Archive for June, 2009
Does American Airlines follow its own policies? I don’t know.
In early May I was scheduled to fly from Dallas to Boston to San Francisco. The departure from DFW was delayed for a variety of reasons including no ground crew, fuel spill, leaking toilet, late incoming flight, and weather, among other things. You can read it all here.
My flight landed in Boston five minutes before my SFO flight was due to depart. We pulled up to the gate right next to my outgoing flight, but as soon as they opened the doors on my plane, the other one pulled away. It was at the gate next to mine, I probably did not have to run more than 100 feet to catch it. If they had delayed the flight for just a few moments, I would have made the connection.
I sent a complaint about this to AA. They replied with an apology, but added that passengers need to be at the gate 15 minutes before departure; obviously I was not. They added, “We certainly don’t want to leave customers behind and I’m sorry things worked out like they did on this occasion. At the same time, however, we are doing everything we can to make sure that we operate our flights on time. Like our customers, we believe that everyone is best served when we maintain our schedules.” (emphasis added)
Imagine my surprise then when I flew home from Chicago on Friday night, after attending a 2-day conference. My flight, 2491, was filled to capacity and was scheduled to leave at 7:55 p.m. However, at 8 o’clock, the pilot announced that the flight would be delayed to allow passengers connecting from other flights to get to ours.
Those passengers eventually did make it to our flight, but we took off 20 minutes late. So, American Airlines policy said that they could not hold my SFO flight last month for 5 minutes, but there was apparently no problem holding my flight Friday for 20 minutes. True, this was the last ORD-AUS flight of the night, but my BOS-SFO flight was also the last one of the night, and they saw no need to hold it for me.
This leads me to ask, “What exactly is their policy?” I don’t know.
I’ve been on several mileage runs in the last few months, taking advantage of American Airlines double elite qualifying miles bonus. This would be my final mileage run of the group, a one-day trip to San Francisco, featuring a trip into town to eat lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf.
The day started well with a 6:00 a.m. departure from Austin-Bergstrom International to Dallas/Fort Worth. Those early flights are not fun, particularly when the plane is filled to capacity, but the senior flight attendant (FA) on board helped brighten our day with her announcements.
“It’s 5:45 in the morning, and while we are at the terminal you can still use your cell phone to call your loved ones. But if they get mad at you for waking them, it’s not my fault.”
As we approached the end of the taxi-way she said, “We are about to take off. If you are still using your cell phone, please repeat after me, “I love you and will call you from DFW. Click'”
We’re only in the air for 37 minutes during an AUS-DFW flight, which makes it difficult, if not absurd, for the flight attendants to serve refreshments to 120 passengers. The FA pointed this out when she said “This is a very very short trip, so when you get your coffee, please remember that this is a gulping flight, not a sipping flight.”
Many thanks to that FA for brightening our trip. How great would it be if she could be on the same flight as Captain Don?
We arrived on time at DFW and I transferred to Terminal D for my flight to SFO. We were departing from gate 37; the last time I was at that gate was the start of my horrible flight from DFW to Boston. Thankfully, nothing like that happened on this day; we boarded and departed on time. I had a delightfully uneventful flight to San Francisco, landing at 9:45 a.m. My flight out was scheduled for 3:55, a little more than 6 hours later. Since I needed to be at the airport one hour before the flight, that gave me 5 hours to go into town, eat, and get back to the airport.
Thankfully, Googlemaps had helped me create my itinerary. Following its schedule, I took the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train from the airport to downtown, getting off at the Embarcadero station. I walked upstairs, crossed the street at the intersection of Market and Main streets, and took the F streetcar to Fisherman’s Wharf. From the time I got off the plane til I arrived at the Wharf was less than 90 minutes!
None of the streetcars in San Francisco look the same. The city has purchased them from a variety of cities around the world, including Philadelphia and Rome, Italy and fixed them, but kept the same paint job and design as the original owner. I rode on a car from Rome, some of the signs were still in Italian.
