Upon exiting LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT), I turned right, took the escalator up and headed towards American’s Terminal 4 at LAX.
Premium is not the Flagship checkin
Though I was booked in Business Class, I called AA from Hong Kong and arranged an upgrade to First Class on this segment using miles. I was on a full fare business ticket, so the upgrade was 15,000 miles, and no co-pay.
You may recall that AA currently operates three-class 767-200s on all of their JFK-LAX services (and all but one of their JFK-SFO services). Other than Qantas’s daily 747 service between LAX and JFK on the QF107/108, this AA service is my favorite domestic flight.
This segment tugged at some nostalgia for me because this may be my last time on one of these old 767s. AA is rolling out three-class A321 aircraft on this route beginning next year. (Details of the new aircraft can be found here.) While the experience pales next to most premium cabin international travel (on foreign carriers), for a domestic flight, this service is done quite nicely.
AA offers a private “Flagship” check-in at LAX. Through a small door just east of the main check-in areas, a small group of passengers (those in three-cabin first class and those using Five Star service) are invited to check-in away from the masses.
The entryway was “guarded” by a red-coated woman. I just walked in right past her, without any sort of interaction or questioning from her.
Inside is a small room, perhaps just a few hundred square feet, with two manned check-in stations, two kiosks and a small sitting area.
I inquired about moving to an earlier flight (conditioned on First Class being available), and the agent was very helpful. The flight I was trying to switch to was within the minimum connection time for international to domestic at LAX, so I was not allowed to be originally ticketed on the flight. Once I arrive in LAX, however, it’s free game to try and get on an earlier flight.
Despite me having bags to check, she was very pro-active in how she handled the situation. She looked at the load on the flight I was hoping to get on and then called the gate for that earlier flight (boarding was just beginning). She explained the situation to the gate agent. After a bit of back and forth, she said it looked good, but could not confirm me, but that I’d be “top of the list” for one of the open First Class seats. She suggested that she should check my bag on the earlier flight, to which I agreed.
Just as we were wrapping up, she called over a handheld radio to a skycap. He must have been waiting just on the other side of the opaque doors leading out of the room, because he walked right in. He said he would escort me through security. He took me out the back door, up a staircase, and escorted me to the front of the First/Business/Elite security queue. Unlike with Five Star service (where the agent brings you all the way through to the gate), he sent me on my way once my identity documents were checked.
As I was on standby for a flight boarding, I headed straight to the gate to introduce myself to the gate agent. I did not have time to visit the lounge.
As I approached the podium, without me even saying a word, the agent said, “You must be Mr. X, I have your new boarding pass ready for you, sir.” I gave her the boarding pass from the other flight and she stepped over to the boarding scanners, scanned my new boarding pass, and wished me a pleasant flight.
This is the level of service that I wish all First Class travelers could be offered. Recognizing the full First Class fare on these transcon flights is about $6,000 round trip, I suspect if all First Class passengers would be willing to pay that sort of price (over $1 per mile), this would be the level of service afforded on all flights. Alas, in today’s day of “race to the bottom” pricing and unlimited domestic upgrades on many major carriers, it is not meant to be. I digress….
I had been assigned seat 3A. While relatively low on my ranking of seats on the 767-200, I was happy to be getting home an hour earlier.
The First Class cabin ended up being full. Several passengers were milling around, making seemingly urgent last-minute phone calls. I called my driver in New York to tell him I would be on an earlier flight.
Only after the boarding door was shut did the flight attendant politely, and individually, ask people to end their calls and be seated.
Service throughout the flight was very good. While the transcon First Class cabins attract some of the most senior (read: oldest) flight attendants, I find overwhelmingly that the crew in front on this route are some of the nicest and most service oriented. I can’t recall a time where I saw the forward cabin FAs just hanging out, reading magazines, etc.
My strategy for meals on these flights lately has been to avoid the main dish. The starter plus the salad (with a generous helping of chicken) is usually more than enough. I find the main dishes usually to be the worst part of the meal on these flights.
Tonight, I went crazy and had a sundae, too.
After finishing my meal, I reclined all the way back and fell asleep for a good portion of the flight. I woke up before landing, ordered some sort of beverage and spent some time goofing around on Milepoint using the inflight internet.
Landing into JFK was uneventful. Of course, unlike every other flight on this seven country journey, this time, baggage was delayed. (This essentially always happens at JFK.) Perhaps 25 minutes after I arrived at the baggage belt did the bags begin to come out? Thanks to my “priority” tag, my bag was probably in the middle of the flow. Oh well – I knew this would be the case.
Departing the airport shortly after 11pm on a Friday, my driver said the Van Wyck was really jammed up (11pm!) and we took the Cross Island instead, making it home in about an hour.