Just got back from a business trip to St Lucia on American Airlines/American Eagle. Here's the story:
Monday, 23 Oct - TUS-DFW (MD-80), DFW-SJU (757), SJU-SLU (ATR72)
Got an upgrade to First Class for my first leg...hooray, a real breakfast! As always, AA staff at Tucson was very professional. American’s gate area was recently redone, and looks very nice, I noticed they have a big model of an AA 777 in one corner now. While on the plane waiting to leave, I saw one of the service vehicles was an old 60s-era pickup truck painted in the OLD American scheme, with a blue body, white top, and the old old eagle logo inside a red circle! Neat idea! As I've said before, I think the new 1st class seats are uncomfortable, smaller than the old leather ones and the headrest is rock-hard. Inflight service to DFW was efficient, but the flight attendant was kind of a sourpuss, didn't smile once. Other than that, the flight was fine, breakfast was French toast with warm bagels on the side. When we landed at DFW (aka American Airlines International Airport), I saw that my flight to San Juan (SJU) was delayed for over an hour, which would cause me to miss my connection to St Lucia. I went out to the main ticket counter, and was helped by another sourpuss, who put me on an earlier flight to SJU which was also delayed, but was now leaving at the same time MY flight was supposed to. Follow that? She also sent a message down to try and change my baggage to the new flight, then told me to “cross my fingers” that it would make it (it didn’t). This flight, a 757, was not quite full. I was in 30C, and had an empty middle seat, with another guy at the window. I have yet to see a 757 with the new dark-blue interior, even though they all have expanded legroom. Have they even started refurbishing them? This flight was 4 1/2 hours long. Headsets were free, presumably as an apology for the delay, but the audio on the left side of the plane didn’t work, so I didn’t get any use out of them. The movie was “Frequency.” My dinner choice was pasta, which came with salad, a roll and a brownie. The flight was smooth, and we landed at about 8pm local in SJU (which was when I supposed to get there anyway). I met my colleagues at the American Eagle area, which is downstairs from the main terminal. This place was (and always is) a madhouse. Every flight seemed to be looking for volunteers to give up seats, or delayed. I think this must be due to restrictive weight/balance limits on the ATRs. Our flight to St Lucia was also oversold, but since I had meetings the next day, I couldn’t give my seat up. Drat! At about 8:45, we got on a bus to take us to the ATR72. The seats on this plane are very narrow, but fortunately the seat next to me was empty (see above about weight limits?). The flight itself was quite smooth. Service was minimal except for drinks and a package of plaintain chips. I amused myself by reading my book and the inflight magazine “Latitudes.” Also by watching the other passengers. Just about everyone else was on their honeymoon, and the entire plane was either smooching or talking baby talk to each other. A recommendation if you ever have a trip on an ATR, bring earplugs! The engines at cruise are loud and have an annoying frequency that goes through your entire body. Landing at Castries, St Lucia (SLU) is always exciting. The runway is very short, with roads and buildings RIGHT off the edge. As soon as the wheels touch down the pilot slams on the brakes, or you’ll wind up in a traffic circle at the end of the runway. I saw our pilot come through the cabin once. He looked about 19, so I was all the more impressed with the landing. There is no taxiway, you make a U-turn and taxi back to the terminal on the runway. We stepped out into the humid Caribbean air, and walked about 30 yds to the terminal. Immigration was no problem as we were met at the airport by our hosts. However, my bag did not arrive on our flight, and I didn’t get it until about 3pm the next day. One demerit for American Eagle.
Friday, 27 Oct – SLU-SJU (ATR72), SJU-DFW (757), DFW-TUS (MD-80)
After a “grueling” week in St Lucia (yeah!), our little group drove back to the airport and checked in for the 8:12am flight to San Juan. The check-in desks are open-air, so you are nice and sweated-over before your trip even starts. The check-in line was quick, although there was a slight delay as one of the scales was fixed. I lost no time going through security to the air-conditioned departure lounge. The ramp at Castries is an interesting mix of local service airlines (Helenair, Air Caraibe, etc.) operating a variety of little turboprops. Our flight departed on time and was not as full as the one coming in. Takeoff is even more exciting than landing here, racing along, lifting off just before disaster strikes! In-flight service was drinks and a small granola bar. This was a little annoying, as they used to serve muffins and things. American Eagle service really seems to have been cut back lately. Arrival in SJU was on time. You have about a four-mile walk from the gate to U.S. immigration, but I didn’t mind, especially since the wall is glass and directly above the AA gates, so you can look right down on the jets. I had a three-hour wait in SJU, so I wandered around the terminal watching flights come and go. Finally boarded my DFW-bound 757 and sat in 16D, an exit row. Didn’t watch the inflight movie (“Keeping the Faith”) although a lot of the passengers seemed to be enjoying it. Lunch was a choice of “Caribbean Chicken” or cheese lasagna, with standard-issue roll, salad and brownie. Another smooth flight with on-time arrival. Back at DFW, the agent announced that they needed volunteers to give up seats to TUS. I gave them my name, but in the end they didn’t take me after all, so I boarded with my original seat. Oh, well. This flight was packed solid. I was in 21E, an exit row center, which was not too bad, at least there’s a little room, although the guy in 21D kind of spilled over. Although I don’t care for the new seats in 1st class, the new coach seats are comfortable. About 6 rows behind me was a baby, who for the first half of the flight was screaming like you wouldn’t believe…that high-octive, piercing cry that is the bane of all air-travelers! We taxied a good 40 minutes before taking off, this is common at DFW. The flight was very rough due to weather, flight attendants were told to suspend service and strap in. The woman next to me was working on her laptop the whole time, I don’t know how she could focus on the screen! Despite the bad weather, we landed in TUS only about 10 minutes late, and this time my bag did make it through. All-in-all, another decent trip!