The airline with the best average rating is American Airlines with 7.2/10.
The average flight time is 4 hours and 57 minutes.More information
Hello and welcome to a new short 2-part series of pandemic-era flights.
We needed to get to DC for a wedding in early October, but there were no longer any nonstop oneworld options from San Diego since Alaska dropped the route last year. We opted for a nonstop from LAX since we were only going for the weekend.
Though this routing is comprised of mostly unremarkable domestic flights, the outbound flight would be my first time on a 737 MAX and the return would be my first time flying an Alaska Airlines A321neo.
Reviews in this series:
The morning of the flight we parked the car at Joe's Airport Parking, which is conveniently located on Century Blvd right across from the airport entrance and the famous LAX sign.
As traffic from San Diego had been light that morning, we got to the Terminal 4 about 2 1/2 hours before our flight's scheduled departure.
I was glad we arrived so early because we needed to check one bag and the queue in the Priority lane was moving at a glacier's pace.
There were only two ticket counters open in the Priority section with one of the two agents busy assisting a passenger with what sounded like Covid-tes/vaccination requirements or documentation issues for an international flight. This only left one agent operational.
We waited in line for a good half-hour before being called up. Thankfully my 2.5 year-old son was very patient–much more so than some of the adults in line who were passive-aggressively sighing loudly and grumbling under their breaths. Ah…travel is back! The world is indeed healing 😉
In pre-child days we would never have checked a bag for a short weekend away…these days, I prefer not to be encumbered by multiple carry-ons, especially knowing I may have to chase after a toddler at a moment's notice! Free hands and freedom of mobility are key 👍
TSA pre-check is conveniently located on the upper level on the same side as the Priority check-in.
We were through the pre-check lanes rather quickly, though my son's sealed milk container alarmed so I had to submit to a full pat down. It's always a pain to haul travel-sized milk containers around, but having milk on hand has saved me from a toddler temper tantrum melt-down on more than one occasion so any little inconvenience at security is worth it!
He already enjoys planespotting ❤
As we had well over an hour to kill before boarding, we took the walkway to TBIT. This would serve the purpose of tiring out the kid with a long walk before the flight and we could grab some food there since there is still no buy-on-board food on any AA flights.
TBIT was nice and empty as it has been the last few times I've been through LAX in pandemic times. Much more pleasant than the crowds and chaos at T4 and other mostly-domestic terminals.
We peeked by the Korean Air lounge to confirm it was still closed to Priority Pass holders–there was a large sign at the desk advising of the temporary moratorium due to Covid. There used to be several Priority Pass lounge and restaurant options at LAX pre-pandemic, now there's nothing (October 2021)–hard to believe for such a major airport, and truly unfortunate for PP members in Southern California.
While I was bummed that the KAL lounge was still closed to Priority Pass, luckily, there is a cool children's play area tucked away behind the TBIT food court: "LAX Beach"
It was a pleasantly quiet area to spend time waiting for the flight–and my son had a fantastic time running around.
This playground was closed for much of 2020 so I was glad to see it open again. TBIT is a very kid-friendly terminal, especially if you also have access to the oneworld lounge, which has a huge kids' playroom. I've previously covered it here in this BA review from LAX.
We left TBIT about 15 minutes before boarding was due to begin to walk back to T4.
A very friendly AA agent chatted with us for a bit as we walked to the gate and gave our son a pair of AA wings. What a lovely gesture! I saw she had a whole bag of wings to give out. I wasn't sure if she did this of her own will in the terminal or if this was an initiative coming from local AA management. Either way it was appreciated–a very nice customer-friendly gesture!
As we arrived at our gate, First class boarding was just wrapping up. Our boarding group 2 was called just as we walked up so we were able to go straight away.
Hi MAX 👋
We were greeted by a super friendly flight attendant who chatted and joked around with us a few times during the flight, and even regularly checked in on us. Very nice first impression of this crew!
The MAX cabin still looks fresh and new–unsurprisingly since they were grounded for so long.
AA cabins are consistent across the majority of the domestic fleet as 737 MAX 8s, 737-800s, A319s, and A321s (Oasis refits) all now have these same seats.
While it was widely known at the time the 737 MAX was introduced that legroom had been reduced in all cabins compared to the 737-800, the one place where legroom actually got better than the previous 737-800 configuration was the first row of Main Cabin Extra. The extra room in that row comes from the removal of the bulkhead wall–which ultimately was to add more seats, but benefited the first row of MCE.
As all 3 of us have frequent flyer status with AA/oneworld, we had access to Main Cabin Extra for free at time of booking (yes, even our 2-year-old just reached AA Platinum 😁). It is normally a buy-up from standard Economy and can cost up to $100 per segment on these longer domestic flights.
Each seat has access to a combo AC/USB power unit.
Very convenient for keeping all the devices charged up.
Just 737 huh? No mention of MAX anywhere…
Though the flight appeared to be mostly full–maybe 2 or 3 empty seats–boarding was finished about 10 minutes before departure and doors were closed 5 minutes early.
Saw this beautiful (Cargo) Queen during taxi out 😍
Taxi time from T4 always seems pretty quick when there's no line for departure.
