A Mediocre American Experience to the Land of Guinness (Trip Report)

With my previous Irish experience being a mere hour connecting in Shannon, I was doubly excited to be invited to the CAPA Airlines in Transition conference in Dublin courtesy of Travelport (they paid for the flights and hotel). Not only was this a new place for me, but it came with the added bonus of an interesting conference. I flew American both ways via Chicago and the overall experience was pretty mediocre. In fact, the last flight home was one of the worst I’ve had in a long time.

American 737 at LAX

I was ticketed to fly on American both ways, but it was one confusing ticket. The domestic flights were booked in coach as American flights. The overwater flights were booked as an Iberia codeshare and I ended up in business on those so that made for some real confusion. The American reservation I was given had my American domestic flights in there but it only showed the international flights as being Iberia and AA.com did not allow seat assignments. So I called American and ended up on hold while an agent spoke with a supervisor to find that because of the codeshare, it had created a separate American record for my long haul flights. Once we found that, I grabbed seats and we were in business…

… until I went to check in. It would only let me check in for the domestic flights, so I couldn’t get my international boarding passes. I figured I’d just sort it out at the airport. As usual on American, my flight was delayed. This made for 4 delays in a row on my last 4 American flights. At least this time it wasn’t American’s fault. There was weather in Chicago and we were delayed an hour due to air traffic control.

I took my time going to the airport and then went to the premium check-in area to get some help when I arrived around 930a or so. The agent was able to get my connecting boarding passes, but then she pointed me over to the regular security line. Since the flight to Chicago was in coach, they wouldn’t let me use the premium security line in LA. Fortunately, it was only about 10 minutes to get through and then I was at the gate. When it came time to board, the PA wasn’t working, so they trotted out a bullhorn to announce who was boarding and when. Nice. Soon, I was on the airplane.

April 9, 2013
American 1372 Lv Los Angeles 1020a Arr Chicago/O’Hare 425p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 40, Runway 25R, Depart 1h13m Late
Chicago/O’Hare (ORD): Gate K6, Runway 4R, Arrive 1h9m Late
N882NN, Boeing 737-823, Silver livery, ~99% Full
Seat 20A
Flight Time 3h37m

This was my first time on an airplane with the Boeing Sky Interior. The look and feel was certainly more modern than previous versions. The overhead screens dropping down from the ceiling were much better than the old bulky ones in the aisle. And the airplane just looked cleaner, probably because it was only a year old. But the new seat that reclines into itself didn’t seem very comfortable. It was kind of strange because it felt like it angled too far down when it wasn’t reclined.

American 737-800 Sky Interior

We took off into the clear blue sky and then bounced our way to Chicago. A late winter storm was rolling through the plains, so the seatbelt sign was on most of the time until we hit Missouri. Before then, the only time it was off, oddly enough, was when we were over the Rockies. Go figure.

There was one service early followed by another that didn’t get to my row until we had already started descending. But I didn’t care, because I was just plugging away on the internet (which was working pretty fast) and juicing up my computer with the power port.

Soon, we were on our way into Chicago. The frontal boundary remained a bit north so the expected thunderstorms in Chicago never materialized. In fact, the clouds opened up nicely for us the entire way in. As soon as we landed, the boarding music went on. Maybe I was just loopy but it sounded like American had turned pop music into a soundtrack for an old school Nintendo game. Anyone else notice that?

People were slow getting off, but I had just under an hour to walk a few gates over so I had no complaints. It was perfect. Boarding actually started pretty early, so I was only there for 5 minutes or so before getting onboard.

April 9, 2013
American 92 Lv Chicago/O’Hare 635p Arr Dublin 8a (next day)
Chicago/O’Hare (ORD): Gate K15, Runway 32R, Depart 15m Late
Dublin (DUB): Gate 402, Runway 10, Arrive 2m Early
N347AN, Boeing 767-323, Silver livery, ~60% Full in Business Class
Seat 4J
Flight Time 6h50m

The crew was very friendly welcoming me onboard, and I went straight to my seat. The seats looked just about the same as on the 777 with one big difference. There is no in-seat video. Instead, they hand out Samsung tablets after departure. I know I’ve waffled on whether in-seat video matters or not, but after this experience, I’d say it really does make for a much better experience.

No Seatback TV on American 767-300

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We appeared to be heading toward an on time departure, but plans were foiled when they held the airplane for a last minute passenger who I assume was connecting from somewhere else. It was so last minute that they had already played the safety video before he got on. Then they apologized that they were going to have to play it again. That passenger was right in front of me, so he apologized. Everyone else gave him some playful jabs.

Around the Storm North of ORD

We taxied out and surprisingly took off to the west. We got up quickly and then went north to cut through a hole in the storms that were ahead. It provided some spectacular scenery as the sun set. Service was delayed a little because of expected turbulence, but soon enough the flight attendants were coming through busily.

