Trip Report: Flying on Azul’s Inaugural A330-900neo Flight from Sao Paulo to Recife in Business Class

Azul's first Airbus A330-900neo awaiting its first departure. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

Azul Brazilian Airlines’ first international flights were announced in April 2014, only six years into its operation. Fueling the international expansion were seven secondhand Airbus A330-200s, a type still used today, and an order for five Airbus A350-900 XWBs. The Brazilian economy was soaring, the Brazilian real was well appreciated in relation to the dollar and fuel prices were at an all-time high. In such conditions, the A350s, set to be delivered in 2017, were well-needed.

An Azul Airbus A330-200 in Sao Paulo. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joao Machado)

Since then, Brazil has faced a severe recession, fuel prices returning to a reasonable price and its currency strongly depreciating, which shrank the international demand that once prompted Azul’s rapid expansion. In the start of 2017, Azul announced it would cancel the delivery of the A350s. Though the airline gave up of the A350, it did not give up on its international routes and announced the order of five A330-900neo aircraft, the next-generation version of the Airbus A330-300.

The first aircraft, after some delays, was finally delivered on May 11 at the Airbus Delivery Centre in Toulouse, France with little fanfare despite it being the first South American airline to take delivery of the type. Registered as PR-ANZ, the aircraft named “O Mundo é Azul” — Portuguese for “The World is Azul.”

Proudly wearing Azul’s colors, the A330neo will serve the same markets as the current generation A330s, connecting Azul’s main hub in Campinas to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Lisbon and Porto, as well as flying from Belo Horizonte and Recife to Orlando and from Recife to Fort Lauderdale. The two Floridian cities are the airline’s only destinations in the U.S., connecting Brazil to codeshare partner and fellow David Neeleman brainchild JetBlue Airways’ domestic route network.

Though the A330-200s are aging, the A330neos are set primarily to add capacity and not to substitute the A330ceos. The new aircraft feature an extended fuselage, comparable to the A330-300, and also a crew rest section which will allow them to operate longer routes, like Campinas-Paris.

According to Azul, the A330-900neo is set to burn 14 percent less fuel per seat, while carrying 26 more passengers than the A330-200 – 298 compared to the 272 of the densest version of the A330-200. The aircraft features a two-class configuration consisting of business class and economy class with 34 lie-flat seats in business class and 264 in economy comprised of 108 Economy Xtra seats and 156 in standard economy seats.

Azul debuted the aircraft to the Brazilian traveling public on June 1 with a special flight between Sao Paulo and Recife, inviting AirlineGeeks onboard to document the first revenue flight for the Airbus A330-900neo for a South American carrier.

Azul’s First Airbus A330-900neo Flight

Arriving at Campinas-Viracopos airport, the terminal is so oversized it amazes you. The result of a 2014 project when the government granted it to the private sector, the airport was set to be, in the long term, a major gateway to Brazil. Then, the recession took its toll and such a dream was quickly gone. Even though Viracopos is a wonderful airport, it is a massive white elephant located 70 miles away from Guarulhos. Almost all passenger operations are made by Azul, which has a large hub there.

AD5304 was the first Airbus A330-900neo flight for Azul. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)
The flight marked the first Airbus A330neo flight for a South American carrier. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

Our flight to Recife would be AD5304, typically operated by a narrowbody Airbus A320 aircraft instead of the widebody Airbus A330-900neo that would be gracing the route this day. The scheduled flight time of 3 hours and 15 minutes would allow us all to get well-acquainted with the aircraft as we headed up the Brazilian coast for Recife.

Business class ticket on Azul’s initial A330neo flight (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

Commemorating the achievement, our gate, B07, was decorated with balloons and a banner. If the passengers onboard were previously unaware, they now knew that today’s flight would be a special one. Azul’s Director of Network Planning and Alliances Marcelo Bento welcomed passengers and made a brief speech regarding the historic flight for Azul.

The gate area for Azul’s initial A330neo flight (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)
Azul’s first A330-900neo at the gate in Sao Paulo. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

Just after 1 p.m., boarding started for Azul’s first Airbus A330-900neo flight.  Every passenger received a tiny souvenir, which consisted of a piece of chocolate cake.

Azul’s first Airbus A330-900neo resting at the gate before its first passenger flight. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joao Machado)
Boarding Azul’s first A330neo flight from Sao Paulo to Recife. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

Onboard the aircraft, the excitement was palpable as it seemed everybody was eager to test out the new features of the recently-delivered aircraft. The interior still had the new aircraft smell, having been delivered from Toulouse less than a month prior to its first flight.