First time seeing the new UA livery on a regional jet.
The new livery looks great on the Dreamliner, though I still feel like it's missing a colour–like a streak of gold or flash of red…Maybe I'm crazy, I can never quite put my finger on it.
And off we go with a view of the Cargo ramp.
And the ever-so-scenic El Segundo refineries
As always, we take off heading west over the Pacific Ocean, but turn back inland immediately heading east.
The beautiful cliffs of Malibu with a thin layer of smog or perhaps wildfire smoke in the distance–it was a little late in the day to be a marine layer.
Marina Del Rey, Venice Beach, and Santa Monica
The Hollywood hills and miles and miles and miles of LA basin urbanisation.
And then boom…mountains…
And dry desert on the other side of those mountains.
There was a drink and snack service about a half hour into the flight. As mentioned earlier, food is still not available for purchase on board AA domestic flights as of October 2021, while all other major US carriers have brought back some form of buy-on-board or pre-order programme.
There is still no alcohol for purchase either, but a large selection of complimentary soft drinks are now available. From the beginning of the pandemic to spring 2021, only a small bottle of water was served in the Main Cabin and MCE, even on transcons.
While I appreciate the double sweet and salty snack portions, I was glad we'd grabbed lunch in the terminal!
Gorgeous desert scenery as we flew over inland California and Arizona. As many times as I fly these routes, I never grow tired of these majestic landscapes.
With the exception of a few subfleets, the majority of American Airlines narrowbody aircraft do not have seat-back entertainment screens–in fact, screens were removed from 737s that had them over the past two years in a densification and cabin standardisation programme known as "Project Oasis."
The 737 MAX cabin was the standard to which 737-800s and pre-merger US Airways aircraft have been refitted as part of project Oasis.
While there are no seat-back screens, complimentary streaming on-demand entertainment is available to personal devices across the American narrowbody fleet.
Each seat features tablet holders. They are built into the tray table in the bulkhead row and in the seat-back at eye level in other rows.
There is a large library of films, TV series, documentaries, and children's programming, which appears to be the same content available on widebody seat-back entertainment units.
Live TV is back! After suspension of Live TV programming on most flights for much of the pandemic-era, there are now more Live TV channels than ever before.
I ended up catching up on the end of a movie I'd started on a previous flight.
The rest of the flight was mostly uneventful as we flew over hundreds of miles of Midwestern plains.
There was no further in-flight service, unfortunately; however, our super friendly FA came by to check on us a few times.
We made good time and were due to arrive 8-10 minutes early into DC.
We began our descent as the sun was setting.
Mood lighting came on as night fell.
Note the updated cabin dividers that reach down to the back of the seat to offer more privacy in First class. Initially, the dividers were quite small back when these cabins were first introduced, but AA received a lot of negative feedback from frequent flyers about the change from a full bulkhead wall.
American actually listened to the feedback and made some updates to the cabins. Though this new divider obviously doesn't offer the same level of privacy as a true bulkhead wall, I appreciate that AA not only listened to customer feedback, but made an effort to improve the divider and F cabin in general. They've also closed the gap between seats in the last row of First for additional privacy, whereas Delta, Alaska, and others have very small dividers and a large gap between seats.
We once again got lucky with the river approach, which always offers amazing views of the city on landing. I try to grab seats on the left side whenever flying into DCA in case we do the river approach.
The Watergate and Kennedy Center
The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and National Mall
Having lived in DC for over a decade until our recent move to San Diego makes me feel nostalgic every time I land at DCA anymore–It always feels like coming home. It's still an odd feeling not to be going home each time I come to DC these days.
We ended up landing even earlier than the app had been saying and arrived at the gate 13 minutes ahead of schedule.
Walking out of the concourse I caught a quick glimpse of the entrance to the brand new regional terminal that replaced the infamous and widely hated Gate 35X when it opened this year. I'm sure I'll have an opportunity to check it out on a future trip.
After flying on my first A350 on a recent trip, I was finally getting to fly on the 737 MAX for the first time! You almost have to be an aviation geek to even know you're flying on a MAX, especially since the safety card doesn't mention MAX and the cabins on AA's 737-800NG fleet are exactly the same since they were all "Oasis'd"
The cabin is sleek, modern, and noticeably quieter than the 737NG. The seats themselves are surprisingly comfortable--they're well-padded with adjustable headrests and individual AC & USB power sources, and include tablet holders. Legroom is very good in the 1st row of MCE, which has under-seat storage (important in a bulkhead row); however, seat pitch has been reduced in other MCE rows compared to the pre-Oasis 737 configuration. I'd heard so much negativity surrounding the MAX cabin I was expecting the worst, but was pleasantly surprised. Of course, the fact that we were sitting in the most spacious row (along with the exit rows) made a huge difference in comfort.
Fantastic fun crew, laughed, joked around, checked in often, which is exceedingly rare on domestic flights in Economy these days!
Catering...or lack thereof, was the down side of this flight. There should be some sort of buy-on-board of pre-order food option over a year and a half into the pandemic! Only one drink and snack service on a 5h flight screams of cost-cutting while at the same time being a huge missed opportunity for revenue from in-flight food sales.