BACKGROUND TAM flies once a day from London Heathrow’s Terminal 1 to Guarulhos International, Sao Paulo, departing in the winter schedule at 2205 with flight JJ8085 and arriving at 0535 the next day into Sao Paulo, Brazil – Guarulhos International, terminal 1. Flight time was recorded as 11:30.
On the London to Brazil route, TAM introduced these B777-300ER aircraft in 2008 (it now has four of them) and at the end of 2009 it reconfigured the premium cabin to introduce a row of first class seating (four seats in total), so that on these aircraft there are four seats in first, 56 in business and 302 in economy.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS TAM offers a chauffeur drive service for both business and first class passengers. I was picked up at 1900. As only happens when you have plenty of time, all traffic between central London and Heathrow disappeared and we arrived at T1 in only 35 minutes, delayed only for about 30 seconds while stood with the driver in the drop off area shaking our heads in disbelief.
The check-in area was completely empty for both business and first class passengers, and I added my BMI Diamond Club Membership number to the booking now that Tam is a member of Star Alliance, then went through fast track security, and was quickly airside.
THE LOUNGE TAM uses the Star Alliance lounge, and I was directed through to the first class lounge. I thought this was because I am a gold card holder, but in fact, everyone was directed that way because the staff wanted to clean the larger business class lounge. Once inside I settled down to work, using the free BT Internet wifi. There were a few computers at one end of the lounge and a selection of wines, Grolsch on tap, sandwiches and some Chinese and Indian finger food. Flights aren’t called from the lounge, but when the screen showed the flight as boarding, I left immediately, since Gate 48 is a long way from the terminal.
BOARDING This was done quickly, with a dedicated queue for premium passengers. I was quickly on board, had my jacket taken and was offered a glass of champagne (or orange juice or water).
THE SEAT To the rear of the four seats in first class there is a dividing wall, and then the first of two cabins of business class seats which has three rows of 2-3-2 configured seating (AC – DFG – HK). There is then a galley with two washrooms (one on either side) and then the second cabin of business class, larger, with rows eight to 12 in the same configuration. At first glance row eight seemed to have more leg room, but this may be because the other rows in business class extend forwards under the seat in front, which is of course not possible for row eight since it is bulkhead. At the rear of business there is the first of two economy class cabins, this one with only three rows of seats at the sides and four rows in the middle (the discrepancy being because of the two washrooms dividing this economy cabin with the larger one behind it). Economy is mainly 3-4-3 with a seat pitch of 32 inches, width of 17 inches, and screen size of 9 inches.
For a seatplan of the aircraft, click here.
In the business class cabin the seats have a pitch of 63 inches and when fully-reclined have a length of 70 inches. The width is 20 inches and the screen size for the in-flight entertainment (IFE) is 15.4 inches. There are over 20 video channels, 11 music channels and this is audio and video on demand (AVOD), meaning you can stop, start, pause and rewind (this is true in all cabins). The overall colour scheme is taupe, or a pale olive green for the surround to the seats, and a deep red for the seat covers and amenity kits which were handed out. There is a video of the seat in action on TAM’s micro site: http://www.passiontoflyandserve.com.br/pt/
The seat is very similar to the angled lie flat of airlines such as fellow Star Alliance member Lufthansa, as well as Air France. I found it very easy to sleep in, but then I am used to these seats and was very tired. There was a fair amount of turbulence during the night but having already belted up over the blanket I was left undisturbed. I also used the pillow and duvet of the missing neighbour as an additional footrest to keep myself from sliding down the seat which helped keep me asleep. There were no flight announcements to disturb sleep, which again, was welcome.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The front row of the first cabin (row five) has advantages because there is a little footfall past you into the first class cabin (meals are prepared at the front of the aircraft for first class and the washrooms are reserved for those four passengers). That said, the front cabin is quieter than the main business class cabin, so I would go for row six, and any seat apart from the middle one of the three in the middle row (seat F). With the seats fully reclined it can be difficult to get access to the aisle over your sleeping neighbour, but of course if you are in the aisle seat it’s just as difficult for the neighbour to climb over you, so in the event of an accident, would you prefer to fall on someone or be fallen upon? (I was fortunate, the aisle seat for my window seat remained unoccupied.)
In the main cabin for business class the seats to avoid are the last row (12) because economy class may disturb, and possibly row 8 since the washrooms and galley are immediately in front of you.
The IFE was already working when we boarded, which was lucky because as a result of volcanic ash our captain explained we would need a new flight route to avoid it and this would both delay our departure (by one hour) and increase the length of the flight.
FOOD AND DRINK The menus were prepared by the acclaimed Brazilian chef, Helena Rizzo; the chef responsible for the award winning São Paulo restaurant, Mani, on Rua Joaquim Antunes, 210 in Jardim Paulistano (www.restaurantemani.com.br). Appetizers were a choice of green leaves accompanied by Bresaola and tomato and mozzarella terrine (fairly bland) or green leaves served with smoked tuna fillet with black pepper crust and tartlet with crème fraiche with wasabi. A choice of breads accompanied it, along with the option of mushroom soup. Main course choices were lamb with rosemary orange tea crust served with gratin potato and vegetables, chicken fillet with harissa sauce accompanied by orzo pasta with spinach and pumpkin or tortellini stuffed with ricotta cheese served with tomato sauce. The chicken was reasonably tender, the harissa pasta not spicy and I left most of this, again, there wasn’t much flavour. There was also a selection of cheeses, desserts including chocolate mousse with Baumkuchen tea served with exotic fruit coulis.
The wines were the same as served on the outward leg of the route. They had been chosen by Arthur Azevedo, CEO of the Brazilian Association of Sommeliers in São Paulo Arthur Azevedo. The champagne was Drappier Carte d’Or; whites: Weingut Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner (Kamptal, Austria) or Selbach-Oster Bereich Bernkastel QbA (Mosel/ Germany); reds: Fayat-Thunevin (Lalande de Pomerol, Bordeaux, France) or Ysios Reserva, Rioja, Spain.
The service was friendly, and although at first it took a little time to attract the flight attendant’s attention (they seemed to attend to the Brazilian or Portuguese speakers before those speaking other languages) throughout it was professional and well thought out. After the meal I fell asleep for several hours, and when I went back to the galley they made me two cups of tea which was quite an involved operation with hot water, a choice of Twinings teas and some milk, but it was all done with a smile.
Our flight was prolonged by taking a detour to avoid volcanic ash. We flew out beyond Rome before turning and flying over North Africa and then down across the Atlantic to Brazil, eventually arriving at 0850, some three hours late. Given the extra distance added to the route, I was glad of the ER (Extended Rage) of this particular B777-300ER.
A few hours before landing breakfast was served, which was either a herb omelette served with chicken sausage or a ham, edam cheese and tomato sandwich along with pastries, tea or coffee, yoghurt and fresh fruit.
ARRIVAL We made up a little time but were still late, and I was glad I had no onward connections. Immigration was reasonably quick (ten minutes). I had no bags to wait for on the carousel but a colleague also in business did and they were out quickly.
VERDICT Excellent. The lie flat seat is very comfortable and easy to sleep with, and the service is friendly if a little vague at times.
PRICE A mid-week return in June starts at £3,346 (from TAM’s website).
- SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-3-2
- SEAT LENGTH 70in/178cm
- SEAT WIDTH 20in/51cm
- IFE SCREEN 15.5 inches
- PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Sao Paulo in September started from £2,671.
- CONTACT tamairlines.com