It’s been a busy week here at MJ on Travel. This week, we’ll have two hotels to review, a quick trip to take, and more. Last week, I was able to complete my trip report on the first class experience aboard American’s A321T, which I broke into two parts, ground services and boarding, then inflight services. One of my better uses of US Airways miles in a while. I just wish I could do that every weekend! Here’s a look at our weekly recap of posts at MJ on Travel.

And this week at MJ on Travel -

  • Hotel Review – Marriott Marquis, Washington, DC
  • Commentary – Airlines Are Complicated Businesses, but the Relationship With Their Customers Should Not Be

These travel topics, and no doubt more, this week at MJ on Travel.

-MJ, August 24, 2014

Trip Report – The AA A321T First Class, JFK-LAX (Part 1 – Ground services and boarding)

Trip Report – The AA A321T First Class, JFK-LAX (Part 2 – Takeoff and inflight services)

Not only did we push back on-time, but we enjoyed a fast taxi to the runway as well. Within minutes, we were taking the runway and blasting off for Los Angeles. I took a little video of the takeoff. Lots of plane porn to enjoy during the takeoff roll.

The takeoff and climb out were smooth, and I decided to experiment with AA’s 3D flight map. Pretty cool stuff. I should have closed the window shade before I took that shot.

IMG_1518

Within a few minutes, the flight attendants were starting service. Menus had been distributed on the ground, and the purser checked in with me to verify that I had pre-ordered my meal. This was the first opportunity I’ve had to test pre-ordering meals on AA, and based on this sample size of one, it worked. Here’s a look at the menu.

IMG_1520

Scan 142350001

Scan 142350001-1

Scan 142350001-2

Scan 142350009

Scan 142350009-1

Scan 142350001-3

Gone are the days of caviar and lobster in the tossed salad served seat side, but fairly respectable choices. Service began with wine, and the ever-popular ramekin of warm mixed nuts.

IMG_1524

I should have made a point to take a look at the wine label. I’m not convinced it was the red wine choice featured in the menu as the Purser referred to it as merlot. No matter – it was quite good for airline wine, and our great crew never let my glass get below half full until I finally gave up towards the end of the flight.

Dinner service began with a smoked salmon and seared tuna starter, which I enjoyed a lot.

IMG_1526

This was followed by a salad – spinach and romaine with hearts of palm, strawberries, and pecans. Dressing choices were Caesar or balsamic vinegar. I apologize for being a bad blogger and half devouring the salad before I realized I had not taken a picture!! It was fresh, tasty, and accompanied with a choice of breads. I went with cheese bread.

Next up was the main course. I had pre-ordered the gorgonzola crusted beef filet with red wine beer sauce. It was accompanied by roasted potatoes and broccolini. It was served medium. I don’t know why I order steaks in the air when they’re available. I didn’t love it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. I enjoyed the meal, however, I usually find that steaks in the sky are over cooked for my tastes. That’s just me, but I think I’ll try the chicken next time.

IMG_1527

The beef had a decent enough flavor, and the accompaniments were tasty too. But we all know what we’re really waiting for….. the world famous ice cream sundae!!!

IMG_1531

The sundae was good. Enough said.

Flight attendants were frequently in the aisle throughout the flight checking on customers, refilling wine glasses, etc. One of the better AA crews I’ve had in a while, so good that I sent a note to American about them. The inflight entertainment system has an extensive library of options, but I had brought my own entertainment so I did not partake. Headwinds were lower than forecast, and we were making great time towards Los Angeles. Our flight was passing all too quickly! Towards the end of the flight chocolate chip cookies were served.

IMG_1534

Weather looked great in LA as we smoothly descended towards an early arrival at LAX.

IMG_1536

We blocked into a gate immediately across from the LAX Admirals Club. I decided to drop in for a quick break before heading to my hotel. I was again offered Flagship Lounge access. I went in for a quick look and found a pretty decent spread of food and drink, not unlike what I had seen at JFK earlier. With that, my AA A321T first class adventure came to an end.

The Bottom Line

I’m so glad I finally made the scheduling work so I could experience the only true 3-class transcontinental service by a US airline. It was obvious that things weren’t the same as they used to be from a meal service perspective, but the product is still nice. The seat was truly comfortable. A great way to spend 6 hours, and even more on my next 777-300 flight with AA to Europe. In the end, the crew made the flight a great experience and everything else was just gravy.