They handed out the tablets with Bose noise canceling headphones. I love the headphones, but the tablets just aren’t great. There isn’t a place to mount them, so you just rest it on the tray table. And you have to use the one power port (which is a cigarette lighter port, bleh) to charge the unit. Wires are everywhere. On top of that, you can’t hear if any announcements are made, so you have to pause and take the headphones off if you care. Most annoying to me, there is no moving map.

Wires and Tablets on AA 767-300

Sure they had the moving map on the overhead screens in the cabin, but the 767s in American’s fleet have only overhead movies in coach. So the moving map disappeared less than an hour into the flight to show the movies. We didn’t see it again until about an hour before landing and even that was a brief appearance.

My hope was to get some kind of sleep on the flight even though that’s nearly impossible for me to do. I asked for the Lemon Grass Chicken with achiote citrus sauce to be served in the “Dine Upon Request” method. Sure enough, they brought out a single tray so I could eat what I wanted and then be done.

I didn’t eat much, because even though it’s dinner time in the US, it was late night in Ireland and I wanted to adjust to the time. It always bugs me that they serve such big dinners on flights out. It’s the breakfast I want to be big.

ORD-DUB Chicken

While everyone else was still on their salad course, I tried to sleep. I couldn’t, of course. And then I had to use the restroom. Holy crap, what a pain. The underseat storage is great except when you’re in the bed position. I hadn’t planned well, so to get the slippers I put there (handed out with the amenity kits), I had to bring my seat up to the sitting position and then slide under the tray table holding my tablet to get the slipper. The seat is pretty temperamental so it’s very hard to get it into various positions. Then I had to get the guy next to me to do the same so I could climb out. He didn’t seem to mind, but it took probably 5 minutes to get out.

After that, I came back and decided to pop a sleeping pill. I still didn’t sleep for awhile even though it was a very smooth ride. The angled bed is just so uncomfortable that I found myself tossing and turning. Then, it happened. I finally nodded off for about an hour. It felt so good to even get that. I was hoping to keep sleeping, but then people started to wake for breakfast. I told them not to wake me up, but when everyone else did, I was up too. I asked the flight attendant if instead of the later express breakfast I had requested, I could switch and have a full breakfast. She said yes.

So I had an omelette with potatoes, sausage, and fruit to fill me up along with some orange juice. It was delicious. We still had over an hour until landing, but I was up for good. The sun started to rise, so I pulled out the tablet and watched a TV show. And that’s when I realized another reason for hating the tablet. An hour before landing, they collected them along with the headphones. You just lose so much time where you could be watching something.

Once we got closer, the purser came by, offered some sparkling water, and thanked each person by name for coming onboard the flight. The flight attendants did a great job. We landed to the east and I was on my way for a fun few days in Dublin. After a lot of Guinness, it was time to come home.

We were staying at the Ritz Carlton far south of town. The airport is on the north side about 45 minutes away so my car was scheduled at 730a for a 10a flight.

Once at the airport, I began jumping through the many, many hoops required to get to the airplane. First I checked in at a kiosk and got my boarding pass. (Naturally I couldn’t check in online beforehand.) Then I had to go through a couple of security questions at the American ticketing area. Once they decided I was ok, they gave me a customs form.

I went upstairs and passed through the boarding pass check and then went through Irish security. The terminal is fairly new and was pretty big so it was easy to get through quickly. On the other side, I had to go through the duty free area before going downstairs to the gates. I made a quick stop at the lounge (American uses Aer Lingus’s lounge) until about an hour before departure when they suggested everyone go through preclearance.

Aer Lingus Lounge at DUB

Ireland is like Canada in the sense that you can go through customs and immigration before departure to the US, so when you arrive it’s like a domestic flight. I headed down to immigration and was told “welcome home.” Not quite, but ok. Then I had to go through another security checkpoint where they x-ray your bags and make you take your shoes off but you don’t have to go through a metal detector.

Finally, I was on my way to the gate. I was looking forward to hopping on board and heading home. But not so fast. I got to the gate at the far end of the concourse only to get a curt announcement.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry but the flight is delayed. We will have more information at 1030.

Rats. I took my seat and logged on to see if I could find what was going on. I couldn’t. American showed no delay in its system, so I took to Twitter. As someone said to me, the American Twitter team has to be the nicest but most unhelpful Twitter operation around. This was no different. Here’s how the conversation went.

Me: Hey @AmericanAir – just told us flt 93 is delayed but gave no further info – what do you know?

American: We’re currently showing AA93 is scheduled to depart on-time, Brett. Please see a gate agent for additional info.

Me: well, the gate agents just told us we’re on delay – next update at 1030a, so …

American: Our apologies for the delay. We’ll have you on your way as quickly as possible.

As I said, incredibly friendly and responsive but not really helpful. Eventually Sabre was updated to show that it was, in fact, a maintenance delay. I started looking for other options just in case.

Fortunately, right around 1030a we got the announcement that they would be able to fix it and we would board at 1120a for a 12p departure. Only later during the flight did I find out that there was an engine fuel leak and they were lucky enough to find the part they needed in Dublin.

