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April 29, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    American Airline's To Brazil

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The world is talking about the swine flu (or H1N1 virus) and it seems to me that the media is blowing it up and really making people paranoid, including all my friends. My phone has been ringing off the hook with friends asking me what they should do about their upcoming travel plans. I keep telling them I can't control their destiny but I definitely wouldn't be changing any of my plans unless I was headed to Mexico City. On the other hand, if I was on my way to the beaches of Mexico, I would possibly wait a day or two to determine if this is all hype like the SARS epidemic or not. My gut tells me it is but it's better to be safe rather than sorry.

I was at LAX yesterday and the mood in the international departures/arrivals section was business as usual. The only difference was the media trucks and an abnormal number of passengers wearing surgical masks -- all Japanese. In Japan, it's not unusual to see people wearing masks -- it's standard to put one on when you're sick (a considerate custom that we should adopt). If you've noticed, pretty much all the photos you see from the news outlets of travelers wearing masks are Japanese so my advice is not to get caught up in the fear frenzy.

Every time I travel I use caution and follow basic health tips, swine flu or not. I wash my hands often and I carry antibacterial wipes and disinfect the area around my plane/bus/train seat (armrest, tray table, entertainment systems, controls ...) And of course, I do the same in the hotel room. I wipe down the switches, remotes, doorknobs, handles and phone. I do the former discreetly so I don't look like a freak -- even though I am one. For more tips, up-to-date news and direct links to all the airlines' swine flu travel policies, check out this swine flu web page I created.

OK, now to the good stuff, my trip to South America!

Whenever I head to Central/South America or the Caribbean, I try to break up the trip by visiting my father and sister (and her family) in south Florida. They live in Delray Beach, which is 55 miles north of Miami. West Palm Beach (PBI) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL) airports are much closer but they either don't offer nonstop flights or those flight times aren't desirable.

I'm usually willing to pay a little bit more for the airfare (those alternate airports tend to be cheaper) for the convenience and once I land in Miami, I save money by not taking an expensive taxi or car service. Instead, I take the Tri-Rail. Tri-Rail costs just $5, is fast and environmentally friendly. TIP: Be sure to buy a ticket from the vending machine before getting on -- tickets can't be purchased on board. The train runs almost every hour on weekdays and travel time between Miami and Delray Beach is just one hour and 20 minutes.

American Airlines has 7 flights a day from Los Angeles to Miami. I chose the 12:15pm because it's on a 777 (one of my favorite planes) and because it's much bigger than the 737 or 757, I have a greater chance of having my upgrade go through. It worked and American's new generation business class seats are plush. When reclined, they go flat, though on a slight angle. Usually, I can't sleep on this type of seat because I keep sliding down but that wasn't the case on these.

The best part about the seats is that they have two tray tables and an electrical outlet. Therefore, when you're working on your laptop, you don't have to abruptly put it away to make room for the tray table when it's feeding time. The seats in business class on the 777 are configured 2-3-2. I was in the middle section but on the aisle and had plenty of space even with someone sitting next to me.

It took a while for the flight attendants to bring the pre-takeoff drinks (water, OJ, champagne or mimosa.) Actually, they didn't come around until 12:11pm just as we were pushing back but at least they came. We were airborne by 12:24pm and flight time was a quick four hours and 10 minutes.

The entertainment system has a wide variety of movie choices, TV shows, video games and music. I watched Rick Steves tour around Europe and a couple episodes of Two and a Half Men. Just be careful when pressing the language on the touch screen. We hit some turbulence and I hit German by accident; the guy next to me hit Japanese and the flight attendants had to reset the system to reboot it, which takes 10 minutes.

Surprisingly, American provides really nice big cushy pillows and a cozy duvet. Just be sure the blanket is wrapped in plastic so you know it's been cleaned. Three out of four of my flights, the blanket was wrapped but the one time it wasn't, it was pretty dirty. Don't want to get the swine flu!

On both flights, the menus came around with the drink cart just after we were airborne. Food choices to Miami were either chicken miso or a pork sandwich on rye. I think you know which one I chose. I ain't getting no swine virus! (Just kidding! I know you can't get it by eating cooked pork.) The food was tasty and the service was good too. The best part was dessert; a chocolate sundae with a nasty frozen raspberry sauce on the very outside (I ate around it) and cheesecake bits on top. Even better were the chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies followed by glasses of milk. You could see in the adult passengers' eyes around me, it made them feel like a kid again.

