American had its very first Annual Leadership Conference under the new management this month, and since they didn’t have a media day this year (it’s returning next year), they invited some of us in the media to attend. Unfortunately, part of the deal was that we couldn’t report on what went on in there, primarily because it’s a meeting meant for employees and not for media. But the opportunity to attend and talk to all kinds of people, even if off the record, was well worth my time.
[Disclosure: American paid for my flights and hotel]
I could have flown nonstop from LAX, but I decided I’d rather go from Long Beach and connect in Phoenix to make life easier. As an added bonus, on the return flight, it would give me a chance to connect from American to US Airways (Express) so I could really get a sense for how things work for a passenger connecting between the two networks. And it got me on an MD-80. Huzzah!
The result? It worked surprisingly well, though it wasn’t without its glitches. Things really fell apart on the last flight when our airplane broke, but I’m saving that story for next week.
The flights out were pretty uneventful so I won’t really go into detail on those much. I arrived in Long Beach as usual, we boarded and, despite a lengthy taxi time, we arrived right on time.
June 11, 2014
US Airways Express 2877 Lv Long Beach 1005a Arr Phoenix 1122a (operated by Mesa)
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 2, Runway 30, Depart 2m Early
Phoenix (PHX): Gate B5, Runway 25L, Arrive On Time
N246LR, Bombardier CRJ-900, Standard US Airways colors, ~90% Full
Seat 6F, Coach
Flight Time 55m
Then in Phoenix I grabbed some food (despite all the great local options, most people were in line at Wendy’s). The salad I got from a grab n’ go at Humble Pie was wilted and not great. I ate a few bites, tossed it, and then got on the airplane.
June 11, 2014
US Airways 544 Lv Phoenix 1220p Arr Dallas/Ft Worth 442p
Phoenix (PHX): Gate A21, Runway 25L, Depart 13m Late
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate E29, Runway 18R, Arrive On Time
N177US, Airbus A321-211, Standard US Airways colors, ~90% Full
Seat 13F, Coach
Flight Time 1h52m
This was effectively the employee shuttle. American does 4 of these meetings and brings in 1,300 leaders from around the country to each one. So this aircraft was full of people trying to get there. We landed at Terminal E and thanks to the all the construction, they are currently using that satellite structure for US Airways flights. It’s a mess over there right now.
Now, let’s get to the return. I tried to check in on usairways.com, and I was redirected to aa.com to check in. It was deep-linked right into the check-in process so that was great.
But when I tried to check in, it errored out and told me to see an agent. Suck.
Not willing to give up, I went on to the AA app and surprisingly that checked me in and gave me my boarding pass. It said I’d need to get my connecting boarding pass at the gate. Ok, not terrible. But that definitely didn’t work as planned.
Arriving at Terminal A about 50 minutes before my flight, I sailed right through an empty Pre Check lane. Terminal A is still under major renovation but there are a bunch of gates that have already opened. It looks really nice, actually.
I got up to the gate and saw a 737 waiting, but we were supposed to be on an MD-80. At this point, it was less than 40 minutes to departure and I figured there was no chance we were going on time. The 737 finally pushed back and then they announced the delay. Our airplane was waiting for the gate. While we waited for it to pull in, I asked the gate agent if she could give me a boarding pass for my connecting US Airways flight. She could, so I was good to go.
The airplane blocked in at 105p, and they tried to board us quickly. They were very aggressive at checking big carry-ons and that did help.
Walking up to the airplane, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic as I saw the bold red, white, and blue stripe peeking out into the jet bridge.
June 13, 2014
American 1023 Lv Dallas/Ft Worth 130p Arr Phoenix 150p
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate A10, Runway 18L, Depart 17m Late
Phoenix (PHX): Gate B11, Runway 8, Arrive 24m Late
N587AA, Douglas MD-80, Silver American colors, ~99% Full
Seat 16A, Coach
Flight Time 2h9m
Onboard the MD-80, you could certainly feel the age of this 23 year old airplane… and not in a bad way. The seats were fine, but it was the little touches, like the yellow and orange buttons overhead, that gave away a design from another era.
The captain came on to tell us it would be a nice flight, and his voice was exactly the booming confident voice you want to hear from a captain.
We ended up pushing back 17 minutes late and then taxied for a short time before launching into the sky in a way only those Pratt JT8Ds can do it. We shot through a low layer of clouds, and I was treated to a great rear-looking view of that beautiful wing.
The flight attendants started to prepare for service while I read through the inflight mag. (American Way is SO much better than the US Airways magazine in just about every way. As I said on Twitter, the US Airways mag feels like 200 pages of ads plus 4 pages of terminal maps.) Once we were above 10,000 feet, I turned on my laptop and started working.
This must have been a really enjoyable flight for the guys up front. Through most of New Mexico, we were weaving in between towering cumulonimbus clouds that were building up in the afternoon heat. We never entered a cloud and the ride was smooth as silk, but the view was just outstanding. Here was a rare break in the clouds looking down.
We touched down in Phoenix and I was only going to have 26 minutes to get to my connecting gate. And people were not getting off quickly. Fortunately my next gate was just a couple doors down… or was it? Uh oh, I saw a gate change come in at the last minute to B15C. Now, I had never seen a CRJ-900 at B15 – those are ramp spots where you walk to the airplane. I had only seen 50-seaters there. I should have trusted that instinct to realize this wasn’t going to be good.
I’ll talk more about that next week.