Tried & Tested

TAM B777-300ER business class

21 Mar 2013 by Jenny Southan

BACKGROUND Brazilian flag carrier TAM flies nonstop daily between London and Sao Paulo (with regular connections to Rio) and three times a week (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday) nonstop to Rio. 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.

THE TRANSFER As I was transferring on to the 2340 flight (JJ8084) to London (click here to read a review of the Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paulo flight), I asked several members of staff where to go and was given various incorrect sets of directions. In the end, I made my way up to international check-in, then through security by Zone A. There was no sign-posted fast-track lane but a member of staff directed me ahead of several people so I was quickly seen to. The security area was almost empty and liquids and laptops came out. There was then a five-minute wait at passport control before I was able to head upstairs to the lounge.

THE LOUNGE TAM opened a new Star Alliance lounge in Terminal 2 of Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International airport in October 2012 (click here for more information) but as my flight to London was departing from Terminal 1 I was unable to use it. When I arrived at the TAM/Star business lounge in T1, I found it to be packed out, with no seats available but the receptionist said I could use the United lounge, opposite instead. This facility was set to close at about 2230, but I only had half an hour anyway so had a quick drink and logged on to the free wifi.

BOARDING Boarding was from Gate 13, a four-minute walk away, and I left the lounge at 2230. The procedure began shortly after I arrived, with families with small children and elderly people called first, followed by first and business passengers. After crossing an airbridge to the plane, I was in my seat (11K) by 2255. The cabin appeared to be about 25 per cent full.

Drappier Carte d’Or champagne, juice and water was offered at 2300, and each passenger was presented with a small dish of nuts and raisins. At 2320, a choice of sweets and Portuguese-language magazines were brought around, then menus, headphones and amenity kits at 2325. These contained a razor and shaving cream, moisturiser, a brush, socks, eye mask, biro, toothbrush, paste and earplugs. Cotton blankets and large pillows were also provided but no sheets.

THE SEAT The business cabin on the B777 is divided between two sections – the front has one row of first class seats (one) and two rows of business (five to seven), while the second cabin has five rows (eight to 12). Seats are configured 2-3-2 (A-C, D-F-G, H-K). Click here to see a seat plan. 

and are upholstered in red floral-patterned fabric. Unfortunately, they are not fully 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 good night’s sleep.

There are three pre-set seat seating positions and buttons to lengthen the legrest as desired, as well as 15.5-inch IFE screens in the backs of each seat controlled by a remote in the armrest, US power sockets, a tray table that comes out of the armrest and reading lights.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Avoid rows five and eight 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 rows seven and eight are also close to the washrooms and galley so may suffer some disturbance. Middle seats F are also best avoided as you won’t have direct aisle access. All seats are forward-facing so if you choose a window seat you will have to climb over the person next to you to get out (assuming they have reclined their seat). Discrete gold handrails on the back of each seat are there to aid you in doing this though. 

THE FLIGHT The aircraft began taxiing at 2355 – the lights were turned out and the IFE system was turned on at the same time. Blue mood lighting provided some subtle illumination for the 15 minutes until after take-off, when the overhead lights came back on. At 0010, food orders were taken, and dishes served at 0130. There was a good choice of meals, with smoked catfish and shrimp on a bed of greens, French mushrooms and Gorgonzola cheese with pecans, or watercress and nutmeg cream soup to start. (I went for the last but found it overly salty.)

There were three main courses: filet mignon in a red wine sauce with roasted potatoes and steam broccoli; chicken fillet with a raspberry and balsamic vinegar compote, almond rice pilaf and buttered vegetables; and Brie cheese and black olive-filled tortellini serviced with a tomato concasse with lime-scented olive oil and brazil nuts. Although I had pre-ordered a vegetarian special meal (this, I was informed, was quinoa with vegetables), a member of crew said I could choose from the menu instead, if I preferred. I took them up on the offer, opting for the pasta, which was enjoyable (in fact I could have eaten a bigger portion as it was on the small side). Business Traveller attended the launch event of TAM’s new premium cabin menu last May – click here to find out more.

To finish the meal was a selection of cheese, banana and raspberry tartlet, ice cream or fresh fruit. For those that want to get to sleep as soon as possible, there is the “express meal” option whereby all dishes are served at the same time. As with the outbound flight (click here for a review), the crew didn’t speak much English. The woman serving me wasn’t particularly friendly or warm, either, whereas on the outbound flight the crew were charming.

In terms of drinks, the crew can prepare bloody Mary, gin fizz, screwdriver and traditional Brazilian caipirinha cocktails (very strong – so watch out), and there is a winelist with two reds and two whites. The French red was Château Bel-Air-Ouÿ, 2007, Jean-Luc Thunevin, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, and happened to be the winner of Business Traveller’s Best Business Class wine from its 2012 Cellars in the Sky Awards. (Click here for the full list of winners.) I had a glass or two and found it t be very agreeable.

Other options were an Abadia Retuerta Seleccion Especial from Spain, a Dr Burklin-Wolf Wachennheimer Altenburg Premier Cru from Pfalz, Germany, and a Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire, France (vintages weren’t listed).

The cabin lights went out at 0210 and I settled down to get some rest. I slept soundly on the angled lie-flat bed and was woken for breakfast at 0900. A tray was brought to me with orange squash, some white cheese, fruit, yoghurt and a bread roll. This was then followed by a hot option of spinach and cheese pancake with two potato wedges. I wasn’t very hungry so didn’t eat much. Other options on the menu were cold cuts, cereal, Danish pastry with “Edam-like” cheese and Canadian ham, and scrambled eggs with a Gouda cheese-filled crêpe and white sauce.

ARRIVAL The trays were collected at 1000 and fast-track immigration forms handed out for arrival. The plane started its descent into London Heathrow at 1010, and blankets and pillows were stowed in the over-head bins, seats put in the upright position and chocolates handed out. Landing was at 1040 (1340 local time), making a total journey time of ten hours 40 minutes.

After a short taxi to the stand, I disembarked at 1050. On entering the terminal via an airbridge, there was a large group of immigration staff waiting to check passports, and then a long walk to the official immigration channels – although I had a fast-track pass, there was actually a longer queue there so I went straight to the nearest available desks and was landside a minute later. My case appeared in baggage reclaim after just five minutes. Most business class fares receive a free chauffeur service to and from London Heathrow airport within a 65-mile radius.

VERDICT Considering TAM’s business class product is angled-lie flat, I slept very well on this night flight from Sao Paulo to London. The 15.5-inch IFE screens are excellent quality and there was a good choice of food and wine, though the service could have been better.

FACT FILE:

CONFIGURATION 2-3-2 (A-C, D-F-G, H-K)

SEAT WIDTH 20in/51cm

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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