Weekend at the Falls: American Business Class, Gol Domestic, and the Sheraton Iguazú Resort: Gol Domestic Back to Sao Paulo and the Admiral’s Club Sao Paulo

  1. American to Miami in First, then Business Class to Sao Paulo
  2. Gol Smiles VIP Lounge and Domestic Service to Foz de Iguassu
  3. Sheraton Iguazú Falls Resort & Spa
  4. The Wonder of the Falls
  5. Gol Domestic Back to Sao Paulo and the Admiral’s Club Sao Paulo
  6. American’s Business Class to Miami and on to DC

Checkout from the hotel was smooth, I did need to stop by the desk though to have them remove internet charges from the bill that was slipped under my door (as they told me I would need to do when I checked in).

I had inquired earlier about getting a cab from the hotel back to the airport on the Brazilian side, and was told it wouldn’t be a problem and that no advance reservation was needed, there’s a waiting queue of cabs near the hotel and they’d just let one know to come up front for us when ready.

Once again we had a 45 or 50 minute ride between the hotel and the airport. There wasn’t much in the way of traffic, but it’s a slow drive made a bit longer by the two border stops. First we had to exit Argentina, showing our passports, and then a short while later we had to enter Brazil. We had surrendered our entry document on the way out of Brazil and into Argentina before arriving at the Sheraton, so now had to fill out a new form that would be stamped in addition to the stamp in the passport, that would then be surrendered in a few hours again as we departed the country via the airport in Sao Paulo.

On arrival we went inside and passed through a luggage screening. You have to screen your bags before making it to the check-in desk. There were separate lines for each of the 3 upcoming Gol flights, and no one ahead of us waiting to check in for Sao Paulo.

The agent insisted on checking our rollaboards. Cabin baggage is limited to 5kg and 20″ Tumi rolling bags with a couple days’ of clothes are going to weigh more than that. We had met no resistance on the outbound portion of the trip originating in Sao Paulo, and I hadn’t even really thought about it, which is why I didn’t take precautions. If I had done online checkin, or if we had taken turns checking in without bringing our carryons up with us, it would have been a non-issue.

Some people pay attention to the carryon rules, others do not, but it’s nice that as a result there’s plenty of overhead space on the aircraft so it doesn’t much matter when you board the plane.

With the check-in agent insisting, we did check our bags to Sao Paulo, where we’d pick them up and convert them back to carryons for the rest of the trip home. Not everyone on the plane, of course, checked similar-sized baggage. We were just the unlucky ones.

The trip to the airport had taken only 45 minutes, which is what I expected and about what it had taken on arrival to the hotel. But I left a pretty big cushion of time in case there was any sort of backup at either Argentinian or Brazilian immigration. Since there wasn’t, it was nearly a full hour until boarding. I had eaten breakfast, but it was now just after 1pm, and I knew from the pass through Sao Paulo a couple of days earlier that food in the airport was limited and not very good once I’d get there. I knew there would be some snacks in the American lounge, but it was going to be a long time until dinner on the flight. So I left the checkin area and went upstairs to the food court.

There were about 4 different food options and a great view of the tarmac. One place served wrapped sandwiches (yuck), another didn’t look especially hygienic, a third was a pricey buffet. I settled on the 4th option that was a ‘Montana’ grill of some kind, serving sandwiches in a pita pocket among other things but cooked fresh. I had sliced steak with fries, and the meat was surprisingly tasty, an excellent snack.

Then it was back downstairs, where the line for the initial baggage screen which hadn’t had anyone in it on the first pass through was about 20 people deep but took only a few minutes to clear. We then headed on through the ‘real’ checkpoint (with metal detector) and onward to our gate area, which was crowded but that had a couple of open seats.

There was a mad rush to queue when boarding was called, but without my rollaboard I didn’t even have overhead space to worry about, the last thing I wanted was to spend as much time as possible on the ground in a coach seat on Gol. So I didn’t hurry getting up from my seat.

Boarding passes were checked and we walked outside onto the tarmac for the short strut out to the plane, which turned out to be painted in Varig livery.

While the flight up to Iguassu was fully booked, the flight back to Sao Paulo on a Saturday afternoon had a pretty light load. So even though I didn’t rush to the front of the line for boarding when I did get on the plane it was hardly full.

