Well, my favorite airline in the world is Azul. So I'm always reading news about it. When I saw that it asked to the Brazilian aviation authorities a flight between Porto Alegre (my home airport) and Uruguaiana, I became amazed. Uruguaiana is a city on Rio Grande do Sul's state west, making border with Paso de Los Libres, Argentina. The city didn't receive regular flights since NHT/Brava, a small regional airline that closed in 2013, ended their operations there. As the bus trip to Porto Alegre takes about eight hours, the population really needed a flight! AZU4401/4402 POA-URG-POA would connect the cities in a hour and a half six times a week. The aircraft would be the ATR 72-600, for 70 passengers. Also, the flight would allow Uruguaianenses to connect to cities as Curitiba, Campinas, Guarulhos, Rio, etc.
When tickets started to be sold, I bought them for the inaugural flight. I think I was the first to buy them - by the fair price of BRL220.48 for the roundtrip with taxes, about USD70.19 in current values. An amazing deal for an unforgettable trip!
I chose seat 5A on Azul's website. All seats on the ATR have the same pitch - Azul decided not to put EspaçoAzul seats on it. I tried to make the check-in on Azul's app three days before my flight, but the app wasn't working. So I did it by the computer.
Check-in made and I just had to wait for October 27. I talked with Azul's press sector by e-mail and I was told that the airline's President would be there, along with some directors too. That made me just amazed, because I would meet and talk with people that I just know by the news, and that lead my favorite airline. Amazing! When the great day arrived, I arrived at the airport early to make some planespotting with my friends, that would go to Uruguaiana with me. The photos we took weren't good, though, cos' there was some fog at POA in that morning. Anyway, here they go:
Azul has two Pilatus PC-12, used mainly for crew or spare parts transportation. But they also transport the airline's important people. Maybe he was doing that on this photo: here, PR-BZE "Missão Azul" (Blue Mission) is seen getting to the apron.
Azul's E195 PR-AXH "Verão Azul" (Blue Summer) arriving at POA. Its colorful livery was decided on a contest where everybody could draw one!
Aerolíneas Argentinas 737-700 LV-CBF taxiing on its way to Buenos Aires.
Our flight on the departures screen
After a few pictures, we decided to go to the boarding room. Our flight was being prepared.
Our aircraft for this flight was gonna be the ATR 72-600 PR-ATB. It wears Azul's pink livery and it's named "La Ville Rose", a French nickname for Toulouse, where the ATRs are made. Remember that we were in October: Azul is very, very engaged on the Pink October campaign! Azul's CCO (Centro de Controle de Operações or Operational Control Center) got to take ATB specially for this flight. By the way: in October, the pink airplanes on Azul's fleet (E195 PR-AYO "Rosa e Azul" and PR-ATB) have the same crew the whole month: the female ones wear pink uniforms!
We later were called for boarding. The ATR was in a remote position near the terminal, we boarded it by foot. As we were on the apron, we saw PP-XMA, the first Embraer 190 ever made. It still operates to Embraer.
Photos of "La Ville Rose"!
The flight was a little bit delayed, but that was expected, as it was an inaugural flight, with many authorities. They were:
Eliseu Padilha, minister of the Civil Aviation José Paulo Cairoli, Rio Grande do Sul's vice-governor Pedro Westphalen, Rio Grande do Sul's secretary of the Transports
Funny fact: in the time of this flight, Padilha was a minister of Dilma Rousseff's goverment. She was, however, impeached and he is now chief of staff of Michel Temer (Temer and Rousseff's parties are now political enemies)!
Azul's key persons were there too. Some of them were:
Antonoaldo Neves, Azul's President Sami Foguel, Azul's Vice-President for Clients Claudia Fernandes, Azul's Marketing director
Unfortunately, David Neeleman wasn't there - later Antonoaldo said to me that he was in Portugal managing TAP.
During boarding, I sat on my seat, 5A. But a couple asked to seat together, so Antonoaldo Neves in person asked for me to change seats with them. So I took a different seat, on the wing. An AzulTec (as Azul calls their mechanics) was in the seat next to me. So we talked about aviation, planespotting and other things. Then Antonoaldo Neves, Azul's president, made a speech celebrating the inaugural flight. Here it goes translated to English (for those who want to train Portuguese, I put the original version after this one).
