I was headed to Spain for two weeks in the sun. I'd be heading to Alicante (via Madrid) for three days, then back to Madrid, then to Salamanca to teach Spaniards about English culture, then back to Madrid, and back to the United States. I chose to fly American because they were (a) the most cost-effective, (b) would be able to send me all the way to ALC because of Iberia and the OneWorld alliance, and (c) because my mom is an ex-employee, unlocking some possibilities (to be detailed later).
As I was writing my Morocco trip report (which I'll be posting a bit later), I found myself wishing that I took more pictures on the flights, creating more detail. I was sure to document almost every inch of this trip.
Baltimore (BWI) - New York (JFK)
Operated by AmericanEagle
AA3964 ERJ145 NXXXAE
I arrived at the airport quite early, almost three hours, and checked in with the agent there. For those unfamiliar with BWI, there's almost never any lines at the check in desks, save for those pax flying WN or DL, so it is usually not necessary to be there so early.
After checking my docs and printing my boarding passes for the BWI-JFK-MAD legs, she advised me to stay landside because the inbound aircraft had not yet left Chicago due to weather. She said that there was a possibility of the flight being cancelled, as it was already running a half-hour behind schedule and had not yet taken off due to thunderstorms.
This wasn't really what I wanted to hear, because a cancelled flight here meant that the first part of my trip was basically screwed. AA flies one daily flight from New York to Madrid, which I was booked on. There isn't another American Eagle flight to JFK after the one that I was booked on, so a cancelled flight meant a drive to DCA to catch a flight to JFK, or that I would miss my JFK departure and have to transit through Miami or Dallas.
Anyway, after about 20 minutes of waiting, I went back to check with the agent and she said that the inbound aircraft was in the air, and that I could proceed to the gate. She wished me a pleasant trip, and did everything with a smile. What excellent service!
Once onboard, the doors were closed promptly after all had boarded, and we pushed back about 45 minutes behind schedule. Today's Eagle flight was at 100% load.
Legroom is passable, but, hey, it's an RJ!
Takeoff from Baltimore's Runway 15R.
The flight attendant advised us of a 40 minute flight time to JFK, and commenced a small drinks service almost as soon as we were at 10,000 feet.
Climbing out of Baltimore.
Descending already? On final approach to JFK.
Wheels down after just 184 miles. Welcome to New York!
My flight to Madrid was just an hour away from departure by the time we landed. It was departing from AA's T8 main, and my Eagle flight landed in T8 satellite, so that meant about a 15 minute walk over to my gate. The flight attendant read out the connecting flight gates after landing. Our Eagle flight pax were quite a well-travelled group! In addition to me and four other people on AA94 to Madrid, there were pax destined for London, Barcelona, Milan, Rome, and Paris.
Not wanting to miss the initial boarding call, I was ready to start walking to Gate 7. However, I had to wait for my gate-checked bags. I try to avoid checking bags through on flights whenever possible. Planning to only take carry-on bags means that I don't have to worry about things getting lost, and it helps me streamline my packing to make sure that I take only what I need and not a whole bunch of other stuff.
But now, this was the time where I was kind of regretting that decision. Had I checked a bag, I'd be able to head over to my gate immediately, but now I ended up having to wait for my gate-checked bag. Mercifully, it was the first one off.
AA has a great terminal in JFK. It is bright, spacious, and clean. It is laid out more traditionally, with gates and stores/restaurants laid out on either side of the wide middle walkway, as opposed to say, DL's T3, which is laid out ... I don't even know ... I was in such a rush that I didn't take any pictures of the terminal, but here's one from Flickr.
After about a 15 minute walk to my next gate, Gate 7, I arrived just as the gate agent was clearing upgrades and was about to make the first boarding call. This gate agent was really efficient, but friendly too. It is all too common these days for a gate agent to either be inefficient or unfriendly, or both. But this one was really doing a great job, even when some passengers gave her a hard time about their seating assignments, or the fact that the checkin agent made them check six of their seven bags, leaving them only one to bring onboard.
