Archive for April, 2012
How many flights have I made to San Francisco this year?
To be honest, I have lost track, and while it would be simple enough to look up the answer, I’d rather not—it might be too depressing. I have never traveled so many times to one destination in such a short time period.
But the lure of triple Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) in January, and double EQMs since then has been a siren song I cannot resist. So, once again I went back to the City by the Bay. But this trip would be different, I scheduled it so that I would have enough time to actually leave the airport and go into town, something I had not yet done this year. But there were some challenges I had to meet first.
Four days before my trip, on April 3, a series of tornadoes struck North Texas. While there was extensive damage, there were no fatalities and no deaths. But can anyone forget the video of the twister tossing truck trailers hundreds of feet up in the air? I can’t.
Almost 100 American Airlines aircraft were damaged at DFW in the hailstorm that followed the twisters: each of those aircraft had to be hand-inspected for hail damage. More than 400 flights, almost all from DFW, were cancelled the next day. Each day more and more aircraft returned to service, but I was still concerned that one of my four Saturday flights would be cancelled. I follow American Airlines on Twitter (@AmericanAir) and wrote to them about this, they wrote back that it all looked good for me and I had nothing to worry about.
American put more aircraft back into service each day and as @AmericanAir predicted, I had nothing to worry about, none of my Saturday flights were affected.
The day started well, with a smooth flight at sunrise from Austin to DFW.
We landed on time and I changed terminals for my flight to SFO. I was glad to see it was on one of my favorite aircraft, the 767-300, and the plane was not crowded at all, I had an entire row to myself.
The flight to San Francisco went very smoothly. In fact, it was as close to a perfect flight as there could possibly be: we took off on time, the pilot never needed to turn on the seat belt sign due to turbulence, and we landed early.
I immediately left the terminal and went to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station to take the train downtown — as I mentioned I was excited to finally be able to leave the terminal.
I have to admit I was surprised when I bought my BART ticket: round-trip from the airport to downtown was more than $16! Compare that to Seattle where light rail from the airport to downtown is less than $6.00, or Chicago where round trip downtown from O’Hare costs less than $5.00. I know the Bay Area is supposed to be expensive, but $16 is ridiculous.
I bought the ticket and took the train to the Embarcadero station; this left me a short walk from the Bay.
While it was a beautiful day and I was enjoying myself, time was short. My total layover in San Francisco was 5 hours, 4 when you realize I had to be back at least an hour before departure. I was nowhere near the airport and needed to find a place to quickly eat so that I could get back to the airport on time.
I went it and was escorted to a table with one of the most breathtaking views I had seen in a very long while.
I ordered crabcakes with rice and mixed vegetable, with a beer to wash it all down. I enjoyed the meal, and the view made it all the more enjoyable—it was so good to finally have the chance to leave the airport!
But time was short. I finished the meal and went back to the BART station.
I arrived back at the airport 90 minutes before my flight, giving me time to stop at the Admirals Club for a few moments. While I was there I got word that my upgrade to First Class had come through for the flight to DFW.
That flight left SFO on time and arrived at DFW at approximately 9:15 p.m. This was the same time I arrived a week earlier when I was stranded at the airport. But no problem this time, I had a reservation on AA’s 10 p.m. flight to Austin—if that flight had been scheduled the previous week I would have gotten home on Saturday night rather than Sunday morning.
The flight landed in Austin shortly before 11 p.m. and I was home by midnight.
It had been a fun day, I really enjoyed being able to go into San Francisco, truly one of the most beautiful cities in America, if not the world. With AA’s double EQM promotion, the trip put me at almost 88,000 EQMs for the year, rarefied territory for me. Two more trips and I’ll earn Executive Platinum status through February 2014. But more importantly, these extra miles gave me enough to book a Business Class trip to Asia later this year for my wife and myself, a trip I would otherwise not be able to afford. We both look forward to it!
Disclaimer: I own stock in AMR Corporation, American Airlines’ parent company. The total value of my holdings is less than $75.00.
There are a lot of things that I can control when I do a mileage run. I can choose my airline, my destination, the day I travel, what time I fly, and I can even choose where I will sit in the plane. The only thing I cannot control is the weather, and that fact played a big role in my most recent mileage run.