"I'd like to greet all the present authorities, minister Padilha, the vice-governor, next to the governor, the state's Transports secretary, and to greet our crew - deep down, they make all the service. Our pilots, today we have a captain and a [female] first-officer here from the state that will command our flight. And we have two flight attendants dressed in pink. Our first-officer is wearing pink, and deep down… I will talk a little bit about the inaugural flight and then our vice-president will talk during the flight about the meaning of this aircraft for us. But I'd like to say this is a great day for Azul, firstly, because we are an airline that loves regional aviation. Deep down, our DNA is made of regional aviation, we are raising higher flights now, going to other places in the world, but our DNA is here. And everything we do has just two big objectives. The first one is to provide the best job of the life of our employees, and we take this very seriously, because we know that is simple if we treat the employee well, the employee will treat the costumer well and the costumer will come back. And this is a very vicious cycle. The second thing, and most important for us, is the costumers. We resume everything Azul does with two very simple things: the best job of the life and the best flight experience of the life of the costumer. And we say this without any demagogy, without comparing banana to banana and orange to orange. So there can not be any ATR flight in the world better than Azul's flight. And there can not be any Embraer jet flight better than Azul's flight, and there cannot be any 330, any Business class (as we have the new Business now) better than Azul's. And we make all this for you and for our employees. We are very proud to start the flight to Uruguaiana today… this is a historic achievement for the state, that now has six attended cities, and certainly next year we'll have seven, and this will turn into one of the biggest regional operations Azul has in Brazil. We have a hub here in Porto Alegre, for those who don't know, Azul transports practically 2 million and a half people for the state a year, a really big number, and we have 70 flights a day in the state. We are the airline that has the most flights a day here in the state, TAM and Gol, are way far from us, and all this is part of our strategy, that is to connect the whole Brazil, to be present in 100 Brazilian cities… for you to have an ideia, Gol is present in 55, TAM… [we are present in] 101 today, that's true! TAM is present in 45 cities and thereby we can make 1000 flight a day in Brazil at the peak, and we are very proud of this. From each 10 flights in Brazil, 3 are Azul's. And this state has a fundamental importance for two reasons: the first one, we have a lot of ex-Variguianos [people who worked for VARIG, that was founded in Rio Grande do Sul] in Azul. Azul is an airline that started in the moment VARIG was going bankrupt/being sold, and we took advantage of all VARIG's talent to found Azul. And this made a wonderful result. Today you fly all over Brazil and find captains, first-officers, flight attendands, born here in Rio Grande do Sul, and we are very, very, very proud of this, to the extent that today we have a responsible for each base in Brazil, and we put Azul's vice-president to be responsible of Porto Alegre base. He is the base's "padrinho" [sponsor], for you to see the importance this base has for us. Anyway, I've talked too much, I'll be able to talk a lot more during the flight along with Sami, but I'd like to wish you an excellent flight. We'd like to talk with you during the flight for us to see what we can make better and [I'd like to] say this is a historic day, not just for Uruguaiana as for Azul and for the whole state. Thank you very much and a good flight for everyone."
The original version of the speech:
"Queria saudar aqui todas as autoridades presentes, nosso ministro Padilha, nosso vice-governador, muito próximo do governador, nosso secretário de transportes aqui do estado, e também saudar nossa tripulação, no fundo, quem faz todo o serviço. Nossos pilotos, hoje nós temos um comandante e uma co-pilota que é aqui do estado que vai comandar o nosso voo. E temos duas comissárias todas vestidas de rosa. Nossa co-pilota também está de rosa, e no fundo… eu vou falar um pouco sobre o voo inaugural depois o nosso vice-presidente quando ele estiver em voo, vai falar um pouco sobre o significado dessa aeronave pra gente. Mas eu queria dizer que esse é um grande dia pra Azul, em primeiro lugar, porque nós somos uma empresa que ama a aviação regional. No fundo, nosso DNA é de aviação regional, a gente tá alçando voos maiores agora, indo pra outros lugares do mundo, mas o nosso DNA tá aqui. E tudo que a gente faz só tem dois grandes objetivos. O primeiro objetivo é proporcionar o melhor emprego da vida dos nossos tripulantes, e a gente leva isso muito a sério, porque a gente sabe que é muito simples: se a gente trata bem o tripulante, o tripulante trata bem o cliente e o cliente volta. E o ciclo é um ciclo