New York (JFK) - Madrid (MAD)
AA94 B757-200 N18XAN
Boarding was orderly, and started with Business class passengers, as well as AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum, and Gold members. Next came the traditional zone boarding, beginning with zone 1. Once in the jetway, it took a good 5 minutes to get to the door. The jetway was the longest one I've ever walked in, and I think that I walked through five or six hallways before I actually got to the door of the aircraft.
Boarding pass for AA94.
I was one of the first ones onboard, and found my seat 10A. It was a little bit surreal flying TATL without IFE of any sort, but I was thankful to have at least AC power so I could use my iPhone the whole flight and still have a full battery when we land in Madrid. I had looked at Seatguru to find the best seats, and saw that 10A and 10F had no seat in front of them, which would allow for great legroom and aisle access by walking forward instead of to the side and therefore bothering my seat mates. Keep in mind, that's just the theory, and theories don't always pan out.
As boarding wound down to the final stages, I was happy to see that somehow I had ended up with both seats next to me free on a pretty full flight. Of course, the last minute passenger that boarded had the aisle seat, 10C, but that was pretty much a non-issue because I could still raise the armrest and stretch out abit. Since the seat in the middle was unoccupied, I asked my seatmate if it was alright if I put my backpack under seat 10B, since he had stowed both his bags in the overhead. He said that it would be fine, so I got out into the aisle and searched for my backpack in the locker....where was it? It's a red neoprene backpack from PUMA Ocean Racing, with a huge puma on the back, so I knew I couldn't be missing it.. After some searching, I finally found it. The passengers that boarded after me had rudely pushed it into the back of the overhead bin, then stowed their bags in front of it, basically crushing it into the back of the overhead. I was flabbergasted. I know this is coach and not everyone is polite, but I've never seen such rudeness. Oh, well.
Anyway, moving on, I finally got it and stowed it under 10B. We moved to the active for a takeoff about 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled departure time, a first for me at JFK.
Something to mention about seat 10A/10F is that there isn't actually the whole space of a seat in front of you. The emergency slide cover takes up pretty much all space gained by having a missing seat; so while it's great for legroom, it would be
I tried plugging my iPhone into the AC power after we reached 10,000 feet. Of course, the power wasn't working. Great. I needed my iPhone in Madrid, so this forced me to have to minimize my use and keep a close eye on the battery. But, in hindsight, it was probably a good excuse to sleep.
Soon after, the flight attendants came around for the first F&B service.
Apologies for the bad photo quality. First snack and drink served on tonight's flight.
At cruise over Rhode Island, the American Airlines "Flagship Meal Service" started. I'm not sure why they call it this, because the food isn't terrible, but it's not spectacular either. It's not worth touting it as your crowning jewel ... but I appreciate the effort that AA has made to make us coach passengers feel special
Dinner was a choice between chicken and pasta. I chose the chicken, which was some kind of barbecue-type chicken with mashed potatoes and chopped up green beans. Not too bad, but again, nothing I'd want to eat on the ground. Also included was bread and butter, cheese and crackers, a small salad, and a "blondie," also known as a golden brownie. Very similar to the setup on my Delta flight just a week earlier.
One thing I did really like about AA's service was that they gave the whole can when pouring soda (without being asked), as well as giving a bottled water with dinner (in addition to whatever drink you'd already been served). These were small things, but nice touches in my opinion. This saves me the trouble of having to ask for (a) the whole can, or (b) another drink after dinner.
After the dinner and another drinks service, I reclined my seat and tried to sleep a little. I had learned my lesson from not getting sleep on my Delta flights the past few weeks, so I immediately tried to get comfortable. I fell asleep for a good two hours or so, and woke up over the pitch-black Atlantic.
One final Atlantic shot before heading off to sleep.
I woke up with about 3 hours to go before we landed in Madrid. The cabin was darkened, and most people were still sleeping or doing something quiet.
