Airline: American Airlines
Flight Number: AA425
Aircraft: McDonnell-Douglas MD-80
Seat: 6F (First Class)
Distance: 1158 miles
Duration: 2hrs 51mins
Date: Saturday 10th May
Photo © Jeff Miller
Photo © Paul Robbins - Nashville Aviation Photographers
The day began early thanks to a combination of 7.30am flight, some last minute packing and a little bit of paranoia. My mother and father-in-law were staying overnight with us and able to act as chauffeurs, dropping us off curbside just in front of the AA counters almost exactly one hour before scheduled departure. Thankfully the First Class/elite check-in was empty and so we went right up to the counter. It turned out my wife's bag was 2lb overweight, it'd be too easy to blame it on her but we were taking some car parts out to her brother and they tipped the scale against our favour. So off we went to be those people who turn their bags inside out and upside down in front off two hundred people! Fortunately a handful of guidebooks were transferred to carry-on which brought us down to 46lb and we were set.
Security was almost as easy to deal with, although the grandma, grandpa and grandson cruise passengers who appeared to have never been on a plane before did their best to thwart my quick passage!
Down at the gate was our saviour, one of AA's supervisors at RIC, two months earlier she had spent eight hours hand writing the oneworld explorer tickets we were heading out to the west coast to start. We nipped to the gate to say hello and thank you, as we approached she instantly recognised us, treating like long lost relatives and wished us a pleasant trip.
The gate area was very busy so we took a seat at an AirTran gate just across the way until boarding commenced just minute or so later. There were quite a few spare seats in First and the flight attendant, Steven, started on the pre-flight drinks, holding back the inbound coach passengers as he went about his business. I took an orange juice, my wife a coffee, served in a plastic cup and styrofoam respectively.
At this time I was able to notice how spotless this aircraft was, the carpets were immaculate and the little drinks tray and area around the seat looked like a brand new aircraft. The only telltale sign of wear on this aircraft was the back of the seats in front which seemed to be a little scuffed up and marked in places. Based on my previous assortment of MD-80 flights I had been giving them a pretty hard time but on this particular one I was prepared to eat the humble pie a little.
The MD-80 cabin and the seat itself
By the time boarding had completed First had a complement of fifteen out of a possible sixteen (the only free seat being in front of me ) but I wasn't sure about Economy. I didn't want to look back and be one of those who people who is seen as looking back at the 'ruffians'
We had an on time, 7.30am, pushback from the gate and our supervisor friend was appearing to be a jack of all trades. Not only could she handwrite complex paper tickets, and do a gate agent's work but from my window I could see she was now driving the little tow truck!
We taxied out to runway 34, the furthest from the terminal, and departed across the city although before long we were enveloped by cloud en-route to our cruising altitude of 29,000ft. Once above the thick cloud layer it was completely blue sky, but my window seat wasn't much use! The guy in front seat did give us a clue to our routing; Blacksburg, VA to Knoxville, TN then over Nashville, TN and across the state of Arkansas into DFW.
Google Maps anyone?
By the time breakfast was served, around forty five minutes after takeoff, Steven had accomplished a couple of drinks rounds and hot towel service. Thanks to four hours of not very good sleep I'd switched over to something with a little more caffeine, this time served in a (plastic) mug. As I'd hoped FEBO was observed, FEBO being that on even numbered flights meal orders are taken from the front (FE) and on odd numbered flights it is from the back (BO). Choice this morning was cereal with either cranberry muffins or a bagel and cream cheese. The wife and I both opted for the bagel.
Continental breakfast option: cereal with cream cheese bagel
The cereal was a little bland, but then I didn't add the raisins which was pretty stupid of me! My initial thoughts about the bagel were it was going to be cold or stale but it was warmed just a little bit and wasn't too bad.
After breakfast was cleared away I passed the time looking out of the window but despite the best efforts of AA's coffee I was beginning to tire a little. I pushed the seat into full recline and let my body take care of the rest. The occasional jolt of light turbulence punctuated my otherwise much enjoyed slumber.
Around thirty minutes before landing I felt it was appropriate to wake up and as such the rest of the cabin came to life a little too. Steven was making his rounds in First with connecting gate information, before heading back to the galley to read the full list out over the PA system. The first five cities all began with the letter 'A' and I was beginning to wonder how bloody long this would take!! It seemed we just had a high concentration of passengers travelling to 'A' cities on this flight!
They say everything is bigger in Texas...they're not wrong
As we came in on final approach onto runway 17L I realised how huge DFW was. It may surprise some of you but this was my first flight into, or out of, this airport. I thought Heathrow was big, ORD enormous and DEN almost gargantuan but these appeared to be nothing compared to DFW! It seemed we spent half our gate to gate time scooting across from 17L to our gate! To give some idea DFW has two Hyatt hotels, some large cities don't host even one Hyatt!
