An overseas trip over the Thanksgiving holiday week has become a yearly tradition for me. For US-based flyers, one of the nice things about flying internationally around Thanksgiving, is an abundance of good airfare deals. This may seem counter-intuitive as Thanksgiving week is known to be the busiest travel period of the year. However, because the vast majority of flying is domestic–as Americans fly within the US to be with their families–this leaves seats open on international flights originating from US hubs, which often leads to good fares to fill those seats.
When looking to find the best flight deals, I don't usually have a destination in mind. Being flexible about destinations opens up more possibilities. I'd done Asia several times for Thanksgiving week, but flying 20+ hours each way for just a week-long trip can be very tiring and cuts down on the time at destination. When I found some good Premium Economy deals to South America, I thought this would be ideal at around 12 hours of travel time each way, with red-eyes both ways, which maximises time and saves money on hotels. The best prices were to Santiago de Chile and Rio de Janeiro. I'd been wanting to go to Chile for a long time, and each of Nechus' beautiful reports makes me want to go even more; however, by the time I went to book flights, the dates I needed to SCL were no longer available. Therefore, I ended up booking flights to Rio de Janeiro, which had also been a long-time bucket list destination. Brazil is also one of those destinations where my dual French-US citizenship comes in handy. Brazil offers EU citizens a visa waiver, whereas US citizens must have a visa–using my French passport would save me $100 and time.
I won't be reporting the domestic legs between DCA and MIA as they were very ordinary domestic flights.
The day started out at Washington Reagan National airport where we had a 3:30 PM flight to Miami. We made sure to arrive early as lane closures due to the construction of a new regional terminal at DCA has been creating some major back-ups on the airport access road from the GW Parkway. Just the day before, traffic was so bad that people were getting out of their taxis and Ubers and running across the highway to avoid missing flights. Luckily, it wasn't too bad for us and we were stuck in back-ups for only about 10 minutes.
Although we'd checked in on the AA app 24 hours prior to the departure time, we had one bag to drop off at the Priority counter. It was a quick process with an efficient agent.
Despite the Thanksgiving travel crowds, the Pre-check lane at Concourse B/C moved quickly and we were airside in minutes.
This left us some time to spend at the Admirals Club prior to departure of our flight to MIA. There are two Admirals clubs at AA's DCA hub–one, the pre-merger AA Admirals club in Terminal B/C and the other, the pre-merger US Airways Club in Terminal C.
The Terminal B/C Club was pleasantly uncrowded.
I won't cover the lounge in any detail as I've reported it many times in the past.
Views from the lounge including our PMUS A321 at gate 32.
Our DCA-MIA flight departed and landed on time.
MIA Flagship Lounge
After an on-time arrival into MIA, we took the train towards the D30 lounges.
On the flight from DCA, we had run into a friend who was also connecting in Miami and invited her to join us in the Flagship lounge as a guest.
The Admirals Club and Flagship lounge share a check-in lobby on the main level. Those with access to the Flagship lounge receive a red "Flagship" stamp on their boarding passes.
Once checked-in, the Flagship lounge is to the right and the Admirals club is to the left. The stamped boarding pass is shown to agents at the entrance of the Flagship lounge for access.
A good first impression of the new Flagship lounge. It is very large with a lot of different quiet seating areas.
View of the concourse below
Parts of the lounge overlook the tarmac
Decent selection of adult beverages at the self-serve bar
The Flagship First Dining room, reserved for long-haul First class passengers, is located near the dining section
The food selection is really good for a US lounge–a vast improvement over normal Admirals Clubs and other standard US carrier lounges. It's nice to finally see US carriers bringing at least some lounges to a level on par, if not better, than those of premium international carriers.
And there's plenty of champagne available!
Yes, actual champagne.
It's refreshing to finally see U.S. carriers meaningfully investing in lounges. Just a few years ago, I reported AA's JFK Flagship Lounge which, prior to the opening of new Flagships and refreshing of existing Flagship lounges, was the best AA had to offer at that time. The previous generation of Flagship lounges were reserved for long-haul First class and oneworld Emeralds–the new generation of Flagship lounges, now open to international Business class passengers, is better than the previous First class version.
I hadn't eaten lunch so I tried a bit of everything
Some cold Spanish tapas style options of cheeses and cures meats
Hot options included grilled chicken breast, ribs, croquettes, kale, Spanish rice, and tortellini
As we got closer to departure time, I went to request a shower at the front reception desk. The very friendly agent advised that there were only 2 people in front of me on the list and told me she would page me or invited me to wait in the adjacent seating area.
I opted to hang out in the area as I suspected it would be a short wait.
And sure enough, the agent kindly came to tell me a few minutes later that a shower was now open for me.
The shower rooms are large and each have a toilet.
C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries products
After a refreshing shower I quickly explored another side of the lounge I hadn't yet seen. This lounge is really large, which is nice as it keeps it feeling spacious even at peak times like this evening bank of departures to South America.
Shortly after, it was time to leave for the gate.
Boarding AA905 MIA-GIG
We headed to the gate about 10 minutes prior to the scheduled boarding time, passing under sections of the lounge.
As we were waiting to board we were paged by the gate agent. When I got to the gate podium, I handed the agent my passport as I'd assumed it was a passport check. This wouldn't have surprised me considering that I had two different passports in my reservation.
