Airline: American Airlines
Flight Number: AA1323
Aircraft: McDonnell-Douglas MD-80
Seat: 06F (First Class)
Distance: 740 miles
Duration: 1hrs 48mins
Photo © John Martin
Photo © Mark Garfinkel
The previous day had been long, although not particularly stressful. We’d flown 37 miles short of hitting five figures having gone from Sydney to New York with a brief stopover in Los Angeles. Despite that, and having gone out for dinner with friends during our stopover it didn’t seem too awful getting up at a shade before 5am at the Doubletree JFK, our Hilton HHonors influencd stop for the night.
We boarded the 6am shuttle along with a group of others and AA’s Terminal 8 was our first port of call. The driver had even considerately, though accidentally dropped us beside the premium check-in area. There was a nice secluded area, not surprising given the large amounts of ‘celebrity traffic’ AA and JFK seem to attract. There was no wait for First Class and we were quickly on our way to security where a system I hadn’t seen before was in action. In addition to the separate priority lane there were also ones labeled for casual, special assistance and expert travelers. Assuming that priority was the fastest I went with it although it seemed casual traveler and premium merged for the boarding pass check so it was poorly executed and took some time. Who’d have thought it? The TSA poorly executing something! Alas I looked over and saw guys sweeping into and out of the Expert line exceptionally quickly! Unlike LAX the day before we were told to remove liquids from our bags, again good old TSA consistency, no doubt thwarting terrorists as they do so! The “priority” line split into two X Ray machines so my wife and I went into different ones, she seemed to get through very fast whilst I was stuck behind possibly the most casual of casual travelers so took some time to get through. Cue eye rolling from everyone within 15ft.
We went up to the relatively new Flagship Lounge that is within the Admirals Club, and when we arrived we were the only people present so it was quite handy for some photos for this report!
Flagship Lounge at JFK
We still had our own agent who was happy to provide us with a T-Mobile card so we could get on the internet using my wife’s laptop over some breakfast. Talking of which the Flagship Lounges offer food too, it isn’t exactly a Michelin Star buffet experience but is quite sufficient offering cereals, yoghurts and rubbery bagels.
At 7.15am, around 45mins before scheduled departure we chose to leave the lounge and head down to the gate. Going from gate 38 in the other concourse it seemed wise to head over in advance but in the end we didn’t really need to as by the time we got there it seemed we were actually 4hrs 35mins early Yes, our flight had been delayed four hours! Unsurprisingly there was quite a line to deal with the gate agent so we decided to make use of our ‘eliteness’ and headed up to the adjacent Admirals Club to discuss rebooking options. Apparently there wasn’t really anything alternative that would get us there much faster but the agents noted that there was to been an update at 10am. We went back down through the underpass and up into the Flagship Lounge once more! The agent seemed quite surprised to see us!
The lounge has quite a few workstations so I entertained myself on that whilst my wife caught up on her own machine. Between sessions I sat by the window and enjoyed the views of the apron and aircraft below. This particular one tickled me, especially when a few weeks later it was announced AA were getting rid of their A300s!
Photo © Fraser Davidson
Ten o’clock arrived and so I went to the desk to ask about the flight status, it seemed the ‘update’ was basically a confirmation the flight was going at midday! From where we were seated we saw quite a few passengers coming and going, although the lounge never got busy. One guy who seemed quite interesting was a fund manager of some kind from a Wall Street firm who was on his way to Tokyo, he spoke what appeared to be a European language of some kind, perhaps Greek and interspersed it with English during his calls…We could also see the traffic landing on runway 13L, a real mix of aircraft from ERJs up to a Cathay Pacific 777 that had landed from Hong Kong.
Midday rolled round and it was update time once again! The agent didn’t seem optimistic about what was going to happen thinking perhaps the flight would be cancelled completely. She presented us with two options. A 5.45pm flight from JFK but in Economy, or a 6.25pm departure from LaGuardia in First. We opted for the latter and she said to leave it with her and she’d make the arrangements and a few minutes later returned with a couple of boarding passes and what appeared to be a boarding pass but was actually a voucher for a car service to LaGuardia.
We saw and smelled the lunch service being laid out and so went and had a nibble on that, some spring rolls with chilli sauce. Maybe I’d just been breathing AAir for too long but it seemed quite tasty!
