Hi and welcome to this TR that marks the end of a chapter for me. After some soul searching and careful consideration, I have decided to leave AA's Advantage program and embark on BA's Executive Club. This was a difficult decision for me because I have been a loyal AA member for many years and AA has a special place in my heart. Back in 1990 when I graduated from university, AA gave me my real first job and I worked with them at MIA for 2 years before moving to SFO. During that time in the early 90's, AA began to experience significant growth at MIA when it inherited the Latin American routes that once belonged to Eastern. I was there during their growing pains and will always remember that stage of my early airline career. Lastly I have to say that I am grateful to lagentsecret for his persuasive skills and making me see the light. ;)
I booked my ORD trip months in advance and back then I did not anticipate to leave AA. This was going to be just one more mileage run that will qualify me for elite status the following year. Then as time progressed after the merger with US, I notice subtle things that bothered me. For example, when I was looking to redeem some miles in F from NY to SFO in late November, the only availability was on US via CLT or PHL. Nothing in F or J on true AA nonstop flights. Then some relatives tried to do an upgrade with miles + cash from SFO-SJO 4 months in advance and that never cleared. Their trip was in late August which is not even high season. Recently, I found out that the afternoon flight that I usually take from SFO-MIA was changed from a 763 to a 738. This is a flight that is always packed with South Americans connecting to their late night flights out of MIA. Why on earth is AA switching it to a smaller plane?. By the way, I have seen most of these pax sit in the front and Y+ cabins, so the demand is there. Doug Parker said that he will keep AA a premium carrier after the merger with US, but there have been shortcuts and cutbacks in catering as reported by frequent flyers in other forums and getting into the front cabins with other means (except paying) is getting harder. This is going to be the last AA trip that will be credited to my AA's Advantage account. I had some upgrades that I wanted to use for this trip and this was the best opportunity to do so. To my surprise, I was upgraded on all segments.
I joined BA's program in Sept. so starting now I will have a clean start to accumulate Tier points. Like all other frequent flyers that are into this game, I consider the F cabin of a world class carrier the ultimate reward and the holy grail of being a FF. BA's open availability on carriers like CX and JL makes it a very attractive alternative, despite the high surcharges for rewards. I personally believe that due to AA's vast numbers of FF's, airlines restrict their premium inventory to them considerably. Another symbolic coincidence happened when I took my return trip from ORD to SFO on Aug. 31. This was the last day of AA catering and the following day on Sept. 1, the new catering implementation with US took effect.
My flight was not supposed to leave until 1415, so on my departure day I decided to go to the airport early to standby for an earlier flight. Originally I was planning to ask for the SFO-DFW @ 1030 which was operated by a 763 and then DFW-ORD on a S80. As a Gold member I stood in the priority line and was waived in by the agent working the F counter. The agent was a pleasant older gentleman who greeted me with a smile and when I inquired if I could standby via DFW, he advised me that I couldn't change the routing and could only standby for a nonstop to ORD. I was surprised by this because in the past I was allowed to standby through different hubs as long as the dept. and arriv. cities do not change. Not feeling argumentative, I decided to just clear security and try to do this at the gate inside. This might have been a blessing in disguise because later on, the DFW flight was delayed due to late arrival. Security was a pain in the butt and even thought we had a special line, we were told to merge with the line of regular passengers going through x-ray after the agent checked our documents.
Inside the terminal.
I proceeded to the DFW gate and there was no agent there even though it was 1 hr. before dept. I waited another 10 min. and still no one showed up. Meanwhile, the ORD flight leaving @ 1010 was next door and I glimpse at the upgrade list and only saw 2 passengers on the list. Although not the most accurate way to check, I checked the seat map for this flight before leaving the airport and it had 5 empty seats in F. So I decided to approach the agent working the ORD flight and asked the nice lady if I could be placed on the standby list. She did this with a smile and told me to wait and see if the upgrade would clear. Soon they started boarding the plane and at about 25 min. before dept. I was called and an agent advised me that she only had F seats in the bulkhead. I gladly accepted and was given a window seat. I also noticed a sharply dressed guy that took the opposite window seat and later on was chatting with the FA's about work when I went to the WC. He was a non revenue and if he could make it, then this flight was pretty empty in F. In addition I saw two pilots in uniform occupying row 2, but they could have been deadheading and therefore had confirmed seats according to their contract.
