I had initially booked what was essentially a roundtrip between JFK and MCO with a stop in MIA on the way and CLT on the way home. I had been in Orlando for the weekend a couple of weeks before but this trip was a little shorter! I routed via MIA to get the longhaul 767-300 that operates daily but everything else was 737-800s with an Airbus narrowbody thrown in.
Route: New York – John F. Kennedy Int. – Miami – International
Airline: American Airlines
Flight Number: AA942
Aircraft: Boeing 767-323/ER
Seat: 6A (First Class)
Distance: 1235 miles
Duration: 2hrs 38mins
Route: WAVEY EMJAY J174 ORF J121 ISO J121 CHS J79 OMN HILEY7
I live not far from JFK and with plenty of Uber credits burning a hole in my metaphorical pocket I ordered one up for the short drive over. I arrived at a rather rainsoaked Terminal 8 right around 8.30am, the driver pulling up at the first door, the most convenient for Flagship Check-In, something that my oneworld Emerald status with British Airways allows.
There is a manned podium just outside with a checklist of eligible passengers but only for those who are in international first class or the premium flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco so a quick flash of my Executive Club card was required and the rope parted.
As is usually the case the Flagship Check-In area was empty and I grabbed my boarding passes from the agent who laughed when all of them started spitting out of her machine! One of the real boons of the Flagship Check-In is that it exits at the front of the TSA Pre-Check line which that morning was rather lengthy. This was not TSA Pre-Check’s finest hour with the line taking a while to clear, in part because Cathay Pacific’s cabin crew decided they couldn’t be bothered to wait in line so barged past. I was in a bit of a quandary as the WTMD had quite a long line but the millimeter wave detector did not, but it seemed the TSO on the other side was taking an age…after quite a kerfuffle I went through the MWD and ended getting a thorough scan indeed…watch off and inspected, was asked to look at the ceiling for unknown reasons, ha!
After that I headed down the concourse to the Travelex bureau. I haven’t been to a currency exchange in years, probably more than a decade, and this reminded me why but in this case my wife was attending a bridal shower the day after and wanted some Euros for the bride-to-be’s honeymoon. The line was maybe five people long but took more than 30mins to clear! Annoyingly I was aware of another Travelex in Terminal 8 but kept hoping in vain this would start to clear faster. It didn’t and I hated myself afterwards. The young girls behind me looking to stock up on “Thai dollars” were wowed by Terminal 8 and how “fancy” it was!
After that complete palaver I headed up to the Flagship Lounge. Although I have visited it dozens of times in the past few years it was the first time since the new lounge opened that I’d been there in the morning. For my afternoon and evening visits I always head to the new Bridge/Annex section but that only opens at 2pm, something the agent at the entrance confirmed, but she did say at least the main lounge was quiet.
All the prime seats by the window were taken except one so I asked the guy next to it if it was free, getting a snarkier response than I expected back, “Well it isn’t now you’re going to be sitting there!”. Righty then!….I went off to check out the breakfast spread and make myself a mimosa. On my way back I noticed a different set of seats had freed up so decided to move myself away from the moody guy.
I listened to some music, enjoying the working (for once!) wifi and a light breakfast, watching B-KPL push back en-route for Hong Kong. I thought of those girls cooped up in row 60 something for the next fifteen plus hours…
With boarding scheduled for 10.35am and this being a widebody aircraft I figured heading over to Gate 37 at about 10.20am was wise. Indeed, right as I got to the gate they called for Concierge Key passengers and then the Group 1 passengers flooded the gate before the agent even made the call!
I settled into 6A, reading a book for my upcoming trip next month and watched the cabin fill up. There wasn’t much sign of the FAs so pre-departure drinks looked like they weren’t going to happen, however, once the flow of passengers died down I saw a tray of water and orange juice appear. Given the relatively large size of this First Class cabin (28 seats, fully occupied) a custom drink for each person might be a bit of a stretch.
At 11.10, a few minutes after scheduled departure we started a taxi towards 04L behind a Terminal 1 bound Air France 77W. Not much ground traffic meant that we were quickly at the threshold, a SAA A340 and Trans States branded Embraer EMB-145 following close behind.