My schedule was the same as previous trips: depart Austin at 7:40 a.m. for DFW, take an 11:10 a.m. flight to San Francisco (SFO), fly back at 2:30 and take a 9 p.m flight from DFW to Austin, arriving at 9:50 p.m. and sleep in my own bed that night At least that was the plan.
Everything started well, my flight to DFW departed on time, and other than the screaming baby two rows away whose parents did not see any need to quiet her down at any time during the flight, was a good flight.
I arrived at DFW and changed terminals for my SFO flight. Shortly after I got to the gate the departure time changed from 11:10 to 11:45. The gate agent said there was a weather hold on all flights to SFO due to heavy rain and very high winds. I had been down this road before, and hoped that the delay would not be very long, but knew that it probably would be.
Over the next hour the departure time was pushed back time and again. I spoke with some of the American Airlines staff and found out how the delay works. Once the FAA reopened SFO, they had to prioritize which aircraft should land first. First priority went to those flights from China, Japan, Korea, Hawaii, etc. that had spent two hours circling over the Pacific Ocean. They needed to land as soon as possible. Next priority were the flights from London, Frankfurt, Dubai, etc. that had been circling over Canada for two hours, they needed to land ASAP. Next priority were the non-stop flights from the East Coast that were already in the air. Final priority was a flight like mine that was still sitting at the gate. As the lowest priority, we would not be leaving soon, so all I could do was wait.
I had used the AA iPhone app for my boarding pass and wondered if they had fixed the problem with e the app where it would not give me a boarding pass because the flight was late. No they hadn’t. I tried to get my pass but got the message that the flight “is already departed” even though it was still sitting at the gate. They really need to fix this problem, they are an airline and there will be delayed flights — their app needs to know what to do in that situation. I had the gate agent print the boarding passes for my remaining three flights. I’ll go back to using paper boarding passes rather than electronic on my next trip, at least I know they will work!
I was chatting with the gate agent when a man came up with his two boys, they looked like they were five and seven years old. He asked, the GA, “Is there enough time for us to ride the train around the airport for 45 minutes?” The GA smiled and said, “Sure, have fun, but be back in an hour.” Apparently, if you are at DFW with your kids and they are bored, the Skylink train between terminals is a great way to keep them entertained.
At 12:40 we finally started to board the aircraft, a 767-300, one of my favorite planes. My upgrade to First Class had come through — I got a seat that was more like an international Business Class seat than a domestic First Class. The seat had a foot rest, could move in a variety of directions, and could even go completely flat to serve as a bed. Very nice! Even though I was in a bulkhead seat I still had a place to put my bag in front of me instead of having to put it in the overhead bin.
We completed the boarding process and pushed away from the terminal at 1:00, but the pilot announced that to get in our slot in the line of aircraft heading for SFO, we’d have to wait until 1:43 p.m. to take off. So, we taxied to the far end of the airport and then sat and waited. At 1:40 we began to taxi, and precisely at 1:43 we went wheels-up. This was two and a half hours after our original departure time. I knew I’d have no problem catching my return flight at SFO, it would be the same plane, but my late night connection at DFW to AUS was starting to look a bit shaky.
The first part of the flight went very smoothly, they even served lunch.
We soon arrived in the San Francisco area. The pilot announced that the rain had stopped, but there were sill high winds, gusting to more than 50 mph. Because of this we would not make our normal approach from the east but would instead fly to Sausalito and then approach from the north. Normally the pilot tells the flight attendants to prepare for landing when we’re 10-15 out; this time he told them to buckle in while we were still 35 minutes away from landing.. After he said that he announced, “That’s the last you’ll hear from us on this flight, we’ll be very busy here in the cockpit.”
The last 20 minutes of the flight were very bumpy as the plane was tossed about by the heavy winds. I did not see anyone use their motion sickness bag in first class, but I would not be surprised if someone did in coach, it was that bumpy. We eventually reached the airport and as we came in over the harbor I saw something I had not seen befoe at SFO — whitecaps in the harbor. The plane was shifting left and right, but the crew kept it under control and we actually had a smoother landing than I have had on some other flights. Our original arrival time was 1:15, we arrived at 3:00.
We got to the terminal, I was the first one off the plane, and as I entered the terminal they were already announcing the plane’s departure for DFW. I had enough time to run to the rest room, make a quick call home, and then return to the gate.
