By Idries Abdur-Rahman, M.D., FACOG


Why Rio? Well, really, why not Rio? I’ve always wanted to experience Brazil and the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about Brazil is Rio, Sugar Loaf and Copacabana Beach. Every year our hospital will pay for us to go to a CME (continuing medical education) conference and we found a great conference (the annual FIGO conference, Internation Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians) in a great spot, Rio de Janeiro, so the deal was sealed. Once the request was approved by the hospital, we purchased tickets and it was time for the count down. As OB/GYN’s going to Brazil, we knew that we really wanted to examine the effects that the Zika virus epidemic had on pregnant women and their babies, specifically the forgotten people in the lower socio-economic rungs of Brazilian society. As a Star Alliance loyalist and United Airlines flyer, was my first stop and I actually found a well price flight (not that I cared because, hey, the hospital was paying for it) that had upgrade space available so I jumped on it.


Aviation Geek Details:

  • Airline and flight number: United Airlines flight UA845
  • Route: Chicago (O’Hare) to Sao Paulo (Guarulhos)
  • Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER
  • Airplane: N229UA, built in 2002 (16 years old at the time of the flight)
  • Miles flown: 5,363 miles
  • Flight duration: 9 hours and 35 minutes
  • Class of service and seat: Business Class, seat 6A
  • This was my 694th overall flight.
  • This was my 245th United Airlines/United Express flight.
  • This was my 84th flight on a Boeing 777 series aircraft and my 66th flight on a Boeing 777-200.


Our 16-year-old Boeing 777-200 flew east from Chicago to the coast of South Carolina before starting its journey south over the Atlantic ocean.


A scheduled departure time slightly after 9 PM meant that I could get in a full days work before making the journey to O’Hare airport’s terminal 1.


The upgrades for my mom, son and I had cleared at the time of booking. Two days before departure we got a message from United that our seats had been changed. Lo and behold I logged on to my account to find that a Polaris re-configured plane was now assigned to our flight. The happiness, unfortunately, wasn’t to last as the next day I got another message that our seats had again been changed and the seat map was back to the older non-Polaris configuration.


Anywho, when we checked in, we were given boarding passes for the connecting Aviance Brazil flight from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro as well.


Due to the early morning departure time for my flight to Beijing a few weeks earlier, I wasn’t able to visit the Polaris lounge. Today would be different and this time I had my mom and youngest son in tow.


The Chicago Polaris lounge has a nice dining option called The Dining Room. The Dining Room is a sit-down dining area with a specific menu. Unfortunately, the sitting area is small and you can only dine from The Dining Room menu if you are actually sitting in The Dining Room. So, we staked out a spot and waited for folks to dine and dash. We waited, and we waited and we waited some more. Realizing that people were…..enjoying the ambiance….we just decided to dine from the open buffet options.


The food offerings at the buffet were pretty solid and I opted for pan-fried salmon, pasta, Caprese salad (minus the tomatoes; I know, I know not healthy to pick out only the cheese and kind of uncool as well), and of course a cookie.


The lounge itself has more than ample seating options and the lighting and decor gave a nice, professional yet chill vibe.


More shots of the lounge as we left to make our way to the departure gate.


UA845 was operating from gate C16 that evening.


Our departure time was slightly delayed from 9:05 PM to 9:30 PM due to “aircraft servicing”. With a 3-hour connection time in Sao Paulo, our connection was definitely still safe.


We boarded N229UA, the 2002 built Boeing 777-200, a few minutes before 9 PM and took our seats in the first row of the “Polaris Business” cabin. This was my mom and son’s first time flying international business and I was hoping for the real Polaris cabin, no such luck!


As always I opted for water for my pre-departure beverage. Gotta stay hydrated in the air!!


You can checkout the full flight video including takeoff right here (the video links for this flight, the flight from Sao Paulo to Rio, and our interview with a family affected by the Zika epidemic will also be present at the end of the report):


With clear skies above Chicago, we were treated to a beautiful view of my sweet home Chicago as we took off.


I’m guessing a lot of folks probably ate in the lounge (probably those people who decided to grow roots in The Dining Room, yes clearly I’m still bitter!). Many people, my seat neighbor included, reclined their seats directly after take-off and slept right through the dinner service. From a caloric intake standpoint, I probably should have too but c’mon, of course, I was going to eat “dinner the sequel”.


Hot towels were distributed first.


