Hi y'all and welcome to my newest flight report. This time, on a special operation: Azul's inaugural A330neo flight, connecting Campinas to Recife.
I posted this one originally in AirlineGeeks.com, one of the websites for which I write. My editor-in-chief allowed me to post the FRs I write for them here, as long as I give the link to the original FR there. So click HERE to see the original report ;-)
Once I was flying on behalf of a website, it's important to mention Azul granted me the tickets. Routing was as follows:
Azul's international flights were first announced in April 2014. Back then, they ordered seven used A330-200s, to be recieved during that year and 2015. Also, they ordered five Airbus A350-900. The Brazilian economy was soaring, the Brazilian real was well appreciated in relation to the dollar, and the fuel price was in an all-time high. In such conditions, the A350 was well needed; they were set up to start coming in 2017.
Many things happened since then, though. Brazil entered in a severe recession, fuel prices returned to a reasonable price and the real strongly deppreciated, which made the international demand shrink. So in the start of 2017 Azul announced it would cancel the delivery of the A350s. Some months later, they announced the order of five A330-900neo. The first, after some delays, was finally delivered in May 11, registered PR-ANZ and named "O mundo é Azul" - Portuguese for "the world is Azul". It was the first delivery of a A330neo in the Americas.
In this first moment, the A330neo will serve the same markets as the A330ceo - connecting their main hub in Campinas to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Lisboa and Porto (these two in Portugal), as well as flying from Belo Horizonte to Orlando and from Recife to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. Though their A330-200s are pretty old, the neos are set at first to add capacity, and not to substitute them. The new aircraft has also a crew rest section, which will allow them to operate longer flights, like Campinas-Paris.
According to Azul, the A330-900neo is set to burn 14% less fuel per seat, while carrying 26 more passengers than the A330-200 - 298, compared to the 272 of the densest version of the -200. The configuration is 34 seats in Business, 108 in Economy Xtra and 156 in Economy.
In order to introduce the new aircraft to the press and the specialized media, they added a special flight between Campinas and Recife, they hub in the Brazilian northeast. It was sold to regular passengers, but some seats were separated for us.
After a very pleasant flight from my home airport Porto Alegre on an Embraer 195, I arrived at Campinas-Viracopos airport. The terminal is so oversized it amazes you. It is a 2014 project, when the government granted the airport to the private sector. The airport was set to be, in the long term, a major gateway to Brazil. Then the recession hit Brazil and such a dream was quickly gone. So even though Viracopos is a wonderful airport, it is a massive white elephant located 112 km far from Guarulhos. Almost all passenger operations are made by Azul, which has a big hub there.
So the main focus of the terminal is to provide connections - indeed, most of the passengers in Viracopos are just connecting from one city to another. Right after deboarding, passengers go either to the luggage claim area or to the piers, in order to have a connection as fast as possible. The terminal is divided between piers A (international), B and C (domestic). I was together with a planespotter friend, so we went to pier C to spot an A330 departure some minutes after our arrival.
After that, we got out of airside to meet the Azul representative, Bruno, and other media friends. Much for my surprise, we were upgraded from Economy to Business - which is why this class was blocked for any reservations. Personally this was stunning, because I had never flown in Business class before!
My boarding pass. Though we would fly on Business, my class was marked in the pass as "Espaço Azul", which are the seats with additional pitch Azul offers in their domestic flights.
Anyway, later we had some lunch at a McDonald's and then we went to the gate, with much time to spare.
A view of pier B
…and there she is. Ain't she sweet?
Our gate was decorated with balloons and with a banner celebrating the achievement.
There, Marcelo Bento, Azul's director for alliances and planning, was offering an interview for the present press members. Among some other things, he said Azul could eventually order some more A330neos for substituting the old A330-200s.
At 1:11 p.m. local time, boarding was started. Bento made a quick speech, telling us how important this flight was for Azul, etc. First the regular pasengers boarded, then the media members.
Every passenger recieved a tiny souvenir, which consisted of a piece of chocolate cake.
Almost there, finally.
I was greeted by two flight attendants, which asked for my seat and then told me how to get there. It seems everybody was wanting to take some photos before our departure.
Before our pushback, chief flight attendant Melissa made an emotional speech. She was one of the first FAs of the airline, hired in 2008 when Azul was still starting up.
At 1:59 p.m., doors were closed. Two minutes later, pushback was started and engines were started. The safety instructions video was played in our entertainment system. This one is the old version. A brand new was just released at the time, but I believe they didn't have time for updating it in PR-ANZ.
In case you still don't know where you are, take a look at the window. Azul's presence in Campinas is massive.
There is also an abandoned 737-200 from VASP, a Brazilian airline which was bankrupt in 2005. PP-SMR was stored between 2004 and 2005.
Finally, Azul is building a big hangar near the runway.