Speculation abounds that the new AA management team will not continue this 3-class service now that the competition has dropped their 3-class cabins in the market. I’ve been guilty of buying into that, and it may eventually become true. On the other hand, the only true first class cabin in the market might be a strong marketing advantage for a certain set of well-heeled customers. Only time will tell. I’m actively looking for reasons to fly the A321T again! :)

-MJ, August 23, 2014

I seek to avoid flying on Mondays and Fridays, but as a business traveler, sometimes our wants are not what we get. A late week business trip forced me to fly on a Friday. Not just Friday, but Friday afternoon at 6PM. Prime hours departing DCA. I had an exit row on the aisle, and life was good. I checked in via Delta’s iPhone app the day before and I was #4 for 2 seats, a place I remained well into Friday. Not just well into Friday, but while I was in the cab heading to the airport. I arrived early enough to catch the 5PM departure, but I elected to sit tight, grab an early dinner, and camp out.

Between the front door and passing security, my 6PM departure became a 6:35PM departure. I had my bag with me, and really just didn’t care about the delay. As I enjoyed a gourmet dinner of chicken fingers and fries, I decided to check the Fly Delta iPhone app. My flight was still delayed, but suddenly, I was #4 for 6 seats. I didn’t get my hopes up as I knew the later flight folks could start arriving and working their way onto my flight. Dinner, a glass of wine, and what do you know, I was #4 for 7 seats. And then, I was here -

IMG_1563

 

The bottom line – never give up on the upgrade, even on a Friday night.

-MJ, August 22, 2014

This is risky, especially on a Friday night, but I’m going to give it the old college try. I’m going to throw a topic out there and see if we can get some discussion going. The topic – is it just me or are GoGo’s speeds increasingly unacceptable? I’m sure the particular market you’re flying has something to do with it, but overall, I found United’s satellite based wi-fi speeds on SFO-ATL to be better than DCA-ATL using GoGo inflight wi-fi on Delta….a route I frequent, and a flight I’m on as I type this. Does anyone else get slow speeds and frequent complete drops of the GoGo signal? Am I being unfair? Was I lucky with my sample size of two United flights with satellite based wi-fi? There you have it….LET’S DISCUSS!

-MJ, August 22, 2014

Just before boarding my 2:30PM flight from Atlanta to DCA today, the agent announced that they would be trying out a new boarding process. He was reading from a sheet of paper, so I take it this is something Delta is seriously considering. In short, boarding would go like this based on what I heard:

1) People who need extra time.

2) Families with children/strollers

3) First Class

4) Diamond

5) Sky Priority

6) Groups 1 through 4

While I’m not entirely sure how different this was from the way it’s always been in theory, they seemed to make a point of it, and really enforce the boarding order. I can’t say boarding went any better than usual as I was in first class, and boarded when I was told like I always do. As I passed the boarding pass scanner, I was handed a card with an email address to let Delta know what I thought of the new boarding process. Can’t really say as it just did not seem all that different to me. Has anyone else experienced this on a recent Delta flight?

Delta_logo+lg

-MJ, August 21, 2014

Trip Report – The AA A321T First Class, JFK-LAX (Part 1 – Ground services and boarding)

Trip Report – The AA A321T First Class, JFK-LAX (Part 2 – Takeoff and inflight services)

I know I’ve been hinting at flying American’s new transcon product since spring. In fact, I booked it on a whim back in April, had to cancel, and only just recently was able to reschedule. To say I was a bit stoked would be an understatement. No particular reason why other than trying a new product, and nostalgia reasons – the last time I did this flight it was aboard a DC-10 and an earlier edition of the Flagship transcontinental service. Caviar and lobster are no more, but I’d say the first class seat (essentially the same as AA’s biz seat on its 777-300s) is an improvement. It certainly beats the old recliner style from the 767-200s.