The business class cabin on Azul’s A330neo. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)
Seat 4H, a window seat in Azul’s new business class cabin. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

Before our pushback, the chief flight attendant for the flight, Melissa, made an emotional speech in welcoming us onboard. Melissa was one of the first flight attendants for the airline and having been hired in 2008 when Azul was still starting up, she had seen the airline grow to where it is today.

Following a quick pushback and taxi, Captain Godoy lined PR-ANZ on the runway and soon the Rolls Royce Trent 7000 engines were at its maximum throttle. Their sound is impressive as it’s so low you almost don’t notice it, even sitting directly in front as I was.

The Rolls Royce Trent 7000 engines are exclusively used for the Airbus A330neo aircraft line. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

Six minutes later, the seatbelt sign was turned off. Then, it seemed as though every business class passenger started to take photos of every detail of the cabin.  Business class on the A330neo is arranged in a 1-2-1 configured with all seats featuring direct aisle access.

Along the wall of the aircraft are the aisle and window seats, with the window seats offering the greatest amount of privacy. In the center aisle, the two seat types are aisle seats and paired honeymoon seats, the latter proving an ideal traveling experience for couples.

Aisle seats along the cabin wall provide less privacy than the window seats. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)
The A330neo business class cabin consists of 36 fully lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

In business class, the large in-flight entertainment seats extend from the seatback to face the passenger. The in-flight entertainment system consisted of three language options: English, Portuguese and Spanish, and could be controlled via a tethered remote or via the touchscreen.

The high definition in-flight entertainment screens in business class are adjustable and extend from the forward seatback. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)
The in-flight entertainment system can be controlled via the touchscreen or a tethered remote in business class. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

Ideal for long-haul flights, the seats have a lie-flat capability and can be adjusted as such via the control panel directly next to the seat.

The lie-flat capability of the business class seat. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

In economy, the colorful seats are organized in the standard A330 2-4-2 configuration consisting of Economy Xtra and standard economy seats, each one featuring its own color palette. The cabin is dividing amongst the two rear sections of the aircraft with Economy Xtra seats featuring lighter shades and regular economy seats featuring dark shades of blue.

The rear economy class cabin consisting solely of standard economy seats as indicated by the all-blue seats. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)
Economy Xtra seats featuring extra legroom are indicated by the tan and blue seats in the forward economy cabin. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

Each seat featured personal touchscreen in-flight entertainment screens for movies, television shows and a moving map. Additionally, the seats featured adjustable headrests, coat hooks, 110v AC power outlets and USB charging ports in addition to a foldable tray table and redesigned seatback pockets.

Each economy seat features a personal touchscreen in-flight entertainment system. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)
A sea of blue as the in-flight entertainment screens light up the economy cabin. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

Despite the attractive looking system, however, there were very few on-demand entertainment options with a few movies and no music. Though this was only a three-hour flight, Azul should definitely add some more options for longer flights.

Incorporating Airbus’ Airspace cabin, the aircraft features little enhancements such as mood lighting to increase passenger comfort and the aesthetics of the aircraft.

Mood lighting is one of the key features of Airbus’ Airspace cabin. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)
Some ceiling projections on Azul’s A330neo (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

 

The meal service in business class consisted of the traditional Azul snacks, beverages and also two sandwich options. A credit to the Azul standard, I would say it is the best domestic service in Brazil, now that Avianca Brasil has gone.

The standard domestic business class meal service consists of snacks, beverages and sandwiches. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)
Lunch in Azul’s business class cabin. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

The cruising altitude for the flight was 41,000 feet, well above most of the other air traffic. The decreased fuel load due to the short flight and the increased economics of the aircraft helped make that altitude possible.

The Brazilian flag flying proudly on the sharklet of Azul’s A330neo. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

Before beginning our descent into Recife, the final aspect of the business class service, a quick beverage service, began, signifying the near end of the flight.

A cup of coffee to end the service in Azul’s business class. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

After a quick 3-hour trip up north, it was time to begin our descent in Recife. Though upsetting, of course,  the sights from our windows would be rewarding during landing with the Recife metro area in full view.

Descending into Recife at sunset. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)
Descending into a quiet Recife that is preparing for the night ahead. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

At 5:04 p.m. we made an extremely smooth landing at Recife/Guararapes International Airport and the first Airbus A330-900neo flight for a South American carrier was complete.

Arriving in Recife following Azul’s first Airbus A330-900neo flight. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)
The first flight crew of an Azul Airbus A330neo passenger flight. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

AirlineGeeks would like to thank Azul for inviting us onboard the first flight of its Airbus A330-900neo

João Machado

João has loved aviation since he was six-years-old when he started visiting his home airport in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil. As he always loved writing, in 2011, at age 10 he started his very own aviation blog. Many things have happened since then, and now he is putting all his efforts into being an airline director in the future. João now studies Business Administration at UFRGS and is trying to get into an American college soon.
João Machado