Low cloud meant we were enveloped shortly after wheels up and it remained that way as we turned south east and headed out over the water. The whiteout grew rather tiresome and it wasn’t until we reached the Delmarva Peninsula that I learned there was some blue sky to be found!
Inflight service began shortly thereafter with the earbuds being offered (I’d love to know who, whether paying for a first class ticket, or travelling regularly enough to earn upgrades, takes these $2 items!), followed by the hottest hot towels known to man. Drinks and nuts were brought around at the same time, and opting for a cocktail plus water I was glad to have the large side table for all my crap although it did become something of a juggling act when turbulence came!
Water top ups were offered when my FA, Kayla, came around to clear up my drinks and nut garbage and I could then see the carts wheeled into place for the main meal. I locked my rather clunky table into place ready for the cart’s arrival.
Kayla confirmed my pre-ordered pepper and asked which of the three bread offerings I preferred, noting my choice of the cheesy bread as being “really good”. She asked if I wanted a top up on my Bloody Mary and said her colleague would be along in a minute. As I confirmed I watched her make a subtle hand signal (whilst still looking at me) for the FA in the galley who was along about 30 seconds later with a top up. Very smooth!
As my food was cleared away I was offered another water top up and I enjoyed a smidgen of blue sky whilst the cookies were rustled up. The young lady across the aisle seemed to have no idea about what snickerdoodle was and so took the last chocolate chip, resulting in Kayla popping back to the galley for more.
I reclined the seat a little more and pulled the blanket up over me, just enjoying the ability to stretch my legs before the narrowbody first class seats that awaited me. I was surprised at how few people had their window shapes up, across the entire cabin there were probably no more than five open, two of which were mine!
With about 40mins to go it was announced that because of some chop on the way down the cabin crew were going to ready us for landing. I packed my items away, returned the seat to its safest but most uncomfortable position and glanced out the window hoping to see some kind of land mass beneath. We did head inland and made several long sweeping turns out over the wilderness, approaching over Doral onto runway 12.
As I looked out enjoying the action of the departures on the 8s my phone started buzzing. Notifications from AA that one of my connections was no longer going to work. Due to a late departing flight from MCO my CLT connection was now going to be 10mins. The app presented a number of options, all involving an overnight at MCO and a horrifically early start. The AA app is rather clunky and it was during these kind of times that became frustrating. I was able to pull up on the “Book Flights” section a MCO-MIA-JFK option for that same evening, and it appeared there was one seat left in First Class on each flight. This would actually have me returning on the same plane that I was about to fly to MIA on and get me into JFK around 12.30am.
We docked at gate D2 and I quickly made my way up to the Skytrain and then over to the Flagship Lounge at D30, thinking this would be a quick matter and I could enjoy a beverage or two. I double checked the seats were still there before approaching the agent and she got on the phone with reservations to get it ticketed….and 10mins passed…and 20mins passed…and 30mins passed…and then it wasn’t far off time for me to head back to D12 for my flight to MCO. She said I should just head off and by the time I got there it should be done and the gate agent should be able to get my boarding passes.
With some trepidation I retraced my steps on the Skytrain and approached a boarding process that was well underway. There was one agent for the Priority side and another for the general boarding line. The Priority agent walked me over to the gate agent and I explained the situation. She seemed completely thrown by my planned routing and explained the reason the boarding passes won’t work or I couldn’t be checked in was because I was in MIA and connecting through MIA! In a bit of a panic I boarded thinking I’d arrive too late at MCO to do anything. Then I had a minor brainwave…check in on the app! With electronic boarding passes in my Apple Wallet all seemed sorted.
Route: Miami – International – Orlando – International (McCoy)
Airline: American Airlines
Flight Number: AA2464
Aircraft: Boeing 737-823
Seat: 4A (First Class)
Distance: 252 miles
Route: HEDLY2 HEDLY J53 PHK BAIRN4
The cabin was relatively full by the time I boarded and one of the two FAs stopped by to offer me a drink. After the relative panic of the last 90mins a Sam Adams was a welcome thirst quencher.