We arrived into Miami 20 minutes early and I thought I had a chance to catch an early train but the gate was occupied (don't you hate that?) and since we were on a 777, only a select few gates could handle us. We ended up waiting 35 minutes on the runway but at least the captain turned the seatbelt sign off so people could grab their cell phones and use the loo. Some airlines don't allow this so always keep your phone handy.

I went to Brazil for my first time in 2007 so I didn't need to get a visa for this trip as they last for five years if you get them in advance. All visitors to Brazil are required to get a visa. For American citizens, it costs $100USD (payable only by post office money order) and can take up to 10 days. It needs to be done in person unless you hire an expeditor like A Briggs. This ordeal doesn't make it very easy or welcoming for Americans to visit Brazil but America started these strict rules long ago for Brazilians so Brazil is just reciprocating. Fortunately, the Brazilians don't take it one step further as America does. Can you believe that the U.S. requires Brazilians to do an interview before entering the country? If I'd had to do that, I would've just said, "Forget it!" and gone somewhere else, like Argentina. FYI: Not all nationalities have to pay $100 USD; the fee varies. For example, Canadians are charged only $65.

When I go to Brazil I leave most of my valuables at home, not that I travel with many valuables, anyway. Come to think of it, I don't have any! But here's my one warning: If you're visiting the major cities of Brazil, don't bring any jewelry (including wedding rings), don't walk around with lots of cash or have your camera swinging from your neck. I've heard all kinds of horror stories about how people got mugged during the day. I also read on that cameras were stolen from deluxe hotel rooms. I bring my laptop and camera everywhere but I lock them up when I leave the room as if I was staying in the middle of a favela, squatter settlements that are notorious for poverty and violence.

American Airlines added three destinations in Brazil: Belo Horizonte, Salvador de Bahia, and Recife all from American’s Miami hub. The Belo Horizonte flight operates three days a week and they use a widebody Boeing 767-300 aircraft configured with 30 seats in Business Class and 195 seats in the Main Cabin.

After hanging out with my family for a few days I arrived back at the Miami International Airport at 8:30pm for an 11:15pm flight. Since travelers can't check in online for international trips on American (yet) I had to check-in at the airport. The agent guarding the premium line was excellent and friendly, speaking English, Portuguese and Spanish (mostly the latter) and pointing travelers in the right direction. The business line was quick, just a few people in front of me, and I waited no more than five minutes. Coach not so much.

The Miami airport has two Admiral clubs (one at both the D and E gates) and business class passengers get free entry. I went to both and discovered that the D lounge is much nicer, brighter, bigger (30,000 square feet) and greener (in terms of color). They both lacked electrical outlets but have free Wi-Fi if you have an Admirals Club membership. Otherwise, T-Mobile charges $9.95. I used my Sprint wireless card, which I rent from to avoid the two-year contract. FYI: Did you know Admirals Club is the only airline lounge that I know with a Twitter account? Also check out all of our Twitter travel resources.

The Admirals Club has always had some snacks (apples, veggies, chips ...) but this was the first time I've seen them selling real food -- from empanadas to sandwiches ($9.95) from the bar area. Natalie flew in from Toronto and we met in the lounge. Of course she was hungry so we split a sandwich even though we would be served a big dinner after takeoff. It took about 10 minutes and it hit the spot. BTW: Each business class passenger gets two free drink coupons. And both lounges offer showers. I took one because I like to take a hot shower before a long flight -- I sleep better and arrive looking somewhat presentable.

The lounge doesn't make announcements as it would be annoying since they have so many flights. We kept a close eye on the clock (I set my phone alarm to remind me when it was time to go) and left for the gate at 10:25pm. I made a rookie mistake by not asking the agents in the lounge if Flight 991's departure was on time (11:15pm) to Belo Horizonte (CNF). After a long walk and a tram ride, it turned out it was running late. So I stared out the window.

BOEING 767-300
When I got on the 767-300 plane, I was thinking this is definitely not as plush as the triple seven. The 777s are so much nicer that it spoils you and makes this two-aisle-wide body, which I used to love, seem small, old and in need of a deep clean. After getting my bags to barely fit in the small overhead bin I took my aisle seat of 5B and Natalie grabbed 5A.

What's really nice about American's Next Generation Business Class Seats is that they are in a cradle position so you don't crowd the person behind when you go into recline mode. Unlike the 777, the 767 doesn't have individual entertainment systems, just old-school overhead monitors. But just as I was thinking that this sucks, the flight attendants came around (before takeoff) with some high-tech personal touch screen systems, pre-loaded with movies, shows, games and music. The only thing it didn't have that the 777 system did was the live flight mapping ... my favorite feature!

