As January drew to a close I had two more mileage runs to complete: one  on the last Sunday of the month, the other on Tuesday, the last day of the month and the last day of the triple EQM promotion.  Although the two trips had the same itinerary, they could not have been more dissimilar.

I had the same itinerary for each trip: depart Austin at 7 a.m., have 1 hour 15 minutes to make my connection at DFW, have 1 hour 10 minutes at San Francisco (SFO), then 40 minutes on one day, 90 minutes on the other at DFW before taking my Austin flight home. At least that was the plan.

Sunday Mileage Run

My Sunday trip precisely followed that schedule. I boarded on time, the plane was less than half full so I was able to get a window seat and get a nice view of downtown Austin when we did our dawn departure. Once we got up in the air we had a nice view of downtown Austin and the Texas Capitol building.

DFW has parallel runways. As we were making our descent I caught this view of another plane making its descent on the other runway as the sun was starting to come over the horizon.

We had a smooth flight to DFW where I easily made my connection for the flight to SFO. Even though this was the last weekend of the triple EQM promotion, the flight had plenty of empty seats; the middle seat in my row was empty, as it was in almost every other row. That made it easier for me to get some sleep and also catch up on my reading. The in-flight movie was one I wanted to see, Moneyball, but I decided not to watch, preferring instead to get the DVD and watch it at home on my big-screen TV.

We arrived at SFO ten minutes early which gave me enough time to go to the Admirals Club, get a bite to eat, meet and chat with some other mileage runners, and then board the same plane and sit in the same seat for the return flight to DFW. I had put my name on the list for an upgrade to first, but there were so many Executive Platinums on the plane that I didn’t come close, I was #19 for the upgrade.

While there were a a lot of empty seat on the inbound flight, the outbound flight was packed, no empty seats in coach or first class. That becomes a major problem if you have to use the rest room. There are almost 180 seats in coach on the 737, but only two lavatories at the rear of the plane. It was not unusual to see 5-10 people standing in the aisle waiting to go to the bathroom. This creates a problem for the people who are leaving the lavatory to get back to their seat: the aisle is narrow enough as it, it’s even worse when you have to try to pass a dozen other passengers. And I imagine it is annoying to the people in the aisle seats in the last few rows to constantly have someone standing next to them waiting for their turn in the lavatory.

Even with all that, it was a smooth flight back to DFW. I had a very short wait until my AUS flight but that was okay, I arrived at gate 35 and would depart from gate 31. Even with the very short amount of time to walk from one gate to another, I still arrived at the gate after they had started to board.

I took my seat for the very short flight back to Austin. I passed on the complimentary beverage they offered and instead finished my bottle of water. Some pilots will announce in advance that the plane is about to begin its descent, that gives the passengers time to use the rest room if needed. But on a DFW-AUS flight where we are only in the air for 34 minutes, the pilots normally do not make that announcement and that was true in this case. Unfortunately, I did not use the rest room while we were in the air and, as we descended over Central Texas I looked forward to our arrival at the gate so I could rush to the men’s room. Little did I know that this would be a Murphy’s Law flight (if anything can go wrong it will go wrong).

By the time we landed on time I was even more anxious for us to get to the gate. But I soon noticed something was wrong, we were taxiing very slowly. Why7 Then I noticed that we were approaching the terminal from a different taxiway, not the one we normally use to get to the American Airlines gates. In fact, we pulled up at the far end of the terminal from AA’s gates and came to a stop. What was going on?

After a moment or two the pilot announced that due to a mechanical problem no AA  gate was available for us but they were working on it and we should be at the terminal in 10-15 minutes. Ten to fifteen minutes???  Oh no, I need to use the restroom now!

The seat-belt light was still on so I could not get up and use the restroom on the plane. I knew from past experience that the crew would not allow anyone to get up and walk to the restroom before we arrived at the terminal, so all I could do was sit, very uncomfortably, and wait for us to get to our gate which we did ten minutes later.

