After 6 months of dealing with parents who are both very ill and work that has been very busy and difficult it was time for a one week vacation to St Croix, an island I hadn't visited since 1985 and always remembered fondly. I travelled with my partner who, though an X college football player and borderline tough guy, is a scared flyer. To try and lessen his anxiety and convince him to travel through San Juan on a small aircraft, I bought us a day pass into the Admiral's Club for the outbound journey. It didn't make sense, when planning, to do it for the return as we were supposed to have just over an hour, which turned out a mistake. More on that later in the report.
The night before departure I checked us in and pulled our boarding passes without any problem. AA.COM I find easy to navigate. The Admirals Club was going to be a surprise so I arranged a car to get us at 05:30 for a 06:00 arrival at JFK (travelling from Manhattan) which went very smoothly.
Check-In / Bag Drop
This was my 3rd time flying from AA's new T8 at JFK. It was nice to see a better organized kiosk check-in on the left side of the terminal. I've always found that AA has staff floating, almost to the point of annoying, around the kiosks to assist people checking in. I typed us in and proceeded to a very nice lady who tagged our bags. I beileve she was a supervisor as she wore the grey jacket. In any event I was joking with my boyfriend upon handing over our bags. The lady looked up, laughed and said, "Hey you two, you're going to be together for the week, you'd better be good to each other." It was a very nice and appropriate touch that made me feel good. So far so good.
I'm adding TSA as a paragraph to my trip reports because so many of us have 'memorable' experiences within their 'charge.'
We lucked out and were pulled from the economy line and asked to go to the First Class line to speed things along. It did and we went through without any drama. I had my laptop and there were no questions on anything.
Since our gate, I believe it was 46, was on the outer finger at T8, we did the walk through of the first finger, the escalator down, the moving walkway across and the escalator up to reach the gate area. I was excited about the Admirals Club usage and advised the bf that we're about to go into the club. By then his nerves had already taken over and he just nodded - oh well, I guess I was more excited about it then him.
We went up the elevator to the Club and handed over the printed one day pass. I had high expectations for the club thinking that this is AA's multi-million $ new facility, this is going to be good. Boy was I disappointed.
We were instructed, when I asked upon check-in at the front, if there were some food available within the club, that there is "coffee and bagels."
We made our way to a window seat where we grabbed two 20th century geometric borderline comfortable seats that did have easy to use tably type things attached. I went to grab us coffee and bagels. What a huge disappointment. Now I'm at NYC where bagels are King. These were the little supermarket type barely eatable bagels, no toaster available and the coffee was like a watery mix of well, I'll just leave it like that. OK, so we had the icky bagels and lousy coffee.
The view from the club where we sat faced T7 so we did get to spot, well, I got to spot. He was too busy trying to relax. CXs and BAs morning service 777 and 747 respectively were getting ready to go.
Enough about the club. I found it disappointing for its size, layout and service, especially the morning food offering. When the bf asked if all clubs were like this I had to tell him, well, mainly just the US flag carrier clubs.
May 10, '08
We were in group 5 or 6 since we were seated in 10A/10B, the 3rd or 4th (I think) row behind the port side lav. Boarding was easy with the usual families, old folk, premium card holders going first. We boarded and I was pleased with our seats which had good pitch. The aircraft lived up to its name of being a "Bus" as it was clearly a work horse that was very worn and tattered. The lavs were really really overused and borderline scary. I've always found AA austere and business like in its services and activites. A special note: I worked for them in NYC and LAX for 4+ years in the 70's when they were, sans Caribbean, a domestic carrier. It was common knowledge, even back then, that SJU always got the oldest aircraft that were the least maintained. I'll save the racist observation about AA I'd like to make and just say nothing had changed since the 70's.
We pushed off about 5 minutes late for an uneventful ride to SJU. It was the, unfortunately, usual onboard AA service. Somewhat autmoated, a quick trip down the aisle with a drink and food-buy service and then no F/A's for the rest of the ride. We both iPoded our way to SJU where we arrived a few minutes early. The most animation we received from the cabin crew was "1L and R", "2L and R", "3L and R" and "4L and R."
