The Best Kind of Delay (Trip Report)

American, Trip Reports

A couple months ago, I was emailing with some friends and we jokingly talked about doing a guys’ weekend in Cabo. We had done it for one of their bachelor parties a decade ago and now that we were scattered, we didn’t get to see each other very often. Somehow, the off-handed comment turned into reality. I used a mere 7,500 BA Avios each way and $69.43 to fly on American, and I was glad to have made that choice for a strange reason.

Coming into Cabo

On the way down, things did not start well. The one friend who was going to fly with me from LAX called the night before. He somehow failed to realize that his passport was in his safe deposit box. The bank was closed and wouldn’t reopen until 9a. Our flight was at 937a. Crap.

He had also used Avios, and being within 24 hours meant that we couldn’t change or cancel the booking. It was use it or lose it, and it looked like he was going to lose it. Still, he planned on waking up early to call BA (the US call center for Avios isn’t open 24 hours a day) to see if anyone would help him.

At 630a the next morning, he called me saying BA wouldn’t help. I seemed to remember a glitch where you could cancel online, so he went on and tried it. He clicked cancel and then it gave him an error. I guess I was wrong about that glitch. He was out of luck.

We had talked about options to buy tickets on other airlines, and I told him he just needed to get down there. We’d have a beer waiting for him, and we’d figure out his return later.

At 745a I was driving up toward LAX when I got an excited text from him. “AA 237 just delayed one hour.” Indeed, the airplane broke in Vegas and was on an 8-hour delay. (That airplane sat in Vegas all night. That delay should never have happened, American.) They had a new airplane in LA, but they had to call a new crew in. Departure was set at 1030a. There was a chance…

American 737 at the Gate

He grabbed his passport the second the bank opened, flew down the freeway (as fast as you can in rush hour), parked in short term parking, and ran through security. He was panting when he got there just after 10a. He made it.

January 23, 2015
American 237 Lv Los Angeles 937a Arr Los Cabos 1256p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 45, Runway 25R, Depart 1h6m Late
Los Cabos (SJD): Gate N/A, Runway 34, Arrive 1h1m Late
N893NN, Boeing 737-823, Silver Eagle colors, ~60% Full
Seat 27A, Coach
Flight Time 1h57m

Boarding started shortly after he got there and the flight didn’t seem all that full. At about 1030a, a flight attendant came on the PA saying that the captain was there and was preparing the airplane but they were still waiting for the first officer to arrive. That was the bad news. But as soon as her announcement stopped, the captain picked up… “The good news is that we’re much better looking than the other pilots.” That got a laugh.

The captain announced the first officer’s arrival when he showed up as if he were a game show contestant. “All the way from Escondido….” It wasn’t long before we were buttoned up and on our way.

Port of LA Long Beach Slowdown

Once airborne, we came down the coast and saw a huge backup in the ports of LA and Long Beach. The work slowdown has clearly been having a big impact.

We were soon over the border and we found ourselves bumping along in a high layer of clouds the entire way down. I was glad when we finally started descending and I could enjoy the view of the rugged Baja terrain next to the blue Pacific.

Landing in Cabo

We landed to the north and parked at a hardstand toward the far end of Terminal 2. I didn’t mind, because I had this view.

Cabo Ramp

That was about the last view of sun we had on the entire trip. Once through customs and immigration, we met up with our friends and headed into town for a weekend of drinking, eating, smoking cigars, and relaxing. Too bad it was overcast and cool the entire time with rain starting Saturday afternoon.

It was downright gloomy when we headed home. Our car got us to the airport about 2 hours in advance. We were directed to check in at the kiosks but they were slow and the lines were long. I couldn’t help but notice that Terminal 2 felt like much of Cabo. It was not entirely finished. Here’s a view of the check-in area. Note the ceiling tiles, or lack thereof.

Of course, Cabo has some good excuses thanks to a nasty hurricane from last year. I was amazed at how much work was being done and how many resorts were still closed. But here at the airport, it just looked sloppy.

Cabo Terminal 2

We made it through security easily and had time to kill. The terminal was packed, and it felt chaotic. Each gate had its own portable speaker system set up so announcements stepped all over each other.

Gate 7 Cabo

We were supposed to be at a jet bridge gate this time, but inexplicably they decided to swap our flight and the Chicago flight. We were relegated to gate 2. Gates 1-4 are in a separate area of the terminal and have lower ceilings. It looks like a previous building that was adapted to connect with the newer terminal.

The VIP lounge could have been the smallest lounge I’d ever seen. I wasn’t about to pay for it, so I just sat with my friends as they tried to board a United flight out of our gate. Communication wasn’t good, and the United flight didn’t get out on time due to the boarding delay. Finally, our boarding began.

