In the October 2016 issue of Airways, we featured Azul Airlines after flying with them to their home base in Campinas, near the city of São Paulo, Brazil, and spending a full day with its President and CEO.
In the story, I noted how David Neeleman, founder of America’s JetBlue (B6), ventured into Brazil and founded yet another ‘blue’ airline. His goal? Enter the Low-Cost Carrier (LCC) market and change it forever.
Change it how? By making sure that none of the LCC ‘cheap’ stamp is visible, anywhere.
In fact, Azul boasts an award-winning, on-time service, an exceptional Business Class, an impressive Premium Economy, and an attentive, good-looking crew that’s light years away from the LCC norm.
Azul became the number one, on-time LCC in the world in 2015. Here’s my experience on board the airline’s Airbus A330-200 from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Campinas (VCP).
Flying to Campinhas: Business Class
All the above are thoughts very well compounded after just a few hours of dealing with Azul. From the moment I downloaded their iPhone App to check-in, until the moment I boarded their spectacular Airbus A330-200.
The app has to be one of the best I’ve tried. Friendly, colorful, glitch free. The only fault, it’s only available in Portuguese.
I typed in my PNR and was immediately taken to the A330’s seat map. I was able to confirm my seat and was invited to visit the airline’s counters at Ft. Lauderdale’s (FLL) Terminal 3 where my boarding pass would be printed.
As a hybrid LCC, Azul operates out of a perk-free terminal in FLL. Its American sister JetBlue also operates there, along with American Airlines and Bahamas Air. Therefore, no Business Class lounges are available—just a couple low-end restaurants and the usual terminal shops.
I arrived two hours before the flight’s departure time of 20:45. With not a single person in line ahead of me, my bag was checked and boarding pass printed in less than two minutes.
I was then invited to go through security, which thankfully didn’t take longer than five more minutes. In a breeze, I was airside with not much to do other than enjoy the blue, ex-Emirates A330 being towed into the gate.
At 19:55, boarding was called and people stood on a relaxed manner.
Business Class was invited to board first, and I made my way into the jetway, where gorgeous Flight Attendants (FA) awaited at the aircraft’s L2 door, smiling and welcoming each passenger in Portuguese.
As I turned left and entered the Business Class cabin, I was immediately struck with the ultra modern design and beautiful layout Azul has chosen for its 13-year-old aircraft.
In our magazine’s feature, we diligently describe Azul’s efforts of turning their old A330s into brand-new airliners:
“Each A330 has been retrofitted with the new Azul Xtra (a fully-fledged Business Class cabin), Economy Xtra (Premium Economy), and standard Economy.
Designed by UK-based design agency Tangerine, the cabin manages to express Azul’s clever brand through the smallest details.
A walk-up bar has been introduced into one of the front galleys to create a social space and allow passengers to stretch their legs.”
The impressive Business Class provides passengers with all-aisle access, in a 1-2-1 configuration, identical to the hard product found on Etihad (EY), Alitalia (AZ), and Garuda Indonesia (GA), to name a few. The seats convert into full 79-inch flat beds and offer 16-inch screens.
In Economy Class, passengers are treated to a nine-inch touchscreen and 31-inch seat pitch, as well as the Sky Sofa feature that was originally introduced by Air New Zealand (NZ).
Passengers seated on the white seats (Economy Xtra) are treated to an extra three inches of pitch. Azul has chosen the top-notch, and almost ubiquitous among top-tier airlines, Panasonic Avionics eX3 system for its inflight entertainment offering.
Like Virgin America’s (VX) IFE, it lets passengers order meals and beverages from their seat.
The airline’s colorful logo is also present on every bulkhead, giving a nice touch of futuristic to a rather elegant cabin.
The light blue colors throughout the cabin make it spacious and modern, surely keeping the airline away from the poor and cheap LCC concept that’s invaded the world.
With boarding completed 17 minutes ahead of the Scheduled Departure Time (SDT), the Captain welcomed everyone on board and informed that the flight would last seven hours and 42 minutes down to Campinas.
He then announced that it was Brazil’s national Flight Attendant day and asked passengers to congratulate them for their impeccable service. The boisterous applause made each and every one of the FAs smile, which enticed them to deliver and even better service.
FLL’s relaxed ramp allowed our A330 to taxi and depart in less than eight minutes.
We powerfully and quickly departed eastbound to then head over to the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and enter Brazilian territory before reaching the São Paulo area.
