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Flight Review: TAM 777-300 MIA-GRU Economy and TAM A330 GRU-EZE Business

by on March 15, 2013 · 16 comments

in TAM, Trip Reports

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TPG Managing Editor Eric took advantage of those amazing deals on TAM back in November to book a roundtrip flight from Miami to Buenos Aires via Sao Paulo for just $339. Here’s his review of the flight experience.

TAM 777-300

Although I’ve never flown TAM before and didn’t know what to expect, when I saw the low prices on sale back in November for itineraries from Miami to Buenos Aires, I thought that getting down to $339 was worth it, even if it meant flying 14 hours in coach (I’m getting spoiled!). My fare booked into V class, which, according to TAM, is not eligible for Star Alliance upgrades using United miles, but earns 1 award mile and 1 EQM on United, which was where I was banking my miles. All in all, I’d be earning 10,200 miles for my $339 fare, for a breakdown of 3.2 cents per mile. Not bad!

My whole ticket cost just $339.

My whole ticket cost just $339.

The first leg of my itinerary would be on one of TAM’s four 777-300ERs departing from Miami at 8:35pm on a Sunday evening and then the connecting flight from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires was aboard an A330.

I was able to select seats as soon as I had bought my ticket by logging into the TAM site with my confirmation number. The 777-300ER has just four seats in a single row of first class, two business class cabins arranged in a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration with 8 rows for a total of 56 seats, and then three aft economy cabins.

The 305 economy seats are in a 3 x 4 x 3 configuration and the little front cabin with four rows (in the middle, three on the sides) as well as the first row of each of the back cabins and the emergency exit rows are listed as premium seats and cost $75 each way for a couple extra inches of legroom, so I decided against it. I chose the aisle seat on one of the side rows as far front as possible and just left it at that.

When I got to the airport in Miami about 90 minutes before my flight, there was a huge TAM line…but it turned out to be for their Rio flight and no one was in line for the Sao Paulo flight so I went right up to the counter to check my suitcase. It was here that the agent told me I’d need to pay the Argentina reciprocity fee in advance and present proof of it before he could process me and print out my boarding pass. You used to be able to pay it when you landed in Argentina, but that apparently changed about 2 months ago. Luckily, I was able to do it on my laptop right then and there and he had me email it to his colleague down in the TAM office to print out for me so I could board the plane.

That added an extra 20 stressful minutes to my check-in, but I got to the plane with plenty of time, just after boarding had started, though all the monitors in the terminal were saying “Final Boarding Call.” That turned out not to be true. Although the plane was filling up, it looked to be about 25% empty when I got on and settled into my seat.

The cabin eventually got packed.

The cabin eventually got packed.

The economy seats are just 17 inches wide (Brazilians are thin!) and have 32 inches in pitch. Each also comes with a nine-inch entertainment screen that was loaded with a surprisingly wide range of new movies as well as some old US television shows, music and games. All the websites I checked said power outlets were only available in business and first class, but as far as I could see, all the side rows had 2 outlets with international adapters in them and the middle rows had 2 as well, so I was able to charge my computer and phone while we flew, which was helpful.

Space was tight. The entertainment system was the best part.

Space was tight. The entertainment system was the best part.

The plane continued to board right up until the 8:35 departure time…and then for about 10 minutes after that until every single seat was taken. At that point, we still weren’t moving and no one explained anything to us.

Finally, about 15 minutes after that, the pilot came on the speaker and said we’d have to wait another 15 minutes or sow while they rebooted the plane’s computer system.

Once that was done, we remained at the gate for another 20 minutes or so before finally pushing back and heading out onto the tarmac…where we were held for another long interval. When we finally did take off, we were leaving a full 90 minutes late. Good thing the entertainment system works on the ground…and that I had a 3-hour layover in Sao Paulo.

The food was awful - there's nothing nicer to say about it.

The food was awful – there’s nothing nicer to say about it.

The flight itself was uneventful and smooth. The cabin crew was courteous and quick and came by often with water apart from the main services. The food, however, was absolutely disgusting. I eat a lot of airplane food – and yes, food in coach – and this was still awful by those standards. The dinner choices were some sort of chicken scraps coated in rubbery beige gravy, or mushy fusilli pasta with tomato paste and dried-out bits of ham plus a wilted side salad, a roll and a piece of chocolate cake that was sawdust-dry. All told, not a great experience. In the morning, breakfast service included a fruit cup and a ham-and-cheese sandwich.