Due to expected temperatures of mid 90s at DFW that day we were asked to close the window shades to keep the aircraft cool, and then it was off the aircraft and onto the Skytrain round to the D gates. Right at the bottom of the escalator down from the Skytrain was the Admirals Club. We were welcomed by a couple of 'AAngels' as they have been dubbed on Flyertalk and given a couple of drinks vouchers. The club itself was surprisingly nice compared to most ACs I'd visited. More along the lines of an LAX, than an SFO. There were great views of the apron and runway just below.
The Terminal D Admirals Club at DFW
A quick check of the monitor showed the gate for our LAX flight to be almost right below our window. Although it was a shade under an hour before boarding our 767 was not there, so in my DFW-novice like state I asked at the desk if 25A was a remote stand. It appeared not and as I took my seat a 767 pulled up just below us.
N351AA being prepped for our flight to LAX
The lounge was quite busy this morning and a couple had come and sat just across from us. As I wasn't anticipating on using my drinks vouchers on this visit I asked if they were interested. In the interest of being polite they struck up conversation and they mentioned they were flying home to Miami and we spoke a little about our trip until our flight began boarding.
Route: Dallas / Fort Worth Int. - Los Angeles Int.
Airline: American Airlines
Flight Number: AA2421
Aircraft: Boeing 767-323/ER
Seat: 5A (First Class)
Distance: 1235 miles
Duration: 2hrs 41mins
Date: Saturday 10th May
Photo © Allan Martins Antunes
Photo © Roberto Rios - UAI PhotoTeam
The gate was only a short walk from the Admirals Club and by the time we got there boarding was well under way. Having missed First Class boarding and this being a widebody aircraft I was expecting an enormous line but it wasn't to be although we had a short wait in the jetway though. As expected First Class was completely full, it seemed a popular idea to opt for the 767 with the new Business Class seats instead of the alternatives on this route.
There was a nice amount of underseat storage and the independent movement of any part of the seat looked pretty good. My only initial complaints were the fact the seat seemed pretty close to the one in front, alas this didn't stop the guy across the aisle from folding his legs some impossible way onto the one in front. Eugh. Also the left armrest won the award for most annoying wobble of the day. I was able to let it slide down into the seat and put the pillow in its place. Incidentally the nice pillows and duvets supplied weren't expected on a relatively short flight like this one. I guess they come with the equipment regardless of flight length.
The flight attendants weren't seen much until they started doing the drinks round of water or orange juice. The safety video was presented in both English and Spanish and we were soon, though a little late, on our way out to runway 18L. We held short briefly as some figures were required by the flight deck, during this time a company 737 passed us and departed.
On the ascent out of DFW you really got to appreciate how big a place it is and how prepared the authorities are for expansion as and when required. We reached our cruise altitude very quickly as 100mph headwinds meant we were flying pretty low, just 29,000ft.
NAS Joint Reserve Base Forth Worth
The almost satellite view like moving map certainly helped me get my bearings on this flight although there wasn't a great amount to see from the window. I got my seat into a comfortable position, preset #1 with a little bit of leg extension. The one slightly bizarre thing was that it felt as though I was very perched up when I put the seat into recline.
The relatively high walls prevent many stealthy cabin shots
Around thirty minutes after takeoff the first drinks round was made, I opted for a Heineken and ice water. Those hot nuts also made an appearance!
Heineken, ice water and those nuts American carriers enjoy!
Once we'd had time to sup on our beverages and nibble on our nuts for about ten minutes the food cart headed to the back of the cabin for another FEBO observed meal service. This time our choice was either salmon on pasta, or turkey and cheese criossant with salad. I took the latter, my wife the former.
Turkey and cheese croissant with salad with warm chocolate chip cookie
I took one look at my wife's and thought it was going to be awful but she said it was actually rather good, surprising for someone who is pretty picky about fish! My croissant was better than it looked and fell just within my expectations, and the cookie to finish was quite nice with it being slightly warm and the chocolate being slightly melted. That said I do prefer the way United do theirs, fresh out of the oven...
The rather dull terrain outside was briefly broken up by the view of the Very Large Array near Socorro, New Mexico.
The Very Large Array (VLA)
Although not many drinks top ups were done after the meal service was over I did manage to get my water topped up at least once. Once again I managed to fall asleep for a good hour or so waking up at the top of the descent close to Palm Springs. The cabin was prepped for landing pretty quickly and buttermints were handed out.
The haze in the Los Angeles area was pretty heavy at the 5000ft level and the approach a little bumpy. We landed on the most southern runway with a nice view of the aircraft outside the Proudbird Restaurant on final approach, and the cargo facilities on the roll out.
