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.
As most flights from Brazil to North America leave very late, we had a whole day to enjoy the beach prior to going to the airport. We arrived at Galeão Terminal 2 just after 7PM, or about 3.5 hours before departure.
The American Airlines ticket counter was just opening as we arrived. One side of the bank of check-in desks is dedicated to the Priority lane.
We only had to wait about 5 minutes for the ticket counter to open–once open, check in was very quick.
There were no fast track lanes at security or immigration, but there were very few people and was super fast as a result.
Once airside we headed to the 3rd level, where all lounges are located in close proximity to each other.
Between our oneworld frequent flyer status and Priority Pass, we had access to 3 of the 4 lounges. With plenty of time before boarding, let's go lounge-hopping!
All lounges are located down this long hallway.
Gol Premium Lounge
We decided to start on the furthest end with the Gol Premium Lounge.
The Gol Lounge is impressively large–it needs to be as it hosts several SkyTeam carriers (AF, AR, DL, KL), oneworld carriers (BA, IB), as well as Emirates.
The lounge is very long, with lots of seating and tarmac views.
There's a large dining area as well.
With an impressive buffet or hot and cold options.
So I grabbed a snack with a variety of items before heading to the next lounge. We stayed for about 45 minutes and the lounge remained quiet the entire time.
Considering that Gol is a low-cost carrier, I did not expect much from this lounge, so I was very pleasantly surprised by the overall quality, calm, and spaciousness.
Premium Plaza Lounge
Next, we headed to the Plaza Premium Lounge. I'd been to several Plaza Premium Lounges in Asia, and always found them to be decent lounges, so I was curious to see how this one would compare.
A Christmas tree greets passengers at the entrance to the lounge.
A good first impression, it has a similar décor and ambiance as the other Plaza Premium lounges I'd visited in Asia.
This lounge is very large as well–perhaps even bigger than the Gol Premium Lounge.
In addition to being large, the lounge is pleasantly quiet with just a handful of people.
There is a good selection of hot and cold options on offer, much like the Gol Premium Lounge.
All manner of cocktails are available at the bar, while some wines are self-serve, near the buffet.
We found a nice quiet corner all to ourselves.
As a dedicated Flight-Reporter, I had another snack ^^
There was a nice view of the tarmac from the lounge.
Once again, I was impressed with the quality of the lounge and the fact that it was mostly empty made it an even more pleasant experience.
Living in the U.S. where most airline lounges are relatively stark, except for a handful of AA Flagship and UA Polaris lounges, lounge experience overseas are generally an upgrade.
In fact, U.S. carriers' lounges outside of the U.S. are usually much nicer than those within the U.S.–let's see if this is the case for the Admirals Club Rio.
American Admirals Club
Considering we were flying American Airlines, it made sense to end up at the Admirals Clubs.
The GIG Admirals Club has recently been renovated in the new style, but is surprisingly small.
At least it appears small compared to the much larger Gol and Premium Plaza lounges.
Although I can't say it was overcrowded, when compared to the other two lounges, it was much busier. Considering that AA has quite a few daily flights from GIG, and that this lounge serves as the main lounge for LATAM, it could stand to be larger.
Nevertheless, we found a quiet corner, though there were no windows in this area.
I found the food offering to be better than a standard Admirals Club in the U.S., but not quite as nice as the other two lounges we'd just visited. There were some hot options on the other side of the lounge (not pitcured).
I wasn't really hungry at this point, but I had to try this little burger, just because it was cute, haha.
As we approached boarding time, the lounge began to empty out. The only AA flight leaving later than ours was the daily flight to New York-JFK.
It's a bit of a long walk to get to the gate so we headed out from the lounge about 10 minutes before boarding time.
Unsurprisingly, once we arrived at the gate, there were already hundreds of people crowding the boarding queues. Luckily agents went through the crowd and organized people into queues based on boarding priority–a pleasant surprise!
Soon enough, boarding began and the agents strictly enforced the zone boarding.
No operational upgrade at boarding this time, but Premium Economy is plenty comfortable.
On the B777-200ER, the Premium Economy cabin consists of 3 rows of seats in a 2-4-2 configuration.
At booking we were able to get seats in the first row, which offer more legroom and full legrests.
The legrests in the first row, which elevate the feet and support the legs, make a big difference for sleeping on night flights. These wider leather seats are the same seats being installed in domestic First class on some AA narrowbody aircraft.
Other rows feature just a foot rest.
A comfortable Casper pillow and blanket, along with a basic Cole Haan amenity kit, are pre-placed on the seats.
A bottle of water is also provided.
As mentioned, the legroom is very good in the first row–it is difficult to reach the bulkhead in front. The space in the first row of Premium Economy on the 777-200 is a bit better than that on the A330-200, which I'd previously tried.
Printed menus are provided in Premium Economy
However, I'd pre-ordered on AA.com.
I love that Premium Economy passengers can pre-order mains on AA.com. It adds to the premium feel, as this is normally reserved for Business and First class.
These retrofitted cabins look great, in my opinion. AA have done a great job making the cabins look and feel new on these older 777s.
This particular 77E features the newest Business class product, Rockwell-Collins Super Diamond seats.