But then I heard new boarding passes printing, and I knew what that meant!
"Is that a good sound I hear?" I asked the agent "It sure is, we have some better seats for you tonight," she replied as she handed me new boarding passes for 7D/H.
Woo Hoo! Operational upgrades on long-haul flights are always exciting! I've found over the years that flying in Premium Economy with frequent flyer status heightens chances for op-ups during busy travel periods. When Economy is oversold, oneworld Elites in Premium Economy are upgraded to Business to make room for upgrades from Economy.
Boarding group 1 was called as soon as we were handed our new boarding passes so we joined the queue to board.
Our B777-200ER to Rio de Janeiro
This particular B777-200ER is outfitted with American's Zodiac "Concept D" Business class seats laid out in a unique 1-2-1 forwards-backwards configuration. About half of AA's 77E fleet was outfitted with these these but delays with the seat manufacturer Zodiac prompted AA to cancel the contract and instead install Rockwell-Collins (Previously B/E Aerospace) Super Diamond seats on the rest of the 77E fleet.
My seat for the next 8.5 hours
These seats are only about 3-4 years old at most and still look and feel new. AA did a nice job with updating the cabins on these older 777s.
Aside from the new Casper pillow and bedding, were the Cole Haan amenity kits and menus pre-placed on the seats.
Lets have a look at the menu.
The dinner menu has 4 choices of main dishes, which is above average as many carriers only offer 3 options.
Wine list - the champagne is the same that was served in the Flagship lounge.
These Zodiac Concept D seats aren't quite as spacious as the more traditional reverse-herringbone Zodiac Cirrus on the 77W fleet or Super Diamond on the rest of the 77E, but are still quite nice and modern with lots of bells and whistles.
Touchscreen seat controls offering a large variety of adjustments.
The legroom is great.
It's obvious that AA and Zodiac co-created this forwards-backwards re-design of the Cirrus seat with for higher density, but the difference isn't very noticeable. The seats are a bit narrower, but it's most noticeable with the ottoman, which is much smaller on these seats compared to the 77W or even A330 Cirrus models. There are also less storage compartments under the center console.
The IFE screens are large and about the same as on the 77W
The content of films, series, documentaries, and music is extensive.
Ah, I remember this moment fondly–Allez les bleus :-)
For AvGeeks, the airshow is nice and modern
Today's flight time will be 7:42
The planned route for the flight.
Boarding was completed early and we pushed back 5 minutes ahead of schedule.
As usual, the safety video played as we left the gate.
First in English…
…then in Portuguese
We took off early with an estimated early arrival into Rio.
About 20 minutes into the flight, the cabin crew began the apéritif service.
I had another champagne, which was served with warm nuts.
The tray tables are so large that the linen laid for dinner service looks tiny.
The service was very efficient to allow for maximum sleep time, which was appreciated.
On late departing and shorter red-eye flights, appetisers, salad, and main dish are served on one tray.
I found the dishes to be well-presented.
Smoked Salmon Roll quail egg, cream cheese, sunburst squash, capers
I put on a movie towards the end of dinner. Knowing I would fall asleep to it, I put on a movie I knew I wouldn't care if I didn't see the end.
Irish cream mousse cake flaky butter crust
After dinner I put the seat in bed mode and managed a solid 6 hours or sleep. I woke up as we were flying over the Brazilian capital of Brasilia, about an hour and 20 minutes out from Rio.
Stuffed from the Flagship lounge and dinner onboard, I opted for the lighter breakfast option, which consisted of a fruit plate.
We landed early after a 7 hour and 49 minute flight and arrived at the gate 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
Last view of the cabin on deplaning.
Being right by the door, we were among the first off the plane.
Welcome to Brazil!
Immigration was quick being that we didn't require visas.
Bags came out quickly and we were in a taxi to Copacabana within a half hour of arriving, not bad!
What a lovely view for the next week ahead!
Copacabana from the rooftop pool
Thanks for reading!
American Airlines Flagship Lounge
Miami - MIA
Rio De Janeiro - GIG
A very nice flight to Rio with American Airlines. The lovely Flagship lounge set the tone for a pleasant trip.
While this isn't the best long-haul Business class seat AA has to offer, it's a really modern and comfortable seat, which allowed me to get a full night's sleep on this 8 hour red-eye. AA has done a good job with the cabin refurbishment on the 77E fleet--the interior looks and feels new.
The cabin crew were attentive, friendly, and very efficient throughout the flight. The IFE is great with a lot of content, but I've docked the score a half point for a broken IFE remote.
The catering was very good. The dinner was one of the better meals I'd had in AA Business class. The salmon roll appetiser was delicious and I found the seafood cannelloni to be creative and tasty. It's nice to see some elevated dishes, rather than the boring old chicken and beef options I'd grown used to seeing on US carriers.
I'm a fan of all the improvements AA has made over the past few years, but there is still a lot of work ahead as international travel through pre-merger AA hubs like JFK, LAX, and MIA is still a much more premium experience, with the Flagship lounges, than flying through PMUS hubs like CLT, PHL, and PHX. AA still needs to work on consistency and getting those Flagship lounges open in PMUS hubs--I'm especially looking forward to the PHL Flagship as I often fly through Philly.
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