The inflight entertainment was OK with some movie about a Loch Ness type monster that forms a bond with a kid in Scotland. I observed and didn't listen.
SJU Admirals Club
I've been to his club before and was looking forward to having a cigarette in their closed room. Well, that's changed as of last year apparently. It's non-smokiing throughout now. We grabbed (paid for) a couple of drinks (coke for me, booze for him) and made our way upstairs where we spotted (me really) for a bit. The usual suspects of AA, DL, Air Tran, US, UA etc. smattered with AE.
We meandered down to Gate 2 where we got to observe to unaccompanied minors out of control with the AA agents laughing at them. A bit disturbing as they were running around with luggage throwing it. All of the passengers were shooting concerned looks toward the AE SJU staff who, though responsible for them, just laughed. It was disturbing, to say the least, when one of the brothers refused to board early and had to be physically chased through the concourse. I think they caught him at Gate 3 or 4.
We were held in an area outside under an awning and then bused to the aircraft where a wheelchair passenger was boarded first, with his wife. We made our way onboard for an uneventful 30 minute ride to STX. The highlight of the trip down was the views of Eastern Puerto Rico from 7,000 feet. It was truly magnificent water with beautiful landscapes and well worth the ride.
Upon arrival at STX I got the jeep, he got the bags.
We spent a great week on the island (go to Jack's Bay and Isaac's Bay for private beaches though you need special directions - it's always empty except for the occassional native St Croix couple), golfed, swam, ate and most importantly, relaxed.
The Trip Home
Though we were booked on the 14:30 departure for SJU we decided, since we'd cleaned up the condo and were ready to go, to head to the airport early to give us more SJU connecting time.
The outside check-in for AE and AA, as well as the other airlines, is one of the pleasures of St Croix. The agents were great and though they found it tough to do what needed to be done in Sabre, they eventually got us on the stand by list for the 12:41 and said it looked good, unless their was a 'weight issue.'
Now a days one clears customs on the Virgin Islands (I guess the non-US Caribbean islands too) when travelling to SJU. One would think that would make life easier but frankly, like SJU used to be a tough place to clear, I found the same issue at St Croix. Officious staff with what seemed little to do but well, be pains in the butt.
I have a passport, the bf was using his drivers license. Since it is still US Virgin Islands and completely acceptable to do such I warned the bf that don't be surprised if he gets a hassle in this post 9/11 environment for not having a passport. I didn't say that to him until right before we went to be processed by the 'immigration lady.'
Immigration lady: "Do you two live together?"
Me: "Excuse me?"
Immigration lady: "Do you two live together, are you family"
Me: (Internal voice: We'd love to be a family and married but don't live in a state, let alone a country and society, that allows it and now you're going to hassle us?" External voice: "We are together"
Immigration lady: "Next time, come to this counter separately"
Immigration lady proceeds to swipe my passport, ask me how much booze and cigarettes are on me and waves me off. I went to grab our bags off the belt - oh, she also told me to follow the white dots, thank god. The last person followed the red dots and got the full search treatment - we could see the blue gloved two agents giving him and his bags the once over.
I stepped aside to let Immigration Lady do her thing with the bf
Immigration lady: "How do I know you are an American because you have a drivers license."
BF: (for context, bf is a black guy wearing a WV golfers cap and supporting a genuine southern accent) "Well ma'am, I looked online and read that my drivers license should be OK for St Croix"
Immigration lady: "Yes, but how do I know you're really an American, where were you born?"
BF: West Virginia Ma'am
Immigration lady: "This is a North Carolina drivers license"
BF: Yes, Ma'am I lived in North Caroline for many years before recently moving to Philadelphia"
Immigration lady: "This doesn't help me establish if you're an American, anyone can get a drivers license"
BF: Well Ma'am (he's very polite) I was told this would be enough
Immigration lady: "You better get yourself a passport to come through here again"
BF: "Thank you Ma'am, have a nice day"
We got our bags and went for the 'chemical swipe' test administered by two young folk. No big deal, they took our bags. Next came the TSA check and this was truly funny.
