Flair: 16,000 miles, 36 hours, & a Prayer  (Read 25851 times)

Online AJK

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I. Introduction

It all started with a text.

But, really, in order to provide the full picture, I have to begin a bit earlier.  Historically, TAM never, ever, released first class awards--which, when you take into account the fact that the entire first class cabin is only four seats on their 777, set up in a 1-2-1 configuration, makes quite a bit of sense. Each award seat released would diminish capacity by a whopping 25%. So it was with quite a bit of surprise when earlier this year TAM opened the proverbial floodgates and not only began releasing first class award seats, but actually released the entire first class cabin as awards.  The blogosphere was baffled by the Brazilian about face, wondering whether it was some sort of inventory glitch.

Well, the answer was soon revealed:  As has seemingly become more and more common in the airline industry, TAM announced it had decided to reduce the size of their first class cabins; In fact, it had decided to completely scrap the first class cabin from their entire fleet, and to instead retrofit their planes with a new business class.  As a consequence, it seems, TAM flipped the switch on first class award inventory.

Anticipated time of first class death? October 31, 2014.

Now, last Thursday, October 23, 2014, I would have told anyone who inquired that, disappointing though it may be, I had resigned myself to the notion that I would never have the opportunity to fly the hallowed, historically uber-exclusive first class product.

Then my phone buzzed.

It was Dan.  On Friday, October 24, 2014, he whatsapp’d me from Brazil raving about his experience in TAM F. “Incredible hard product,” he began.  “If you ever wanted to fly private, then jump on a plane next week, you’ll never get the feeling like that cabin anywhere,” he continued.  “Totally closed off, but not closed off like a suite; wide open but all yours. Pics do no justice.”

At that moment, I knew I was dead meat.  The wheels started turning… the award searches started churning… and the heart began yearning.  To those who know me, those are all very, very bad signs.

On Sunday morning, after a weekend of telling myself that I have enough self-control to let this go, that I can overcome the urge that was welling up inside of me, that I wouldn’t even do one award search that morning.

Yeah, I knew I was going to fail, too.

I did one, and then a few more, and then a dozen. And there it materialized… what would be the perfect routing given the products I wanted to try, the time constraints in which I needed to operate, and the companion with whom I would fly.

We put it on hold on Sunday afternoon, and got to work on logistics, our bosses, and most importantly, our wives.  This is what we held (outbound is red, inbound is yellow): 



For 115,000 AA (including a 10,000 mile rebate) + $75 in taxes + $75 expedite fee, I’d be able to sample American’s brand-new A321T from JFK to LAX, American’s brand-new A321 (non-transcon) from LAX to DFW, and American’s brand-new 777-330ER from DFW to GRU… not to mention being able to return back to the motherland in the famed TAM F, stop for dinner in Florida at Soho Rare Grill House and return back to NYC late Wednesday night in time for work on Thursday.

And I thought I was done tinkering… but I’m never done tinkering.

Hmm… I thought… the way I’m routed means I could add on another segment to the tail end of this already pretty award, provided it departs within 24 hours of my touchdown in NYC on Wednesday at midnight.  What fits that bill and could make it even prettier?

Yep, adding Cathay’s fifth freedom route JFK-YVR at 10:00 PM on Thursday in first class would definitely make it prettier.  And so I did.

But I didn’t tell my wife… yet ;) She’s due for another surprise, eh?

So we now had this on hold (new leg in green):



Because the ticket was on hold until Monday at 11:59 PM, I worked on the “visa issue.”

Brazil requires US passport holders to have a visa prior to entry.  A visa which would be impossible to get in 18 hours.  However, there is an exception:  A passenger flying to Brazil can transit without a visa (TWOV).  Now it wasn't entirely clear to me at that point whether “transit” meant only that you weren't allowed to leave the airport, or whether it meant one must transit to a third-country, and not just back to your originating country.  At about 6 PM, I conferred with my companion, and, notwithstanding that we hoped it was the former, but expected it was the latter, we agreed to ticket later that night.  Worst comes to worst, we’d be denied boarding and we’d pay the fee to redeposit our miles, and that would end be both the beginning and the end of our grandiose adventure.

So, at 11:00 PM, after not hearing from my companion, and with the clock winding down, I called him at about 11:00 PM to confirm we’ve gotten the green light to ticket, and no answer… I called again at 11:10 PM… no answer. I knew right then he had fallen asleep.  All that work was about to go right out the window. 

Over my dead body.

So I put him on speed auto-redial until, finally, at about 11:35 PM he picks up groggily and said, “oops.”

Anyway, we ticketed just in the nick of time, and with that we were set.  I left the office at about 12:30 AM, went home and packed.  By the time I was done, it was about 2:30 AM, and decided that it just wasn’t worth going to sleep for a couple of hours, so I stayed awake.

« Last Edit: October 30, 2014, 03:23:09 PM by AJK »
2015: 116K bkd | 1.6M brnd | F: OZ,NH,AA,EK | J: UA,CA,TK,DL,TN,AF,VA | LIH,NRT,ROR,PEK,CNS,BOB,MEL,TLV & Pacific Hopper

Online AJK

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II. JFK-LAX on the A321T in F.

I left to the airport at about 5:00 AM, picked up a coffee, and arrived at Terminal 8 a few minutes before 6.  En route, I called my companion, who told me he had overslept by 45 mins, didn’t leave his house until about 5:45 AM, and would be late to the airport. (Note to self: buy this guy a remote-activated shock collar next time.)  All is well that ends well, and he showed up at about 6:30, and we proceeded to American’s First Class Flagship check-in area, which is all the way to the right of Terminal 8, near entrance D.