As the plane emptied I wished I had a seat near the front of coach and not in the exit row, aisle 21. Eventually everyone ahead of me managed to wrestle their overstuffed bags out of the luggage bin and get off the plane. As soon as it was time for me to get off I literally ran off the plane to the men’s room that was opposite our gate. Lessons learned on this flight: use the restroom on the plane when you can, particularly if you have been drinking water all day as I had done, and take advantage of a seat near the front of the plane if possible.

Tuesday Mileage Run

Two days later I was back in the air for my sixth and final mileage run of January. My itinerary, other than the longer wait at DFW in the evening,  was identical to the Sunday trip.

We departed Austin and arrived at DFW on time. My phone rang shortly after we landed, it was an American Airlines flight status update telling me my flight would depart on time at 9:15 a.m. I took the SkyLink to terminal D and was sorry to see my gate was not near the Admirals Club. I made my way to the gate and saw a notice that the flight was delayed and would not depart until 10 a.m. This surprised me because the flight status update normally lets me know of delays but not this time.  So, I walked back to the Admirals club where I had time to drink a cup of coffee and eat some fruit.

I normally don't see Air Force planes at DFW. I got a shot of this C-17 cargo plane from the SkyLink.

I spoke to  the AAngel behind the counter, she explained that the flight was delayed due to early morning fog in San Francisco; rather than having us take off on time only to  circle the area, wasting fuel while waiting for the fog to burn off, they would simply delay our departure on this end. That made sense.

After a while I went back to the gate. We started to board at 9:25 and pushed back from the terminal at 10 a.m. However, the air traffic delay must have still been in effect — instead of taking off we taxied to a holding area where we sat for another 20 minutes, not taking off until 10:25 a.m.

I knew this delay would make a mess of my schedule for the day, but at least I would not miss my return flight form SFO, it would be on the same aircraft and thus could not leave before we landed.

This out bound flight was like my Sunday flight with lots of empty seats, the middle seat was empty on almost every row. We made up some time on the flight, landing at 12 noon, only 50 minutes late. If we had been on time I would have had more than one hour at SFO and might have had enough time to grab a bite to eat, but not on this trip. When I finally got off the plane I had enough time to go to the Admirals Club, use the men’s room, refill my water bottle, grab some fruit and go back to the gate whee they had already started to board the outbound flight. No food at SFO on this day, I was glad I had managed to take the fruit!

We took off at 12:55, 45 minutes behind schedule and were able to make up some time, arriving at DFW at 5:59 p.m., 25 minutes late. I got a call from AA flight status telling me that my flight would depart on time at 7:05, that barely gave me enough time to finally grab a bite to eat. I stopped at the food court, bought a meal and wolfed it down, this was not the day to take my time eating. When I finished the meal I quickly walked to the gate where they should have already started the boarding process. But when I got to the gate I saw they had not only not started to board, they didn’t even have an aircraft. What was going on?

The gate agent explained that a flight was inbound from Sacramento where there had been a weather delay but it would arrive shortly. This really annoyed me; I know the airline cannot control weather delays, but flight status should have told me the flight would be delayed, if I had known that I could have eaten at a more relaxed pace and even stopped at the Admirals Club.

The Sacramento flight eventually arrived, thankfully it was not very full and they were able to empty it quickly and allow us to board. We took off at 7:30, 25 minutes late and arrived in Austin at 8:25, again 25 minutes late. It had been a rough day — four flights and only one was on time, but I got home safely, that was the most important fact.

So January came to an end, a month in which I could ask the question “Where did I go more this month, the grocery store or San Francisco?” The correct answer was San Francisco. A week later all of standard miles and most of my bonus miles had posted to my account.

My AAdvantage summary at the end of January.

With 58,396 EQMs I had already earned Gold and Platinum status for the year, and had more EQMs than I did for all of 2011! I still had not received the bonus miles for the problem flights (my rtip on Jet Blue and the trip that ended at DFW);  those should post next week. With my two additional mileage runs in February which will give me double EQMs, I should have almost 75,000 EQMs by the end of the month, putting Executive Platinum well within reach for the year. All in all, it was a busy month, but a productive one. I look forward now to taking only two trips in February.

Disclosure: I own stock in AMR, the parent company of American Airlines. As of 2/15/12, my shares are worth less than $80.