We did the strip thing and then this very, I mean very large, excuse me, but I'm allowed, Queen, waved me through. As he did he stopped me and said, "Wait, I have to observe him first", meaning the bf put his stuff through the machine. I thought it odd but whatever... as I go through he asks to read my boarding pass and says "Wait, that's cancelled, no it's not, OK, go" Really weird but we were through to the holding pen at STX.
The STX-SJU flight was uneventfuly except that it did turn out the following STX-SJU flight cancelled and AE tried to get as many people as they could on the flight we were standing by for. They did end up boarding us right away and squeezing a few more on. I tried to warn the bf there maybe weight issues and to not get disturbed abuot them. Turns out as the door was shut the F/A came on and said, " I need two people to move from rows 1-6 to the rear of the aircraft." Since I was in row 6 and the bf was in 14, I jumped up and went to 13.
The filght itself was uneventful until near arrival where we made a very fast nose-down approach in a cross wind. I could feel the bf's anxiety behind me and as we deplaned he said "I wasn't feeling that flight at all."
(Sorry, this trip report is going much longer than I thought it would... thanks for your patience)
Decided against purchasing the Admirals Club for what would now be, with an anticipated delay of the SJU-JFK flight, a 4+ hour layover. We went and ate in one of the restaurants, walked to the other terminal to kill time and observed a CO 777, quite odd and read some.
The SJU-JFK flight we lucked out with 4A/4B (thanks St Croix check-in staff) which are nice bulkhead seats on the port side in a semi private, as private as Y on an airbus can be, cabin.
Since 9/11 I've noticed AA removed all their curtains separating the premier cabins from Y. It's better that AA considers their JFK-SJU service Business Class and not First because from what I observed of the service, it sure isn't F class.
Anyway, we had the drink service and purchased a couple of sandwiches and listened to our iPods. The video wasn't working right so they showed the movie they showed from the trip down. Loch Ness monster kid thing again.
We made a hard landing on 31-L and taxied to T8 where no one was there to meet us, delaying us another 10 minutes. The baggage pick up was a nightmare as they put AA32 (LAX-JFK) on our belt but told AA32 passengers they were on another belt. Since no one was taking bags off the belt as they came, our bags got jammed on the belt because it was too full. Eventually an AA peson apologized to AA32 folk who came, like a herd (this is NYC you know) to grab their bags.
Once our bags did come we went to grab a taxi. Here is perhaps my greatest complaint of the trip. Why did AA have the Taxi Island the same Island as the one for picking up passengers and the island isn't wider than 6 - 9 feet? It was pure pandemonium.
OK - that's it, I'm tired of writing what probably should have been a three paragraph report.
Here's the final ratings:
Online reservations: 9 (easy to do, I used mileage for my ticket and bought his)
Online check-in: 10 (aa.com works very well)
Airport Check-ins: 9 (with the exception of delays at STX, was a breeze)
TSA: 5 (only one way drama)
Cabins: 5 (all of the aircraft, AE included, were tatered and in need of a make over)
F/As: AA 4 (there's clearly moral problems at AA,
F/As: AE 7 (pleasant enough)
Onboard service: 6 (at best)
Arrival services (bags, etc): 5
Overall rating: (I don't weight things, I'm too lazy): 60/9 = 5.4 (feels right)
T8 - some great things about it but the Admirals Club sure isn't one. I WAY WAY WAY WAY prefered the club in the old terminal
AA in general - gets you to your destination; staff seem demoralized and customers appear to be a chore more than a client; it saddens me they could be at a CX or even BA level but just lack something very significant. Maybe it's just the American (dont' bash me too hard here Americans as I'm one too) culture of Mcdonald's, etc that permeates it)
TSA - JFK was fine, STX was not
US Immigrations: give me a break. US Virgin Islands is Untied States terrirtory, people vote in the primaries and 1/2 in the presidential election. Why we have to go through customs sickens me since it's just for Tax $$$$s.
St. Croix - charming, still largely untouched, great people, quiet, great place to relax with a lot of natural areas.
Again I apologize for this lengthy report.