The airline with the best average rating is American Airlines with 7.2/10.
The average flight time is 5 hours and 32 minutes.More information
2019 has been a crazy year for me so far, which has meant very little flying…at least in the first half of the year. As if a new baby wasn't a big enough life change, we'd also been planning a cross-country move from DC to Southern California–San Diego area to be more precise. Now that we've been here a few weeks and are getting settled in, I can finally get around to posting this FR of the move over. On the bright side, the lack of flying for a few months means my huge backlog of unpublished reports didn't get any longer ?
A cross-country move can be very logistically complicated…especially with a 4-month-old, a dog, a cat, and two large 75 gallon fish tanks on top of a house full of stuff. That being said, we shipped all of our household items with movers but doing a transcontinental drive with a baby and animals just wasn't going to be feasible so, as painful as it sounded, flying was the best option.
This report will be on the short side due to the circumstances, but hopefully some of the information on flying with a baby and pets in cargo can be helpful to someone.
I booked First class on a nonstop from DC to LAX for several reasons, but mainly because, as an AA frequent flyer, there are no nonstops to San Diego from the DC area and I didn't want to deal with a connection with a baby and animals. Other reasons for booking F were that I usually only risk the elite upgrade lottery when flying alone and also I'd assumed we would get a higher baggage allowance with Platinum Pro status. Normally, Platinum Pro gets you two free bags in domestic Economy, where normally there is no free baggage allowance. So my logic was that, in paid First class, the baggage allowance would be at least 3 (2 free bags with First class ticket and at least 1 extra due to status). Of course, I checked with AA to see what the actual policy was as it wasn't clear on the website…and nope! No extra baggage allowance on domestic itineraries (only international). Womp womp.
What a silly policy…so basically with my status, on domestic flights, I get 2 free bags whether I'm on the cheapest Economy fares or on the most expensive First class fares….sure, that's logical! It's unfortunate that having status technically brings no additional benefits when flying in paid First class.
I rarely travel with a lot of baggage, but I wanted to be safe…we were moving after all, and having a kid automatically means more things to check-in (i.e. car seat base, pack & play, etc).
I also called AA to add an infant in lap and 2 pets in cargo to the reservation, neither of which can be done online. I wanted to ensure that I had all the information I needed for travel with pets in cargo as the Pets page on AA.com is generic and incomplete, mixing up international and domestic travel guidelines. For example, the site mentions a "health certificate" from a vet, but no more detail; logically, I figured I needed at least rabies vaccine certificates, but this isn't mentioned anywhere on the site. Luckily the AA Platinum Pro desk agent confirmed it was indeed required. I also asked about heat restrictions as I know most carriers have restrictions to/from certain cities in the summer. The agent looked it up and advised that checked animals could not travel through LAS, PHX, or PSP after June 1st…makes sense, as it gets well over 100F in those cities. OK, great…so I'm all set!
Or so I thought…
Being that we needed to take the DC Beltway during rush hour–otherwise known as the 10th circle of Hell–I made sure we left the house plenty early in order to arrive at the airport between 2 and 3 hours before departure. With 6 bags to check and the animals, I wasn't taking any chances. We ended up arriving about 2.5 hours before departure and thank goodness we did, because the shenanigans that ensued almost lead to missing our flight.
So here we at at the AA Priority check-in counter with our 6 bags, 2 animals in kennels, stroller, car seat, and a partridge in a pear tree…
I presented the required paperwork for the animals and I'm told…"Oh no, it's too hot to check animals"…WHAT!?!?!??!??
It turns out, AA has a policy against checking animals whenever it's over 85F…it was…get ready for it….86F!!!!! Seriously? Two AA Platinum Pro status holders on paid First class tickets and they were not going to make an exception for 1 degree Fahrenheit. I expressed my anger over not having been told of this policy despite calling specifically to ask about heat restrictions. This policy is buried on the AA website…but it is there so shame on me for not reading everything I suppose. So if you ever plan on flying on AA with animals in cargo anywhere or anytime it can get over 85F…which is basically the entire Southern U.S. after April….you've been warned!
I insisted and would not take no for an answer, and debated this issue with the agent and supervisor for well over an hour. And it turns out I was right to do so…storms were moving through the area–like basically every summer afternoon in DC–and the temperature dropped to 84F. I was given the go ahead by the supervisor, who had been very patient with me, I must say, if just a little rigid. He was on the phone with HQ in Dallas, who signed off on it.
We'd wasted so much time arguing over 1 degree Fahrenheit that it was only a few minutes before boarding time by the time we were finished at the counter.
So we had to RUN!
Luckily TSA pre-check was really fast, even with a baby, and we were through to airside in less than 2 minutes.
You know you're at Dulles when you see all those moon-buggies lined up!
We were lucky to get a train to Concourse B right away, but having to take multiple elevators up to the concourse instead of escalators (because of the stroller) did slow us down a bit.
We made it to the gate a good 10 minutes before door close.
