“It is possible that because of the weather, your aircraft will not be able to land. In that case, we will put everyone on a bus to Campo Grande [Scott: five hours away] to spend the night in a hotel, and you will travel tomorrow.”
That bad news was given to me yesterday as I checked in for my third flight of the week on Azul Brazilian Airlines, so I wanted to share my experience with the airline, Viracopos/Campinas Airport (Sao Paulo’s third airport), and the airline’s free bus service.
On Sunday, I flew from Rio de Janeiro to Bonito, Brazil with a short layover in Campinas. Yesterday, I flew back from Bonito to Campinas and took a bus into Sao Paulo to spend the weekend here.
Buying the Ticket
As I explained in my spring/summer/fall travel plans for 2016, I bought the entire Azul itinerary for $318 on Azul’s website.
Azul is not a member of any alliance, but it does have a partnership with United, so I could have used 25,000 United miles and about $20 instead.
But that’s like getting less than 1.2 cents per United mile, which is terrible for a mile I value at 1.5 cents each.
The award option is good to keep in mind, though, when cash tickets are more expensive or for Azul’s international flights. Azul flies from Orlando and Fort Lauderdale to Viracopos-Campinas (VCP) with connections throughout Brazil.
Instead of burning United miles, I put my United MileagePlus number in during purchase, and I earned 0.75 United miles per mile flown for the ticket, which is 1,100 miles that I value at about $17.
I couldn’t check in online, on the Azul app, or at an airport self-service kiosk. Maybe it’s because I’m a foreigner.
At Rio’s GIG airport, which I flew out of to get 50 minutes extra sleep (one hour later flight minus ten minutes extra driving compared to SDU early on a Sunday morning), the check in line moved quickly, and I had my boarding passes in 10 minutes.
I was worried about a human check in because my carry on is a bit overstuffed and has a pair of tennis shoes tied onto it, but agents didn’t bat an eye in Rio or Bonito, where they knew I’d be boarding a tiny plane.
Rio to Campinas was flown by an Embraer 195 with a 2-2 configuration in coach, the type of plane you’ve probably flown regionally in the United States. The plane was comfortable and modern and featured free live TV at every seat, including CNN International in English.
Even on a flight that is well under an hour in the air, there was still a drink service and free premium snacks served from a basket. If live TV, a snack basket, and the name Azul (Portuguese for “blue”) remind you of JetBlue that isn’t a coincidence. The Brazilian founder of JetBlue also founded Azul.
From Campinas to Bonito and back, I flew an ATR72.
This small plane features rear door boarding.
The cabin is also configured 2-2 but without the live TV at every seat.
The seats on this plane are quite cramped, but I could put up with in for the two hours in the air to Bonito. In fact, more than put up with it, I slept from boarding to touch down on the way and most of the time in the air on the way back. No need for Singapore First Class when I’m sleep deprived.
I can’t say much about the flight attendants. The only interaction I had with them was to order drinks and pick out of the snack basket, all of which I did in Poruguese (or at least Portuñol). I’d have to guess that their English isn’t that great, but that they can manage service in English. (I’m basing this guess on the low level of English generally in Brazil, even among tourist-facing jobs, and the fact that Azul’s inflight magazine is not bilingual, which is the first time I’ve seen an airline magazine entirely in a language other than English.)
Campinas Airport and Free Bus Service
Sao Paulo has three airports.
- GRU- The international airport with some domestic flights, 32 minutes without traffic from downtown and a little farther from the southern neighborhoods where you’re likely to stay
- CGH- The domestic airport, 24 minutes without traffic from downtown and a little closer from the southern neighborhoods where you’re likely to stay
- VCP- Viracopos/Campinas, 75 minutes without traffic from downtown
Viracopos/Campinas reminds me of the European airports that low-cost carriers fly in its distance from the city it serves. It ranks up there with such Ryanair classics as Stockholm–Skavsta and Paris-Beauvais.
All else equal, you’d like your flights to go to CGH, GRU, and VCP in that order, but all else was not equal. Azul has more flights into VCP than CGH or GRU, and it only serves Bonito, where I was, from VCP.
To make VCP less terrible, Azul offers free bus service from four places in the region to the airport and vice versa. You can find more information and the time table here.
The closest drop off point for me was Eldorado Shopping, which is about 10 minutes in car from Vila Madalena, where I booked an Airbnb. The buses run roughly hourly to each destination.
I landed at 7:16 PM last night at a remote stand. After taxiing, a bus to the terminal, and a long walk to baggage claim, I emerged from baggage claim and found signs like this.
At 7:45 PM, I got to the bus ticket kiosk and told the employee I wanted a ticket to Eldorado. He asked for my boarding pass stub, and then he handed me one for the next available bus at 8:15 PM. He directed me out the door to the bus stop.
At about 8:11 PM, the bus pulled up that said Eldorado on the front. I gave my ticket to the driver and boarded. It was a large, nice coach bus with space in the cabin for carry ons and space in the hold for checked bags. We left right on time at 8:15 PM with only six passengers. We arrived 15 minutes early at 9:30 PM.
The bus system is seamless as long as your layover isn’t too long for the bus and traffic isn’t bad.
I would happily fly into VCP Airport again on Azul because of the bus service.
Connections at VCP
I had what about a 15 minute walk from the B to C terminal on my way to Bonito. I was hungry, and food options weren’t great. A few outlets of Casa do Pao de Queijo, an overpriced Subway, and a pizza place that I walked past but wish I had chosen.
I haven’t had a cancellation in a long time. I haven’t even had a delay that caused me to miss a flight in I can’t remember how long–years at least. My luck continued yesterday.
Bonito Airport has only a two flights a week to Campinas during the offseason. If our inbound aircraft couldn’t land for weather, they would have bussed us five hours to Campo Grande for flights the next day. If that had happened, I would have asked for a flight to CGH airport (the closest to where I was staying in Vila Madalena), a refund of my $318 ticket, and a refund of one night of my Airbnb stay, but who knows what I would have gotten.
Luckily the plane landed just a few minutes late, and we boarded and took off in time for an early landing in Campinas.
I am not even sure what the possible weather problem was. It was a windless day with no thunderstorms. It was cloudy and rainy, but it never crossed my mind the weather might be a problem until told at check in.
Fly Azul without hesitation either on a cash ticket or one booked with United miles. If you like JetBlue, you’ll like Azul.