A321T-first-class

Image courtesy of American Airlines

The Trip

I booked the 3:00PM Saturday departure from JFK for a couple of reasons. I wanted to have plenty of time to get to JFK, and 3PM was the only afternoon flight available. It worked out perfectly. I repositioned to JFK by flying into LaGuardia on the back half of an expiring Delta award ticket.  The Delta flight was fine, and on time. I covered the yummy breakfast served on that flight in an earlier post. I took a car service to JFK, and with no traffic on a Saturday, I was standing at AA’s terminal 8 just before 11am. I wandered around for a bit before heading over to AA’s Flagship Check-in, which is adjacent to the Air Train entrance. If you are walking in from the front door, just go all the way to your right. The rules for using Flagship Check-in are as follows:

  • A ConciergeKeySM member
  • A Five Star ServiceSM customer
  • Traveling First Class onboard an American three-class transcontinental flight
  • Traveling First Class onboard an international American or select oneworld® alliance carrier anywhere in your outbound itinerary

I had already checked in on my phone, but I wanted the full immersion experience. There’s a concierge waiting outside who will ask for your name and flight number. He checked his handheld device, found my name, and I was in. There was an agent, a gentleman to handle bags, and MJ on Travel. Within a second or two, I had my first paper boarding pass in months, and I was exiting the facility which happens to lead right into the TSAPre line, which was empty on a Saturday.

The Flagship Lounge

The JFK Flagship Lounge resides within the main Admirals Club just inside security. After checking in with the concierge, they hand you a key for the lounge if you’re eligible for access, and you walk in. The door to the lounge is to your right after entering the Admirals Club. I arrived during the changeover from breakfast to lunch, and found the lounge completely empty except for a couple of staff folks. Business did pick up later, but for a good 40 minutes or so, I was alone.

IMG_1488

The lounge was comfortable, and well-equipped with power outlets. I really enjoyed the awesome views of ramp operations at JFK. I was seriously geeked up with airplane pictures. :)

IMG_1490

The A321T in that shot ultimately turned out to be my ride to LAX. Planes aside, I’d be remiss if I did not point out the most remarkable thing about the lounge for my purposes that day.

BvLUXlhIMAEG2k_.png-large

The wi-fi was remarkably fast. Assuming it’s true, that’s pretty decent speed, and is certainly better than AT&T is delivering to my home right now. In any event, I wrote about the Flagship Lounge experience in its entirety here. After a few hours of getting work done in the lounge, I made my over to gate 33 for my flight to LAX.

The A321T

If I had one observation to make about the entire experience, it would be that AA chose gate 33 to operate what is supposed to be a premium transcontinental product from JFK. Gate 33 is by the Eagle operation, and is about as far from the Flagship Lounge as you can get. There is a second Admirals Club that is closer. I’m sure gates are at a premium as a big push of international arrivals begins, but I would think they’d aim to be closer to the larger club, and the Flagship Lounge. Just a thought. In any event, boarding began the minute I arrived, and I was shortly taking my seat, 3A, for the flight to LAX. It was one of those flights that you board, and immediately know you’re going to like the crew. The purser and one other flight attendant were working the first class which ultimately wound up with 6 of 10 seats filled. Welcome aboard sparkling wine was offered.

IMG_1512

My old friend, the plastic pre-departure “glass.” :) Oh well….. it was drinkable, and the crew was friendly. It was going to be a good flight. I took a few minutes to explore the seat.

IMG_1510

The seats are arrange 1 x 1, so you have both a window and an aisle, but the windows are not close. That’s not an issue, just an observation. I immediately liked the seat. It was comfortable, spacious, and just genuinely nice. A full size pillow and duvet were already at the seat as was an amenity kit. Better yet, there are multiple options for powering your electronics and enjoying the inflight entertainment.

IMG_1508

That 3-prong plug is proprietary and the Bose headsets AA provides are setup for it. However, just below that is a standard single-prong plug, so I was able to use my Bose QC20i’s and enjoy the inflight entertainment too. USB and (I think) Empower? are just below. A little further over, and you’ll find a standard power outlet.

IMG_1509

If you’ve wondered how anyone could see the typical video screens provided on most airplanes, you won’t have to worry about that on the A321T. The screens are 15″ and provide a lot of options.

IMG_1521

It wasn’t an issue for me, but one of the things I found most interesting about the seat was the tight pass-through between the seat and the aisle.

IMG_1522

There was generous legroom when seated, and I was very comfortable throughout the flight.

 

IMG_1507

The bottom line – the seat is quite nice, and I’m looking forward to trying AA’s 777-300 in Business on our next flight to Europe. Believe me, I can sleep in this seat!! Although the airplane was near full, with a max capacity of 102 passengers, we boarded quickly and buttoned up for an on-time departure from JFK.

