Last week was the beginning of American’s Annual Leadership Conference (ALC). This is a great event where American brings in thousands of managers from across the system to get a one-day update from the company’s leaders. I’m fortunate to be one of a handful of media folks who are allowed to attend with the understanding that it’s completely off the record. Though I can’t tell you what was said, I can tell you about my flights. American may stop installing in-seat video on short-haul aircraft, but on this trip, I certainly appreciated having the option.
[Disclosure: American provided my flights and hotel]
I knew American had a 787 and 777 flying between LA and Dallas/Ft Worth, but the times didn’t work out for me in either direction. So it was all A321 for me. On this route, American operates the fleet with in-seat video and all the bells and whistles.
On the way out, I wanted to get there around noon and that meant a 7am departure. Normally, that’s not that big of a deal, but I was a little anxious this time. See, LAX is now gridlocked on a good day, but the day before there had been protests against the Muslim ban gumming up the works even more. I decided to leave a little extra buffer and leave home at 5:15am.
It was still early enough that there wasn’t any traffic on the freeways. I parked at QuikPark and hopped on the shuttle. The roadways were empty and I was at the terminal just after 5:45am. There were maybe 3 people in line for Pre Check, and I walked right through.
The terminal itself was empty. I can’t remember the last time I saw the rotunda so barren. As I walked around looking for a shoe shine, I couldn’t help but notice that the signage had been updated quickly. The Eagle remote gates used to be tied to Terminal 6 (for check-in and busing) but the day before, American had moved them to be attached to Terminal 5. The signage already had it right.
I went back to the gate and logged on to do some work while the sun rose. The gate agents started calling people up by name, such as “Mr So-and-so. Please come to the podium for pre-boarding.” I guessed that was a new Concierge Key perk, but I couldn’t get a straight answer on that.
I boarded in Group 1 because I have an American credit card, but of course, that meant more than half the flight had already boarded.
February 1, 2017
American 2453 Lv Los Angeles 700a Arr Dallas/Ft Worth 1210p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 43, Runway 25R, Depart 6m Early
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate A34, Runway 18R, Arrive 21m Early
N122NN, Airbus A321-231, Ugly flag colors, ~90% Full
Seat 18A, coach
Flight Time 2h31m
I took my seat and surprisingly found a blanket wrapped in plastic waiting for me (and everyone else). How strange. I watched as the sun slowly came up, burning off the fog that had rolled in overnight.
Though I had only my laptop under the seat, it was still cramped thanks to the giant box which powers the inflight entertainment.
I didn’t waste any time. I flipped on a movie right away and that kept me busy while we waited to push back. We did leave early and made our way down to the end of the runway. We took off into the calm morning sky and then flipped around to head east.
There was a discussion here recently in the comments about how many inflight entertainment systems don’t show you the exact route of flight. This one certainly did.
I had a glass of water and snagged a Biscoff for the kids (or as they call them “Delta cookies”) and then I just did some work offline while watching a movie for the rest of the flight.
It was a nice warm day in Dallas and we had an uneventful landing and taxi in to the terminal. I was off for a whirlwind couple of days.
By Friday morning, I was exhausted, but I still made time to go meet an old friend at American’s headquarters. I took the TRE out from downtown Dallas and walked the mile or so to the building. It had turned really cold (in the 30s at that time of day) and it was windy and cloudy. That wasn’t the most pleasant walk. But after a short visit and lunch in the cafeteria, I realized my flight was leaving in an hour and I hadn’t even ordered a ride yet. Oops.
Fortunately there were cars nearby and traffic was light. I was walking in the terminal building only about 20 minutes later. My aircraft had come from LA, so I don’t know why we were in the international Terminal D, but this was the first time I’d had the chance to see that terminal outside of security. The ticket counters seem far more functional than in the other terminals, but then again, they were totally empty when I arrived.
Security was empty too, and I had plenty of time on the other side to walk around. Terminal D on the inside is somewhat overwhelming. The varying layers of height of the different structures makes for an imposing feeling. This photo summed it up for me.
Boarding time came and our airplane (the same one that brought me out two days prior) was ready to go. I hopped on and took my seat with the extra bonus of an empty middle next to me.