The airshow plays on TVs in the bulkheads
As boarding continued, the crew announced that the in-flight entertainment system was broken on this flight. The crew explained that maintenance were unable to fix the issue and apologised for the inconvenience while informing passengers that the IFE content could be streamed on personal devices via the onboard WiFi.
Yikes, 9 hours with no IFE! Luckily it was a night flight and I was planning on sleeping anyway.
Boarding finished early and, as the IFE issue was deemed not fixable early on, we departed the gate very early.
We had pushed back from the gate 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
Taxiing past the JFK flight operated by a 77W
A United B767-300ER
It was a good thing that we had pushed back early as the taxi time was very long during this busy bank of departures to Europe and North America.
We were airborne 25 minutes after pushback.
Out of curiosity I wanted to see if the IFE was totally broken.
Yep, it's broken. The only things that worked were books/magazine articles and the moving map.
Soon after takeoff the meal service began. Note that there are no separate pre-dinner drink services on overnight flights so if you'd like to have an apéritif and a different drink for your dinner, it's best to ask for both drinks at once.
Main Roasted chicken thighs, creamy lemon juice, mashed potatoes, sautéed escarole with red onion and garlic
Dessert Dutch pie, strawberry half, caramel sauce
Overall, it was tasty. Meals in Premium Economy are similar to domestic First class catering with the same presentation on china and use of metal cutlery. The only difference is the use of plastic cups for drinks, rather than glasses, which I've always found odd.
I guess the lack of IFE wasn't that big of a deal for me as I went to sleep just after Brasilia and slept for the whole rest of the flight. I didn't even wake up for breakfast, though I wasn't really hungry after so much food in the lounges and the late dinner.
I slept a good 7-8 hours on this long overnight flight and didn't wake up until seats had to be brought upright for landing.
Miami beach in sight.
Crossing over Biscayne Bay just to the north of the causeway and downtown Miami
Arrival & Flagship Lounge
With our early departure, we arrived at the gate 20 minutes early. It's always nice to arrive early, but a 4:15AM arrival is rough.
Business class on deplaning
As usual, immigration was fast with Global Entry; however, the TSA pre-check lanes were not open in the transit area despite several arrivals from South America.
SInce the pre-check lanes weren't open and as we had plenty of time before our next flight to DC thanks to the early arrival, I decided headed outside for some fresh air before going back through TSA pre-check at the normal checkpoint.
Being in transit from an international flight, we were eligible to use the wonderful Flagship Lounge prior to our DC flight.
It's always nice to have a refreshing shower after a red-eye flight.
The Flagship lounge was pleasantly deserted at this very early hour.
As we'd decided to maximise sleep onboard, rather than eat breakfast, we took advantage of the buffet at the Flagship Lounge.
Once again, the selection is really good for a U.S. carrier lounge. I can't say it enough, the new Flagship lounges are such a huge improvement!
We were able to have a nice hot breakfast before our short flight home.
The DCA-MIA sector was an uneventful domestic flight. I slept most of the way but woke up in time to be treated to a beautiful view of Washington, DC.
Thank you for reading!
Rio De Janeiro Tourism bonus
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Rio is a beautiful city in an amazing natural setting. We stayed on the southern end of Copacabana beach within an easy walk of Ipanema.
Copacabana beach in front of out hotel
Twilight over Copacabana beach seen from our hotel.
Copacabana sand sculptures by night
Hotel rooftop pool
So much delicious food
Beautiful Ipanema Beach
We had a few days of rain, but this allowed us to visit the city centre and do some cultural activities.
Museu do Amanhã (Museum of the Future) - A futuristic science museum with cool architecture
Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR) featuring an exhibit on the history of Samba aesthetic
AquaRio - The largest aquarium in South America
Theatro Municipal - the Rio Opera house inspired by Paris' Opéra Garnier
Famous Maracanã Stadium
No trip to Rio is complete without a visit to Corcovado and Sugar Loaf
Train to the top of Corcovado mountain
Sugarloaf from Corcovado
Panoramic views from Corcovado
Christ the Redeemer
Looking towards Ipanema
Sugarloaf mountain and Urca hill
Cable car to Sugarloaf mountain
Santos Dumont Airport (SDU) seen from Sugaloaf
Looking towards Copacabana from Sugarloaf
Monkey business on Sugarloaf
Helicopter at Sugarloaf Helipad
Plaza Premium Lounge
Rio De Janeiro - GIG
Miami - MIA
Aside from the broken IFE, it was a very pleasant flight. Luckily, for those who had personal electronic devices, the IFE content could be streamed via WiFi.
The cabin crew were great and had a very good sense of humour. They were friendly, efficient, and generally fun and joking around, which made for a pleasant atmosphere. The updated cabins on these older 777s look great--the planes look and feel new. The seats, the same model used as domestic First class on some narrowbody aircraft, are comfortable, especially in the first row. Catering was also quite good and above average for Premium Economy, in my opinion.
The only negative was that there were no dedicated lavs for the Premium Economy cabin so W passengers have to go back to Economy.
Having now flown this new class of service several times, I can say that American offers a consistently solid Premium Economy experience. The U.S. carriers waited years to introduce Premium Economy, but from what I see with American, their years of observation of other carriers have allowed them to do it right and offer a good overall product.
MIA - Half of the Global Entry machines were broken and the TSA pre-check lane was not yet open in the transit area despite several arrivals from South America.
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