January 25, 2015
American 237 Lv Los Cabos 151p Arr Los Angeles 324p
Los Cabos (SJD): Gate 2, Runway 16, Depart 8m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 43, Runway 25L, Arrive 13m Early
N972AN, Boeing 737-823, Tail Flag colors, ~99% Full
Seat 22F, Coach
Flight Time 1h59m

The walk to the airplane was less pleasant in the rain, that’s for sure. I hurried to the airplane and took my seat. The weather looked pretty nasty, though the winds were calm. At this point I just wanted to be home.

The chaotic boarding process meant we left a bit late on this completely full flight. This time, we took off to the south, turned around, and soon went into the clouds.

For the first hour of the flight, it was really rough. The flight attendants were kept in their seats, and you could feel the pilots trying different altitudes looking for smoother air. They did tell us it would be rough, so it wasn’t a surprise. I’d guess that we had a good stretch of moderate turbulence in there.

After an hour, the undercast began to clear out but we remained in a high cloud layer. The flight attendants were allowed to get up but the seatbelt sign stayed on the entire time.

There were some nice views as we approached the top of Baja. Though I don’t know for sure, I’m guessing this was the border.

US Mexico Border

It’s not often I get to fly from the south into LA, so I really enjoyed the view. We crossed over to the Pacific around Camp Pendleton and then tracked it up into Orange County before coming back over land and gliding in for touchdown.

We parked at Terminal 4 but they had to bus us all the way around to the far side of the Bradley Terminal for arrival. This was my first time using the new Bradley Terminal concourse as a passenger, and the bus gates aren’t a great experience. You have to go upstairs, walk for a long time, and then come downstairs again.

Bradley Terminal Customs

This was my first time actually using Global Entry (I haven’t been out of the country since I got it well over a year ago), and it’s amazing. You just scan your passport, answer a couple questions, take a photo, give your fingerprints, and then you get a print-out. Show the print-out to the guy at the exit, and then take it with you into the Global Entry customs line (which is incredibly short compared to the brutally long regular lines). I showed the print-out again and I was on my way home.

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25 comments on “The Best Kind of Delay (Trip Report)

  1. Gotta lovelovelove Global Entry….. I’m thrilled with the time it saves me each time I am returning to the US. Generally cranky, under-slept, and stiff from a 16-hour flight, it’s such a nice welcome home. And you’re right that was an amazing time for a delay, well done! Airport does look pretty crummy though……

  2. Global entry is awesome, but I have also used the new kiosks for non-GE members at JFK Terminal 4 and those work very similarly.

    1. Noah – Yes the kiosks work similarly but then you still have to get in that long customs line with everyone else.

  3. Global entry is awesome, couldn’t figure out the right way to scan the passport the first time…but it rocks. I need to do a SJD trip, I usually don’t stay in resorts though, have to see what is available and open.

  4. So does this mean the wife gets to go on a girls weekend and you stay with the kids, or doesn’t she trust you enough to do that :-)

  5. Looks like there’s a chip in your flap (2nd to last picture)!

    Ditto what others have been saying about GE. I was off the plane, through customs and in an Uber at SEA yesterday in under 15 mins.

    1. I noticed that chip in the flap too. That would have me a little nervous if I looked out the window and noticed that. American not keeping their planes in tip top shape are they?

  6. Glad to hear that the delay worked in your friend’s favor!

    For the most part, Global Entry is the way to go. However, on the last pass through LAX T6 immigration this past Tuesday, the line for Global Entry was 10 people deep because one guy had an issue with the kiosk and was hogging it. We were in the regular line because SO didn’t have GE, and we were done within 5 minutes.

  7. Mistake numero uno…flying anywhere on AA. They are too cumbersome to handle any planning whatsoever. I used to count on taking a flight out of San Antonio where the aircraft was parked overnight. The last four times (and five of 7) they didnt even work on it until morning and twice not until after boarding. To be fair, one of them might have not occured until cold start in the morning but the others had to have been known. I switched to SWA now and it has never happened.

    Global Entry is the cat’s meow.

    Friends are more important than weather!

  8. If that is a 737 airplane than it is not a chip. That area is prone to heat damage from the engines. It is a certified Boeing procedure, that is normally performed on both sides to remain symetrical. Not airplanes will have this repair.

  9. Once upon a time U.S. driver’s licences sufficed for U.S./Mexico border crossing – hadn’t realized this changed.

    Cranky, here’s a tip to save $50.00 for frequent travelers between U.S. and Canada: NEXUS enrollment is $50.00 with automatic enrollment in Global Entry, whereas application fee for Global Entry is $100.00.

    1. Except you need to add the travel cost to nearest Canadian border/select US cities near Canadian border to complete the interview. Not always convenient for everyone.

      1. Post read “for frequent travelers between U.S. and Canada.”

        If you do not cross U.S./Canada border frequently, nor have advance plans to do so, then post may not apply to you. Please re-read….

    2. And NEXUS is free for kids, whereas Global Entry costs the whole $100 (and, unlike PreCheck, kids who haven’t done the registration and interview can’t go through Global Entry or NEXUS with an adult).

  10. I’m envious of Precheck and Global Entry… but I can’t get past my paranoia about giving the federal government my fingerprints.