One bright spot was that, unlike a lot of airlines these days, the crew handed out little amenity kits even in economy that included socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste and a comb.

The amenity kits were a nice little touch.

The amenity kits were a nice little touch.

The Connection

When we got to Sao Paulo, we deplaned via staircases and were shepherded onto buses and deposited at the customs and immigration checkpoint. I was pretty close to the head of the line from my plane, but five other international flights had arrived right around the same time, so the hall was packed and it took me the better part of an hour to get through. I also had to present my Argentina reciprocity form to prove I was transiting, but luckily I didn’t have to retrieve my suitcase and recheck it before sprinting two terminals and ducking through security and another immigration checkpoint to get to my next flight on time.

When I arrived, I was one of the last passengers to board and found a man occupying my seat. I was asked to take my bag to the front door of the plane and to wait along with about a half-dozen other passengers whose names were called. After about four agents and 20 minutes of haggling, the other displaced passengers and I were told just to pick a free seat in the business class cabin. Well, that turned out nicely! And it gave me a chance to test out the business class seats, which were the same as aboard the 777-300ER with 63 inches in pitch, 20 inches wide and about 165 degrees of recline.

My accidental business class upgrade.

My accidental business class upgrade.

I picked a window seat and waited to snack on the economy breakfast (naturally they only had business meals for those passengers who had actually booked business class), which was a dry ham-and-cheese sandwich, and reclined the seat to its flat but angled position for a nap on the way down. A flight attendant actually woke me up to give me a pillow and duvet. I was kind of annoyed, but it did make things more comfortable. I slept the rest of the three-hour flight and arrived in BA feeling better than when I’d boarded.

Apart from the long, unexplained delay in Miami and subsequent rush in Sao Paulo (and the dreadful food), I would actually say my TAM experience was nice. I liked that it was aboard a newish, clean plane with all the bells and whistles and a great entertainment system, and there are worse things than being accidentally upgraded to business class. That said, I’m not relishing my return trip – good thing I have another few weeks down here to psych myself up for it!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/fabiovilela Fábio Vilela

    Those seats are extremely uncomfortable for long haul flights.

  • CG23

    TAM airlines is great if there aren’t any unexpected glitches. It’s the old school flight attendant attention. However, when something does go wrong all hell breaks loose and it becomes bureaucracy at its worst. Things like needing a paper copy of a boarding pass (who does that?!) or them requiring you to have your contact information completely updated on their website otherwise you have to MAIL COLOR copies of your documents (!).
    Also, trying to use their points has to be one of the most aggravating experiences you will ever have to live through. They put a lot of extra steps so that something will go wrong and eventually people just give up.

  • CG23

    yup! too upright

  • schmege

    Show me the points!

  • Yabadabado

    Argentina reciprocity fee?–explain what this is exactly please. And why couldn’t you just pay for it right when you checked in?

  • iv

    Basically its a cash grab. I’ve debated this with friends in Argentina. Here goes: If you live in Argentina and want to visit Canada/USA you have to apply for a visitors visa and you fill out paper-work and see embassy staff etc… There is a “cost” in providing this service because there is actual work being done by real people to process your visa. Your visa can be denied or approved based on criteria. So there is a fee. BUT in Argentina, you don’t have to apply for a visa they grant ANYONE entry as long as you pay the “reciprocity” fee. This fee is based on the same amount each country charges for a visa application. So where-as Canada & USA actually provide a service for the fee Argentina does not and just collects $$$ = CASH GRAB!

  • iv

    The TAM lounge in GRU is very basic and the computer stations there block Facebook… go figure. Furniture is worn-out and mis-matched. TAM inflight was a very good product and service was very good years before VARIG went under. TAM seamed to work harder when they were the underdog vs. VARIG now that they are the largest Brazilian carrier they have fallen-by the waist-side.

  • acs

    Thanks for “letting me” visit your country, spend my money and help your economy.