Plane at the gate.
My seat 3A (I wonder why there is no row 1 or 2)
Seat pitch - could be more generous
I looked outside and the plane for the DFW flight just arrived @ 1000. The plane leaves @ 1030, so I doubt that this flight will be on time considering the disembarking, cleaning and boarding. That flight was going to be delayed as well.
Pre-departure drinks were offered and by 1010 the door was still open. Then a few minutes later the captain made an announcement saying that there was a minor repair that needed to be signed off by the mechanics and they were waiting for them. After a few more minutes the door was closed and we were taxiing for take off.
Taxiing to the runway
OAK and the East Bay
Upon reaching cruising altitude our purser went into action taking meal and drink orders. She was smiling and very attentive throughout the whole flight. After the hot towel service, I had the usual 1/2 orange juice and 1/2 cranberry mix accompanied by warm nuts. I noticed that the cashews are broken in half pieces. Another cost cutting measure?
Drink with nuts
For lunch we had a choice between Chicken Pot Pie Crepes OR Beef Salad. I chose the crepes and the presentation was not the best.
Salad without a choice of dressing
A basket with breads was passed around. The sourdough was crusty and delicious.
I unfolded the napkin and found only a fork and a knife.
What happened to the plastic salt/pepper shakers?
Finally we had a fresh baked cranberry oatmeal cookie for dessert. The FA saw that I did not eat it all and offered to bring me a chocolate chip one. I thanked her but declined.
The rest of the flight was uneventful and I read a book during the whole time. Soon we were arriving in ORD.
Arriving into ORD
Taxiing to the arrival gate
The airport looked busy and after a long trek I arrived at the hotel shuttle area. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Arlington Heights, which is very close to UA's former headquarters. This hotel is perhaps the only one in the area that offers shuttle service to the airport. Back when I was working for United in the late 1990's and had to fly to Chicago twice a month, I always asked the travel desk to book me at this hotel. It was clean, comfortable, had a free breakfast but best of all, it was in front of Yaohan Center and almost next door to a Greek restaurant. There was also an unassuming diner owned by a Greek guy that served great homemade American food. It's amazing how things have changed after an absence of 14 years. The two restaurants are now gone and Yaohan is called Mitsuwa.
Holiday Inn Express
Inside Mitsuwa there is a Kikokuniya bookstore, a food court with several stands and a Hippo bakery. I used to come to here to get my Air Stage magazine and buy discounted bento boxes at half price before closing. There is also a food court inside with different stands serving mainly Asian noodles and dishes. The line was insane when I arrived so I did not even bother. I just purchased some water and a chestnut pastry and then ordered take out from Burger Baron.
Hippo bakery with a few items left before closing
My delivery dinner from Burger Baron - Grilled Grecian chicken with rice, Greek potatoes, soup and garlic bread, and gyro or shawarma. Of course I did not eat it all.
San Francisco - SFO
Chicago - ORD
Comfort was fine but I don't think the bulkhead on this plane is that great and I'd rather have any other seat with storage in front.
Service was friendly and attentive. I appreciate the FA asking me if I wanted another kind of cookie after I nibble some and left the rest on the plate. Actually the cookies was great, but I try to avoid too much carbohydrates and sugar.
Catering was somewhat disappointing with a careless presentation. The half cashews, incomplete set of utensils and envelopes of salt/pepper scream cost cutting and they are not very premium at all. I think for a flight of this length, they should offer a dessert that is more than just a cookie. AA has this tendency to serve cookies for dessert on lunch flights, even before the merger with US.
Late dept. and arrival. It's a good thing that I was not connecting.
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