It has been a while since I have produced a trip report, and I was not prepared to do one for this flight either, but I simply could not resist writing one, as the whole trip turned out to something totally different what I had planned for. Therefore, sorry, no pictures this time as I did not had my camera on-hand.
Route: New York, JFK to Manchester, MAN
Airline: American Airlines
Flight number: AA 210
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200
Seat: 2F, Business Class
STD:19.30, ATD: 01.05
STA:07.55, ATA: 12.10
Date: Sunday 08/22/10
I was on a quick four day trip in New York with my travel companion and New York was just as amazing as it always has been! We had a blast! We enjoyed great weather through our stay until the morning of our departure. When we left from our hotel in Manhattan at 2pm, the weather had changed completely from a small drizzle to heavy rain. Our driver made great job and got us to JFK in less than one hour.
Since I have been prolific DL user until last fall, this was my first departure from AA's terminal 8 at JFK. The check-in process was done at the self service kiosk area at the very end of the terminal. At the check-in, we chose seats 27A and C, and were hoping to have the B seat empty for extra space. According to seat map, the load on this flight was not completely full, so we were keeping our fingers crossed...! Other than that, the check-in process was smooth, we were issued our boarding passes all the way to HEL. I was just surprised how fully self-service everything was; after printing the boarding passes, we proceeded to an agent who tagged our bags and then we had to carry the bags to the baggage belt ourselves.
Terminal 8 is by all means nicer than the antiquated DL Terminal 3, but still, you simply cannot compare this facility with airports such as Singapore, Seoul or even Amsterdam, which all offer superior experience compared to this one. But hey, it is JFK! We cleared the TSA security and went to the gate area. Since we had plenty of time before our departure time, we decided to grab something to eat. The food offerings at Terminal 8 are the usual sports bars and food court with several options. We ended up taking Chinese food from the food court, and it was OK, sweet, greasy and good as expected. After the meal, we went to gate 8, which was displayed on the boarding passes. While we sat at the gate, the 757 from previous flight pulled in and after an hour or so, they started boarding the flight and since it was only around 5pm, I knew this could not be our flight, and went to FIDS to find out the gate change. It appeared that this flight was going to Madrid and our flight would depart from gate 12.
So we moved to gate 12. At this point the weather started getting bad again, more heavy rain and low visibility. Next to gate 12 is a bunch of AA's self-service units and I decided to check if we were lucky with the middle seat. Yes, it was still empty, but what was even more interesting, was this little box of text asking "Would you like to upgrade your ticket to Business Class for 500USD?" I was so amazed to see this! After some consideration, I found this an excellent deal and my travel companion agreed with me. So we answered "YES" to AA's question. I was bit scared if there would be upgraded seats available for both of us as we were on separate PNR's. So, what I did was something which must have seemed weird if somebody was watching me, I simply worked with two kiosks simultaneously, each PNR on each set. And it worked out just nicely! With some fiddling with seats, we ended up to 2D and 2F. Perfect!
At this point, we saw that there was still no aircraft at gate 12 and the departure time was in less than an hour. So I said to my travel companion that we will go to see the lounge. AA Admiral Club's entrance is conveniently located almost next to gate 12, so we took the elevator and entered the lounge. The agent was very cheerful and she confirmed that our flight would be slightly delayed "due to mechanical issues". She gave us some drink coupons, and advised that there would be more information available at 7.30pm. The Admirals Club was nice, there was ample seating available and several PC terminals free to use. The food offerings were bit weak, only some snack mix and crudites and dip for free, anything more substantial you had to pay. However, this was not a problem as we were not hungry at all. So champagne and sherry for us, cheers!
When I went to the monitors to see any new info about our flight, I found out that the new departure time was now 9.15pm. However, the agent told us that this would still give us enough time to catch our HEL flight from MAN as our scheduled arrival time to MAN was 9.35am and our connection to HEL would depart at 10.25am. I was bit skeptical about the connection already at this point, but I did not start to argue with the agent. After another champagne, the flight departure was pushed 9.45pm so there went our connection! I know that AY has an evening service from MAN to HEL but this would mean a long wait there. So I went to the agent and asked if there is any chance they could move us to one of several LHR flights they still had departing as this would give us more options to connect to HEL. The first response was "no, that is not possible since you have checked in some bags and they cannot remove them after loading". When I explained that my travel companion was an elderly person and that the long wait in MAN would be unbearable, she started, quite reluctantly, make some calls around the baggage hall. I also told to her, that I have hard time to believe that our bags would have been loaded as the aircraft, which would take us to MAN, has not even arrived to the gate yet!
At this point, the agents attitude changed and she was nicer as she was from the beginning. But she still kept saying that the baggage hall supervisors would not allow the baggage removal. She even asked me to go down to the gates and find one of the supervisors as "they don't believe us, but when they hear the story directly from the customer, they might help you!" C'mon, is it really the way AA works for its premium (even if only upgraded) customers??! Anyway, since I had time, I decided to go back to gates to see if there would be someone with some more authority. I found one gate supervisor and he told me that I should go to gate 47, which was now designated for MAN flight. I decided that I'm not going to go all the way to 47 and went back to the Admirals Club instead.