We taxied past Terminal 4 which seemed a little weird and then stopped outside Terminal 5. The flight deck came on the PA system to say that some equipment remained at our gate and it had to be cleared so we went round the taxiways again for a second attempt, docking at the very end of the Terminal 4 concourse.
Disembarking was very quick and we headed for the Flagship Lounge. Terminal 4 seemed exceptionally busy and this was mirrored in the usually empty lounge. There was barely a free seat in the place so we sat on the high bar stools at the end with a bottle of Evian each. I noticed that the place had new furniture since my last visit which created higher walls and a little more privacy.
The AA/Qantas Flagship Lounge at LAX
After AA's Tokyo flight was called it seemed to return to a relatively normal state, although still busy by Flagship Lounge standards. This did give us the opportunity to move to more comfortable seating just across from the entrance. At 1.45pm, thirty minutes before boarding, we decided to make our way to the gate for our final flight of the day.
Route: Los Angeles Int. - San Francisco Int.
Airline: American Airlines
Flight Number: AA2427
Aircraft: McDonnell-Douglas MD-80
Seat: 4F (First Class)
Distance: 337 miles
Date: Saturday 10th May
Photo © Lars Hentschel
Photo © Damon Marcus Lewis
I had assumed that the concourse was busy because a couple of busier flights were just about to depart but upon our return over an hour later it just appeared to be busy. We waited some distance back from the gate for about fifteen minutes before boarding was called. It seems as though AA are trialling an elite lane procedure at LAX, a bit like United's red carpet boarding system. Those who are allowed to use the lane are called first, then boarding follows by zones, however, anyone who can use the elite lane can jump in line and be dealt with as a priority. The AA system is more accessible, being available for anyone in a premium cabin and all oneworld elites right down to Ruby status! United's version is only limited to Business, First, Global Services and 1K members.
There were no pre-flight drinks on this flight and so we just settled watching the ramp action take place outside the window.
Company 757 leaving from the apron between Terminals 4 and 5
The First cabin was pretty light, with just over half the seats taken although there was quite a stream of passengers heading back to Economy. I did noticed that like the MD-80 from RIC-DFW this one was almost spotless too. The safety briefing took place and quite unusually the flight attendant was reading from a script as another did the procedures themselves.
Pushback was just a little late and from my window I could see our rather bored marshaller was bouncing his sticks on the tarmac, spinning and then catching them! After he'd got our aircraft out he took off his high visibility jacket and walked off elsewhere on the ramp which seemed a little odd.
We taxied round the back of TBIT to the north side of the airfield and being number three in line for takeoff we were in the air pretty quickly. Unfortunately we weren't treated to the best view as the haze got in the way quite a bit although the rapid inflight service began quickly enough to distract us on the way up to 34,000ft.
Hot towels started things off, although these were almost scalding! To show my wife how nasty aircraft are I wiped the headrest with the towel and showed it to her as she almost threw up! And they say coach passengers are 'the unwashed masses' I knew aircraft were pretty dirty places and the outcome of the hot towel experiment was no surprise to me, yet I didn't feel quite so comfortable leaning my head back into the headrest anymore!
Heineken, Gin & Tonic and 'Premium Snack Mix'
Drinks were offered soon after and I took a Heineken along with as many bags of 'Premium Snack Mix' as I wanted. In this case one would suffice Although we left the haze of Los Angeles behind us the views on this flight weren't quite as good as my last, where we almost followed the rippled terrain of the San Andreas Fault.
Descending into the Bay Area
The flight time passed very quickly although our flight attendant was very visible throughout, always doing drinks top ups. I could only finish half of my second can of Heineken before we passed relatively low over the San Jose area and onto runway 28L.
Baggage claim was a bit slow; it took around fifteen minutes for the belt to start moving, and a further five seconds for all the passengers to completely crowd the belt so nobody could see the effing bags coming! That really annoys the hell out of me. If everyone stood back then more people could see the bags and you also wouldn't get smacked round the head as I took the suitcases off the belt. The thing about common sense though is it isn't very common and airports seem to be no exception to that.
Our two bags came off the belt pretty quickly and we were soon onto the Airtrain and Bart en-route to my brother-in-law's place...
Verdict: Some more solid flights from AA. All the flight attendants seemed to give a good solid performance although those on the DFW-LAX segment appeared a little less attentive.
It was good to try out the new Business Class seat (sold as First domestically) on the DFW-LAX flight and it was definitely worth going for domestically although I'm not convinced it is a serious competitor in the international market. Maybe if I was given the chance to try out the in seat IFE (which is removed for domestic flights) I might be a little more swayed.
On the plus side I feel bad for giving the MD-80s such a hard time, the two on these flights were in superb condition, maybe I'd just been on ropey examples in the past, or maybe I just got lucky on these ones!