Tried & Tested

TAM A330-200 business class

20 Mar 2013 by Jenny Southan

BACKGROUND Brazilian flag carrier TAM flies nonstop between London and Rio three times a week (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday). After merging with Chilean airline LAN, last summer, it recently announced that the consolidated group, LATAM, would be joining airline alliance Oneworld. TAM will be leaving Star Alliance in early 2014 as a consequence. Click here to find out more.

CHECK-IN Most business class fares receive a free chauffeur service to and from London Heathrow airport within a 65-mile radius. I arrived at London Heathrow's Terminal 1 at 1820, taking the escalator and then the lift up to the departures level. I had checked in online the day before (passengers can do so up to 72 hours before their flight) and selected my seat (8A) in the second business class cabin. I also had my boarding pass sent to my phone and stored it in Apple's iPhone Passbook app.

As I had a suitcase to check-in, I went to check-in Zone D for premium passengers. There were no other people ahead of me at the business class desk so I was seen to immediately – my suitcase priority tagged and then instructions given for how to get to the Star Alliance lounge (through fast-track security opposite, then turn right and walk three minutes). There were about a dozen people ahead of me in the security lane so it took about ten minutes to get through. I was airside by 1840, at which point I spent about half an hour buying a few last-minute items.

THE LOUNGE I arrived at the Star Alliance lounge at about 1915 and was directed through to the business class section to the left. There were self-service food stations, and numerous seating areas – from poser tables with high stools to armchairs – but it was very busy, with almost every table taken up. As it happened, though, one of the receptionists ran over to say I could use the first class lounge next door instead so I didn't argue.

This, in contrast, was very quiet – almost empty in fact. There was a range of warm and cold dishes (roast meat, mixed steamed vegetables, Yorkshire puddings and sautéed potatoes), along with pasta salad, cheese and crackers. Guests are also given the option of ordering food a la carte, and I went for the ravioli with tomato sauce, which was tasty enough.

The champagne was not a brand I recognised but there was a decent selection of self-service spirits, beer and soft drinks. Wifi was free and there were departure screens in several corners of the room, as well as computer terminals and a selection of newspapers and magazines (including Business Traveller and The Economist).

BOARDING The flight was listed as boarding at 2000 – I had been told at check-in that business and first class passengers could book a buggy to take them to the gate either at 2000 or 2020, but I didn't bother. I probably should have, though, as I left the lounge at 2020 and found that it was a good ten-minute walk to Gate 32, if not a little longer and, by the time I got there at almost 2035, the flight was on its final call. There were only a couple of other passengers ahead of me so my boarding pass and passport were quickly checked and I was directed on to the plane via an airbridge at the front.

Business class was almost empty – at least in my section, with the exception of two men sitting on the other side of the plane also in row eight. As soon as I sat down I was offered a glass of champagne and, a little while later, a choice of magazines and newspapers, plus a set of noise-cancelling headphones and an amenity kit. Meal orders were taken at about 2105, and the plane pushed back at the same time as the safety demonstration was played on the seat-back screens at 2115.

THE SEAT The business cabin on the A330 is divided between two sections – the front has one row of first class seats (one) and two rows of business (five and six), while the second cabin has four rows (seven to ten). Click here to see a seat plan. Seats are configured 2-2-2 (A-C, D-G, H-K) and are upholstered in red floral-patterned fabric. Unfortunately, they are not fully flat but angled-lie flat, reclining 170 degrees into a fixed shell. The product was comfortable for working and watching films, and although I always sleep much better on a flat bed, I did manage to get a decent night’s rest. There are three pre-set seat seating positions and buttons to lengthen the legrest as desired.

There are 15.5-inch IFE screens in the backs of each seat controlled by a remote in the armrest, a tray table that came out of the armrest and reading lights. Amenity kits contained a razor and shaving cream, moisturiser, a brush, socks, eyemask, biro, toothbrush, paste and earplugs. Cotton blankets and large pillows were also provided but no sheets. I liked the fact that the cabin was so peaceful and dark, which made sleeping easier – they also closed the curtain to the galley and crew were very quiet.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Avoid rows seven and five by bulkheads unless you are particularly tall – as there is no seat in front, there is a lot of open space so you feel quite exposed. Aisle seats in row seven are also close to the washrooms so may suffer from some disturbance.