That streetcar (show above) was a tribute to Harvey Milk, the gay member of the San Francisco city council who was killed in 1978. (Sean Penn won the 2009 Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of him in the movie Milk.) Milk’s picture and life story were on the inside of the streetcar; he was recognized for being a strong supporter of public transportation, and the only member of the SF City Council to use it during his time in office.
It was a gorgeous day with mild temperatures and a clear sky. I walked to Pier 47 at Fisherman’s Wharf to my favorite San Francisco restaurant, Scoma’s. I’ve been there several times and have never been disappointed. The food and service are outstanding!
Scoma’s opens for lunch at 11:30 on Saturday, but the bar opens at 11. I arrived at 11:20, had a beer at the bar, and was promptly seated at 11:30. I love fresh seafood, and while there are restaurants in Austin that claim to have fresh seafood, there is no way they can match a restaurant like Scoma’s that serves fish that had been caught in the Pacific just a few hours earlier.
The menu offered a large selection of entrees, including baked fish, fried fish, and fish with pasta. I decided on the fried fish combo plate that featured jumbo shrimp, mussels, and clams. It was superb. The shrimp had a very light batter, so light it almost seemed as if it was not there, but they were still crunchy without being too tough, as sometimes happens if the shrimp are fried too long. The fish were served on a bed of rice and vegetables, with a side plate of fresh sourdough bread. Wonderful!
This is indeed a small world, I spoke to the people who sat next to me at the bar, they also had a table near me. It turns out they were also visiting from Austin, but would be there for a few days longer than I would.
When I finished the meal, I had enough time to walk around before heading back to the airport. So far, this was a perfect mileage run!
After walking through this beautiful area for a while, I took the streetcar back to the BART station downtown, and the train back to the airport. I cleared security quickly and went to the Admiral’s Club for my 3:55 flight to DFW.
That flight was scheduled to board at 3:25, so at that time I said goodbye to the AAngels behind the desk and walked over to the gate where I noticed one small problem: no airplane!
I went back to the club and they confirmed the 3:55 departure. I asked how we could do that without an aircraft? They called Operations and found the incoming flight would not land until 3:41, so I waited. At 3:40, the departure board still showed a 3:55 departure for my DFW flight, which was very odd, AA is normally very good at updating schedules when there is a delay. The staff called Operations again and found my new departure time was 4:20.
That worried me. My layover at DFW before my AUS flight was only 50 minutes; my flight from SFO would not arrive until 9:45 (if there was no delay). Would I have enough time to change terminals and get to my AUS flight at least 15 minutes before departure. AA made it very clear to me in their letter after the DFW-BOS-SFO fiasco that passengers had to be at the gate 15 minutes before departure or they would not be able to board.
I boarded the plane and hoped for the best. My flight to Austin was the last one of the day, if I missed it I would have to stay overnight at DFW, something I did not look forward to doing.
We had a smooth flight to DFW. The plane was not crowded and I told the FA that I had a very tight connection at DFW; she let me move from row 20 to row 7, the first row of coach, shortly before we began our descent; that would save me at least 5 minutes in getting off the plane. We landed precisely at 9:45. I got off the plane as quickly as I could and ran to the Skylink station to change to terminal D.
I wasn’t the only one on the Skylink train trying to catch the AUS flight. Six of us ran through terminal D to our gate; we arrived there 12 minutes before departure and were, of course, allowed to board and take our seats. Apparently AA’s policy requiring passengers to be there within 15 minutes of departure is not enforced uniformly.
We had a smooth flight back to AUS, and I was home by midnight.
This had been a wonderful trip! I earned 7,856 miles and 3,928 EQMs. Once the bonus ends, they will credit me with an additional 3,928 EQMs. If my math is correct, I’ll have over 50,000 EQMs once all the miles and bonus miles have posted, earning me Platinum status until February 2011. I also went over the 800,000 lifetime miles mark with this trip, 200K more and I earn lifetime elite status on American Airlines.
