Taking Advantage of The LAX Service Build-Up (Trip Report)

American, Delta, Trip Reports

I hadn’t been to Duke since my brother graduated a decade ago, but when Travelport asked me to attend its first Ignite conference on the Duke campus, it gave me the chance to return. I know I’ve been critical of American’s odd obsession with building up LA, but I really shouldn’t complain. The fight between it and Delta meant I could fly nonstop to Raleigh/Durham on miles easily. Since I have Amex miles, I was able to transfer into BA for American and Air France for Delta (which allows one way awards). After a few bucks in taxes, I was ready to go get a taste of what Fall is supposed to look like.

Fall in RDU

Unlike the previous weekend where I could leave home a mere 1h15m before departure, I knew I couldn’t do the same on this one. Not only would I have Monday morning traffic to fight, but I had to park at a cheaper remote lot (at Quikpark, as usual). I gave myself an extra hour. You can see why I prefer Long Beach, but there wasn’t a way to get into RDU early enough on this trip from there.

I got to American’s terminal about an hour before departure and went through the Pre Check line. It was really confusing as they were seemingly threading two different Pre Check lines into a single checkpoint lane. I couldn’t even see how people got into the other line. Fortunately, I was in the shorter one and made it through very quickly.

Confusing Signage at LAX

With a little time to kill, I wandered over to the tunnel which was recently re-opened to walk between Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 behind security. That means Terminals 4 through 8 are now all connected without having to exit the secure area. The tunnel is open but it’s pretty confusing to actually find it. Follow the signs to the American Eagle/Terminal 6 shuttle bus. You’ll go downstairs once to get there. But then turn left and you’ll go down another set of stairs. It looks like you’re going to baggage claim, but if you do a U-turn at the bottom of the escalator, you’ll see the white-washed tunnel that looks like something out of a horror film.

Terminal 4 to Terminal 5 Tunnel LAX

I didn’t actually need to go that way, so I turned around and went back upstairs to my gate. I was at gate 41 which was closed during the Bradley Terminal construction for awhile but it appears to be fully open once again. The gate area is nice and open, though I imagine that will change once the connector over to the Bradley Terminal is done.

LAX Gate 41

Since I booked my ticket using BA points, I had priority boarding. (I still have no idea why that’s the case.)

November 3, 2014
American 1329 Lv Los Angeles 810a Arr Raleigh/Durham 405p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 41, Runway 25R, Depart 5m Early
Raleigh/Durham (RDU): Gate C21, Runway 23R, Arrive 37m Early
N947AN, Boeing 737-823, Silver Eagle colors, ~66% Full
Seat 23F, Coach
Flight Time 4h5m

Our 737 was certainly one of the older vintages (built in 2000) so it had no Boeing Sky Interior nor in-seat video. At least it had the drop down screens over the seats instead of the bulky ones over the aisle. Boarding was quick, mostly because it just wasn’t that full. I had a row to myself until someone else moved up to take the aisle. Still, with an empty middle, I was happy. Did I mention that I now like this American LAX strategy? Keep flying those empty airplanes for my benefit.

American 737

We pushed back a little early and then were airborne about 15 minutes later. It was a nice and clear day over LA, but there were some bumps. At one point, the flight attendants were told to take a seat probably less because of the intensity of the turbulence and more because of the jerky nature of these particular bumps.

I paid a whopping $21 to get online (sorry, $20.95, which does not have that $19.95-kind-of-ring to it). I paid and the speeds were decent. Then I started looking for movies to test out the streaming system onboard. That didn’t go well. First, they don’t support Chrome on Windows laptops. So I had to go dig out Internet Explorer. Then, I just didn’t really find anything that I wanted to watch all that badly. So I just kept working on my laptop instead.

As we got closer to RDU, the flight attendants came through and did another beverage service. This time, I went for a ginger ale, and they gave me the whole can. I really didn’t want that much, and it took up precious tray table space I needed for my laptop, but I guess they aren’t supposed to ask if you want it.

RDU Terminal 2

We ended up at the gate in RDU more than half an hour early thanks to some killer tailwinds. I hadn’t been in this terminal at RDU before, and it’s really nice. I’m sure it cost too much for what it is, but it’s a good experience for the traveler. I picked up my soon-to-be-lost car from National and hit the road.

I could have gone home Wednesday afternoon, but I spent the last night with friends of mine from business school who live in the area. The next day, I opted for the early morning nonstop.

I dropped off my car at National and took the shuttle bus back to the terminal. (Boo, remote rental car buses.) I had checked in on my phone and there wasn’t a soul in the Pre Check line, so I was through very quickly.