There was still a long queue on the general boarding side, but we were able to walk up to an empty Priority lane where a very friendly gate agent tagged the stroller. The gate agent also offered to check in our roller-boards as we already had our hands full with baby stuff. Gladly! We already had bags checked, so we'd need to get our bags anyway.
I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call from the supervisor who wanted to make sure we'd made it to the gate on time and to confirm that he's seen the animals loaded into the hold. I really appreciated that! He'd really turned a bad situation around and I made sure to send in a compliment for him.
We were welcomed on board by a friendly lead FA who let us know right away to let her know if we needed a break because she loved holding babies. Very sweet of her!
Legroom is always good on the non-OASIS 737s with 40" seat pitch in First–the most legroom of any U.S. domestic First.
We actually narrowly missed being "Oasis'd"–the evening before during online check-in, our seat assignments had changed from row 6 to row 4, but were still in the last row of F…that could only mean one thing…swap to an Oasis cabin 737! Doh!
Luckily, that morning the seats changed back to row 6, so back to a traditional 737 cabin…that was close!
For those who don't know what an Oasis cabin is–"Oasis" is AA's internal project name for the densification of their 737-800 fleet to match the VERY tight configuration on their 737 MAX 8 fleet. Oasis 737s have 37" pitch in F as opposed to 40" on "normal" 737s. Also, there is no wall between F and Y and MCE and Y pitch have been reduced to 33" and 30" respectively.
Having boarded so late, we'd missed PDBs, but I had to get one ready for the kid! It seems everyone had the same advice for me on baby's first flight…feed him during takeoff so his ears don't hurt. It was definitely a good call because he didn't cry once! A born frequent flyer like his daddy ?
Boarding was completed shortly after we'd gotten on board and we pushed back on time.
Like I said earlier, giving the bottle right at takeoff worked like a charm. No fussing or crying…just a wet diaper…so off we went to test out the baby changing table in the First class lav.
Wow…it was tight. I can only imagine what it's like on the 737 MAX with those tiny lavs. My 5 month-old barely fit on the table and I had to contort myself in all kinds of ways to change a diaper.
The Lego Movie sequel was playing on the overheads. I was glad because the flashy colours entertained the baby and kept him calm.
Each seat in F is equipped with a power outlet. The 737s with PTVs also have USB chargers. AA used to consistently put 737s or A321s with PTVs on these long DC-LAX flights, but for the past year it's been a total crap-shoot.
It was a pretty cloudy and stormy summer evening on the East Coast so not much to see out the window and by the time we got out West, where the scenery is always spectacular, it was nighttime.
Shortly after takeoff, the lead FA came through to bring pre-dinner drinks and warm nuts.
Once dinner was ready, the lovely FA figured it would be difficult for both of us to eat at the same time with the baby so she asked if we wanted to take turns if that would make things easier. How thoughtful! She mentioned she's love to just hold him, but she had to serve the cabin…haha well, of course,
So I went ahead and had dinner first. I had selected the Braised shortrib with mac n' cheese and green beans on AA.com. It was simple but surprisingly delicious. The meat was super tender and the mac n' cheese very cheesy and tasty.
The appetiser was an interesting take on a summer classic: Tomato and mozarella salad
The main course
Several warm bread rolls were offered. I went with pretzel bread.
Another round of drinks was served immediately after the bread service. I find that this is an important part of the service protocol, because so often I've experienced cabin crews who will only do the pre-dinner drink service and that is supposed to last through dinner….ummm…no.
For dessert the options were a cheese plate or an ice cream sundae made to order.
I had the cheese plate.
And here is a look at the ice cream sundae.
After dinner the baby slept the whole time until landing, so that's where this report ends as I had my hands full.
A successful first flight with baby! No crying and no subsequent angry stares from fellow passengers…what a relief.
Let's see if he keeps it up on the next flight ?
It began as a terrible ground experience in a situation that was already stressful to begin with. Having worked in airline management in the past, the rigidity of agents and supervisors these days is a huge disservice to customers (especially loyal frequent flyers and those who spend more than double the price on premium cabin fares!). In my opinion, as a former manager, if all you know how to do is read from a list of rules and never make any judgment calls (I mean 1 degree F for crying out loud!), then what is your role as a supervisor? Again, I will say the supervisor was patient with me and I knew he felt bad. He also turned the situation around and made it work, but it wasn't without a lot of unnecessary stress and 1.5 hours wasted. I really blame corporate for this kind of culture of rigidity which makes for robotic and often bitter employees because they aren't empowered to do their jobs in order to best serve their customers.
Aside from that it was actually a very good flight. And since I'm not grading the ground experience here, the rating for the flight itself reflects a good flight. The cabin crew were awesome and super attentive and doted on the baby the whole flight. The catering was surprisingly good. The sore spot being IFE--including time on the ground, we spent over 6 hours on this plane, so it would have been nice to have seat-back IFE, but those are unicorns in the AA 737 fleet. I mean yes, I have a tablet and the WiFi was working fine, but I still much prefer PTVs over having to use my own device.
In the end, I was just glad I didn't get OASIS'd...