I also spent a wonderful afternoon in a beautiful city and had a fabulous meal. All in all, this was a great trip!
Some of my recent trips have been the least appealing type of mileage runs: I never leave the airport, never see the city, and am doomed to eating airport fast food. Or, even worse, do like I did on my Boston to Los Angeles flight a few weeks ago flight when I ate overpriced airline food.
This mileage run to Seattle was different, I’d have a four-hour layover in SEA, not really enough time to see the town, but enough time to at least get a good meal. But where would I eat?
I started my research on Google maps and searched for “restaurants near Sea-Tac airport.” Instantly I had a listing of over 20 restaurants in the area; in most cases I could read reviews of the food and also visit their website. Sharps Roaster and Ale House had good reviews and was the closest to the airport, so that was my choice.
The trip started nicely with a 7:25 a.m. flight from Austin to DFW. I’ve started many mileage runs with a 6 a.m. flight, so the later departure was a pleasant change. After a one hour layover at DFW, I flew to San Jose.
I love flying over the Western United States, the scenery is stunning!
We arrived early in San Jose, giving me extra time to make my connection to Seattle. That flight would be on Alaska Airlines, requiring me to change terminals. I not only had to change terminals, I had to take a bus to the next one! I look forward to San Jose completing construction of their very large new terminal building which should be able to handle all flights from one terminal.
Alaska Airlines flies out of what can be called a temporary terminal at SJC, passengers have to walk out to the aircraft and then up a ramp to board. Thankfully, there was no rain.
We had a nice flight to Seattle, passing near San Francisco on the way.
As we prepared for landing at Sea-Tac, the plane flew over Seattle, then turned to the south for the final approach. Again, I got some great views.
We landed at Sea-Tac and once again we were early. Every flight I have taken this year, except for the DFW-BOS mess, has arrived early.
Now that I was in Seattle, it was time to eat! It was a very short walk to Sharps: I left the terminal, walked to International Blvd, turned right, and walked another two blocks. In less than 10 minutes I was there.
If you are a vegetarian, Sharps is not the place for you! This is a place for meat-eaters! I tried to choose between the chicken, sausage, and ribs, but could not decide; I finally ordered a combination plate.
I got a huge plate with BBQ ribs, BBQ chicken, BBQ sausage, pulled pork, beans, cole slaw, and delicious honey corn bread. This was a lot better than anything I could get at an airport! I had enough food to feed two people, but I had not eaten since I left home almost 12 hours earlier and I knew I could eat it all. It was great!
Sharps is also a micro-brewery, so I ordered their Sharps Hefweizen, a German wheat beer. They offered three sizes; small, medium, and large, and I went for the medium. Their idea of medium is 22 ounces! There was so much food that I needed another beer and tried a regional one, Moose Drool Beer from Montana. I decided to go for the large, and got a 34 ounce beer. So, I can say I only had two beers at Sharps, I’ll just leave out the part about them totaling 56 ounces.
After the meal I walked back to Sea-Tac and took a late flight on Alaska Airlines to Los Angeles. I slept most of the way there. The only problem with connecting from Alaska Airlines to American at LAX is the different terminals. Alaska uses terminal 3, American is at terminal 4.
So, I walked out of Terminal 3, past the international terminal, and entered terminal 4. I had to clear security again; I don’t know if they were training new staff, but it was one of the slowest lines I have ever gone through, taking almost 30 minutes for me to get through. And this was at the special line for elite passengers.
After a short stop at the Admirals Club I boarded the flight to DFW and promptly fell asleep. This was the same flight I took after my BOS-LAX flight a few weeks earlier, and again we arrived early at DFW. Again I ate breakfast at McDonalds, and again I took a shower at the Admirals Club. At 8 a.m. my flight left for Austin, arriving at 9, I was home by 10 a.m. Sunday.
It was a long weekend, but I had a great meal in Seattle and got home safely. I earned 10,644 miles, and will get double EQMs for the American Airlines segments (Austin to San Jose, and Los Angeles back to Austin). All in all, it was a good trip