I think the agent realized how stupid this whole episode seemed and she was really apologetic at this time. She asked me to go to the lounge and she would page us when she had some further information. At this point our MAN flight departure time was pushed one hour to 10.45pm...! Few minutes later, I was paged and I went back to the counter. The agent said that there was no way they could remove the bags and put us on LHR flight. At this point it was 10pm, so we decided it was time to give up and start the long walk to the gate 47. When we passed the counter, I saw the agent talking on the phone and waiving to us. So we went to the counter, and she told us that now she found someone at the baggage hall who could help us with the bags! Yes, they could remove our bags from the MAN flight, but, instead of just transferring them directly to LHR flight, we would have to go through the customs to arrival hall to claim our bags, up to check-in to re-check the bags to LHR and then through the TSA security back to gates! And, the agent said that there would be a chance that we might loose our LHR flight, which was scheduled to depart at 11.35pm! I just thanked her and told we would keep our original flight to MAN and worry about the connections after arrival. I had two agents around me apologizing the situation...! It certainly did not give very good impression about the irop-handling at AA, but hey, this is JFK! I kept myself calm and the agents even thanked me for being so nice and not shouting at them...! And, I have to say, they kept me well stocked with the drink coupons, we ended up with 12 coupons, although we only used one third of them.
We went to the gate at around 10:15 but there was no action visible. The rain was still very heavy, one could hear the rain pouring on the terminal roof. At around 11pm, the gate agent announced that the flight was ready to board but due to the fact that the cabin service had closed the service door improperly, the flight crew could not fix it and the water kept flooding in to the back galley!! Great, more delay! Subsequently, the maintenance crew was able to fix the door and the gate agent got permission to board the aircraft around 11.15pm. We were the two first passengers entering the cabin.
The crew seemed still have good spirits although the flight was more than four hour delayed at this point. They swiftly took our jackets and offered us some drinks, champagne for us, thanks! While the boarding process was on, I familiarized myself with the AA New Business Class seat. The seat controls were easy to use and I found some nice positions for relaxation. As I was sitting on the window seat, I found the space bit cramped when the person in the aisle seat was using the seat in sleep mode. It required some acrobatics to get to the aisle..! Also, the storage space was very limited. The average amenity kit was stored in the space under the arm rest. The seat felt much wider than DL BusinessElite seat on 767's which I usually have flown. And the fact that the arm rest could also be lowered, made the sense of space even bigger. All in all, quite nice seat.
The pilots kept us updated about the situation, due to ATC restrictions we would still be stuck at the gate for some time. At this point I did't mind the delay as I calculated that the longer the delay was in JFK, the less time we would have to wait in MAN. And I definitely prefer to wait in business class seat than in dull MAN terminal! The flight attendants served us more drinks and some nuts to go with them. They also distributed menus and Sennheiser noise canceling headphones and advised that the IFE system would be functional within few minutes. Well, it took some time and rebooting the system before it was fully functional. I browsed the system, but none of the movies appeared worth watching plus I was so tired at this point that I would have fallen to sleep if I would have tried to watch any movies.
We finally pushed back few minutes after midnight and as there were many delayed flights, it took around one hour before we took off. Once airborne, the pilots kept the seat belt signs on for 30 minutes as the weather was bit choppy. As soon as the seat belt signs were switched off, the crew started the service. Since the business cabin was only half full (no wonder the upgrades were on sale!), the service was very fast. First we got the hot towels, which felt really nice. With the drinks they ordered nice marinated cheese antipasto. Then they came with the appetizer trays, which consisted shrimps and salmon. Rolls were also offered. I had some nice white wine with my meal, can't remember which one, but it was delicious. The appetizers were followed by salad which was offered with creamy peppercorn dressing or olive oil and balsamico. The salad was very fresh and good size portions. For entree, four choices were offered; beef, lamb, shrimp and scallops or vegetarian lasagna. My travel companion went for lamb which was excellent, my choice was the shrimps and scallops, which didn't look very appetizing but taste was OK. For dessert, we both chose ice cream sundae over cheeses. Perfect ending for a nice meal! After the meal, bottles of water were distributed.
As I said, the service was fast, not in a hurried way though. The two flight attendants, one male and one female, were nice, not in the way DL flight attendants usually are, slightly cooler attitude at AA. They got the job done fast so that we could maximize the sleeping time. After the dinner I switched the seat to sleeping mode and passed completely out! The next time I woke, we were over Ireland and the crew started the breakfast service. It was one tray affair with fresh fruits, corn flakes, yogurt, breakfast breads and condiments. The menu stated also warm breakfast entree, but that never showed up and it was not needed for a flight this short. The breakfast was good and hit the spot completely. After finishing it, I went to the lavatory to freshen up for the arrival.
We landed 10 minutes after noon and taxied to the gate. An agent from AA contacted us at arrival and handed out some meal vouchers and advised that we were booked on the 5.50pm flight to HEL. I was surprised that we had to claim our baggage at MAN and take it to Terminal 3 and check it in with AY. I would have expected that AA would have done the baggage transfer for us automatically.
As conclusion, I have kind of mixed emotions for AA Business Class. The hassle at the lounge was something you would not expect. I know it was special request to be moved to another flight, but it was also an IROP and in the end we had to wait almost six hours in MAN which we could have avoided if they would have re-booked us to LHR. On the flight, the seat was nice, meals top notch, service OK. I would say that in small details, AA is behind DL, for example the amenity kit and the crockery reminded me of something which DL used 10 years ago. Service during the flight is also missing some of the finesses which can be found at DL. But considering the cost of the upgrade, 500USD, I find that is great value for the money and would not hesitate to do it again. But If I would need to purchase a full fare business class ticket over the Atlantic, I would look other options first.
[Edited 2010-08-28 17:49:17]