The plane boarded quickly and the captain announced that flight time would be seven hours and 41 minutes down to Belo Horizonte. FYI: The flight to Belo Horizonte is 190 miles shorter than flying to Rio (4,170 miles). I found the flight attendants to be excellent and very personable. They even served the pre-drinks (water, champagne. O.J.) on a silver tray; I haven't seen that in a while from an American carrier. Afterwards, they came around with the amenity kits and a variety of newspapers.

Taxiing time was short and once we were airborne, the flight attendants came around with the drink cart, loaded with fine wines and handed out addicting imported cheese with roasted sundried peppers and mixed nuts. Since Natalie and I had just eaten a sandwich, we passed on the main entrees and we just had the appetizer (a butternut squash soup) and a delicious big leaf fresh salad. More drinks, then the dessert tray, stocked with ice cream sundaes, fruit/cheese plate and fruit salads topped with mango sorbet. I couldn't pass up the latter and I'm so happy I didn't. It was that good! And who's going to say no to a divine Godiva chocolate when the flight attendant puts it right in front of your nose? Not moi.

The flight crew really was excellent and worked their tails off. I was impressed. The seat, which I didn't think would be that comfortable since it wasn't completely lie flat, turned out to be perfect. I slept probably better than I ever have on a plane -- a solid five hours of deep sleep. After shutting the blinds and putting in my earplugs and my fluffy mask, I didn't wake up until an hour before landing when my nose smelled breakfast. I slid off the shield and was greeted to a bright sunny day and the ground below was amazingly lush and green. I just kept shaking my head in disbelief at the thought that I was about to land in Brazil. The whole trip had felt like a dream.

How incredible is air travel and to be able to do it so comfortably? For more on American's Next Generation Business Class, you can experience a customized virtual tour online at:

Next week we'll be exploring Belo Horizonte and Ouro Preto.

*PLEASE tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Note: This trip was sponsored in part by American Airlines

Copyright 2009 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


At LAX (Picture taken by Joelle Leder)


LAX Arrivals


Passengers Wearing Masks


Blankets and Pillows


Plenty of Legroom


Entertainment Systems


Seat Controls




Two Tray Tables


Chicken Miso Lunch






My Sister


My Dad


MIAMI Airport


Admirals Club Sandwich


Admirals Club Shower


At The Gate


Waiting To Board


Belo Here We come!




Making Sure We Don't Get The Swine Flu


Champagne Anyone?


Amenity Kit


Entertainment System








More Dessert




In Brazil!


Next Week


  • Southern cooks don't put sugar in their cornbread! Cyndi V – Little Rock, AR

  • Sorry Johnny! No one in the South would eat sweet cornbread--ugh! You need to try butter bean and purple hull pea pot liquor with real NON-SWEET cornbread to sop up the taste of life! I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. Too bad you never had the real thing up North. Your education is lacking. Love your letter. Stewart V - Tulsa, OK

  • I loved your review of my beloved Alabama. It seems to be popular for everyone to think there is nothing but rednecks wearing wife beaters that live there. Living in Atlanta now, I often take friends over to experience the Mecca of college football (Roll Tide) and Dreamland BBQ and the comments are always the same – wow – I never knew how beautiful Alabama was and that they’re amazed that most of the vehicles are upscale and not giant tired pick-up trucks. I often fly out of ATL and like you have to eat as Pascal's. Thanks for a great read. Keith S- Atlanta, Georgia

  • So glad you finally made it to The ‘Ham, Johnny. You didn’t spend enough time here, so now you must come back, and I’d love to spend some time with you then. Will is one of my favorite people and a grand host as well. I have some strange Southern off-beat places I want to take you on your next visit. Gird your loins! Thanks so much for the great Birmingham shout-out. I love the way you write. Your fan, Dilcy H - Birmingham, AL

  • Wow! I didn't realize you were going to Birmingham. Seeing your story brought back old memories of my days in the army in neaby Anniston Alabama. A married soldier and I went to his home in Birmingham where I had my first taste of catfish and hush puppies. Say what you will, Southern food is delicious! And so many fancy cars - not what you'd imagine. Thanks for taking us on your trip! G. O'Connor - San Francisco

  • Just joined your newsletter and it makes me want to hop on Amtrak in West Palm Beach and head up to Orlando. Wish I could afford the Ritz, but would have to settle for one of those $99 specials. Nancy - West Palm Beach

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