THE FLIGHT There was some delay to take-off, with the aircraft sitting on the runway until 2145. Once at cruising altitude, about ten to 15 minutes later, the lights came back on (there is pink and red mood lighting in the cabin, which is pleasant) and, shortly after, my pre-ordered vegetarian starter was brought out. It was a potato, bean and mint salad on a bed of lettuce with a choice of bread rolls. The food was served on a tray with salt and pepper shakers, a tiny bottle of oil and balsamic vinegar dressing, metal cutlery, and a paper bib to stick to the front of your clothes. (Looks silly but is actually quite a good idea.)

As I was given a pre-ordered vegetarian special meal, I didn’t get a chance to see the menu and winelist, so when it came to ordering something to drink I was only given the choice of “red or white wine”, “French or Spanish”. As it turned out, I was given a glass of excellent Spanish red – an Abadia Retuerta Seleccion Especial, Sardon de Duero – though I forgot to ask what year. Had I been given a winelist I would have seen that the French red wine (Château Bel-Air-Ouÿ, 2007, Jean-Luc Thunevin, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux) was the winner of Business Traveller’s Best Business Class wine from its 2012 Cellars in the Sky Awards. (I tried it on the return flight, though.) Click here for the full list of winners.

The main course was of white rice, broccoli, steamed carrots and aubergine and tomato curry, which was tasty enough. Dessert was a pot of Haagen Dazs ice cream. (Business Traveller attended the launch event of TAM’s new premium cabin menu last May – click here to find out more.) Crew were sweet, helpful, friendly and attentive, and frequently popped back to check how I was and clear any plates and glasses. The only problem was, they didn't seem to speak much English so there was some confusion at times when I asked questions. 

I watched a film – the picture quality was very good – but there weren't very many new releases. The lights went out at about 2330 and, at 0100, I got up to change for bed. Before sleeping, I was asked if I wanted to be woken for breakfast – I said I did. The bed reclined at an angle and was reasonably comfy – the pillow was very large and plump, which was nice. I slept on and off for about six hours, getting up at about 0700 to prepare for the day ahead.

Breakfast was served at about 0740, with a small selection of sliced fruit and, oddly, some celery, carrot and cucumber sticks. There was also a choice of croissants or bread rolls, and yoghurt. The orange juice was squash, which was disappointing as fresh seems more appropriate for business class, and the tea foamy and luke warm. There was also a hot option of beans, roast potato cubes, mushrooms and a grilled tomato. Although the plate was hot, the food was cold, so I left it. The trays were cleared away at about 0815 and the plane started its descent at 0840. Headphones were collected and seats placed in the upright position.

ARRIVAL After a smooth descent, the aircraft landed 16 minutes ahead of schedule at 0900 (0600 local time) after an 11-hour 15-minute flight. There was a five-minute taxi to the stand and disembarkation via an airbridge from the front was very quick. I turned left once in the terminal for non-Brazilian immigration and, as there was no one ahead of me, was able to go straight through. Baggage reclaim was also very quick, with my case appearing within a couple of minutes. The journey from the airport to the Copacabana Palace where I was staying was about 25 minutes.

VERDICT Despite a 30-minute delay to take-off, the plane landed 15 minutes early, which was good. The business class product is behind much of the competition, in that it is an angled as opposed to fully flat bed and the service could have been improved if the crew spoke better English. But they were very charming and well-meaning nevertheless, and I had a comfortable flight to Rio, feeling fresh when I arrived.   

FACT FILE

CONFIGURATION 2-2-2

SEAT WIDTH 21in/53cm

SEAT RECLINE 170 degrees

SEAT PITCH 63in/160cm

PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Rio ranged between £2,401 and £4,512 in May.

CONTACT tamairlines.com

Jenny Southan 

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