Airline: American Airlines
Flight Number: AA2317
Aircraft: McDonnell-Douglas MD-83
Seat: 03A (First Class)
Distance: 802 miles
Duration: 1hrs 46mins
Photo © S.C. Rubke
Photo © Ricardo Morales Centeno - APM
Due to a combination of flight departure time and distance of O’Hare from the city centre we chose to spend the night out by the airport. We initially hoped to stay at the Hilton in the middle of the airport but for some reason the prices were four times that of the surrounding hotels so we downgraded to the Hampton Inn, a short shuttle bus ride from the airport. In hindsight we probably should have opted for the former! Anyways, we looked up our itinerary online the night before we were due to fly and noticed that the segment to Dallas (we were traveling on to Anchorage) was missing. By this time it was 11pm so called AA and mentioned we were on a round the world ticket and asked whether the segment could be reinstated. The agent said I’d need to call the RTW desk in the morning (as they’d closed for the night) before looking anything up so I called back again, neglecting to mention the basis of the itinerary and it seemed I would indeed need to call back again in the morning. I was rather wary that as a hub to hub flight we’d either struggle to get on, or as an elite heavy route would end up riding down in main cabin.
At 7am sharp I was on the phone to the surprised people at the RTW desk who were thankfully able to give us the last two available seats in First Class, which, unfortunately, were not next to eachother. I’d survive a couple of hours without my wife I asked out of curiousity if there was a reason why the flight disappeared but they couldn’t figure it out…there was no change in equipment, timing or any of the usual suspects!
We took the 8.30am shuttle back to the airport and all passengers were on AA so it was an easy for the shuttle driver. We had a short walk, and even shorter wait to see an agent at the Executive Platinum/International First Class desks and get our boarding passes. The agent told me that my bag was 4lbs overweight and I could either pay $50 or repack my bag to make it within the limits! I thought the agent was joking initially as we’d checked the bags in at JFK a few days before and they were underweight (I was able to see the scale readout) and since then had remained locked and unchanged! As a fare paying First Class passenger, and additionally a oneworld Emerald passenger it was rather annoying the agent was so rigidly sticking to the rules for just 4lbs, especially when I explained that they were fine a few days before. So off I went to a corner and played musical clothes between my already stuffed 20” rollerbag and the suitcase….I got it down to 49.5lb whilst my wife’s was at 50.5lb which in the agent’s eyes was satisfying. I was handed the boarding passes, mine predictably adorned with the SSSS, I presume as I showed as being a last minute purchasing, First Class passenger…I had my liquids and laptop ready and as I handed the boarding pass over joked with the TSO that I was ‘about to get the rubber glove treatment’. There was no emotion elicited I put my bags through the X-ray machines, and watched in horror as all the hard packing work was undone in seconds before my eyes! I had little option but to stand there for a good five minutes or so making sure I was squeezing any cubic millilitre of air from the bag so all the items would fit in once more!
We then headed down to the Flagship Lounge at the very end of Concourse K, where the staff are as equally friendly and proficient as their LAX counterparts. However, their surroundings aren’t quite as pleasant and I find the O’Hare Flagship Lounge the least enjoyable of the three (now four with MIA coming online) on US soil.
Flagship Lounge at O’Hare
My wife utilised the free wireless connection, courtesy of T-Mobile whilst I read, charged my mp3 player and figured out how to take some pictures for this report without looking weird! I also checked in with the front desk staff to see whether any seats had become free so my wife and I could sit together, alas, no.
At 10.10am we went down to gate H8, where boarding was in full swing, although only just. There wasn’t much of a line and the gate agent said that she’d been “warned” of two passengers flying on paper tickets! Yes, us!
We boarded the aircraft and were met by the flight attendant, a rather androgynous type with slickback, almost gelled hair. I asked whether it was possible to put my rollerbag in the closet, as I had done on my previous MD-80 flight but was told rather brusquely that if it couldn’t fit in the overhead it’d be checked…I did manage to get my bag in the overhead easier than anticipated and met my seatmate, a young lad traveling alone, maybe 9yrs of age. He seemed content playing with his BlackBerry! I asked him whether he’d prefer a window seat and pointed at my wife’s seat explaining we were traveling together, although left it perfectly up to him. He seemed perfectly happy to swap and so they gathered their respective belongings and moved across the aisle simulateneously. As he went I said if he was 21 I’d buy him a couple of beers and the guy in the aisle who stopped en-route to the main cabin laughed and winked at me and the kid turned back at me and smiled. A couple of minutes later his seatmate arrived and I felt awful, as she was unbelievably obese!
I glanced out of the window and wrote a few notes for this report, and then it happened. My trusty immigration pen of five years, and the one I’d been using to pen the notes for these reports for two years, ran out of ink! She’d served me well but I had plenty of hotel pens from my last two months of travel to fall back on!
