A First Class Experience on American Airlines (Trip Report)

As usual, we had a fun but short weekend in Indianapolis. After having my fill of good food and hanging out with the inlaws, I was ready to head back. I actually was looking forward to these flights since we Champagne and Scotch Before Departurehad booked First Class on American. They did not disappoint.

Back when we were looking at holiday flights over the summer, the prices were pretty high for the return on this peak day. So, we looked at mileage availability. American was our first choice since we could use one way awards and the outbound flight was cheap enough to buy. Sure enough, they had a perfect flight in the afternoon going through St Louis. While coach was only available at the higher 25,000 mile one way level, First Class was able at the saver level. That required the same number of miles as coach. Needless to say, we flew up front.

We arrived at the airport in a light snow. When we tried to check-in online the night before, we were told we couldn’t. Not sure why, but we just checked in at the kiosk when we arrived at Indy with no trouble. It spit out our coach boarding passes right away – no First Class on this little plane.

The airport was fairly empty for such a big travel day, and we parked ourselves at the gate waiting for the flight. Our plane was a little late getting out to Indy, probably because of de-icing, but we didn’t mind. Our layover in St Louis was long.

December 27, 2009
American #5049 Lv Indianapolis (IND) 1220p Arr St Louis (STL) 1220p
IND: Gate B7, Runway 23R, Dept 43m Late
STL: Gate C9, Runway 30L, Arr 40m Late
Aircraft: N376SK, Embraer ERJ-135, AA Connection Colors, Mostly Full
Seat: 4C
Flight Time: 39m

I thought we were supposed to be on an ERJ-140, but instead an ERJ-135 pulled up. This was also operated by Chautauqua, just as our Midwest flight was, but this one still had its American paint. That Deicing in Indianapoliswon’t last for long as American continues its St Louis hub downsizing.

We boarded early and took our seats, just one row behind our seats on the flight from Milwaukee. There was very little to distinguish this flight from our last except for the big Eagle bolted on to the front bulkhead.

We ended up being even later because we had to de-ice ourselves before taking off into the muck. Once on our way, drinks were served and we sat in the clouds for much of the ride. Toward the end, we peaked out briefly and then we stared our descent into a cloudy and snow-covered Landing in Snowy St LouisSt Louis.

When we landed, it was overcast, and we taxied to our gate. Soon, we could see the sun peaking out. I was excited to be in St Louis once again after a long absence. When I was in college in DC, I used to fly Southwest between Baltimore and the West, and at least one of my usual two stops involved St Long Walkway to Frontier's D Gate - St LouisLouis.

What we arrived to find was a very sad, declining airport. American has settled its remaining flights in the front of the C concourse. Concourse B now only has AirTran with the rest of the gates shuttered. Concourse D has one Frontier gate and a couple of flights for Great Lakes and Cape Air with their little puddle jumpers. The rest of the long concourse has actually been boarded up and you can’t even go down there Concourse D's Abrupt End - St Louisanymore. If only those TWA-red walls could talk . . .

Lots of businesses were boarded up and there were very few people anywhere except for at the beginning of C concourse where American was clearly having a good day. I saw flights to places like Wichita and Jacksonville, knowing that those would all be gone in a matter of months. You could probably fit all remaining St Louis carriers on a single concourse, except for Southwest which remains in the East Terminal, separated from everyone else.

[See all my photos of St Louis Lambert’s sad decline]

I found myself a power outlet to plug in for a full charge as we waited. I spent the rest of the time trying to help some clients who had the potential of missing a connection in Chicago. (They got an earlier flight and made it.)

Soon, it was time to board.

December 27, 2009
American #1727 Lv St Louis (STL) 210p Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 430p
STL: Gate C6, Runway 30L, Dept 30m Late
LAX: Gate 48B, Runway 25L, Arr 10m Early
Aircraft: N553AA, Douglas MD-82, Silver Colors, 100% Full
Seat: 4D, First Class
Flight Time: 3h36m

As boarding started, there was a pretty good squall passing through dumping snow on the airport and reducing visibility significantly. We took our seats in First Class and the flight attendant came by and took our coats. This MD-80 was nearly 20 years old, and it looked a little worse for wear.

Immediately after we sat, our flight attendant came by and offered us drinks. Kirsten had champagne and I had a very generous helping of scotch. The rest of the plane boarded and soon it was time to take off.

In the few minutes between boarding and departure, the squall had moved out and a low partly cloudy layer took over. Thankfully, that meant we didn’t have to de-ice, so we made our way to the runway and took off. Here’s the video. (And yes, I know I’m not supposed to have my camera out . . .)

I was excited to sit up front in an MD-80 for the first time, because I had heard it was so quiet. It was certainly quieter than in the back, but I didn’t think it was anything special. The service, however, was, thanks to our flight attendant Robin.

I was bummed to find out there wasn’t any internet access on this flight, but I still had my computer with me to do plenty of work. Robin immediately showed up with a hot ramekin of nuts and asked for drink orders. I lost the contest so I was the designated driver to get us home. I stuck with water after my generous helping of pre-departure scotch.

I browsed through the inflight mags, and that didn’t take very long. In addition to the usual American Way, American also has Celebrated Living for premium class passengers. This is a magazine for the rich, and it had very little content. My guess is that most people sitting up front on this flight weren’t interested since it didn’t appear to be a big money crowd (though maybe Jenna Fischer from The Office was interested; she was two rows behind).

After wolfing down the nuts, I went to work, but Robin came by and refilled me. Mmm, delicious. Then she came through asking for meal choices. The options were steak salad or a chicken sandwich. I was very happy to get the last of the latter.

The sandwich was basically a piece of chicken and a bunch of cheese – you can’t really go too far wrong with that. There was also a very crisp salad which, yes, had the legendary olive that disappeared in the height of cost cutting days in order to save money. There was also a bag of pita chips which I saved for later.

After lunch, Robin came through with a warm chocolate chip cookie that really blew the Midwest cookie out of the water (I know, I know – American doesn’t give you a cookie in coach so it’s not a fair comparison), and then I kicked Snow-Covered Rockiesback to do some more work.

The snowy terrain made for an amazing view all the way across the country. The Rockies were absolutely spectacular, as were the red rocks of Utah and Arizona. We hit some bumps west of the Rockies, and about an hour before landing, a high overcast layer showed up to dampen the thrill of the view.

Robin came through to refill our drinks one more time, and then it was time to descend. We sat in a murky cloud layer for awhile before breaking out over the Inland Empire. Robin came through and returned everyone’s coats. Her friendly smile had everyone in a good mood. It was a nice ride in as the sun set and we taxied to the gate. Soon after, we were home.

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