  11. A lot of us have already given our fingerprints to the government, and have no qualms. If you ever had a government security clearance you’re a shoo-in. My “interview” took about 10 seconds, and my approval was instantaneous. By the way, if you’re in a hurry to get an appointment for Precheck, Global Entry is the way to go. Not that much more money, and you can get an appointment a LOT faster. My experience: no Precheck appointments available at all. Global Entry: appointments available the same day., Your mileage may vary.

    1. Yeah, but my life is too pedestrian to have ever given my prints before. Had I already done so, then sure, it wouldn’t be an issue.

  12. Concerning the American plane that sat in Vegas all night and then suffered a mechanical problem before its first flight the next day, I experienced a similar circumstance in Vegas first hand about 8-10 years ago (a 100% full American MD-88 headed to Dallas; 7am departure.) I had gotten up at 4:30am to make it to the gate on time. Everyone boarded, doors closed, start engines, mechanical problem, flight cancelled. Whatever the problem was, it couldn’t be fixed and the plane was taken out of service.

    I was unhappy as I knew the jet had been there all night; why did they wait until it was time to leave to verify that it would be ok to fly? Eventually I concluded that there was little they could have done, save start the engines at some point in the hours leading to the flight — and that didn’t seem particularly plausible. But it still struck me as something that could have been avoided. Now Brett states that such a thing shouldn’t happen. Brett, would you be willing to explain why?

    (For the record, my trip that day also had a happy ending, but not before things got worse.

    As we returned to the gate area the airline made an announcement that their highest level frequent fliers could get into line here for immediate rebooking help, the next level a line there, the next level a line over there. I was none of those. Everyone else was welcome to call the airline or line up at the departure gate for rebooking. I was poorly positioned and so wound up at the end of that line. I figured I’d try to call the 800 number and went to an available pay phone far from the gate, but hold times were lengthy. I was flying to the east coast, with a stopover; worse, I had checked a bag and had no idea what would happen to it even if I could rebook over the phone. I assumed (rightly so I would find out later) that since the 7am flight was full no flight to Dallas that would ultimately get me to DCA at a reasonable hour would have room for me — especially after the high status fliers had been accommodated. That made getting back to DCA before late in the evening very unlikely, especially with a lengthy layover somewhere seeming to grow more probable with every passing minute.

    After holding for AA reservations for quite a while I gave up on the phone call and went back to the gate area; the “everyone else” line had barely moved. It was already 8:45am local time. The hands on the clock in my mind were flying forward as I calculated: It’s almost noon on the east coast, I have five hours of flight time and at best an hour of connection time before I would arrive at an airport in the DC area. I might not get a quick connection, and may have to go to IAD or BWI from where it could take considerably more time and effort (or a lot more $) to get home. And it may take another hour or two to get to the head of the rebooking line. I always flew in and out of DCA and didn’t know what my options would be flying as far as flying into BWI or IAD through a connecting point on American, and I knew Dallas wouldn’t be that connecting point. I thought, “Might not make it back today.”

    After joining the end of the line I must have looked especially despondent because an older AA employee — no idea what his official job was — who was walking by looked at me, called me out of the line and asked if he could help. I told him my story and he said with a reassuring smile that he would see what he could do.

    The dark clouds that had seemed to be following me around began to break up. He went onto the ramp, found my bag (which had been unloaded from the plane that wouldn’t be taking me to Dallas) and brought it into the terminal, rebooked me on a flight (leaving in 35 minutes) to LAX — where with a tight connection I would catch a cross country flight to IAD — then printed my boarding passes, retagged my bag and took it to where it would be resorted and placed on my new flight. I would get home about 3 hours later than originally scheduled but I wasn’t complaining. I thanked him profusely.

    The flight to LAX left on time, and the 767 from LAX to IAD was 60% full, left a few minutes early and was airborne quickly. A little more than 3 hours after taking off the captain come on and made the following statement: “Well folks, it doesn’t happen very often but thanks to some steady, strong tailwinds we just flew all the way across the country in less than three and a half hours without turning on the seat belt sign.” Somewhere along the way, I had been given a voucher for a cab ride from IAD to DCA. The cabbie agreed to take me home, which would take a little less time and was marginally shorter than the trip to DCA, and I arrived home only 75 minutes later than originally scheduled.)

    1. Phil – Of course there’s always the rare possibility that an airplane can have a fault after sitting overnight. But if you have an airplane sitting somewhere for hours, you should have it ready to go on time 99.9% of the time. Every airline has programs in place to focus on getting those first flights out on time. Maybe this was one of those times where it was the 0.1% that couldn’t have been found or fixed beforehand. But in general, those issues should be dealt with.

  13. Don’t leave your passport in a safe deposit box. Keep it at home where it is ready for any trip you need to take. You can always get a replacement passport if you lose yours, it doesn’t need to live in a safe deposit box.

  14. I noticed that chip in the flap too. That would have me a little nervous if I looked out the window and noticed that. American not keeping their planes in tip top shape are they?

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