Would it have been wrong to use my sleeping neighbors towel? I didn’t do it but I did think about it for like 0.5 seconds.


Beverages (yes, I want your adulation, I went for water again!) and warmed nuts were up next followed by…


a second round of beverages and the starter or appetizer.


The salad was kind of plain but plentiful and the cilantro shrimp was actually really good. No lie, I would definitely have eaten my neighbor’s shrimp if they served him one…alas, they did not.


Next up was the main course or entree.


I opted for the prime rib which was good if not a wee bit overdone. The rice and vegetables were a bit plain giving the plate an overall meh feeling.


Last up was the dessert. The signature sundae is always the way to go along with a few salted toffee squares.


By the time the dinner service was finished, we were flying over the coast of South Carolina. Don’t ask me why I get such a kick out of tracking my flights from the app instead of the in-flight entertainment screen, but I do.


The cabin lights darkened, I decided to check out a quick movie before catching some ZZZ’s. I watched Lady Bird which was pretty funny if not a wee bit depressing.


I got a good six hours of sleep and awoke to the smells of breakfast as we cruised over the heart of Brazil.


I don’t know what airlines can do to add a little something extra to breakfast but this was a standard airline breakfast. An omelet, chicken sausage, chilled fruit, yogurt and selections from a breakfast bread basket. Much like the breakfast on my flights to and from Beijing, I just don’t get the cookie thing (not that I’m complaining).


I opened my window shade to find we were slowly descending over a very green Brazilian countryside.


Unfortunately, we only had a few hours in Sao Paulo but I think a trip to Sao Paulo is definitely in order some time soon!


With a dull thud, we were officially in Brazil!!


A short taxi followed and we were off N229UA only a few minutes after our scheduled arrival time. Thanks for the ride buddy!!


Welcome to GRU airport, next stop was baggage claim and the transfer desk.


Flight Review:

Experience (Total stars): 3.4/5 stars-A pretty average experience, not much more to say.

  • Check-in: 3 points- Unfortunately there are never enough actual United employees in the check-in area (lots of contract workers who just tag bags). This usually means a nice long wait for a UA rep to review your visas before you can complete the check-in procedure.
  • Lounge: 4 points- What! You only gave the Polaris lounge 4 points? The lounge is a great improvement over the United Club but there are things that could be better. For one, expand the size of The Dining Room or allow people to order off of the menu even if there are no seats available in the small dining area. Also, the private bathrooms are nice but there should be an attendant to make sure that they are clean after each use.
  • Boarding: 3 points- Boarding was efficient enough but as always the boarding area was too crowded.
  • Seat: 2 points- The IPTE seats are being replaced thankfully but the only thing they offer is legroom and a flatbed. The seats are too narrow with absolutely no personal storage space or privacy.
  • In-Flight Entertainment: 4 points- United has enough content to keep you entertained but there could definitely be more.
  • Meals: 3 points- Just middle of the road. The options weren’t too inspired and the execution was just average.
  • Cabin Crew: 4 points- Crew were polite and professional but not overly warm.
  • Cabin ambiance: 3 points- The cabin was clean but with the exception of the Boeing 777-300 and Boeing 787 fleets, the white walls and lack of mood lighting gives the cabin a meh feeling.
  • Cabin cleanliness: 4 points-The cabin was clean but as per usual on UA long-haul flights, the bathrooms take a bit of a beating.
  • Price paid and value for money: 3 points-I was able to upgrade all three of us using miles at the lowest level but when you add the fare paid ($1,200) to the upgrade fee ($500) and the miles (30,000), the value paid really isn’t all that great, especially for the old IPTE seating.
  • Thumbs up: The Polaris lounge is a nice upgrade and it is always nice to have a flatbed for an overnight flight.
  • Thumbs down: Checkin was too slow, the old IPTE business class seat provides no privacy or storage space, no PJ’s were offered on this flight which means arriving in wrinkled clothes (aparently the flight was too short to offer PJs), the meals were kind of meh and the bathrooms took a beating by the end of the flight.


Aviation Geek Details:

  • Airline and flight number: Avianca Brazil flight O6#6252
  • Route: Sao Paulo (Guarulhos) to Rio De Janeiro (Galeao)
  • Aircraft: Airbus A320
  • Airplane: PR-AVU, built in 2011 (7 years old at the time of the flight)
  • Miles flown: 212 miles
  • Flight duration: 35 minutes
  • Class of service and seat: Economy Class, seat 9A
  • This was my 695th overall flight.
  • This was my 1st flight on Avianca Brazil.
  • This was my 70th flight on an Airbus A320 and 110th flight on an Airbus A319/320/321 series aircraft.