We passed the time somehow and then at 1.45pm we were paged to the front desk where we were informed we’re all good for a 2.15pm departure. This then gets pushed back a little more until around 2.35pm we were told that boarding would begin in ten minutes. She handed us our new boarding passes and we pass over our now obsolete ones after my longest lounge stint of all time, 8hrs 5mins! We went back through the underpass and to gate 38 once again. The gate agent who appeared to be in the midst of wrapping up duties for this flight asked, “Are you the Davidsons?” and a member of the flight crew escorted us down the jetway and then turned left as we went right. We stowed our bags in the empty bins in the First Class cabin, well almost, my bag had to go in the closet at the front as it was a little full…and as we headed back to row 6 I got to see how many others had stuck the delay out. There were only three other passengers in the front and maybe twenty in the back. I guess others got rebooked and took alternative arrangements…
The last row of First Class on the MD80
We pushed back at 3.15pm and the safety demo was done but we then sat stationary in the same spot for some time as numerous aircraft passed us by. I don’t think I was the only one wondering if the flight was about to be scrubbed for good! Alas the scenery started moving again after about twenty minutes and we taxied out to 22R and enjoyed a great view of Rockaway Bay, Floyd Bennett Field and the boroughs of New York City a little further away. We headed out towards northern New Jersey which looked deceptively pleasant en-route to 30,000ft!
Sandy Hook & Atlantic Highlands, NJ
As we climbed up through cloud I took the opportunity to nap for a few minutes and woke up to find a plastic cup of nuts next to me. This was followed by lunch service, a choice of either pasta with artichokes and ‘red’ sauce or chicken with cream sauce and sweet potatoes. I went for the latter…
Chicken with cream sauce and sweet potatoes followed by ice cream
We then got a dessert to finish the meal service on this relatively short flight, plain old vanilla ice cream, which really could have done with sauce to liven it up a little. Nevertheless the burst of energy kept me awake and the clouds had cleared by this time so it was time to peer out the window and once again guess where the hell I was. I took a few photos but really couldn’t tell where this particular airport or city was at the time…
Grand Rapids, MI
I moved over to 5A and as we passed over the eastern shore of Lake Michigan we watched the land taper off towards Indiana. Before long the city of Chicago itself appeared ahead and those on the port side like myself enjoyed superb views of the city. It then seemed as though we we were going it ignore Chicago altogether and just carry on going west and it wasn’t until we were about half way to Iowa before the aircraft turned 180 degrees just near Fermilab and touched down on runway 10.
The destination…and Fermilab
We pulled up to gate H11B and we get off the plane I’m almost whacked in the face by a backpack which becomes stationary just in front of me where I notice AAdvantage Executive Platinum tags sporting a 25MM circle! An impressive amount whether that be credit card spending or from flying…I suspected the former as he didn’t appear to know how to handle his rucksack properly! Apparently he’d just flown in from Brussels on Jet Airways First Class and was trying to impress the ‘so out of his league’ ladies from the front row with his stories of various premium cabins whilst attempts were made to open the door.
We went down to the baggage claim area and waited for our bags. With baited breath we watched the screens as flights came and went and kept our eyes glued for AA1323. I paced the floor of the hall trying to see whether the bags had snuck in without the screens displaying any info, but no. After 45mins I threw in the towel and went to baggage services who seemed shocked when I told them which flight we were on. Apparently the bags off our flight had arrived ages ago. This was news to me, we’d been one of the first off the flight and nothing had shown on the screens. I retrieved our baggage receipts and went back to the desk where it became apparent they were at JFK and would be on the next flight into O’Hare which wouldn’t arrive until around 11pm. In all my travels I’d never had a bag gone awry so this process was new to me. I was given a claim number and telephone number to call where the status would be updated automatically. The agent wanted to know where we were staying so I told him The Drake Hotel thinking that everyone in Chicago would know the Drake. He, nor his colleague had even heard of it! I was pretty surprised and ended up retrieving the details from a phonebook they had behind the desk.
As we’d shed our bags we chose to ride the Blue line into the city, which seemed a sensible idea at first but it was possibly the most convoluted way to get from an airport ever. After a few stops the train stopped and we were piled into a bus which drove us about two miles (thanks to engineering work) before we were put on a train again…then we got to a station where we were transferring to another line. However, this meant leaving the station, walking fifty feet and going through another barrier down to the next line. God, it was a mess but we got to our hotel and relaxed nicely for the evening, surprisingly tired given the fact we’d been sitting in airports all day!
In the end our bags turned up during the night so all was well with the world. Needless to say we took a taxi back to the airport when we left the city!