This flight was completely full, much to my surprise, and boarding began on the early side.

November 6, 2014
Delta 1887 Lv Raleigh/Durham 743a Arr Los Angeles 1010a
Raleigh/Durham (RDU): Gate C3, Runway 23R, Depart On Time
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 56, Runway 25L, Arrive 9m Early
N352NW, Airbus A320-212, Standard Delta colors, ~99% Full
Seat 9F, Coach
Flight Time 4h55m

I hopped on to take my seat in 9F. This is the row right in front of the exit, so it’s not reserved for elites. I don’t recline anyway, so I love this seat. This was your usual ex-Northwest Airbus, though I immediately realized I had more legroom than I did coming out on American (that’ll change when Delta adds seats on this airplane, as has been announced). I also found the seat more comfortable and at a better height for looking out the window.

Rainy RDU

It was a murky morning in Raleigh with rain all around. We took off right on time and made our way through the clouds. That was the smoothest part of the ride we’d have for hours. Once we did pop our heads above the clouds, it stayed bouncy almost the entire way to New Mexico. The seatbelt stayed on nearly the entire time, and of course, people (I’m included) were getting up to go to the bathroom because it was on for so long. I spent most of the time staring out the window at the badly-chipping engine paint because Gogo was really, really slow on this flight.

Chipped Delta Paint

I reached out to Gogo to see why, and they said I was using too much bandwidth. I wasn’t streaming or anything, so I just had to give up. The flight attendants came through with drinks and Biscoff/peanuts/pretzels (a nice touch compared to American which gives you nothing), and I had some water. It was then that I realized my busted tray table wasn’t doing so well. It was slanted and drooping, and that made for a real challenge to juggle the water and my computer.

By the time we hit New Mexico, things settled down. Soon, a flight attendant flew through the cabin asking if anyone wanted water. But the by time I could raise my hand, she was several rows back. It wasn’t until we were crossing the California border that the flight attendants came through with another service.

I got a ginger ale this time (no can given), and then it turned into a circus. She gave me a ginger ale and a bag of pretzels. I asked if she had any of the Biscoff cookies (my son loves those, so I figured I’d bring it to him) and she said yes but she stuck her hand out for me to give her the pretzels back if I wanted the cookies.

Broken Delta Tray Table

I thought that was weird, but I picked my pretzels up and then my tray table collapsed even further. My ginger ale came careening off the table spilling all over me and my seatmate. The flight attendant saw the tray table collapse and asked if I was a SkyMiles member. If so, she said she’d give me miles for the inconvenience. I told her she should give the miles to my seatmate since she was the victim more than I was, and she said she would come back before the end of the flight. (I did get the Biscoff.)

We descended into LA on a warm and calm day in the basin. We landed early and had a gate waiting for us. I never saw the flight attendant again, and I don’t even know if I had my SkyMiles number in the record. So clearly I’m not getting those. But overall with two on-time flights, this was a good trip.

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21 comments on “Taking Advantage of The LAX Service Build-Up (Trip Report)

    1. Jim – I know, it’s funny, but there really just isn’t a ton of room on that tray when you’re trying to use a laptop. I’m not complaining about it really, but they could have saved that can for someone else.

      1. CF,

        Whenever I am sitting in a row with an empty middle seat, I always use the tray for the middle seat for my beverages (and I mention to the person sitting in the window or aisle seat that they can do the same). This frees me up to use my tray for my laptop or tablet.

  1. You got lucky with the weather here in Durham. You should have stayed a couple more days and enjoyed some actual fall weather; barely supposed to crack the 40s for the next couple days.

    1. Noah – Yeah, I should plan better but I always fail to do it. I wish I could just buy a monthly pass, but I fly too many different airlines for that to make sense.

  2. Aha! Now I understand why I got priority boarding the other day on my AA flight into LAX — I didn’t know it was standard when booking with Avios. Nice, and looking forward to my next Avios trip on AA around Thanksgiving.

    With all this AA ramp-up at LAX, is there any hope of getting rid of the Eagle gates? I had completely forgotten about them until we landed and started taxiing the wrong direction. This was my first ever visit to the Eagle terminal, so now I believe I’ve really been through all the terminals at LAX (done the Bradley remote stands several times).

    And I also got the full can (of tomato juice, not soda) as the attendant was walking back to the galley after finishing the service; my guess is that she didn’t want to be left with a half-empty can, and I was probably to only person on the not-quite-full CRJ to have asked for tomato juice. This was Eagle operated by Skywest.

    1. Ron – It’s the opposite. With all the ramp up at LAX, they need the Eagle gates even more to help handle all the demand. But there could be hope in the long run.