Our short 212-mile flight took a pretty direct route from Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo to Rio’s Galeao airport.


After a long walk from terminal 3 (where United operates) to terminal 2 (where Avianca Brazil operates), we had a nice long wait in Avianca Brazil’s transfer desk line. Yeah, that’s how I felt too!


After a 15-minute wait, our luggage was re-checked and after clearing security we were airside. No one airline seemed to rule the domestic departures board here at GRU.


Doing a bit of spotting I saw this GOL Boeing 737-800 in a special livery along with a LATAM Boeing 767-300 and Air Europa Boeing 787 lurking in the background.


Our flight boarded right on time.


PR-AVU, a 2011 built Airbus A320 was operating flight 6252 to Rio de Janeiro that day.


I was impressed to find seatback TV screens on these short-haul Airbus planes.


Another proof of life pic. Boarding was pretty quick and efficient and we were soon ready for takeoff.


We pushed off of the gate a few minutes ahead of schedule and we quickly taxied to the active runway.


You can checkout the flight video including take-off right here (the video links for the Chicago-Sao Paulo and Sao Paulo-Rio flights along with our interview with a family affected by the Zika epidemic will also be at the end of this trip report):


Our taxi was so fast that the safety video was still playing during takeoff. We flew past the US and European heavies waiting for their return journies later that night.


As soon as we reached our cruising altitude of 23,000 feet, the crew sprang into action.


I was impressed that we were offered beverages and a warm snack on this 35-minute flight.


And maybe I was just hungry but the burger was actually really, really good. I would actually eat them on the ground!


Wifi was also available on this flight but I didn’t bother to see what the cost was.


As we cruised over Brazil I decided to check out the seatback contents which included the Avianca in-flight magazine,…


and the Airbus A320 safety card.


Of course, I also had to checkout the Avianca Brazil route map and…


the fleet page.


I was impressed with the service and amenities on this short, domestic flight but the seat had taken a bit of a beating. The old gum on the cup holder was quite gross and…


the USB port (always greatly appreciated) had also seen better days.


I didn’t check out the lavatories on such a short flight (my bladder hasn’t gotten that bad….yet) but the rest of the cabin seemed to be in pretty good shape.


After a mere 36-minutes in the air, we were soon descending into an overcast Rio de Janeiro.

You can checkout the full flight videos including take-off and landing right here:

United 845 ORD-GRU:


Avianca Brazil 6252 GRU-GIG:


Rio De Janeiro : Zika, Microcephaly and The Beauty in Pain


Flight Review:

Experience/Total stars: 4.1/5 stars-This was definitely a good flight and if checkin had been more efficient and the seats had been better maintained, it would likely have been a solid 5-star flight!

  • Check-in: 1 point- The wait at the transfer desk was entirely too long.
  • Lounge: N/A
  • Boarding: 3 points- Star Gold was offered boarding first but the lines were a bit chaotic without obvious separations.
  • Seat: 4 points- The seat was comfortable with decent legroom and nice amenities. Maintainance and cleanliness could have been a bit better.
  • In-Flight Entertainment: 5 points- I will be honest and say that I didn’t checkout the content but the fact that such a short, domestic flight even offered a seatback TV screen, wifi, and a USB was impressive enough.
  • Meals: 5 points- To have a full beverage service and a warm snack on such a short flight was a true surprise.
  • Cabin Crew: 5 points- The crew were polite and super efficient.
  • Cabin ambiance: 4 points- If it were not for the seat wear and tear and the cleanliness, this would have been a 5.
  • Cabin cleanliness: 3 points, see above.
  • Price paid and value for money: N/A
  • Thumbs up: The flights were on-time, the crew were polite and professional, the seats were comfortable with nice amenities and they even managed an in-flight service on this 36-minute flight!
  • Thumbs down: The transfer process took way too long, the boarding was a bit chaotic and the seats showed a bit of wear and tear and could have been cleaner.

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About The Docs


Idris is the creation of twin OB/Gyn Doctors Jamil and Idries Abdur-Rahman. Jamil (Dr. J) and Idries (Dr. I) were inspired to start after participating on season 22 of CBS’ ‘The Amazing Race’.

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