We did indeed board right as expected at 1120a, but first, there was yet another last security check (#4). After they took our boarding passes, we walked halfway down the jet bridge where three people were there to again ask the same questions we were asked at the ticket counter. Once we passed that, I was finally onboard.

April 13, 2013
American 93 Lv Dublin 10a Arr Chicago/O’Hare 1225p
Dublin (DUB): Gate 426, Runway 10, Depart 1h50m Late
Chicago/O’Hare (ORD): Gate K15, Runway 28, Arrive 1h30m Late
N353AA, Boeing 767-323ER, Silver livery, ~95% Full in Business
Seat 4J
Flight Time 7h44m

I took the exact same seat I had on the flight out, though this one looked just a bit worse for wear. The early morning sun (first I had on the trip) have given way to low clouds, so we were in the thick of them almost immediately after getting airborne. We stayed in the clouds for probably the first hour as we headed out to sea.

The service pattern on this one was similar to the one on the way out, but I opted for the full meal service instead of the quick one. The salad and bread were decent, but the appetizer and the chicken were pretty bland and I didn’t eat much. At least the ice cream sundae was delicious. I settled in to watch movies for the rest of the flight.

Once again, I had trouble getting in and out of my seat. One time, even though the seats weren’t reclined, I clipped the tray table and smashed a glass on the floor. Oops.


The service on this flight wasn’t quite as good on the way out. They did all the steps as they should, but they weren’t very friendly or interactive. It was much more matter-of-fact. As an example, instead of saying before departure, “Would you be interested in orange juice, champagne, or water before we depart, Mr Snyder?” as happened on the way out, this crew said, “Orange juice, champagne, water?” It certainly wasn’t a huge deal, but it was noticeable.

We had a nice smooth flight and the captain made good time in the air. Chicago had gusty winds, so we bounced the last few thousand feet to the ground, but we taxied quickly and docked 20 minutes before the 215p flight to LA. I was still booked on the 315p, but I hoped I’d be able to squeeze on to the earlier one.

I was one of the first three off the airplane, and since Ireland has customs and immigration pre-clearance, I just had to get to my gate as if I was coming off a domestic flight. Fortunately, it was just a couple gates down.

I got to the counter as the last people were boarding and told the agent I had just come off a 2 hour delayed Dublin flight and hoped they might have room for me. She looked up and frowned saying that it didn’t look like they had any seats. But she put me on the standby list, and I saw my name up at the top.

Apparently there were quite a few seats, because at least two or three other people ended up getting their boarding passes soon after (a couple crewmembers and one other paying passenger). At last, they called me up and gave me a surprise. I was in coach on the 315p, but I had a First Class seat on this one. Sweet. I went right onboard thinking this would be a great way to get home. I was wrong.

April 13, 2013
American 1305 Lv Chicago/O’Hare 215p Arr Los Angeles 440p
Chicago/O’Hare (ORD): Gate K5, Runway 32L, Depart 6m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 42A, Runway 24R, Arrive On Time
N933AN, Boeing 737-823, Silver livery, ~99% Full
Seat 3E
Flight Time 3h50m

We were ready to go on time, but they waited a few extra minutes to pick up some connections. Even with the short delay, I was on the ground in Chicago for less than an hour. Nice. The captain was pretty chatty and told us that it should be a nice four hour flight to LA. I was ready to be home.

This was a very long four hours. Soon after we got into the air, it turned out to be bouncier than predicted. In fact, the entire flight was turbulent. The seatbelt sign may have been off for a total of 15 to 30 minutes out of the entire flight. And the flight attendants were told to stay seated for the last couple hours, from before we crossed the front range of the Rockies.

Before then, the flight attendant was able to do the meal service which was just a chicken salad, but that was the last service of the flight. It’s too bad, because this flight attendant was really friendly and attentive until she was forced to sit down.

So, I figured I would just hop online and catch up on email, but that wasn’t to be. Gogo didn’t work. How about a movie? Nope. That didn’t work either. I could have played game on my computer, right? Nope, the power ports weren’t working either and my juice had been draining from the long delay in Dublin. I also had no magazines or anything offline to read, and I had been through all the inflight mags on previous flights.

No problem. I’d just watch out the window. Bzzt. Try again. You would think that sitting next to a former Playboy playmate would make for a very good flight, right? Well, she had a real problem with light sensitivity. Even with her massive eye mask covering her face, she refused to open the window because it would let the light in. The people across the aisle were passed out with the windows down as well. At this point, I had nothing to do but stare at the bulkhead as we bounced our way to LA.

American 737-800 Bulkhead in F

But wait, there’s more. Finally, my seatmate woke up and felt bad that I had nothing to do. So she broke out her camera and proceeded to show me videos of her rabbit and 8 cats for the last 30 to 45 minutes of the flight. She must have had quite the memory card, because there were a lot of videos and pictures waiting for me.

Anyone else think this sounds terrible? It was one of the longest 4 hour flights I’ve ever been on. But there was one bright spot. It made me even more glad to be home.

[Click for the rest of my photos]

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