Over recent years the vast majority of my flying on AA has been on the 738s and 4A or 4F is my usual pick of the seats so this was very familiar territory, in fact a review of my Flightradar24 history indicated I had flown this particular 737 twice in the last year alone, one of those times in this very seat, another in 4F. This was a 738 without the PTVs but it did at least have the Boeing Sky Interior.
With boarding wrapped up we were on the move fairly quickly but being at the end of the D Concourse did have quite a lengthy taxi over to the 8s for departure. A minor ground hold allowed me to enjoy the elderly cargo queens of Amerijet, ABX Air and the like, types passengers will rarely fly again…
Just after 4pm we were heading skywards, with more views of the cargo aircraft on the northern ramp before we climbed into the cloudy skies above, our ascent allowing a brief view of Miami Beach before we were fully in the clouds.
Due to the weather it was announced that there would be no service in the cabin today, not a complete hardship on such a short flight but after fifteen minutes aloft it seemed this announcement didn’t apply to the forward cabin. With most of the other passenger dozing I was first served and switched over to my usual go-to, vodka with diet Mist (or whatever Pepsico are calling it this week).
Shortly after the snack basket made an appearance. Even though many of my flights have the snack basket I always feel such an amateur combing through it for preferred choices due to the offerings being switched up for given months or different stations just having different options. With a stroopwaffel to go and some popcorn for a nibble I was set for our lengthy journey!
Annoyingly I couldn’t get the T-Mobile free login to prompt for wifi despite this being a GoGo equipped aircraft. AA are moving away from GoGo which as a T-Mobile customer that often takes shorter flights is mildly annoying but these days I seem to spend more and more time on the new Viasat equipped aircraft where I don’t get the free time anyways! I listened to some music and read for a short while until I felt us start our descent from the cruise altitude of 19,000ft.
As we descended further the cloud cover became more sporadic and with no idea where we were I looked for familiar parts of the Orlando area and failed. My wife has grandparents in the area and we make trips every couple of months, most recently a couple of weeks prior. Parts started to look more recognizable and then I saw the flash of the threshold for runway 25 at ORL, then I knew we were closing in on one of the 18s at MCO.
My last few arrivals at MCO have all been onto runway 35R, so a very lengthy taxi over to the gates AA use, whereas this was the complete opposite. Very quickly we were docked up on gate 39 and I wished farewell to the crew, knowing full well I would see them in a few minutes!
As soon as I disembarked I headed over to the gate agent for true boarding passes. I could have gone to the Admirals Club but it was quite a walk and it would probably be quick just to get them where I was. The gate agent had seen me come off the plane and was a bit confused when I explained what was going on. However, I had visions of the British Airways systems not understanding that I could take two AA2464 flights in the same day (yes, both MIA-MCO and MCO-MIA were the same flight number) so wanted the true boarding passes for that inevitable claim later on.
With a travel voucher shown in exchange for two new boarding passes I now had a total of seven in hand! I waited in the gate area whilst the other passengers disembarked. Sometimes being first off the plane is great, other times it sucks!
As the disembarkation lane thins out the gate agent readies the populace by explaining the boarding process and a slow gaggle of priority gate lice start nearing the two lanes. For some reason nobody moves forward when Group 1 is called (weird but this is MCO where weird is normal among the travelling population) so despite being some way from the podium I am first to get my boarding pass scanned.
Route: Orlando – International (McCoy) – Miami - International
Airline: American Airlines
Flight Number: AA2464
Aircraft: Boeing 737-823
Seat: 6F (First Class)
Distance: 246 miles
Route: MLB HILEY7
The flight attendant spotted me as I crossed the threshold into the aircraft, pointed and laughed, especially when I told him I didn’t like Orlando very much and wanted to go home. With my late assignment of this flight I’m relegated to 6F, a similar fate lay ahead for the flight to JFK with these being the only available seats when I checked the app a couple of hours before. The other scared passengers that crowded the gate did mostly appear to be in First Class too, I guess they were too scared to go first!
I plugged my phone into the power port, which for those of you who haven’t flown AA’s most prevalent aircraft in First Class is on the front of the divider between the seats. After some time alone my seatmate arrives with a giant bag. In her clumsy attempts to get seated she knocks my plug out of the socket which in turn causes my phone to tumble onto the floor. Nothing was said of that although in true British fashion I probably tutted and shook my head in disapproval.