We were admitted to the check-in area, handed our passports to the agent who, after searching in the computer, noted that our destination was Brazil.  At that point, she began searching our passports for a Brazilian visa.  Just as she finished her search, I blurted out, “Oh, if you won’t find a visa, because we’re just transiting GRU, not saying for any length of time.” I held my breath.  I knew this was the make-it or break-it juncture…

She took a look at our itinerary, looked at us (as if we may be from the moon), looked back at our itinerary (as if it was travel to the moon), looked back at us (as if she now KNEW we were from the moon), and said “wow, this is gonna be some day of travel for you guys, huh?” We all laughed (her genuinely, us nervously).  The next thing I knew, she was handing us boarding passes for our next four flights (through to Miami). We were golden!

We couldn’t get out of the Flagship area quickly enough.  The exit of the check-in area deposits first class passengers directly at the front of the TSA-Pre line. Our boarding passes and passports were scanned by the first TSA agent and we were admitted to the TSA-Pre line. A few moments later, another TSA agent came over to us, and signaled for us to follow him. (Gulp.)


Exit of Flagship Check-in

But instead of taking us back to the bowels of the TSA offices, to be interrogated, starved, and beaten, for guessing wrong about TWOV, he just removed us from the TSA-Pre line, and put us in the regular line. When I asked him why we were singled out, especially because I had TSA-Pre on my boarding pass, he condescendingly responded, “I don’t have to tell you that. Have a good day.”

Well, that was awesome.  I trust his enjoyment from having exercised his security theatre powers made his day. I do what I can to help.

We passed through security uneventfully, and walked to the Admirals Club.







Inside, we prayed, and tried to address the sole remaining issue: My companion was booked on the 12:20 PM LAX-DFW flight, while I was on the 2:00 PM.  We spoke to the ticketing agent in JFK to see if she could move me onto the earlier flight.  While she told us that there was plenty of room on the 12:20, she told me that because there was no award availability on the flight, that only the gate agent in DFW could make the change. Oh well.

We quickly headed off to our gate where we gleefully boarded the prettiest domestic plane in the skies: American’s Airbus 321T.





Considering it’s a true three-class plane, you almost expect it to be a wide-bodied jet, so your first impression upon boarding is how narrow it is. But that is no criticism, as the plane is wonderfully structured.  The first class cabin on the A321T is in a 1-1 configuration with five rows.  Very clearly a contender for the best way to fly across the country, if not the best.











Then I noticed the cockpit door was ajar and decided I’d go make a break for it take a peek.  I asked the captain and first officer if he’d mind if I took a picture of the cockpit, what with its all glass avionics and state of the art equipment, and the captain responded, “Well, heck, why don’t you sit in my seat and I’ll take a picture of you?” Uhhh, yes please. So he took one of me in the his seat, and on my way out, I snapped one of them just for posterity:

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After that, we were quickly in the air—surprising, considering the usual JFK air-traffic. 



Amenity kits were already at the seat:





As well as Bose headphones:



Because we were able to put the award on hold more than 24 hours before departure, we were able to confirm kosher meals. 





The meal was surprisingly good. Well, except for the fact that I think I ate a shard of porcelain, or whatever the plate was made of. (While I may have been frustrated at my companion's tardiness, no, I did not break the plate; that's how it was served.)



After the meal, I went to sleep for a couple of hours, and upon waking we started chatting with the first class flight attendant, who revealed that the JFK<>SFO route was underperforming and that AA has plans to stop offering the A321T. Take it for what’s worth.  She also took the opportunity to tell us that AA’s yield management was sub-par in that they’d oversell coach by 20%, and even after operationally upgrading people to business, and even first, AA invariably left half of those extra passengers behind, forcing AA to give out compensation for the bump, while also causing a domino effect of overbooked but “stranded” passengers the rest of the day, as those flight were overbooked by 20%, too.

I then bought a GoGo pass for the day, did a couple hours of work, and by then we started our descent.   (Service on the flight was good, though, in my opinion, did not match UA’s service on their P.S. service.) We landed in LAX at about 10:45 and taxied to a gate at the Tom Bradley terminal.  During the taxi, I saw another thing on my bucket list:



Up next: the Flagship Lounge in LAX and the A321 from LAX-DFW.
« Last Edit: October 30, 2014, 03:24:23 PM by AJK »
2015: 116K bkd | 1.6M brnd | F: OZ,NH,AA,EK | J: UA,CA,TK,DL,TN,AF,VA | LIH,NRT,ROR,PEK,CNS,BOB,MEL,TLV & Pacific Hopper

Online TimT

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You left out the one with you in the captain's seat. POIDH

Online AJK

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You left out the one with you in the captain's seat. POIDH

Was intentional.
2015: 116K bkd | 1.6M brnd | F: OZ,NH,AA,EK | J: UA,CA,TK,DL,TN,AF,VA | LIH,NRT,ROR,PEK,CNS,BOB,MEL,TLV & Pacific Hopper

Offline Marco Polo

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I should have come along...
Quaerite et Invenietis.

Offline dealfinder85

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Was intentional.
what do you do that you have such flexibility to pick up and go

Offline rots5

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amazing!

I truly regret not coming :(
If you have any questions please search and then ask. PM me for detailed help.

Offline MC

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Awesome so far! Thanks for not making us wait for this one  ;D

Offline ilherman

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Wow! I was swearing that you didn't end up taking this trip.

Thank you. And thank you for being so prompt 😊
You can say what you think when you think what you say.

Offline Something Fishy

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Certified. Absofreakinglutely certified :D.
Check out my site for epic kosher adventures: Kosher Horizons

Offline myb821

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Certified. Absofreakinglutely certified :D.
what he^ said

Offline Redbull3

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Love these aspirational threads. One day...

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You have a great boss!😜

Offline yoruel

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When is the rest coming?

Offline ilherman

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You can say what you think when you think what you say.