In Flight Service
About 20 minutes after departure, the lead FA approached me by name and asked whether I wanted her greeting in Portuguese or English. Since I speak Spanish, Italian and French, I asked her to say it in Portuguese and that I’d give it a try to understand what she’d say. She gladly obliged and thanked me for flying with Azul.
The service began with another FA taking orders for dinner.
Four choices were available: a pecan crusted filet mignon, a sautéed halibut with ginger basmati rice, a lemongrass chicken, and tortellini pasta with goat cheese.
I chose the beef for main course, and a corn bisque as the appetizer.
To drink, a glass of Bordeaux would pair quite well. All, presented in the most delicate way, accompanied with a refreshing smile. Surely light years away from what the LCC concept really stands for.
Minutes after taking my order, Mariana went back to the galley and came back with a tray holding a bottle of wine and an empty glass. She gently poured the Bordeaux and allowed me to taste, another unexpected gesture. After approving, she poured some more and handed me the glass.
A dinner tray followed, featuring a very well presented setup, in which a small bowl of corn soup, an oval plate with the filet mignon, and a triangular piece of bread paired together beautifully.
The cutlery was wrapped in a white tissue tight in three colored stripes with Brazilian destinations written in them.
The soup was rich, warm and tasty. With floating croutons, it gave a superb contrast full of flavor and texture. The beef was surprisingly perfectly cooked, accompanied with delicious vegetables and a rich potato purée. The warm piece of bread, along with the salty butter closed one of the best dishes I’ve tried in a long time on board an aircraft.
I was impressed by the details in which the main dinner service was delivered. Plates and cutlery were placed at the table at a precise angle. The glass of wine was constantly replenished, and repositioned at the exact same spot—upper right side of the plate. A wonderful basket of different types of breads passed alongside numerous times. And the FA’s smiles never ceased to charm everyone in the cabin.
After the main tray was cleared, I was offered tea and dessert. I asked for the cheese course, which was very well described on the menu, and Mariana ran back to fetch the spectacular dish with five different types of cheese.
She then asked whether I wanted to continue with my Bordeaux or switch to a dessert wine. I was impressed.
I accepted her offer and switched to an Italian Passito wine (traditional in Italy to accompany cheese courses). She then fetched the bottle and came back with the tray, again, serving a zip allowing me to taste, and then pouring the rest.
After I finished the exquisite cheese course, Mariana asked if I was interested to have breakfast or continue sleeping until minutes before arrival. I asked her to awaken me so that I could experience the breakfast service and she gave me the two options available: an omelette or a selection of cheeses and cold cuts. She then wished me a good rest and I was ready to relax and try to get some sleep.
The comfortable seat, along with a good cover and pillow, allowed me to rest for almost four hours. The flight through the Caribbean, Venezuela and the whole Northern Brazilian territory was smooth and silent.
Mariana kindly awakened me 90 minutes before landing for the breakfast service. Local time was 03:30, still one hour behind the São Paulo time zone.
After a refreshing and much needed glass of water, hot towels were handed, followed by another well presented tray with a beautiful omelette, a warm bagel, a bowl of fruit and butter and marmalade. Some coffee was also offered, along with sparkling water.
The egg dish was moist and tasty. It came with a small garnish of Canadian ham and mushrooms. The bagel was rich and the fruits quite fresh. It was a very pleasant breakfast.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to enjoy the top-notch Panasonic ex2 In Flight Entertainment System (IFE). The flight was short and the late departure time invited passengers to sleep.
Descent into Campinas occurred at 04:52 local time under pitch black skies. FAs began prepping the cabin for arrival.
Our descent into VCP was smooth and uneventful. The front camera feature installed in the IFE system allows passengers to enjoy the final approach, which was executed in instrument conditions because of some fog that had covered the airport’s area.
Two minutes after landing, our A330 docked at the brand-new Viracopos gate.
As I disembarked, the super nice FAs posed for a photo and thanked me for flying Azul—a perfect ending to a great flight.
Located 100km north of São Paulo, VCP is one of the three major airports—along with Guarulhos (GRU) and Congonhas (CGH)—serving the wider São Paulo region.
Even though the airport is in the final phase of its construction, the terminals boast tall ceilings, modern finishes, and enough windows to enjoy some traffic action on the ramp.
My experience with Azul on both trips (to/from Campinas) was impressive. I was gladly surprised to learn that a hybrid carrier, which mixes high-quality with low-cost on both their domestic and international offerings, could be so consistent and offer such a convenient and different product. I would choose Azul again in a heartbeat.
I recommend you to purchase the October issue of Airways to learn more about Azul.