    I believe I should pay an extra ~$200, on top of my travel costs to the city where the US consulate is located ($500+ since I don’t live near a big city) so that I can explain to some guy why exactly I want to go to Disney World with my family so that he can stamp my passport and sign some papers.

  • iv

    The fact is Argentina needs the tourist money more than USA and their economy has been in the toilet for the last 10 years. So they shouldn’t be hindering tourism. I have no problem if any organization charges a “fee” but at-least do some actual work not sit behind a booth and collect money from arriving passengers who are the bread and butter of a big part of your economy!

  • Yabadabado

    And so yet another country goes on my do not visit list…

  • Alex

    Actually, it is more of a diplomatic issue than economical. Reciprocity fees are charged in Argentina and Chile if I’m not mistaken, while In Brazil American and Canadian citizens must apply for a visa in a Brazilian consulate. The fact that it is charged on arrival doesn’t make it a cash grab as stated before, it is just a response: if you charge my citizen to enter my country, so will I. Actually paying on arrival is even more convenient for citinzens of USA/ Canada, remember that if an argentinian or Brazilian living far from American consulates have to travel to Buenos Aires, Rio, Sao Paulo, etc, since they have to be interviewed in person.

    Anyway paying to entry in a country is annoying, but not a reason to avoid it. If some American avoid it because of the fees, I don’t believe is a great issue for Argentinian, since European Union, Japanese, NZ, and Mercosur citizens are visa waived to enter Argentina. And as RECIPROCITY argentinian are free to enter in these countries.

  • Paulo

    At GRU, you could have transferred yourself international-to-international without clearing any immigration checkpoint, just a one security chekpoint.

    Because you were bused in to the terminal you missed all the signs that enable travellers to simply clear security and, even in they need to change terminals, to do so completely airside.

    Next time you are bused in internationally and need to transfer at GRU simply get out of the immigration queues and go to the upper level where you will find all the signals for more convenient transfers.

    Cheers,

  • Songer5

    Anyone going to Argentina soon MUST google “Blue Dollar” before they go. There’s an unofficial exchange rate that gives you 7.5-8.0 Argentine Pesos per 1 USD (instead of just 5.1 under the official rate).

    Best bet is to bring a lot of USD and use them directly at stores who will give you the 7.5 rate. I wouldn’t trust the “change/cambio shops” that may give you fake currency. If you exchange at a bank, they will only give you 5 pesos per dollar.

    If you do exchange. end up with too much Argentine pesos at the end of your trip, you CANNOT exchange them for USD anywhere, No one will take pesos (banks or airport). Instead, use the extra pesos to pay down your hotel bill and use your credit card to pay off the remaining balance.

  • Pingback: Travel Tuesday Top 10: Mistakes That Will Ruin Your Award Trip – And How To Avoid Them | The Points Guy()

  • skwok

    Thanks for the review. From the recent AA redemption option, I was considering it. Not anymore. Probably stick to LAN or maybe AA down to GRU with TAM GRU-EZE connection. No AA flight available for EZE.

  • Alice

    Very interesting to read your review. I have flown with TAM twice now and I’m sorry to say that it was a really frustrating long haul flight experience.

    The food is still horrid and the portions tiny. I had fortunately read other reviews about this prior to flying and I boarded loaded with plenty of snacks which I was happy to share with my seat mates after hearing their stomach’s growling. Be grateful for that bread roll, I only got a cracker.

    The leg room is an absolute joke and I’m only a 5’3, 50 kg tiny person; I shudder to think what it’s like for normal sized people. All you need is one muppet to recline while still on the tarmac (flight attendants allowed this) and you are royally beeped for the next 12 hours.

    I found the service very lacking, Sao Paolo airport was like a bad comedy show (I speak three major languages fluently and had to beg a Delta pilot for help as no airport staff was able to communicate after TAM people sent me to the wrong terminal for my layover), and quite frankly I will be avoiding TAM in the future on flights longer than 6 hours.

    One positive note is that the in-flight entertainment system is very good. Plenty of newly released films, a few classics, popular TV shows and decent music. I agree that the travel kits, which are still handed out, are a nice touch, but I won’t do long haul with TAM again even if the girl from Ipanema herself flies the plane.

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