muito vicioso. E a segunda coisa, e mais importante que tem pra gente são os clientes. A gente resume tudo que faz a Azul com duas coisas muito simples: o melhor emprego da vida e melhor experiência de voo da vida dos clientes. A gente fala isso sem nenhuma demagogia, sem comparar banana com banana e laranja com laranja. Então não pode ter nenhum voo de ATR no mundo melhor que o voo da Azul. E não pode ter nenhum voo de jato da Embraer melhor que o do voo da Azul, e não pode nenhum 330, nenhuma classe executiva (como a gente tá com a executiva nova) melhor que a da Azul. E tudo isso a gente faz pra vocês e pra nossos tripulantes. É com muito orgulho que a gente tá começando o voo hoje pra Uruguaiana… é uma marca histórica pro estado que passa a ter seis municípios atendidos, com certeza ano que vem a gente passa a ter sete, e torna-se assim a ser uma das maiores operações que a Azul tem hoje regional no Brasil. Nós temos um hub aqui em Porto Alegre, pra quem não sabe, a Azul hoje transporta praticamente 2 milhões e meio de pessoas pro estado por ano, um número muito grande, e temos 70 voos por dia no estado. Somos a empresa que tem mais voos no estado aqui por dia, TAM, Gol, ficam bem atrás da gente, e tudo isso é parte da nossa estratégia, que é conectar o Brasil inteiro, estar presente em 100 cidades do Brasil… ah, procês terem uma ideia a Gol tá presente em 55, a TAM… [estamos presentes em] (101 hoje, é verdade!) a TAM tá presente em 45 cidades e a gente consegue com isso fazer 1000 voos por dia no Brasil no pico, e a gente tem muito orgulho disso. De cada 10 voos que saem do Brasil, 3 são da Azul. E o estado aqui, ele tem importância fundamental pra Azul por duas razões: a primeira razão, a gente tem muitos ex-Variguianos na Azul. A Azul é uma empresa que começou no momento em que a VARIG estava indo à falência/sendo vendida, e a gente aproveitou todo o talento da VARIG pra fundar a Azul. E isso deu um resultado maravilhoso. Hoje você voa o Brasil inteiro, cê encontra comandantes, co-pilotos, comissários nascidos aqui no Rio Grande do Sul, e a gente tem muito, muito, muito orgulho disso, ao ponto de que nós temos um responsável por cada base no Brasil, e nós colocamos nosso vice-presidente da Azul pra ser responsável pela base de Porto Alegre. Ele é o padrinho da base aqui, procês verem a importância que essa base tem pra gente. Enfim, já falei muito, vou poder falar muito mais aí durante o voo junto com o Sami, mas quero desejar a vocês um excelente voo. A gente quer conversar com vocês durante o voo pra gente ver o que a gente pode fazer melhor, e dizer que esse é um dia histórico, não só pra Uruguaiana como pra Azul e como pro estado inteiro. Muito obrigado a todos e um bom voo."
Doors were still opened, so Antonoaldo came to my seat and asked if I was a planespotter. Of course I said yes! Then he asked if I knew Gianfranco "Panda" Beting, Azul's ex-Marketing director and one of the most popular spotters in Brazil. "Yes", I said, "he is my friend, I met him in 2012, but I don't see him for a long time". So he said "Panda will be in Azulville [Azul's HQ] tomorrow, do you want to go there to meet him?" I just didn't believed that! The president of my favorite airline in the world was inviting me to go to Azulville! Of course I accepted the invitation."
In the end of the speech, Sami talked a little bit about Pink October, and then they gave flowers for all women in the flight.
Then the onboard service was started. Options were potato chips, cookies and the famous jellybeans (this time, in pink colors). Drink options were Coke, Coke Zero, Guaraná, water and juice. By the way, the only entertainment option on the ATR is Azul Magazine.
Antonoaldo and Sami passed by each seat asking for suggestions.
Flying over the pampas
As good things doesn't last too much, soon we were descending. Uruguaiana International Airport
The firefighters recieved us with a water salute.
Soon the aircraft was deboarded. It was an amazing flight! The flight crew
Uruguaiana's little terminal
Uruguaiana Airport is named after Ruben Berta, VARIG's first hired employee and later, its president, who made the airline worldwide famous.
Photos of the return flight:
Photos of the trip to Azulville, in Barueri, near Campinas:
Porto Alegre - POA
Uruguaiana - URG
This was an amazing day for me. It was really nice to meet so important people, that lead my favorite airline! Azul's service was very good, as always. The ATR is perfect for this kind of route. The entertainment was Azul Magazine, but as this was a regional route, it was appropriated. Cabin crew was happy and friendly. Porto Alegre's Terminal 2 is good and clean. But Azul is getting too big for it! Uruguaiana Airport is small. As it only receives six flights a week, it doesn't need many things. But the boarding room was crowded for a 70-passenger flight. Also, the gate agent didn't have a microphone to call passengers to the return flight - she had to shout! Anyway, this was an amazing experience and I'll never forget this day.
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