After several months of planning, it was finally time earlier this month for us to take our trip to Rome.

Our itinerary for the flight to Rome was not what I wanted, but it was the best I could get when using miles to pay for the flight. We’d leave Austin at 9:30 a.m., arriving at JFK at 2:10 p.m. That was okay. The problem was with the next part of the trip: our Rome flight wouldn’t leave until 8:50 p.m., giving us an almost 7 hour layover.  That was not what I wanted, but it was the best I could do with the miles I had. (I used 30,000 miles for each of us to get from Austin to Rome. I would have had better scheduling options if I had paid 60,000 miles for each of us, but I did not have enough miles in my account to cover that. )

A friend picked us up at the house at 6:30 a.m. to take us to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Thankfully rush hour traffic did not delay us very much and we arrived at the airport at 7:15. We entered the terminal and went to the American Airlines First Class check-in line. (We were flying coach, but one of the benefits of Platinum status is the ability to use the First Class line which should be much shorter than the regular coach line.)

AA had two agents checking in passengers on the First Class line which should have been enough, but it wasn’t on this day. One of the agents was helping a family with their reservations. The passengers could not speak English very well; the agent was helping them when we got on line, and was still helping them when we finished our check-in 20 minutes later.

We cleared security and went to the Admirals Club. My membership had expired and I wanted to renew it for another year. American had sent me an email offering me the chance to renew; if I did they would give me two luggage tags. I managed to pass on that offer. Instead, I wanted to renew on this date at the club for a couple of reasons. First, the club gets credit for each member who renews at the club instead of online. The AAngels at the Austin club have been so nice to me that I wanted to return the favor by helping them get credit for my renewal.

Second, since I had earned Platinum status, they would reduce the renewal fee by $100. I thought that was a good deal, but the AAngel told me even more. American Airlines has long been the Official Airline of Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, October is National Breast Cancer awareness month. Since I was renewing in October, American would reduce my fee by another $25 and donate $25 to the Komen foundation. So, I got the extra discount and money went to a good cause. Well done.

We soon boarded our nonstop flight to JFK in New York. We were on a 737-800, one of the newer planes in the fleet. The 737s are replacing the MD-80s and there are a variety of good reasons for them to do that. But there is one thing I will miss about the MD-80; the left side of the plane has only two seats; my wife and I could have a row to ourselves. The 737 is three-across on both sides of the plane, so a row of our own probably won’t happen.

However, one of the benefits that American offers its elite passengers is the chance to have a row for themselves. I reserved the window and aisle seats for us with the hope that the middle seat would not be taken. AA tries to keep those middle seats open as long as possible as a benefit to its elite members. Sure enough it worked this time, the middle seat remained open and we had the row to ourselves.

We had a smooth flight to JFK. One of the things I find interesting about a flight from Texas to the New York City area is the route. Instead of flying a direct route to New York, we go east to Atlanta, then turn north following the eastern seaboard to the New York area.

We arrived in New York on time, and began our long wait for the Rome flight. We went to the Admirals Club for lunch. The dining area offers a great view of American’s operations at JFK.

American Airlines aircraft lined up at JFK.

We finished our meal but still had a very long wait for our connecting flight. We read from our Kindles. We checked email. We watched TV. Eventually we got bored and left the club to wander through the terminal. One good thing about a long delay at JFK is that there are a lot of shops to visit. We visited most of them, then found another Admirals Club! So, we went into that one; it was smaller than the first club we had visited, but it was in a different part of the terminal and provided a different view.

We had a splendid view of this Air Berlin A-330 from our seats in the Admirals Club.

Eventually it was time to board our flight for Rome. Our pane was a 767; I had reserved seats next to the window where they are only two-across and we’d have the row to ourselves.

The next several hours were, in a word, uneventful; we had a meal, we watched a movie, and we slept for a few hours. Sometimes the best flight is one where nothing out of the ordinary happens — that was the story of this flight. If you are at 38,000 feet over the North Atlantic, dull and boring is good. :-)

We woke up to see the Alps out the port window.

We were able to sleep for a few hours, then woke up to a view of the Alps and a Continental Breakfast served by the flight attendants. Not long after that we began our descent into Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport. We landed two minutes early, not bad for an 8 hour 5 minute flight!

We got off the plane, enjoying the chance to stretch our legs and walk. We took the train across the airport to the arrivals terminal, where our first goal was to get our luggage. That was easier said than done. There were several luggage carousels, every one of them was very crowded, and we had no idea which one was ours. After stopping at five carousels we finally found ours, got our luggage, and moved on to the Customs and Immigration inspection. At least we thought we would do that.

With passports in hand we followed the signs to the “Non-EU resident” line, walked through door, and into the main terminal. That was it. No one looked at our passports, no one asked where we would be staying. No security check of any kind.  We passed through one more door and were in the arrivals hall.

Our hotel offered a shuttle bus but we’d have to wait four hours for the next one. After our long wait at JFK that was the last thing we wanted to do! I had visited FlyerTalk to see what those travelers had to say about getting from the airport to their Rome hotel. Most of them wrote about the bus and subway service that went downtown — maybe a good idea for some, but our hotel was not in the downtown area. Several people suggested using a limousine service; that sounded like a much better idea to me.

I made a reservation with Rome Shuttle Limousine and could not be happier with the service they gave us. When we entered the terminal our driver was waiting for us, holding up a sign with our name on it. He took us to the limo, a very nice Audi sedan, and drove us to our hotel, the Sheraton Roma Hotel & Conference Center located 11 miles away. The cost was only 40 Euro.

The entrance to the Sheraton Roman Hotel and Conference Center

I would have preferred to stay at a centrally located hotel in the downtown area but did not have enough Starwood points to do this. I could get five nights at the Sheraton Roma for 28,000 points. One night at the Westin Excelsior downtown was 20-25 thousand points. With my limited total, Sheraton Roma was our only choice.

We checked into the hotel and were in our room a mere 65 minutes after our plane landed. Our long anticipated Rome vacation had begun!

Where did we go? What did we do? I’ll cover that in future posts.