I recently completed a three-day business trip aboard American Airlines from Washington Reagan (DCA) to Miami International (MIA) and returning. I booked the flight one-week prior to travel and requested AAdvantage Elite upgrades on both the outbound and return.
AA 1653 DCA-MIA
As an AAdvantage Gold member, I can confirm an elite upgrade 24 hours in advance of departure. They rarely clear at the 24 hour window, but I have had good luck overall with upgrades. Most tend to clear 4 or 5 hours prior to the flight. This time, however, my upgrade cleared at exactly 24 hours, and I checked in for my flight on AA.com right after waking up the day prior to departure.
Mondays at any airport can be tricky, but I was not checking luggage and proceeded through the crowds straight to security at DCA. The American checkpoint has an elite line, and I was done with the shoe dance, and cavity search (I rang the alarm) in well under 10 minutes.
The Admirals Club at DCA does not open until 5:30AM which makes visiting when you have a 6AM flight darn near impossible. However, should you have occasion to stop by, the DCA Admirals Club is among the best there are, with an extraordinarily capable staff that seem to enjoy helping you travel better. Better yet, one of the bartenders is known throughout the Admirals Club network for his Bloody Mary’s.
We blasted off right on time even with the gentleman in 7C insisting that he had to go to the bathroom as soon as they pulled the jetbridge. In-flight service was fine but not extraordinary. I wonder if it says anything if I’ve come to think of a fine first class flight as one where I’m not smirked at by an airline employee on my way to the plane or during the flight?
Landing was slightly delayed due to the weather in Miami. There was a Tropical Storm approaching, afterall. Then we parked at the far end of the D Concourse where you can’t taxi in to the gate under your own power. The pilot has to shutdown the engines and then you get towed to the gate. That took a few minutes, but in the end we were only 10 minutes or so behind schedule.
AA 1136, MIA-DCA
Returning on Wednesday, I arrived at the airport earlier than planned. My elite upgrade had again cleared at the 24 hour mark, and I was already checked in. I navigated my way through the masses to find the First Class security line at the D Concourse. Getting there was fine, getting to the ID check took seconds, and then, we were released into the sea of masses attempting to funnel itself into exactly two walk-through metal detectors. To say that TSA needed another lane or two running would be an understatement. People were getting antsy. I had plenty of time, but I don’t care for standing in a security line in my socks any more than the next guy. Finally, I get to the plastic trays, unload the laptop, shoes, jacket and contraband liquid items and think I’m all set. I was…until the x-ray machine went down.
TSA moved us to the adjacent line, but didn’t manage the switch for us, so I wound up with about ten more people in front of me. Thanks TSA. Granted, if that’s the worse thing that ever happens to me, I’ll be ok. But the TSA operation in Miami could use some extra people or something. At least there were no ships in town. Ugh!
In any event, I finally made it through and faced the decision of attempting to get on an earlier flight, or camping out. I had a lot of work to do, and a confirmed First Class seat in two hours. You guessed it, I went to the Admirals Club. The D Concourse Admirals Club in Miami happens to be one of my favorites. It’s fairly new, pretty well designed, and on Wednesday at 2PM, not all that crowded. I poured through some work, the bartender poured some red wine, and I had a great time waiting for my flight.
I arrived at the gate about 35 minutes prior to scheduled departure. There was no airplane, but the board still said “on time.” I knew that wouldn’t happen. But within minutes the aircraft arrived and the people poured off. We were boarding soon enough. I’m not sure how they did it, but American turned that airplane pretty quick, and we pushed back only 5 minutes behind schedule.
For the first time in a LONG time, I had an empty seat beside me. That’s an especially unusual feat in First Class. But sure enough. I had room galore. And we were blessed with one of the best Flight Attendants I’ve seen on American. She was so good that I wrote American a letter about her. Always in the cabin, always smiling and always checking to see if any of her Customers needed anything. Dinner was standard airline fare, but certainly edible. And even with our late departure and a tropical storm to pass over, we were home 5 minutes early. And that capped off an almost perfect flight by today’s standards.
All in all, American did good. We’ll see if they can do the same thing twice in a row because I’m headed back to Miami in three weeks for a personal trip.