For my first trip since my Italian caper in January, earlier this week I flew to Reno for a fencing tournament and, per my plan for paid flights in 2015, booked flights on American Airlines, which I could credit to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
I've only very rarely flown on American, not because I actively avoid them (as I do United), but because until this year I was deliberately renewing my Delta Platinum Medallion status and American seldom served my needs for award tickets.
This isn't a sweeping judgment of American Airlines, just my thoughts after spending perhaps 20 hours in their clutches in the last 3 days.
Chicago is a terrible choice for a hub
This criticism isn't unique to American Airlines, but Chicago in general and O'Hare in particular is a bad place to route huge numbers of flights through.
On my outbound leg Sunday evening, my American Eagle flight to Chicago was delayed 90 minutes, which was only mitigated by the fact that my flight from Chicago to Reno was delayed 2 hours.
Detroit, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City, all northern cities with significant winter weather conditions, don't seem to have the continual problems I experience traveling through Chicago.
On my original return flight from Reno to Chicago, the flight was both delayed because of weather in Chicago and put under "weight restriction."
My gate agent was good at rerouting volunteers
Due to our weight restriction, my original return flight required a huge number of volunteers to take other flights. I think they ended up needing about 12 volunteers. They were offering $500 in voluntary denied boarding compensation, so I decided to see what options were available.
A simple Kayak search on my phone (the ITA app stopped working on my iPhone a while ago) didn't show any flights with space available that would get me home that night on any carrier, but the gate agent was able to force space open for me on a route through Los Angeles and Dallas that got me home 4 or 5 hours later than my original routing.
Alaska Airlines doesn't give bonus mileage for full-fare economy on American Airlines
I was rebooked into the full-fare "Y" fare class for my flights to Los Angeles and from Dallas, and booked into American's "F" fare class for the longer flight between Los Angeles and Dallas. I excitedly checked what kind of class-of-service bonus this would earn me in Alaska's Mileage Plan and was disappointed to discover Alaska doesn't offer any bonus for full-fare economy tickets.
However, neither of the other programs I might consider crediting miles to, American or their oneworld partner British Airways, awards bonus miles for "Y"-class tickets either, so I stuck with my original plan and credited the flights to Alaska (American gives 50% more Elite Qualifying Points, if you're planning to qualify that way)
The American Airlines cookie is fine
Since until this year I only occasionally flew American Airlines, I have only noticed with bemusement the literally thousands of times bloggers have written about the cookie served in American Airlines' first class cabin.
"Warmed mixed nuts, followed by a three-course meal including a warm cookie for dessert."
The cookie? It's fine.
ERJ-145 planes are terrible
Both my regional American Eagle flights were on Embraer ERJ-145 airplanes, and those things seem to be just terrible.
The lefthand exit row seat has an odd metal protuberance which, on my first American Eagle flight a few months ago, I assumed was because the seat had been vandalized in some way.
Now that I've flown on a second ERJ-145 with an identical jutting metal bar, I realize that the armrest must have been deliberately sawed off in order to make the emergency exit accessible. Seems to me a slightly crazy way to run an airline, but I'm not an airline mechanic.
American flight attendants are a mixed bag
One of the great things about Delta is their flight attendants who, at least on mainline jets, are relentlessly terrific.
On my mainline American Airlines flight between Los Angeles and Dallas, the flight attendants were bumbling but well-meaning. I had to place orders so many times I started to thing I was having déjà vu. Twenty minutes after placing my lunch order, the same flight attendant walked by and asked, "Will you be joining us for lunch?"
The American Eagle flights that bookended my trip were opposite experiences:
- The first flight, already running 90 minutes late, was delayed another 20 minutes by the flight attendant repeatedly asking the gentleman behind me, "Are you going to treat me with respect?" I didn't hear what initiated the exchange, but come on: it's a 20 minute flight, and we all just want to get to Chicago.
- On the last American Eagle flight I took on my way home, the flight attendant exercised my very favorite dereliction of duty: she didn't charge me for booze.
This year I plan on directing my paid travel to Delta first class flights when possible, and American economy flights otherwise, in order to maximize my chances of renewing medium- or high-level Alaska Airlines status. I feel like this trip taught me a lot about what to watch out for when booking American flights, and hopefully my future flights will have more cookies and fewer sawed-off armrests!