The flight attendant came around for drinks asking if I want “another Sam Adams” but I catch him off guard by going straight to the vodka/soda concoction. Seatmate struggles to figure out how I got my drinks table out (the latch is in a similar position to the power port) but due to the earlier events I refrain from assisting. My opinion of said seatmate decreased further when she was asked by the FA to move this giant bag in preparation for departure. The attempt to put it under the seat in front was so feeble I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or get angry. It was a kind of one handed grab of some soft material that moved the bag less than a micron before she threw her hands in the air as if to give up. The bag remained in this place for the flight’s duration!
We pushed back a few minutes late starting our taxi over to runway 17R, departing behind a Delta A321 bound for ATL and as before disappeared into the clouds a short while after departure.
Due to flight time the service followed a near identical routine, with the vodka Mist top up (plus additional water) and a couple more items procured from the snack basket.
Again, not much to enjoy from the window, the most entertaining thing all flight being the guy in the aisle seat ahead of me who donned an eye mask…for a 35min flight? Was there something he knew and we didn’t?
Before long we were descending again, this term emerging from the clouds right above Boca Raton airport, with its distinctive single parallel runway right next to I-95. Connecting gate information was announced and when it was announced someone was going to Tampa I felt a small sigh of relief that perhaps I wasn’t the craziest person onboard today. It reminded me of back about 10yrs ago (when flying First Class on United/US Airways was extremely lucrative for bmi Golds) I flew an itinerary which had an OAK-LAX-SFO connection. On the way into LAX the FA read down the list, “San Francisco? That can’t be right, you’d have to be crazy to do that!”…
Drinks and detritus were cleared away and the same FA as before asks the bozo beside me to put the bag away, again, she makes not even a halfhearted attempt to put the bag under the seat in front and leaves it where it is.
We had a similar approach into MIA, heading out away from civilization with those twisting turns this time bringing us in on 8L, right next to another sister aircraft departing.
It was announced we would be arriving on….*drum roll*…D2 again! Of all the gates I’d arrive on the same one twice in one day. It made me wonder how many people had arrived into MIA twice in one day and used the same gate, it can’t be many!
The deja vu portion of the day continued as I took the Skytrain back to the Flagship Lounge, one of the ladies working the entrance noting, “hey, weren’t you here earlier?”. Yes, I was! This time upstairs I got beyond the entrance though and wow, the lounge is huge, it just kept going on and on. JFK needs this kind of space! I found myself a seat almost back where I started (the lounge forms a large O-shape around the concourse but one level up) and then went back around to scope out the different areas and eye up the food options. I was glad I had plenty of time to kill before heading back to D12 for the JFK flight.
Just after 8pm I decided to give the AMEX Centurion lounge a whirl. I hadn’t had time to check this lounge out on my previous visits to MIA and was keen to see what the fuss was all about. The people seemed really friendly and the lounge itself looked good, but a lounge can only seem so good when it’s at what seemed like 200% capacity.
(Top image courtesy of Sun Sentinel)
After a very sparsely populated Flagship Lounge this felt like a bus terminal but with cocktails. People threw trash on the floor and were generally making a mess faster than the janitorial staff could clean it up. I sucked down my Key Lime Gimlet, ignoring the food (that did look pretty decent) and left for the Admirals Club across the way….yes, your eyes are not deceiving you, I chose an Admirals Club over the AMEX lounge. Frankly going back to the Flagship Lounge seemed a bit of a waste at this stage.
This Admirals Club had been redone since my last visit and was much larger, and I do like the cocktails that my oneworld Emerald gets me for free, even though each Admirals Club seems to make them slightly differently! I found myself a little private seat, watched the time and enjoyed my Blood Orange Margarita away from the bar that was playing a repeat of the royal wedding.
