After casually cruising around Site59.com (Their prophetic marketing department had e-mailed me a $40 off coupon valid on any package departing before Valentines Day) and looking to see what kind of last-minute deals, I nearly sh***ed myself when I saw a package that was pricing out at $292 (post coupon application) for ORD-LHR-ORD on AA, and one night at the Sheraton Skyline Heathrow, which has always been on my got-to-stay-at list since I'm usually at the Marriott next door, but peruse over there quite often to check out their model shop.
I couldn't turn it down, even though I have not flown AA since my fiasco with them almost 2 years go, and had no elite status and would be in Y both ways, I couldn't turn down this opportunity to check out their Triple 7s. From the majority of the trip reports I have come across about T/A service on AA, the productions seem to give an overall feeling of rather innocuous and mundane service. It became time to sacrified in Y and try AA out for myself. After all it is truly time to stop criticizing them for my happenings in 2002 and see what the world's largest carrier can offer the flying public!
Departure ORD, January 16, 2004.
AA Flight 87
Sked T o D: 22:00
Act T o D: 23:30
I booked this at work at 2PM on Friday and ended up leaving work a little early, as I had a 1.5 hour trek home, then a 1.5 hour journey to ORD, and given the potential for icing conditions throughout the evening, I did not want to jeopardize missing the flight and essentially the trip.
The drive down to ORD was a b**ch and reinforces the reason, in my mind at least, that MKE draws some traffic away from the north-side of Chicago. I hit traffic on the Tri-State just south of Gurnee and it was bumper-to-bumper all the way to the Deerfield toll-plaza. Illinois has an I-pass system, for electronic scanning of vehicles through a debit-account to allow for traffic to drive through, but I didn't want to risk playing that game (I used to think I-pass meant I-pass without paying, but its a Wisconsin vs. Illinois thing) so I was stuck in the manual lanes.
I eventually got parked and at the terminal by around 8:00 PM, 2 hours prior, and got checked-in. There were only about 15 pax checking-in, and no lines in either of the cornucopic amounts of premier desks, nor the economy desks. I was assigned 37G, an aisle in the middle-5 section, which was fine, as the three seats between me and the other aisle-seat occupant in 37 were to remain empty. The five-seat concept is both the bane of my existence, as I was unable to secure a window, since everyone would preferentially sit on the 2-side of the aircraft, but also the love of my life as it offered plenty of underseat storage and the ability to stretch out; provided, of course, that the other seats are not occupied! I grabbed a quick bite to eat at Burrito Beach, and was remarking on how dirty AA's T-3 check-in facilities are. I really only end up actually originating from ORD about 3 or 4 times a year, since MKE offers great connections and is almost always more affordable then ORD .
I walked to gate K-18 and started playing my game-boy. (People always laugh, but its funny to see the look on F/As and Pursers [normally WBC on NW/KLM] when they see a relatively professional looking, young and hansome 24 y/o Network Engineer pull out a game-boy an start pounding away). While there, at about 8:45, there was a boarding announcement. I thought, it was excessively early, but maybe it was for F/C cabins to have meal-service before take-off, and started gathering my belongings. What the announcement didn't include was that it was for a flight to PHL next door, and the gate agent blushed and corrected the announcement that flight 87 was not boarding. Silly me for thinking I was going to go to LHR on an F-100!
At 9:30, the boarding process was well underway, and Group 3, which included me, was called. The aircraft was clean, as expected for its age, and each seat had a pillow and very soft and useful blanket, and headphones sealed in a bag. This is a nice touch, especially being sealed it impresses upon one, at the very least, the image of sterility. I stowed every item in the overhead, but kept my jacket for security and warmth. The doors were sealed, and we waited, and waited, and waited for about 30 minutes. The captain came on and announced that we would be waiting for de-icing for another 20 minutes. Waiting, waiting, waiting... The captain, [Captain Morgan is a humorous name for a pilot by the way] then announced he was turning off the A/C packs to keep the glycol fumes outside. So, during the 45-minute process, it got very stuffy. I was beginning to get very tired, and just wanted to get underway. At about 11:20 my wish was granted, the packs were turned on, and pushback began. Those trents spool up very quietly, and very smooth in comparison to their GE/PW counterparts. This was honestly my first ride on a RR-equipped T7. I love the flap-movement sound, as it is a reminiscent dream of 727 flap movement. Safety videos were brought on-line, as was the airshow map. A seemingly short-taxi later and we began our 42-second takeoff roll. Long, loud, and unimpressive was the takeoff from row 37's standpoint, and we were airborne.