      So right now American has all the gates in T4. With the construction done on the alley behind T4, American is no longer using the remote Bradley gates, so that’s good. US Airways has just moved into T6 and has 4 gates there. That’s definitely more than US needs for its operation, so it’s a net gain for the combined carrier. Then there are the remote gates.

      In the long run, there will be a connector between T4 and Bradley, so American should be able to move more of its flights into Bradley. That could make for more room to bring some eagle flying back into the main terminal, I hope. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that.

      1. It should be noted that with the US Airways move to T6, American’s LAX-RDU and LAX-PIT routes have now transferred to US Airways.

        I have always wondered that when once the New Midfield Concourse is fully built, would the combined American, along with its OneWorld partners, make a push to become the sole occupant?

        1. Kurt – Yes, smart move to downgauge those flights to A319s on US Airways. There was definitely too much capacity before (though probably still too much now).

          As for the new midfield concourse, I doubt that they would even be able to become the sole occupant since LAWA seems much more interested in common use. But with a connector between T4 and TBIT, it certainly puts American and its partners in the best connecting situation at the airport.

        2. What is it about LAX–PIT? It seems that the market can support one daily non-stop. Fine. When I moved to the L.A. area about 7 years ago it was operated by US Airways, which made sence to me given their legacy at PIT. Then US dropped the route, and it was picked up by their alliance partner United. Then somehow it moved over to American (I didn’t notice the switch so I don’t know if there was a period of overlap or a period of no service around the time of the switch). Now it’s US again, soon to be folded into American. At any rate, the equilibrium appears to be one daily non-stop, so why does it keep changing carriers?

  3. “””””The flight attendant saw the tray table collapse and asked if I was a SkyMiles member. If so, she said she’d give me miles for the inconvenience.”””””

    So if you are a mileage member they care that you had a problem, but if you aren’t then to hell with you. Wow good customer service Delta.

    1. Well, their standard service recovery in this situation is miles. If you are not a Skymiles members, then they can’t hand you the virtual currency.

  4. FWIW, the new terminal cost $570M. A new terminal was needed as the old terminal was the AA mini-hub, and was built primarily for connecting flights. Security and baggage claim was awful, and the customs facility clearly tacked-on. (You had to go through security again just to get from customs to baggage claim!)

    I don’t know if $570M was a good deal or not, but it was less than half what it cost SJC to do their new terminal, and I believe the airports are a similar size. Cost-per-enplanement is only $6, and the airport has a good bond rating.

    The other Terminal at RDU (holding Southwest and Airtran) recently got a complete makeover for a measly $68M, which was a bargain by any measure.

  5. Those ex-NWA Airbus are getting very tired. Compared to the brand new DL 737-900’s the interiors are virtually generations apart. I will say that on a recent DCA-MSP trip on a 320 the gogo was very fast at streaming movies on my tablet. Looks like American still has some cloth seats out there, which I’m a fan of. The pleather gets a little sticky when things get hot.

    1. Oooh, but I love that the armrests still have controls and a receptor for air headphones! Too bad they don’t function anymore, on my last flight I tried showing my kids how you could listen to the music by putting your ear to the socket. It was actually my son who noticed these relics, or in his words, “Why do they have volume and channel if there’s no TV?” And both kids were stumped by the sealed ashtrays, they couldn’t figure out what they were for. When I explained, my daughter was like “Seriously, they used to allow smoking on this?!”

  6. Re your noticing two lines of Precheck merging to one inspection line, I’ve noticed that in Denver also. I think that because there aren’t enough bona fide Precheck user, they blend some regular folks in to keep the line at a viable usage level. I remember before I got Precheck that I have been allowed to use it on several occasions and that peaked my interest in getting it. That’s my guess as to what you observed.

    1. Dennis – You know, that’s what I thought. But I asked a girl in the other line when we merged what line that was. She said she had Pre Check, so these weren’t people just being redirected.

  7. Two beverages on a coast-to-coast flight, that’s pretty thin service. I just flew a 55 minute flight on WN; in the 70s the same flight on a UA 727-200 had a full hot meal service in coach (which was better than todays F meals). The WN 737-800 was new(er) with the Boeing Sky interior – a very nice aircraft, efficient friendly service, and good weather and traffic conditions for an early arrival. It’s nice when it all works out.

  8. I had a split itinerary earlier this week, out of 4, back into 8, and parked my car near 4. So for fun (?) I tried to walk inside the whole way from 8 back to 4, rather than fighting the crowds on the sidewalk. I didn’t know there was a connection from 6 to 5 behind security so I went out to the ticketing area at 6. Is the connection from 6 to 5 at the gate level?

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