We were scheduled to leave at 2:30, but since we did not land until three that wasn’t going to happen. We eventually started to board at 3:30 and took off at 3:55. The pilot announced we would land around 9:15, not good for me, my Austin flight was scheduled for 9. All I could do was hope that we would catch a good jet stream and be able to make up for lost time.
I had one good and one bad thing happen on the flight. The good thing was that while they would not serve a meal, they would serve a snack. I didn’t mind that, their snacks are a lot more than just a small bag of chips.
I had a chicken panini sandwich, salad, pita chips, and hummus. Not bad for a snack!
The bad thing was that the reading light for my seat did not work, nor did it work for the lady in the seat next to me. We showed the flight attendant our problem, a challenge since the flight attendant call button didn’t work either! She played with a series of switches in the forward area of the plane, but the only way she could get our light to work was to turn it on for every single passenger on the plane, not a very popular decision for those who hoped to sleep on the flight and strongly expressed their displeasure, Can’t say I blame them, I probably would have done the same thing. So, I had no way to read. I used the flashlight app on my iPhone for a while, but is designed to be used for only a few moments at a time and really uses a lot of battery power, so that did not work. I would not be able to read on this flight. I sent a complaint message to AA.com the next day — they apologized and gave me 4,000 miles. Thanks!
I hoped we would make up for lost time on the trip back to DFW, but I was out of luck. My flight to Austin was scheduled for 9:00; we didn’t land at DFW until 9:15. When I turned my phone on and looked at my itinerary, I saw AA had reserved a seat for me on a flight at 7:50 a.m. the next morning. I’d have to spend the night at DFW! Darn!
When we finally got to the gate, I got off as quickly as I could and checked, maybe, just maybe, I could make the 9:25 flight to Austin. Unfortunately, it was at another terminal and by the time I got there it was long gone. Next flight was Sunday morning.
I went into the Admiral’s Club, maybe I could spend the night on a sofa there? No, I couldn’t, they would close at 10 p.m. However, the lady behind the desk did her best to help. She explained that AA could not pay for a room for me when the delay was an “act of God,” but they could get me a discounted rate at a nearby hotel. I didn’t have much choice but to accept her offer. She gave me a voucher for The Grand Hyatt at DFW for $75 for the night. I thanked, her and the next day, sent a note at AA.com thanking AA for the voucher.
The hotel is close in, with an entrance in Terminal D. I checked in and saw other people who had missed their flight but had not asked AA for help walking up and asking for a room. With no reservation and no voucher they paid $180-$200 for the night. My $75 seemed pretty good!
I went to my room and quickly went to sleep. I woke up early Sunday morning and checked out, my total bill was $84. That was a big hit on a trip that only cost $220, but there was not much I could do about it. My almost-empty plane left DFW at 7:50 a.m., I was back in Austin an hour later, and home before 10 a.m.
It was a long weekend. In my years of travel I have come home from Bangkok, Frankfurt, Brussels, Dublin, Helsinki, Honolulu, and, when I was in the military, Baghdad and Kabul, but I had never needed to spend the night at an airport hotel before.
The good news was that I earned the regular mileage for the flight and the double EQMs for the DFW-SFO leg, giving me almost 81,000 EQMs for the year. With the two mileage runs I currently have scheduled I’ll be at 94,000 EQMs and will just need one more trip for Executive Platinum status.
The double EQMs bonus to SFO and LAX is in effect until the end of June. I’d get more miles for a trip to SFO than LAX, but it seems that every SFO trip I have had this year has had some sort of problem, either a delay or a cancellation, so I’d rather go to LAX. But when I add up the numbers, a trip to LAX would leave me with just over 99,000 EQMs, while an SFO trip would give me 100,009 EQMs. Only nine over the goal, but nine is enough. So, I’ll check the schedules for one more SFO trip.
In the meantime, I now have over 245,000 AAdvantage miles in my account and can look at taking my wife on a trip to Asia near the end of the year. A business class ticket is 110,000 miles each, so I now have enough for a trip. I just have to hope seats will be available when and where we want to go. And that is why I do mileage runs.
Disclaimer: I own stock in AMR, the parent corporation of American Airlines. The total value of my holdings is less then $75.