I was on a Circle Pacific ticket on oneworld and had just concluded the US transcontinental flight portion between JFK and LAX. I decided to go on a side trip on an exploratory tour of the United States, visiting San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale and Chicago. The purpose was mainly to visit some of my relatives in California as well as experience some of the tourist beaches of Florida, to end with a visit to another of the mega-cities next to New York. All of the routes will be on AA since it would earn me miles towards my CX Marco Polo status and some of their prices were amongst the cheapest for the routings I wanted.
AA1954 Los Angeles LAX – San Francisco SFO
14 Mar 2011
Scheduled ETD/ETA: 1445-1605
Actual Time of Departure/Arrival: 1619-1715
McDonnell Douglas MD80 (S80) N9622A
Seat No: 12A
With my luggage checked all the way to SFO, and boarding pass in hand I arrived at LAX to find that my flight for SFO was docked at gate 40 at the end of the concourse from where I alighted from my flight from JFK. With just a short walk away, I had time to browse through magazines at the opposite store before boarding commenced at 14:15. The oneworld Ruby got Priority Access and I was able to board early on what is a light load for the day. Economy class cabin is perhaps 50% full leaving plenty of space for passengers. This flight was interesting for me too since it would be my first ride on an MD-80 for as long as I could remember. I might have taken this plane before, but definitely not on AA or in the States. Anyway this series of plane is quite rare outside the United States, and since it would also be the first time I sample AA’s Economy Class, it was a short flight that I could just sit back and enjoy. That is until the drama that will unfold…
The light load for the flight today meant that cabin doors were closed quickly at 14:30pm, but air traffic control in SF holds up the plane and captain announced that the flight will only proceed on 14:55 which meant a short wait on the tarmac. There was a passenger seated on the aisle side of the seat leaving the middle seat empty on my row and the ample legroom for me made it look like I was seated on an intra-Europe business class. Comfortable indeed for a short one hour plus flight. Right as the captain promised, pullback began at 14:59, but as we approached the runway, the drama unfolded. The captain made an announcement that there will be further delays and steered the plane back, returning to the gate as the new departure time is pushed back to 16:20. The return to the terminal meant I got some good shots of some jumbo jets of Korean Air, Lufthansa and China Airlines. Reminds me of the variety in London Heathrow.
Since we had a one and a half hour delay, passengers had the option to disembark and head back to the terminal. Only a couple of passengers did that with the rest preferring to remain on board. My seat mate decided at this time to move to a new seat several rows in front, giving me the whole row 12. I just relaxed at my window seat browsed through the inflight reading materials, and took some shots of the cabin including the McDonnell Douglas insignia on the windows.
Slightly less than an hour later, the second pullback commenced at 15:55. There was a short wait again at Tarmac until the plane start to proceed slowly to the runway at 1414. The slow taxi towards the runway allowed me to spot several some new planes including a 777-300ER operated by V Australia, the Qantas A380 with the same registration that I would actually take on my flight to Melbourne a month later and some other domestic jets of US Airways.
Finally though, the plane took off at 16:19 and I managed to capture one 777-300ER by Cathay which had the special livery during take off. Perhaps the delay had one good thing out of it since taking off into the bay was really nice and scenic under the sunset. The light was just nice to allow me nice shots of the beaches fronting LAX though very soon we were out over the ocean and all I could see was that of the vast horizon over the Pacific.
Beverage service proceeded shortly after we reached cruising altitude and I ordered a cup Ginger ale as I saw it as one of the beverage provided in the in-flight menu. The light load meant the flight attendant was generous enough to give me a full can with a cup filled with ice. The complimentary snack bar at the Andaz proved useful since I had taken a packet of chips which proved to be a good accompaniment to the drink. I was also able to continue the in-flight entertainment with some TV shows that I aired on my MacBook Air. The flight time meant I was only able to finish one episode before our descent into the Bay area.