Coming up: Part 2 of the trip report – takeoff, inflight service, and arrival in LAX.

There are two deals in this week’s Weekly Cruise Deal. One based on the price and the itinerary, the other…less so based on price and certainly on the itinerary. First up – a 14-night Holy Land cruise aboard the beautiful Celebrity Silhouette departing Rome starting at $799 per person plus taxes and port charges. Look at this itinerary.

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 5.34.33 PM

Yes, I watch the news and read a few newspapers, so I’m aware that certain parts of this itinerary could prove challenging or be changed, but it’s too good not to share.

My other favorite for this week, an 11-night Black Sea cruise departing Istanbul aboard Celebrity Constellation. Here’s the itinerary.

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 5.32.36 PM

While there’s much to like here, I think the ability to hotel 2-nights in Istanbul aboard the ship at the end of the cruise is very attractive. This cruise starts at $1,199 per person plus taxes and port charges. Not cheap, but not woefully expensive either. Each of these must be booked today for the current best pricing. I hope some of you are able to take advantage of these wonderful itineraries.

-MJ, August 20, 2014

 

According to Raleigh-Durham International’s blog, Delta Air Lines will add new nonstop services from Raleigh/Durham (RDU) to the warm weather destinations of Miami and Nassau later this year. Per the blog, “Nonstop service to Nassau is scheduled daily for the peak holiday travel period of Dec. 20, 2014-Jan. 20, 2015. Miami nonstop service will operate on Saturdays from Dec. 20, 2014- Aug. 15, 2015.” However, my own look at the schedules shows both services as Saturday only at the moment, with the last Nassau flight on January 10, 2015.

While these markets might seem a little odd at first glance, RDU is a bit of a focus city for Delta with a big number of flights to Delta’s major hubs and large markets like Los Angeles. Delta has operated a Saturday only nonstop from RDU to Cancun for a few years, and these new Saturday only flights are likely using aircraft that have some spare time on the weekend. Miami is well served from RDU by American, but I guess Delta could capitalize on its inherent strengths in the local RDU market, and deliver a few folks to weekend departing cruises too.

Now for the next big question – will Delta revive its idea that never took flight from years back of 757 service to Paris from RDU? Hmmm.

-MJ, August 20, 2014

It’s hard to believe that the MJ on Travel team is just 104 days away from boarding the beautiful new Quantum of the Seas. One of the restaurants I’m looking most forward to visiting onboard is Michael’s Genuine Pub. Introducing the Gastropub aboard a cruise ship should be no small feat, but I’m pretty confident that the chef and the folks at Royal Caribbean will figure it out. One of the features I’m looking most forward to sampling is the craft beer selection, including the pub’s own brew, Michael’s Genuine® Home Brew, working with Back Forty Beer Company. Here’s a look behind the scenes at Back Forty where the new brew will be crafted.

Last weekend I took my first United mainline flights in several years. At least 3 years…maybe 4 or even 5….the memory is fuzzy. I think the last one was a reroute from AA Eagle to UA from Raleigh to Washington. I’ve had an interesting relationship with United over the years. After working for their primary competitor for so many years, I found flying them to be interesting. I like to compare and contrast airline operations, and the differences (and similarities) between United and my ex-employer were always curious to me. There really weren’t that many, but it was just different enough to be novel at the time. It didn’t hurt that they had a good number of flights to where I needed to go at the time either.

I’ve held both Premier and Premier Executive status in the then Mileage Plus program. I’ve flirted with United on and off since 2004. It was always interesting, but never quite real. For whatever reason, I’d find myself flying someone else after a flirtation with United. I liked their mileage program just fine, but something about the airline itself always bugged me. And being the kind of guy who finds that the airline matters more than its mileage program, I always wandered away. The final parting came when I was spending more time flying US Airways, but crediting to Mileage Plus. Probably not a bad plan, but I was flying enough that upgrades began to matter – even on 2 hour flights. I made the final switch to Dividend Miles and spent most of my MileagePlus miles in late 2012 on a Lufthansa First Class trip. With that as background, I thought I’d share some details of recent flights given the drubbing (at times deserved I think) that United has taken from some circles.