The purser announced that the Flagship-Dinner-Service was to commence shortly, which it did. The choices included beef-tips or pasta. I chose the beef, and, much to my dismay, the entree was about composed of about 40% allergy-inducing mushrooms. Oh well, I was tired and still full from my Burrito-Beach experience, but the beef that I discovered was moist enough, and the gravy above average. The salad was fresh, inclusive of some bits of romaine, and, the roll was soft enough to not make me think of an excavated fossil. The lemon-cake was a nice touch, and the mashed-potatoes accompanying the beef-tips were real and possibly notified my sensitve palate to a hint of garlic. Another nice touch for AA is the seats in coach are relatively wide in comparison with others. The PTV's viewing angle also seems to be an imrovement over United's, which seems to be about 150-degrees, and intrude upon you if you're sleeping. Though United's seats offver improved lower-back support, American's certainly are wider, and the PTV brightness [though viewer-controlled] is an asset to any tired coach traveller. This means that your meal tray is not cramped, but feels spacious. Trays were collected and I tried to sleep. After 15 minutes I gave up and decided to enjoy the virtues of Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun, this was followed up by Anything Else. Then came the airshow, and a little more sleep.
I was woken up by the announcement of a breakfast service, which consisted of A bagel, yogurt cup, and coffee/tea. Customs forms were handed out, and we were just crossing over into Scotland when our descent had commenced. We were on our way down, when Captain Morgan [Childish of me to think that name is funny, but it is...I just pictured him up front with a Carribean Sombrero, and the trademark lipstick-moustache on the outside of the plane] announced we would be in a holding pattern for 15 minutes. Finally, at about 12:00, the reformed pirate greased his landing and we taxied, whereupon an additional announcement was made that we were without a gate. I'm normally an early-morning parton of LHR, so this was new to me, but we finally were given space at Gate-13. It appeared as if we had come upon Customs at the tail end of the Air-India flight from ORD. I normally clear customs in AMS, and I thought the fast-track system at LHR is an extremely valuable asset for those holding the cards, as I can imagine the zoo it could be on a busy morning of arrivals.
Overall: AA has an excellent transatlantic product on their 777s, and is a notch above United's in coach. I am rating their services on a scale of 10, bearing in mind I am comparing this trip to other coach services across the pond.
Service: 6.8: The F/As were friendly, and willing to assist you to an extent--smiles were had by most attendants. Strangely enough, I was denied a water request during the de-icing process. I shrugged it off and continued my wait. Though dinner was served shortly after takeoff, I was served almost last given my row. After only about 10 minutes, the trays were almost forcibly collected from the rear, and 10 minutes does not allow for a relaxing dinner. I thought they would have collected from the front.
Cleanliness: 9: Either AA has an excellent grooming crew in ORD, or I got lucky, but the plane, age be damned, was cleaned and prepared for its journey in an outstanding manner. No fighting for pillows is another nice touch, and their blankets are warm and soft. The lavs were lavs...
Meal: 7: Average meal, nothing too impressive, but the tray-size thing is so nice to have in coach!
Entertainment: 6.5: No AVOD, but the cycles began early into the flight and allowed for one to watch each move at least once, and their selection include a lineup that would appeal to a cross-section of age and interests.
Seat: 7: The width is outstanding, recline is generous and the PTV units do not intrude too much if one were subjected to a seat with a unit underneath of it.
Boarding: 9: The zone thing works well, and does not cause a trample to the door. Execs and premier classes had ample time to board.
Hope you all enjoyed!