Happy New Year and welcome to a new short series of flights,
For the better part of a decade since I've been on the airline status hamster wheel, the month of December has often meant a last minute mileage run to maintain status or reach a new level. At the end of 2018 I was a little under 10,000 status miles short so, like many previous years, I decided to take a quick day trip to the west coast. The routing this year was not particularly sexy and didn't involve any interesting or new aircraft types–the routing was purely determined on price and destination. I decided I would fly to San Diego, where my spouse was on a business trip, and we would fly home to DC together.
Domestic First class tickets yield at least 2 EQMs (Elite Qualifying Miles) per mile flown, so a transcontinental itinerary with over 5,000 flown miles would yield enough EQMs to reach the 10,000 I was missing.
The routing was DCA-LAX-SAN-PHX-DCA of which the first 3 segments will have reviews…after that, redeye-zombie-mode hit.
I'd checked in on the American Airlines app 24 hours before the flight. The morning of the flight, I got an Uber and arrived at DCA about an hour before departure. As I didn't have any bags to check, I just went straight to the security checkpoint.
A busy early morning at DCA
The beautiful main hall decorated for the Holidays
With TSA Pre-check I was through security in minutes and arrived at the gate just before boarding began.
American Airlines had been running mostly B737 MAX 8 on the DCA-LAX route; however there are still some 737-800s operating the route. Although it would have been cool to try the new MAX, despite its bad reputation for a cramped cabin and no IFE, the 7AM flight was operated by a 737-800 that day.
Boarding began a few minutes early with Concierge Key, then First class. As usual, it was a challenge navigating through the wall of people crowding the boarding queues. Boarding domestic flights in the U.S. is hardly ever a pleasant experience.
Two very cheerful cabin crew warmly welcomed First class passengers on board.
Upon entering the aircraft, I immediately saw this 737 had Boeing Sky interior so I automatically assumed there would be individual IFE…
…but nope! This aircraft was one of the earlier 737s delivered to AA with Boeing Sky Interior but no IFE. The cabin had been refreshed with the new interior style with leather seats, but as we all know by now, AA are not only stopping install of IFE on the narrowbody fleet, but planning to eventually rip out IFE from aircraft that currently have PTVs. Thanks Dougie!
When available, I tend to prefer seats in the last row of the premium cabin for more privacy, and also the ability to recline with no one behind me. I also like to sit on the right side on departures from DCA for views of the city in case of a take off to the north.
Legroom is good with a seat pitch of 40"–the best in Domestic First of any U.S. carrier. It's unfortunate that pitch has been reduced to 38" in the brand new B737 MAX 8 fleet.
Shortly after getting settled in, the friendly lead FA came through to take coats. He also offered a full choice of pre-departure beverages from the bar. I must say, these past few months PMAA FAs have gotten much better at offering PDBs consistently, whereas less than a year ago, it was very hit or miss.
I went ahead and ordered a healthy breakfast drink–a mimosa!
Boarding was completed early and the aircraft pushed back 4 minutes ahead of schedule.
The safety video played on the overhead screens as we pushed back from the gate. As you can see there are no seatback PTVs.
Flight time from takeoff to touchdown was announced as 5 hours and 10 minutes. The taxi time was on the long side as we waited in the conga line for takeoff during this busy morning rush period.
We finally took off after 30 minutes as the sun began to rise over DC.
The Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin
The Washington Monument and National Mall
My house is somewhere in that morning fog
The Watergate and Georgetown waterfront
Pretty soon we were crossing over the Appalachian Mountains
As we began to level out at cruising altitude I took out my tablet, thinking to myself that the lack of PTVs would be ok since I could access AA's streaming IFE from my personal device. But…nope! The WiFi was not working–go figure!
I could hear several passengers around complaining about the WiFi to the cabin crew. The FAs made several attempts to re-start the WiFi but did not have any luck…womp womp.
Very disappointing, but at least there were overhead TVs and I had my noise-cancelling headphones. The movie on the screens was Christopher Robin–it wouldn't have been my personal choice, but it helped pass the time.
Had I been on one of the new 737 MAX 8 with broken WiFi, I would have been bored out of my mind since they don't even have overhead monitors! I mean, what am I supposed to do on a 6 hour flight…read?! ?
On this flight, cabin crew began taking meal orders from the last row. The lead FA confirmed my pre-ordered choice from AA.com
Smoked Fontina Cheese Omelette served with peppadews, herbed potatoes, and Italian chicken sausage
Fresh fruit and Greek yogurt
A selection of breakfast breads was also available, including bagels, buttermilk biscuits, and croissants–I had a bagel.
Overall, it was fine. Breakfast is never the most exciting meal when travelling in a premium cabin, and I've seen more creative breakfast options from AA in the past, so I found the whole omelette and sausage thing a bit disappointing and boring.
Luckily it was a mostly clear day and one of the best things about flying transcons on clear days is the view!
Here comes the Nechus-esque portion of the report ?
The views get much more interesting the further west you fly.
The Front range of the Rockies as we flew along the Colorado-New Mexico border.
Unsurprisingly for a month of December, there is a lot of snow covering the Rocky Mountains.
Miles and miles of snow and highland forests.
As we continued our route in the southwesterly direction, the scenes became more desert-like
The cockpit crew announced that we were near the Grand Canyon. You could tell they were also enjoying the gorgeous views.
Ah, America the beautiful!
The desert southwest is full of interesting geological formations and colours…
Like these snaking cracks and craters
Beautiful bright colours
More striking colours and formations
As we began to make our descent into LAX, the skies became progressively cloudier.
There were some breaks over the snow-covered San Bernardino Mountains
San Bernardino and the San Gabriel Mountains
Flying just south of Ontario Airport
Downtown Los Angeles in view
The new Rams' Inglewood stadium under construction
After a 5 hour 6 minute flight, we landed on the south runways about 30 minutes before scheduled arrival time. As luck would have it, our gate was actually available and we blocked in at the stand over 20 minutes early.
Taxiing past TBIT
Welcome to LAX
For those who are interested, this was our routing:
Overall, it was a disappointing premium cabin transcon from a passenger experience perspective. While Delta flies Internationally configured 757s with lie-flat seats in the premium cabin on this route, American flies an un-competitive 737 with a domestic F cabin and no IFE. Prior to the introduction of the 737 MAX on the DC-LA route, AA was at least running mostly 738s with PTVs. Now it seems that this has become inconsistent. I imagine that AA feels no pressure to match Delta on passenger experience as they have a huge frequent flyer base out of the DCA hub and transcons have little competition due to DCA's 1250 mile perimeter rule and the lack of beyond-perimeter slots.
The saving grace for this flight was the fantastic cabin crew who were super friendly, proactive, and attentive throughout the flight.
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