About 1.5 hours out of Madrid, the flight attendants came around with breakfast boxes before our estimated 6 a.m. arrival into Madrid-Barajas.
The box contained a banana muffin, a banana, raspberry yogurt, and some sort of dried fruits. The banana products were good, but everything else was awful. The yogurt was disgusting (but I'm not a yogurt guy anyway), and instead of big chunks of dried fruit, the packet contained little mini bits of fruit matter.
At about 05:40 local time, we began our final approach to MAD, and we were parked at the gate around 06:10 local, nearly an hour ahead of schedule. I love early flights, but this one meant about a four hour layover for me.
After deplaning, I made my way to the Iberia transfer desk to get my boarding pass for IB5329. After a docs check, I got my boarding pass and made my way through the first round of passport control, then onward to T4-HJK. For those unfamiliar with Madrid-Barajas, T4 is divided into two concourses, a main terminal and a satellite terminal. The airport uses a series of letter codes which can be confusing at first, but once you figure them out, it's no big deal.
My American flight landed in T4-MRSU, which is the satellite building. The RSU gates are the Non-Schengen space, so a transfer to T4-HJK is required if the connecting flight is intra-Spain or follows the Schengen agreement. Even though the airport can be slightly confusing at first glance, there is a ton of signage, which is more than adequate. As long as you know your gate, you can follow the signs and have no problem. There are even lines on the floor that literally lead you from escalators to trains to gates, et cetera.
The only problem is the airport's size. It's not really a problem, but a consideration. From the time I stepped off AA94, it took me about 35 minutes to get airside at T4-HJK .. this included initial passport control, a 5 minute underground train ride (like the AirTrain at IAD) and going through security again. Finally, I arrived in T4-HJK.
The common area of T4-HJK.
After security, you are dumped into the common area of T4-HJK, which is basically duty free. There are many duty free shops and several restaurants and cafes. It's a nice area, and at barely 7:00 am, you can imagine that it was basically empty aside from a handful of business travelers and others who had arrived on overnight long-hauls.
This is where I kind of have problems. Many European airports aren't like the US, where you can head to your gate six hours ahead of time if you want and just camp out until boarding. In MAD, gates don't get posted until 90 minutes or so before departure, which left me with a lot of time to kill. But oh well. I ended up sitting down at a cafe and had my first Spanish pastry.
At around 8:15 am, my gate was posted and I headed over to the H concourse of the terminal.
Here you can see all the different lettered concourses. It was helpful, though, that they posted estimated transit times above each letter.
Beautiful gate H14.
The architecture at MAD is absolutely stunning. It is a beautiful airport, and I highly recommend it for transit.
Madrid-Barajas(MAD) – Alicante (ALC)
VY9829 / IB 5329 A320 EC-KJD
Today I was flying Vueling (pronounced like swelling), which operates flights for Iberia, which is a Oneworld partner along with American. After just two flights, they are one of my favorite airlines. Think Virgin America - colorful, young, hip - but there was a certain degree of elegance that came along with it. Even though they are an extreme LCC and employee Ryanair-like duty free and F&B sales onboard, Vueling F/As are much less obnoxious than Ryanair ever was.
About 30 minutes before departure, organized boarding began by row numbers. I was seated in an emergency exit row, which left me with a lot of legroom.
Boarding EC-KJD for the short hop to Alicante.
Onboard, I was greeted with a "Buenos dias," and proceeded to find my seat. The safety demo was done manually (completely in Spanish), but for that I have my six years of Spanish to thank for being able to understand completely.
I didn't take many pictures, because I basically fell asleep as soon as we took off. Takeoff was powerful, and we leveled off at about 20,000 feet for the 221-mile hop to the Mediterranean coast.
There was a BOB-type food and beverage service offered, but for an hour flight I declined paying EUR5 for anything. After an uneventful flight, we landed early at Alicante. I made my way landside, and was on my way into Alicante.
[Edited 2011-08-18 19:31:05]