February 3, 2017
American 2480 Lv Dallas/Ft Worth 105p Arr Los Angeles 234p
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate D36, Runway 36R, Depart 9m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 45, Runway 25L, Arrive 7m Early
N122NN, Airbus A321-231, Ugly flag colors, 80% Full
Seat 19F, coach
Flight Time 3h05m
Flight time was supposed to be just under 3 hours, and I wondered if I could pull off two movies. After all, since it works gate-to-gate, that might have been possible… and indeed, it was. I wish it wasn’t, because I made the stupid mistake of doing a mini-Galifianakis marathon. First was Keeping Up with the Joneses. Second was Masterminds. I’m not sure what I was thinking.
The clouds had burned off and we took off into the hazy sunshine before pointing west. Once at altitude, we found ourselves in that ever-annoying high cloud layer that prevented me from having much of a view most of the way to California.
I didn’t have much interaction with the crew, but I did appreciate their effort. Joanna came by serving pretzels, but I was hoping to get a second Biscoff for my other kid. I asked if she had any, and she said “I might in the back. Let me check.” I told her it wasn’t necessary to go back — I had just hoped it was in the cart — but she insisted and came back with two packs for me. That was very nice of her.
As my Galifianakis-fest wound down, we were well into our descent. The remains of a storm were still moving through LA, so we had a couple layers of clouds to go through. I’m not sure why, but this out-of-focus video I took makes it look like the storm of the century. In reality, it was just some rain.
We landed very early and then waited awhile to cross the runway. Then, a unicorn appeared. Our gate was NOT occupied!
We pulled in a couple minutes early, and I was at the curb and in my car in no time. The drive home… well, Friday afternoon combined with rain was not a good combo. But I did get there eventually.
I was the one who brought up the issue of plane routings showing up as great circling routings on IFE, though I forgot where I saw that.
Thanks for the follow up on this topic, Brett.
I’ve always found that the forward looking part of the route was not real (ie straight line and not actual routing points) but that the maps always showed the real route taken.
(or as they call them “Delta cookies”)
I wonder if AA cringes when they hear this? Never understood why they wouldn’t differentiate, or is there something about the biscoff that is ideal to airlines?
A – It’s a good question. United made quite the splash with the stroopwafel. I’m surprised American hasn’t tried to find a signature snack of its own. Don’t get me wrong… I love Biscoff. But Delta has cornered that market.
That stroopwafel is a big hit with me in economy. But, made in the Netherlands?
Like maybe they could have gone with something a little more American, like a Hershey’s Resse’s Peanut Butter Cup?
Made in Mexico? Since 2007? Don’t tell the Man, please!
Being Dutch, I have to reply: of course the stroopwafels are made in The Netherlands. Made in any other country would be similar to Swiss chocolate made in Belgium or a donut made in Thailand ;)
On both my recent flights to/from JFK-LAX this past weekend, Concierge Key members have been called about 5 minutes before the official boarding process begins. They weren’t called by name, but rather, “Concierge Key members are welcome to board at this time.”
CL – And I think that’s supposed to be the procedure now. It sounds like my gate agents were getting a little overzealous. In my mind, many CKs aren’t going to want to be called out individually.
So they invite media types but you can’t talk about, so why do they invite any media at all?
Just to say they did I guess.
David SF – It is well worth it for everyone. First, it helps to give media background on what’s coming and how the strategy is evolving. There’s not usually a ton of news that would break from these anyway; it’s more about showing where they’re pointing the airline and how they’re doing it. Second, it’s great for the media to be able to sit there and see something that isn’t directed at them. Watching the interaction between senior management and the rest of the managers is really interesting (there’s an hour-long Q&A at the end). And hearing lower level management talk to each other is just as fascinating. Third, there are opportunities to talk to senior management. It was a couple years ago that they pulled us aside and launched their case against the Middle East airlines, for example. Nothing like that this year, but there are still one-off opportunities. I actually think every airline should do this, but they need to make sure they only invite media members that they trust to keep it off the record.
Thanks for the answer, but it still seems odd to me.
Gee, almost makes us want to move to MetroL.A.Cali, land of milk and honey. Then we realized fruits and nuts prevail. Have the recent typhoons washed away any scum?
A few good movies to pass the time while in flight…
Bad Moms, Spy, The Heat And of course a favorite around here Airplane!
I just watched Airplane on TV this weekend and it’s still funny after all these years.
I was nervous about the AA A321 when I saw the dense configuration, but it’s actually a pretty good ride – legions better than the horrid A319, which just feels cramped. The IFE is nice and some of the exit rows offer incredible legroom. I’ve come to like them far more than the 737-800s.