My wife went to the toilet as boarding finished and whilst she was gone the obese woman threw her trash and unwanted blanket on my wife’s seat! My wife came back looking a little confused and I motioned my head in the direction of the passenger so she handed it back, leaving the salad dodger a little embarrassed!
We then got our first bit of chat from the front with some information about the route and that ‘our $15 checked bags had been gingerly loaded’ with us pushing back at 10.45am, five minutes ahead of schedule. We taxied out to runway 22L which gave us a great view of Midway and the city in the background as we headed southwest, Texas bound.
Pretty immense trainyard just outside Franklin Park
About twenty minutes into the flight the drinks and hot nuts were brought round. We hit some chop around 30 miles north of St Louis as we cruised at 30,000ft, this delayed lunch a little. A felt even worse for the young lad who we’d swapped with as I looked over and saw his seatmate was so overweight that she couldn’t fold the table out flat, even with it fully extended!! Had I known I might have upgraded the offer from two beers to a bottle of ’86 Krug Clos du Mesnil!
The captain acknowledged some Navy personnel that boarded the aircraft in their white Popeye uniforms and gave us an update saying we were due to arrive at the gate fifteen minutes early. He then told us our route would take us north of St Louis, over Fort Smith, AR then to Paris, TX and onto DFW itself. It might be dull for the regulars but for people like myself whose knowledge of the Midwest is rather lacking it is good to know where you’re flying over!
Around an hour after departure lunch was served, and thanks to the reservation screwup we were last to be served, FEBO and all that, however we did have the choice of the barbeque chicken or the turkey and cheese wrap. I went with the latter initially but my wife preferred the look of mine and vice versa so we swapped.
It wasn’t actually too bad, but that was probably because I was too busy scarfing it down due to the smell of the cookies being baked that was permeating through the cabin
I finished both the barbeque chicken and cookie and then asked if there were more available and so two more, fresh from the oven, were brought out. Delicious!
Somewhere over Arkansas
I nibbled on the cookies for a few minutes and then at 12.20pm the descent into Dallas began. We passed over the numerous plastic neighbourhoods that appeared to have absolutely zero character spreading outwards into rural Texas…
Collin County Regional Airport at McKinney
After passing over the immense suburbs of the area we touched down on runway 17C and taxied round to gate A15. We then boarded the Skytrain to head round to Terminal D for our flight to Anchorage…
Route: Dallas / Fort Worth - Int. – Anchorage – Ted Stevens Int.
Airline: American Airlines
Flight Number: AA278
Aircraft: Boeing 757-223
Seat: 03A (First Class)
Distance: 3043 miles
Duration: 6hrs 11mins
Photo © Carlos Aleman - SJU Aviation Photography
Photo © Thierry Deutsch
After taking the Skytrain to Terminal D we went down to the Admirals Club at the bottom of the escalator, where we had been a couple of months before when starting off the trip, en-route to San Francisco. We found a quiet spot beside the window and Kirstin used her laptop once again! I decided to go down the concourse a short distance to the complex of lounges where BA keep some real estate to see whether it was open or not. It was open and I asked the staff if they had free internet for my wife, they were able to get a T-Mobile daycard so I went back to the AC to gather our belongings and head over there as it was much quieter with better, and free booze.
The Business Class side had quite a few people in it but as BA Golds the staff escorted us through to the small First lounge which was empty. However, thanks to local laws there was no open bar, instead you had to ask the staff to bring it so we ordered a few cool Shiner Bocks and made ourselves feel at home chatting to us about how they used to work for AA in the Admirals Clubs.
First lounge at DFW
From where we were we had a great view of the departing aircraft on the 18/36s outside the window, all the niceties of the Admirals Clubs but without the cellphone chatter and various bothersome issues of having plenty of people around.
We were soon joined by a solo flyer who turned out, after a few phone calls he made, was a Professor Emeritus at University of Oxford (a short distance from where I grew up) and had a rather unique speciality which would sadly unmask him for anyone with access to Google! He then asked the staff about the internet and overhearing them I said I had the last T-Mobile card but as it turned out the one we’d been given at O’Hare was good for one day so I handed it over to the Prof unused.
At 3.25pm we left the lounge for gate D18, a very short walk from the BA lounge complex. Boarding was well underway but unfortunately was after First Class had boarded so we opted to join the snake in absence of any priority boarding lane. A couple of people in F did cut right to the front but I’m not enough of a wanker to do that! Alas after I got to the front I wished I didn’t care! The family of six in front of me were trying to scan the boarding passes from their SJU-DFW and when the gate agent noticed this asked them to produce the others. It wasn’t until they’d searched various bags and pockets for a couple of minutes that they were eventually found! ARGH! How hard is it to have the correct boarding passes ready?
We boarded through 1L into a full First Class cabin, we were the last to arrive but still had room for our carryons.
Somehow we managed to pushback at 3.45pm and taxied out to 18L for a rolling takeoff to the south when we turned and headed back north for Alaska.