Here’s the seat pitch on the single cabin aircraft, it actually wasn’t terrible

And the buy on board menu:

After a short hour and 20 minutes we landed at Sao Paulo and were off the plane quickly (being in row 4 helps with that). I had to wait for bags at baggage claim, they had “priority tagged” my bag because I was unhappy with checking it, but I didn’t expect that to matter, I assumed it was a way to pacify me over the inconvenience, and indeed I was right. The rollaboard didn’t come out earlier than anything else. But I had plenty of time to kill, it was only about 4:30pm by this time and it was 6 hours until my American flight would be departing for Miami.

Once I had my bag I went upstairs to the departures level and walked over to the American checkin counter. I wasn’t sure I would be able to check in, the AA.com website said that check-in counters wouldn’t open until 6pm although the ticketing office would be open. But there were two people working the Priority AAccess line and also someone working economy. No line, I walked right up and they handled checkin through to DC. I asked about grabbing the Miami departure an hour earlier, hoping to shorten the layover, but they had middle seats available only and couldn’t confirm me up front on a better connection home so I decided to go with what I already had.

Next up was security, and I do like Sao Paulo’s security screening, no shoes off and no liquids check there’s even a poster board with a green check mark next to liquids indicating that they are ok. I did have to take my laptop out, which wasn’t required at the domestic checkpoints at this airport or at Foz de Iguassu. But that’s little inconvenience.

I actually assumed that there would be a planeside liquids check for U.S. departures, since there wasn’t a liquid screening at the checkpoint — similar to what happens in Hong Kong (and I can’t even imagine flying United in coach Hong kong – Chicago, where you can’t even buy bottled water in the terminal and take it onboard because it’ll be confiscated before you get on the plane, and have to rely on United flight attendants to keep you hydrated). But there was no such planeside screening. Thank goodness Brazil isn’t a U.S. ally in the War on Water!

Passport control had a fairly long line for Brazilian residents, but almost no line for foreigners, so we were through exit controls quickly. Immediately past immigration was a set of escalators heading upstairs to departure lounges, and we headed straight to American’s.

The lounge is in Terminal 2 Wing D, and was renovated in 2009 to grow to about 6500 square feet. It’s a large lounge with plenty of seating, but with the strategic role that Sao Paulo plays in the American network (and growing) it can get quite crowded come 8:30pm or thereabouts. Of course, walking into the lounge around 5pm or so there were only a handful of folks congregated at the far end of the lounge watching a soccer match and cheering.

There are showers, comfortable seating, wireless internet, and plenty of power outlets that accept a wide variety of international plug styles.

The lounge has a view of airport operations

And also plenty of food and drink. The alcohol isn’t high end but there’s some selection and it’s self-serve. The snacks aren’t delicious, but there are several items to choose from, mini-sandwiches and some salad, dessert bites, enough to keep you from being extremely hungry during a long layover.

I saw down, plugged in, logged in, and began to catch up on a couple days’ of reader emails and work. And somehow 5 hours passed and it was time to board…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve been able to smuggle bottles of water past gate-side secondary liquid screenings in other countries by placing a small/medium bottle of water in each rear hip pocket and having an untucked, long shirt. The patdowns generally don’t include your buttocks, fortunately.

  2. Interesting, I just got back from HKG and the planeside check didn’t seem to focus on liquids or anything useful at all. They opened our bags, took a quick look and that was it. I was expecting a full screening, but it didn’t happen.

  3. Some Admiral Clubs have a la carte menu options, did you see any at Sao Paulo’s?

    @HansGolden you are a brave dude, last thing I want to do is piss off some security guy in a foreign country 😉

  4. Gary, Thanks for all of this information. I will be traveling to the falls via the Brazilian side (IGU) from Rio in three weeks and returning to Sao Paulo. I will be staying at the Sheraton. I have just received an email from the hotel offering me a transfer from the airport to the hotel for $88 USD and to the airport from the hotel for $65USD. This is much more than you paid and obviously not a good deal. It sounds like you had no problems taking a taxi both ways so my inclination is to take the taxi not the transfer. Also did you obtain the Argentine pesos for the park fee in Brazil or in the US. I had some left over from a trip to BA but exchanged them when I returned. Had no idea I would be going back! Thanks for your help. I think it will be much cooler when we are there in three weeks than when you were there. Weather report said it was 37F this morning. Joan

  5. @Joan there’s no problem getting a cab at the airport and they’ll happily take you to the Sheraton. You shouldn’t pay more than $60 for your cab each way. I had Argentine Pesos already. Have a great trip!

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