Re: your flight leaving from Terminal D – this has been a common theme since they opened up that shiny new terminal years ago. Outside of flights to/from Mexico, there’s surprisingly little international service at DFW, and many of those Mexico flights are American Eagle which go out of Terminal B. They run a lot of domestic service out of there to keep it full. I’d say the majority of my flights to LAX and ONT end up leaving out of D.
Cranky AA operates tons of domestic operations out of D and has since the terminal opened. All equipment types, even if the inbound is also a domestic arrival. I’d say close to 25% of my domestic departures at DFW are out of D.
They added domestic flights because D terminal was empty until the afternoon and the vendors were suffering.
They didn’t add them. I’ve been flying domestic from D since the terminal opened in 2005.
Then you know how empty the terminal was before noon.
MeanMeosh, that used to be true but not anymore. They now have so much traffic they’re in the planning stages for a second international terminal. Usually when you end up at Terminal D on a domestic flight it’s because the plane’s next leg is international, or you’re on a 777 or 787.
WTF is the point of inviting the media if they aren’t allowed to report on what was said?
Called ‘off the record’. Gives reporters a chance to gain insights that can be generally used in future reporting. an opportunity they wouldn’t’ get otherwise.
?Yeah, Brett, fake news. Not really a Muslim Ban, but more of a terrorist ban. Thanks.
thank you for that. Can’t spend years and years calling it a Muslim Ban, then say, ‘no, its not a muslim ban, its a travel ban’. then get called on it, and then deny you ever called it any kind of ban what so ever.
?Seriously Oliver? 2015 news? It’s now 2017.
I am not going to get into a discussion with you, sorry.
I flew Virgin America from LA to Chicago last week. And what I found out as I seated, there is no in flight magazine in front of seat pocket. When I navigated monitor, it was surprised to ass, that all information you would like to know in the the monitor.
If you would like to buy a bottle of wine, click designated page and select. To pay, just swipe your credit card and add your e mail address for receipt. Flight Attendants will bring purchased item right away.
American Airlines should keep the monitor and get led of in-flight magazine. You can just imagine how much weight you can reduce for operational purpose.
I love having the 2nd screen as much as the next guy, but I get AA’s point – most people don’t need it. and it is heavy. At least the magazines are paid by advertisers. Buying snacks/drinks – how much incremental revenue is that via a screen vs normal service? To think of the cost of install, added maintenance (parts, people, even days out of service), added opportunity to disappoint customers when it breaks (and therefore compensate) etc. it is a tough proposition. I think if airlines focus on wifi and power for Bring-your-own Device, and focus on cabin service, no one will miss it that much.
Virgin is different – they need it for marketing, brand positioning, etc. If they don’t have cool bells and whistles, then what makes their a320 different than AA’s? And if it is not different, then unless the price is cheaper, why fly someone with fewer planes, routes, and frequencies?
Nothing stops AA from working on a mobile app which lets you do the same ordering as the virgin TV — afterall, it too is an app just on another device.
Noah, the AA Thales & Panasonic systems don’t have food ordering like JL or VX. Airlines are happy to break even on buy onboard its not a profit center between the catering costs, spoilage, theft, etc.
Buy on board products not profitable?? Are you kidding me?? Don’t wish to go off on a tangent but the airlines are raking it in.
How much can one of those non perishable boxes that sell for $ 8-9 actually cost?? If it’s over $2.50 I would be shocked.
Maybe that is a subject for Brett to explore.
Joey – I’d be surprised if they made any money, especially fresh food which spoils. I think the general goal on these has historically been to have the program pay for itself. Haven’t heard anything different lately though.
Would make for a good follow-up post ! Can catering and buy on board be made profitable (and I believe it is for many european lcc like Easyjet, …) ?
I would imagine that the buy on board turns a profit. There is a much lower supply of the fresh/perishable items because they are indeed perishable.
It does amaze me how many people buy this crap. It really is crap. I fully understand when people have short connections and they might not have time to buy their own food. It’s not like these buy on board choices are cheaper than what’s on offer on the concourse. An exception would be lax. Now they have renovated in certain terminals the food prices are outrageous.
Now the margins on alcohol sales are enormous. Don’t have to worry about spoilage.
It might be an interesting topic for the future.
Sorry I missed seeing you this year Brett
Related to the Leadership Conference, Parker has decided to turn down President Trump’s invitation to chat about airline industry issues Thursday morning so it sounds like it will just be Delta and United CEOs according to some media sources.
updated info says Gary Kelly of WN will be there too.