Last night wasn’t a good one operationally for American Airlines at DFW.  This is not a complaint or gripe, quite the opposite actually.  I was prepared for a bad afternoon with impending thunderstorms approaching from the west, and another larger line to the east, but I got more than I bargained for.  I was confirmed on AA flight 364, departing at 6:30pm, and arriving Washington – DCA at 10:20pm.  My AAdvantage Gold upgrade had even cleared at the 24 hour window.  Not bad for a Friday night, huh?  But not unheard of.  My experience has been that the majority of elites on Fridays are leaving DCA and not returning.  Probably has more to do with Congress being in our out of session than anything else.  In any event…nothing but my opinion.

My business was completed by 1pm, so after a quick lunch, and returning the rental car with my colleagues, I was on the rental car shuttle to AA’s Terminal C at DFW with a fresh email from AA that my 6:30pm flight was already delayed to 7:35pm.  An earlier flight perhaps?  Not this Friday.  I might’ve had a shot had the 3:25pm flight not cancelled, but it did and flights were quite full.  No sweat, I’d have lots of time to kill in the Admirals Club, and might even get a little work done.  The coworkers I was traveling with joined me at the C-21 Admirals Club, and we did indeed get a bit of work done while I received a chain of emails from AA delaying my flight to 9pm, then 9:45pm….well, you get the drift.

While we were in the club, a nasty line of weather moved over the airport, shutting things down.  That said, my flight’s estimated departure updated back to 9pm, but out of gate A-15.  So I parted with my coworkers who were both less delayed than I, and walked over to the A terminal for a little exercise.  I won’t bore you with any more minutiae.  Things got cute from here.  I optimistically strolled down to get gate about 40 minutes before our 9pm planned departure.  8:30pm came and went, with no details, but I did overhear one of the gate agents say that our flight attendants were arriving on another flight at 8:59pm.  Our pilots were present, and the Captain seemed optimistic that we’d eventually go.  In fact, he spent quite a bit of time behind the counter interacting with customers and answering their questions.  I think that probably played a roll in keeping 160 folks from swinging from the rafters.  Frankly, I thought my fellow passengers were incredibly well behaved considering how the evening unfolded.

Long story short, every 20 minutes for the next couple of hours, we were told we were waiting for flight attendants coming from Tulsa, then Cozumel, then back to Tulsa…and that they were arriving or had arrived at various gates.  As it turned out, they finally did block in about 10 gates away at 10:17pm (if I heard that time correctly on the PA).  By this time, my fellow passengers had become a little rowdy, but in a humorous and good-natured sort of way.  Everytime a stray flight attendant was sighted, someone would start saying “whup…is it…..could it be….” and they’d get there and say “no, not me” and the crowd would laugh.  It was an almost Southwest sort of night.  Turns out we were only missing 2 flight attendants and when they finally did arrive, the crowd erupted in joy…..and of course started crowding the boarding gate, but I managed to poke through the crowd and take advantage of First Class boarding.

I expected a semi-surly inflight crew after all the mess, but they turned out to be pretty pleasant.  And I don’t think I’d ever been so glad to settle into an airline seat.  This was a newer 737-800 equipped with American’s new domestic First seats, and I think they’re just about the most comfortable seat there is.  It probably seemed better than usual because I was beat from all the waiting for flight attendants drama.  We finally pushed at 11:28pm, and launched pretty soon thereafter.  The flight was intermittently choppy, and we had to fly way north and then east to avoid the big line of storms that had so messed things up in DFW.  Dinner was served, and I didn’t turn it down.  The choices were tortelini or baked chicken, and I went with the chicken.  Typical AA meal….mixed nuts to start…and the chicken was fine.  Dessert was a blueberry (I think) cheesecake.

It finally smoothed out after we got pretty far east and the rest of the flight was uneventful.  Soon enough we were descending for DCA.  I was seated on the aisle, and couldn’t quite get a bead on where we were in relation to the airport, but I sensed a different approach to landing.  I wasn’t disappointed.  We landed on the very short (5,204 feet) runway 33 at DCA.  I’ve seen aircraft as large as the 757 land on that runway, but it makes for a hard stop carrier style landing.  A bit jarring at 3am, but I was home!  We blocked into the gate at 3:10am, and I was excited to find cabs plentiful at this late….errr early hour.  My driver told me there were several flights landing in the 3am timeframe!

The moral of this story, sometimes flying sucks.  It pays to keep yourself together, and the Admirals Club was a great respite from the madness of the DFW terminal for a part of the night.  I also think this is a good lesson to airline folks.  Why?  I personally think the frequent communication from the agents (even if the information did seem to always change), and especially the accessibility of the flight’s Captain played a big role in keeping passenger emotions in check.  Sure…there were a few snide comments from the armchair CEOs in the crowd, but for the most part, everyone was on good behavior, and I think we were all overjoyed that American managed to actually operate our flight in spite of everything.