The Trip

I needed to get home from LAX, and studied my options – money, miles or walking. I went with miles as I had some MileagePlus miles leftover that were burning a hole in my pocket – just enough for a domestic first class award. I found a one-way itinerary from LAX to Atlanta via SFO and booked it. I thought the 737 transcon experience might make for an interesting experience as United has been flying nonstop from SFO to ATL for a several months now. When the time arrived, I checked in via United’s fairly functional iPhone app the day before, and enjoyed my evening. As I was getting ready the next morning I got a little push notification from United letting me know that my flight from LAX to SFO was delayed. I couldn’t help but think I was about to get Jeff’d. I selected my routing with purpose. First, it assured me mainline jets all the way, something of which I found to be challenging with UA. Second, I wanted to check out the transcon service on the 737-800. I elected to get out to the airport and try and standby for an earlier flight even though it did not look promising on ExpertFlyer.

I checked in with an agent, and she placed me on the standby list. The flight was booked solid, and I wasn’t very hopeful. However, I stuck it out at the gate, and what do you know? I cleared – 32D in an A319 was not the same as 2A on the A320 I was originally scheduled or, but I would make my connection with ease. This flight left right on time, arrived SFO early, and I wandered around the terminal a bit. It’s been years since I’ve flown United but portions of their terminal are clearly improved. I burned a day pass for the United Club, camped out and got some work done. In no time it seemed, I was walking down to board my flight home to the ATL. We were a tiny bit late boarding, but things went smoothly, and we pushed right on time. I was looking forward to the flight, partially thanks to an email I received from United the day before:

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 8.04.16 PM

The Seat

I surmised that it is such an event to actually get wi-fi on a United flight that they need to send you an email to let you know you’ll have it. :) Funny thing is, both of my United flights that day were wi-fi ready. I boarded, and took my assigned seat 3E, on the aisle. The seats were a tiny bit old school, but comfortable, and I enjoyed catching up on a little news via DirecTV while we boarded. Legroom was plentiful. Perhaps they felt extra roomy because I was waaaay back in coach on my first flight of the day. Let’s compare…here’s 32D:

IMG_1550

And 3E.

IMG_1552

To tell you the truth, I found the coach seat very comfortable until the person in front of me reclined into my lap. But I’ll take 3E, thank you very much. Soon enough, we were airborne and winging our way towards Atlanta. I did try out United’s satellite wi-fi. I found it to be sufficiently speedy for my needs (4mbps download speed when I tried), and I liked the pricing plan very much. Basically, you buy as much as you want in 1 hour blocks for $2 per hour. I don’t know if that is a test phase price or not.

The Meal

Dinner was served during our flight. Our choices were chicken cacciatore and some kind of spinach filled thing that didn’t sound all that great. I went with the chicken with red wine for my beverage. Service began with hot towels, beverages, and my eternal favorite, a ramekin of warm mixed nuts.

IMG_1553

While the pre-dinner services were going on, I began to explore the entertainment offerings. DirecTV offered a LOT of channels, and I found myself surfing a bit. My eyes settled on VH-1. Yes, I said that. Why? The movie Purple Rain was playing. The rest of the flight was made as I enjoyed the music of Prince at FL370. But alas, dinner did eventually arrive so here ya’ go.

IMG_1554

If you’re counting, that’s approximately 1/3 of a chicken breast under some sauce with veggies and something resembling pasta. It doesn’t look like much, but it actually tasted OK. The salad was fresh, if skimpy (1 olive, 1 chunk of tomato, lettuce). A bread basket was offered as well. Dessert was a cranberry and white chocolate cookie. The meal was good enough, but I’m not sure it would have passed muster with Delta, much less American, and I’m not talking about the A321T First Class meal I had the day before. The first class F/A, on the other hand, was ever present, frequently offering refills of beverages and routinely checking on passengers. She absolutely made the flight. Well, other than Purple Rain on the TV, she absolutely made the flight.

The Bottom Line

I viewed the idea of flying United again with some trepidation based on a bit of media attention they’ve been receiving. Even though my original flight was delayed, I stood by for an earlier trip, and everything worked out fine. The agents and crew I interacted with were all uniformly polite, smiling, and helpful. Two flights doesn’t mark a trend, and living where I live, it’s not likely that I’ll go out of my way to fly United. That said, I won’t actively avoid it either. I enjoyed my flights.

-MJ, August 19, 2014 (OMG, I took my first airplane ride 34 years ago today!)

« previous home top next »

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.