A few minutes ahead of boarding time I pack my things away, hand over my spare drinks voucher to another random passenger and take the short walk to gate D12….where the majority of people are watching the same royal wedding coverage piped through the speakers above my head. The gate agent announced our flight crew were late coming in from the Caribbean and that a 30min delay would be posted. With the Admirals Club so close I just went back….got more drinks vouchers…got another cocktail and waited. The app showed just a 10min delay so I left just after I anticipated boarding would begin for that one. I arrived at the gate to a huge boarding line, but walked right to the front of the Priority lane and onboard.
Route: Miami – International – New York – John F. Kennedy Int.
Airline: American Airlines
Flight Number: AA1406
Aircraft: Boeing 737-823
Seat: 6F (First Class)
Duration: 2hrs 19mins
Route: HEDLY2 HEDLY J53 CRG J51 SAV J55 CHS J121 SIE CAMRN4
The first class cabin was still half empty, with no seatmate next to me yet. This was a 2015 build 737 replete with the full monty…Boeing Sky Interior, PTVs, AVOD etc. It isn’t too often I get these amongst my 737 travels, maybe not even 10% of flights do I get “the works”.
My boarding experience wasn’t quite as good as when I last took this same flight a couple of years ago. My wife and I had been travelling back from St Thomas, USVIs and happened to have the same flight crew on both flights, despite being different 757s. We got chatting with the captain during boarding at STT and then when he saw us at MIA he invited us onto the flight deck. My wife then mentioned my (minimal) flying experience and so the captain sat me in the left seat and we started going through pre-flight checks with the First Officer, only returning to our seats after I’d fired up the APU! Very cool experience indeed!
Anyways, back to 2018! My seatmate was one of the last to board and I guess it was déjà vu day because this guy also had an enormous sports bag and couldn’t be bothered to put it anywhere other than by his feet. Again an FA points it out, again the FA is ignored, ha!
No pre-departure drinks on this one, my liver probably appreciated the break, but the flight attendant did come around to take a drink order for once we were airborne. As was the case earlier in the day we trundle out to the 8s and I like to think in a bit of an effort to make up for our delay we have a rolling takeoff, getting up in the air just after 10.20pm.
From the starboard side there wasn’t a whole lot to see before we turned northward and climb up into the clouds again. Today was not the best day of flying for views! I couldn’t be bothered to read, or watch TV and was quite content with just leaving the moving map on but sadly the moving map didn’t want to co-operate. I could see at other seats it was tracking and updated but mine would just stick in the same place showing me the location for whenever the map was activated, therefore I spent most of the flight going in and out of the map to update the location. Ugh!
Around 30mins into the flight and the drinks and nuts were brought around with the cookies following just a few minutes after. I reclined a little further back into my seat to enjoy the ride although sadly it seemed not everyone was onboard with that idea….there seemed to be a literal never ending stream of people from coach coming up to use the First Class bathroom. As one would leave, another would arrive, stomping their way through the cabin as they did so. I could see that even the FAs trying to perform service were being bothered by it and at one stage one of the flight attendants went back, and drew the curtain fully and forcefully which seemed to do the trick.
A quick check on my phone and the T-Mobile banner was back! I guess a one off glitch on that other segment so I enjoyed a little more online music with the blue tinged BSI lighting turned right down only once we passed over North Carolina.
From a service standpoint I rounded my day off with another vodka Mist and asked about a Baileys coffee just before descent. On my flight a couple of weeks ago (also back from Florida to NYC) I asked about a Baileys coffee towards the end and the FA said she had just binned the coffee but insisted on making another brew, I didn’t want to make the same mistake again! This time around both drinks were brought at the same time. I don’t think if the FA knew but just soon after she brought them over we began our descent rather early, just as we passed over the MD/DE border.
Everything was cleared away quickly and the lights brought up as we headed out over the New York/New Jersey Bight. I couldn’t tell if we’d come in on the 31s or get the tour of Long Island and come in on the 22s. In this case it was the latter and with very thick cloud almost right down to deck the guys up front planted a greaser onto 22L at 12.40am. We taxied around the back of Terminals 1 and 4 docking at gate 36.
As is often the case on these late arrivals Terminal 8 was eerily quiet and I was quickly into my waiting Uber and home, a little later than I planned but a lot earlier than it could have been! I check the Flightradar24 app and those poor girls were just on final approach into Hong Kong!