The cloudy weather around the Bay area was a stark contrast to the sunny skies of LA. With the plane’s approach from Palo Alto, I managed some decent shots of the Stanford Campus and the Palo Alto region before we landed at 1715. Right before landing, I noticed the queue of planes queueing on the tarmac to depart from SF, including several regional jets, a United 757, Emirates 777 and KLM MD-11. The MD-11 was the most unique of the trio and that was a real highlight upon landing. Well, at least now we know that the fault really lies with heavy air traffic at SFO and not totally AA’s fault. Disembarking was pretty smooth with the light load and my baggage also came out quick with priority tags recognized since it was one of the first on the carousel, though I don’t really see any other bags around. There was clear signs directing me to the rental car counters and I headed to Hertz to collect my Toyota RAV4 for my stay in SF.
Overall the light load of the flight brings lots of perks for the passengers including more space and generous servings of beverages. Other than that there was no other special feature in AA’s Economy worth highlighting. And since I wasn’t due to connect to any flights or have any pressing issue in SF, the delay didn’t really bother me that much, though I thought more could be done by AA in making passengers more comfortable during the wait in LAX, or maybe have a later boarding in the first place rather than being in the plane watching all the drama unfold.
AA2578 switched to AA1943 San Francisco International SFO – Los Angeles International LAX
MD80 (S80) N9628W
Scheduled ETD/ETA: 1900-2020
Actual Time of Departure/Arrival: 1913-2009
Seat No: 11E
Initially I had timed my departure so that I could be on time but somehow through some miscalculation, after dropping off my car at Hertz, I arrived at the airport late again. On the train ride to the domestic terminal, I spotted 2 jumbo jets operated by British Airways and Qantas as well as the same MD-11 by KLM. It seems that KLM flies this bird frequently to SF. Arriving late at the airport isn’t usual for me but it has happened for the second time in a row; and only the second time ever in my life. I do hope its not going to be a frequent occurrence in the future. Luckily for me AA2578 wasn’t the last flight out of SF to LA, and I was able to be placed on standby for the last AA flight to LAX on AA1943. The agent offered me the chance to guarantee a seat in the flight for an extra fee but I just decided to take my chances and just proceeded to check my luggage in, since I noticed the flight wasn’t really packed and there was light passenger traffic in the terminal itself.
Security line was short and somehow the normal line was shorter than priority line with only one agent serving both lines. Hence she took turns, alternating between those on Priority and the normal line, to send us into the screening area. The short wait and smooth security screening was great and this allowed me lots of time to burn in the terminal. I utilized this time by exploring around the terminal to check out the various food options in the terminal. Having decided to get an early dinner, I settled on crispy tacos with mesquite seasoned chicken around the area where United Airline flights departs from. United seems to hold the vast majority of flights in SF and sort of has a mini hub for Star Alliance members with Air Canada also utilizing terminal 3 in SF. Clear day at SF also meant great opportunity for photo taking and I saw a lot of different United and Continental planes having different liveries just before the final restructuring makes the liveries standard. Somehow I find the new livery to be really boring. Another highlight was the number of Embraers operated by Air Canada in the terminal.
I returned to my departure gate after taking my shots and passed the time by watching more shows on my MacBook Air. I noticed several other people on the standby list and before long I went over to check with the agent who mentioned that since it wasn’t a full flight, my standby seat would be of no problem. I just had to wait for a new assignment. Boarding call commenced at 18:24 and I managed to snag seat 11E which is a dreaded middle seat. Well latecomers do not have any choice I guess, and this ought to teach me a lesson on not to be late again in the future. Luckily it was a short enough flight and upon boarding, it seemed like a full flight. The captain announced a short flight time of just 59 minutes, which was great since I do not really want to spend much longer in the middle seat. Our plane began its pullback at 18:59 while the crew made their safety demonstration. The captain also mentioned the clear weather and what looks to be a scenic flight before we take off for the skies at 19:13. Fortunately the wait for the runway wasn’t as long as I expected it, unlike the time when I arrived in SF.
Beverage service started shortly after take off and i guess that due to the full load my order of ginger ale was given in a cup and not the whole can. As the captain promised, it was a clear night in LA on arrival and passengers are treated to a glittering view of the street lights showing the massive sprawl of the metropolis that seems to grow outwards. It was indeed a short flight as the plane landed at 20:09, slightly ahead of schedule. Similar to my LAX-SFO flight, there was nothing to add for the service, though it was a very punctual flight which made my seat in the middle more bearable.