At 2:21 p.m., captain Godoy lined PR-ANZ to the runway and soon the engines were at its maximum throttle. Their sound is impressive, it's so low you almost don't notice it.
Six minutes later, the seatbelt usage sign was turned off. Then every single one of us started to take photos of every detail of the cabin. It was a really fun flight, we didn't even bother about the catering. View from my seat was not bad by the way.
A last glimpse of my piece of cake before eating it… Oh and by the way, it tasted really good.
Azul's A330-200s have the Brazilian flag in their winglets. According to what is said, they are the aircrafts with the most national flags in the world. The A330neo has kept this tradition, which provides us a nice wingview.
Everyone wanted this photo. As the Economy class was full, we only had a tiny window in the door for photographing the wing from the back of the cabin.
An overview of the Economy cabin with mood lighting turned on.
Now back to Business class. Every time we changed seats between us in order to take the best possible angles from the seats, amenities, etc. So if you spot any of these changes between each photo, you are not crazy.
The seat was pretty comfortable, with the full flat option, thankfully an industry standard of the XXI Century.
Screens were big enough. The entertainment system had three language options: English, Portuguese and Spanish.
Honestly, though, I believe there were very few on demand entertainment options. Very few movies and no music. I'm a pretty selective guy for the cinema, so nothing really attracted me. But it's OK, as long as you are a "normal" person, I believe you will be fine for a three-hour domestic flight. Nevertheless, for longer flights Azul should definitely add some (many) more options.
There were some arcade games too.
With this control you could play the games. That go-karting game was so hard to play with this.
What entertained me the most, of course, was the flight map. Lots of options for us AvGeeks.
Now the memorabilia freaks will get sad with this: the safety card is the same used in the A330-200s.
There was also a tiny storage area. I wish these cameras were mine.
There was also a humble coat hanger in each seat.
Another storage area and some electric/USB outlets.
Now, before the catering service, another expedition through the cabin! A nice touch in the galley between Economy and Business classes.
This aircraft was rated "A" by the National Civil Aviation Agency in terms of seat pitch.
Another overview of Economy class.
Bathrooms were all clean. Mood lighting in a bathroom? That's what I call modern times.
Now we essentialy photographed every aspect of the aircraft, it was breakfast time. It consisted of the traditional Azul snacks, beverages and also two sandwich options, especially for the media members. It was all good, as it is the Azul standard. I would say it is the best domestic service in Brazil, now Avianca Brasil is gone for good.
Another wingview before returning to my seat!
Back - finally! - to my very own seat now. Space was good for someone who had never flown Business before, I would say… my standards were low of course, but I genuinely felt very comfortable.
A well-deserved coffee service before our arrival. We were cruising at 41,000 feet.
At 16:37 we started our descent. Upsetting of course, but the sights from our windows would be totally rewarding during our landing, as you'll see. Recife metro area could already be seen.
Arena Pernambuco, a beautiful stadium, was used during the 2014 World Cup. Now it mainly serves for local teams' games.
And, as promised… one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen in a landing.
At 5:04 p.m. we made an extremely smooth landing in Recife/Guararapes International Airport.
Thanks for the nice experience, Azul!
While the Economy passengers were deboarding, captain Godoy came to us and talked with the media a little bit about the operational aspects of the A330neo. A real class about the aircraft! After that, we went exploring the now empty cabin.
Economy Xtra has the same service as regular Economy, the difference being the seat colours and the seat pitch.
More space for an additional price. Instead of selling it as a different class, Azul charges for this seats while the passenger is buying the tickets or checking in, much like it is done in domestic flights.
Visually, though, those blue Economy seats are much more appealing, don't you agree?
Those screens are big for Economy standards! Personally I love the colors selection Azul has made for its international aircrafts.
The sun had set while we made these photos.
Captain Godoy gently turned all the lights on for this photo to happen. Thanks Captain!
Now we would rush to Azul's newly-inaugurated Recife crew desk, a room in which the flight crews can have some rest before the flights. Some Azul managers talked about it and served us some more snacks.
After that, we would rush again to the airside and board again in the A330neo back to Campinas. Taking some rest was necessary, because I would spend the night awake in the terminal waiting for the flight back to Porto Alegre… take a look at some pictures and videos of the return flight.
What a great experience with Azul. They seem to have a very competitive Business product. Of course, as being an inaugural flight with press coverage, they made everything to make it as perfect as possible, but in normal situations, I believe the passengers won't be disappointed on flying the A330neo.
Cabin: very similar to the A330-200 interior, super cool, fresh experience. Seat was comfortable, cabin was clean.
Cabin crew: perfect, as it should be in an inaugural operation. If I remember well, many of the FAs were high there in the airline seniority positions.
Entertainment: the system was OK, really good, but it was lacking options for a long-haul. Fortunately it was a 3-hour flight.
Catering: Azul's domestic product, which is already nice, along with some tasty sandwiches for the press. Not bad.