Heading up to cruising altitude
I was rather disappointed that the blankets were the skimpy red ones as it meant for the overnight coming home that we’d have the same and there were also no pillows Maybe I’ve just been lucky but on quite a few of my longer transcontinental flights on the 757 I’ve got the proper duvet and pillows and was hoping for the same on this 6hr+ sector…
Hot nuts and beer, welcome to AA!
Around 25mins into the flight the first drinks round was performed which followed the passing of the hot towel and of course the hot nuts! In absence of any Alaskan beer I went with the Heineken, a step down from the Shiner Bock in the First lounge
Orders were taken for the meal and it was either Asian chicken or pasta with cream sauce. The latter is a good backup but I thought the ‘Asian’ part of the chicken might make it more interesting.
When I received it some twenty minutes later I wished I’d opted for the more reliable pasta option. It didn’t look particularly appetizing but thankfully was tasted better than it appeared. My wife had opted for the pasta dish but wasn’t so eager to swap on this flight!
Delicious ice cream
The follow up was the ever reliable, pre-prepped ice cream. It might be heretic to say on these forums but I prefer these to the sundaes you get on Flagship Service flights and in international First Class! The yummy berry sauce is frozen to the glass in such a perfect way and the little chunks of brownie…ok, I’m getting hungry just typing about it quite a few months later!
Bottles of water were handed out after the meal service was cleared away and we settled in for the remaining five hours of the flight.
1hr 30mins into the flight. Anyone care to guess where these are?
The inflight entertainment had been fired up and so I watched Anderson Cooper interview my fellow countryman, David Beckham before turning on my much charged mp3 player to listen to some of my old favourites, the Paul Oakenfold Essential Mix World Tour from 1999. A real treat for anyone with a passing interest in dance music, available from a bit-torrent site near you! I also had my camera to hand and snapped a few pictures from the windows
In between snapping pictures of passing scenery I flicked through the inflight magazines, something I don’t usually bother with but tried out the Mensa puzzles which were surprisingly easy, I couldn’t believe they really were Mensa unless they lowered their standards to double digit IQs!
Then at the halfway stage our progress was announced which for some bizarre reason resulted in some cheering and clapping from some passengers. Was the economy service behind us that bad?
The scenery outside by this stage was pretty spectacular, although the clouds got in the way quite a bit covering all but the peaks of some of the taller mountains at times. A Skymap would have been really handy!
Somewhere over the Rockies in British Columbia…at a guess
Four hours into the flight and it was cookies and milk for the second time that day, and for the second time that day I also got seconds…and thirds!
Sparkling water was handed out about an hour before landing and it became apparent everyone on the starboard side of the aircraft was noses against the window, the only one which wasn’t was 3F just across from us, however, it appeared to have some kind of seal issue and you couldn’t see through it at all! Even more annoying than getting the infamous window-less window seat on some aircraft!
I joked with the guy in front that whilst everyone was enjoying the no doubt a great view we’d seen a couple of mountains and cloud and that was it. I joked saying that at least we’d got a much better view of the Texas Panhandle than them and he said he’d loved the great view of the Grand Canyon. I mentioned that I’d seen it a few times on flights going into LA from the east coast and he rebuffed me saying he’d seen it on this flight. OK, and I thought I needed a Skymap! It reminded me of when we were in Chicago the previous day and had walked out to Navy Pier to get a view of the skyline. A father had stopped his kids, pointed at the John Hancock Center appearing behind some clouds and said, ‘That there is the Sears Tower’
Some of the mountains we did see…
Just before hitting the 6hrs mark our descent began and we did begin to see a few mountains, almost skipping over them at times, before ending up in cloud for some time. Waiting for the clouds to clear my wife and I looked through the SkyMall, which is inflight entertainment in itself, I mean who buys that junk?
1) Eagle River and Route 1
2) The Cook Inlet
3) Looking back towards the mountains
We passed out over the Cook Inlet with the city off to our left and then turned over the very rural looking countryside north of the water. As we came in for approach on runway 14 I was surprised to see a small seaplane pass just below, at the time I didn’t realize it but it was heading for Lake Hood, the world’s busiest seaplane base which lies less than a mile from Ted Stevens Airport.
We parked up at Concourse C, the much unloved section of the airport and went down to the small baggage claim area which appeared to be designed with catering to the needs of a handful of civilized Alaskans arriving on a teeny prop from some remote part of the state. The 757 full of passengers seemed to overwhelm it as we waited, and waited and waited amongst not only passengers but cruiseline reps holding up the signs for their various groups. It wasn’t until we’d been there for a good thirty minutes when the bell rang and the belt shuddered into life. At that very moment about two thirds of the passengers became my worst enemy, rushing the belt with abandon. I still fail to see why people do this! You cannot see the bags coming onto the belt and then when yours does arrive there is no room to lift it off the carousel. You end up whacking some child or over keen parent round the head with your case…
Once the bags were retrieved we called our hotel who said the shuttle was already at the airport, and as I looked out the window there it was…