On June 14, 2012, American Airlines inaugurated nonstop service between Los Angeles (LAX) and Washington’s Reagan National Airport (DCA). If you aren’t from the DC area (and maybe even if you are) it might not be readily apparent why this flight is special. The number of flights beyond a 1,250 mile limit from DCA is limited by law commonly referred to as the perimeter rule. During a recent expansion of that number of flights, incumbent carriers were allowed to convert one of their existing slots for use for flights beyond 1,250 miles. American opted to enhance its nonstop service from LAX to Washington Dulles (IAD) with a nonstop into close-in DCA.
The minute the flight became available, I booked it, and used (don’t hate me) 15,000 AAdvantage miles to upgrade to First Class. I wouldn’t recommend using 15,000 miles for a domestic upgrade except in unusual circumstances. In my opinion, this particular flight qualified as special. I knew American would probably throw a little party before the flight, and really, this was the first airplane geek thing I’ve done in a while. I thought it would be a fun and unique experience. I wasn’t disappointed.
I checked in using American’s iPhone app 24 hours prior to departure, but that didn’t stop me from dropping by the ticket counter before the flight. I wanted a real boarding pass as a souvenir, and by the time I arrived at the First Class queue, the one passenger ahead of me had been processed. In under a minute, I was assisted, provided a boarding pass by the very polite agent, and on my way to the security checkpoint. I don’t know what the heck was going on with TSA, but the lines were spilling out of the queues in all directions. I briefly considered dumping the priority line for the regular line, but things finally started moving there and I made it to the ID check and through security. My experience mirrors some reports I’ve heard recently of bad TSA lines at DCA. In reality, it looked worse than it turned out to actually be, but I don’t think it should take 15 minutes to clear security…..sorry.
After security, I ran an important airport errand – I got my shoes shined, and then went upstairs to the Admirals Club. I’ve been a club member on and off over the years, but I now access the club with my Amex Platinum Card. Admirals Club access is one of the reasons I value my Amex Platinum Card so much. (Note: as of March 21, 2014, the Amex Platinum will no longer offer access to the AA Admirals Club.) I have sung the praises of the Admirals Club AAngels at DCA far and near. The DCA club staff is simply the best and they were making a busy Thursday afternoon look easy. The lounge was very busy, but I was able to find a comfortable chair in one of the newly expanded seating areas behind the bar. The lounge was a little too busy for pictures, but I dug up a little MJ on Travel “file footage” to give you a sense of the space.
After camping out in the club for a while, I decided to head down to the gate a little early to be present when the inbound inaugural from LAX arrived and enjoy a little of the festivities going on at the gate. There were speeches from the AA General Manager for DCA and the Senior VP of Government Affairs for AA. Airport management made a little speech as well.
There was patriotic singing from Steve Amerson, who was absolutely fantastic! But of course, everyone was waiting for the arrival of AA 240 from LAX which was just a little late landing….and then, there she was. I’ve already blogged about the inbound flight being an honor flight for WW II veterans. You can read that post here.
Our 757 arrived and was looking good. I checked earlier in the day and saw that the seat map for First Class had switched from 22 to 24 seats. Woohoo!!! An airplane that has been through American’s Cabin Improvement Program upgrade. After some speeches, a ribbon cutting, and I can’t believe I almost forgot….delicious Georgetown Cupcakes, boarding began.
The flight was very full and all the partying made for a bit of a crowd around the gate, but I made my way through the masses when First Class was called. American employees were handing out little swag bags to each passenger as they boarded containing AA stuff and most importantly, inaugural flight certificates for nerds like me. 🙂
Unfortunately, boarding was conducted through the L1 door which made things a little chaotic in the First Class cabin. It would be nice if American’s jetbridges at DCA were capable of L2 boarding. If they can be made capable of L2 boarding, it would go a long way in improving the premium cabin experience on this flight. I didn’t get a chance to get an unobstructed picture of the new seats on the 757, but if you’ve flown on one of American’s newer 737-800’s you’ve seen the new and improved seats on the 757. First Class just feels roomier with these seats to me, and I like them very much. Boarding was busy almost until the time the door closed, but when things slowed down for a minute, flight attendants came through with a pre-departure beverage service that included water, orange juice, or champagne. I went for the champagne. Some of the last folks to board wound up being forced to gate check their bags. Other than that, things seemed fine, and I’m sure the process will improve with practice. I don’t think AA has flown 757s into DCA in years and I’m sure there’s a little learning curve with boarding many more passengers than the average MD80 carries.
Soon enough, we were pushing back. After a brief taxi, we were rocketing down the short runway at DCA, a runway which the uber-powerful 757 handles with apparent ease, because we were airborne pretty rapidly considering how full we were. It was a nice day to fly with few bumps so flight attendants were soon in the aisle offering drinks and taking dinner orders. I went with the red wine. The flight attendant apologized that there were no menus which American still hands out on transcons, I think, and offered a choice of a pasta dish or chicken. I chose the chicken.
Dinner didn’t look too swift, but it actually tasted pretty good. I’m not sure what the dish was called, but I’m sure some regular American fliers will recognize it. The salad, which was presented with the main dish, was fresh, and quite tasty. A warm bread basket was passed around as soon as dinner arrived, and beverage refills were frequently offered during dinner, and throughout the flight. There were actually 3 choices for dessert, a fruit and cheese plate (which looked fantastic), cheesecake, or an ice cream sundae. I went for the sundae topped with hot fudge.
The sundae, which tasted wonderful, was probably the only thing about the meal that could have been better. The ice cream had spent a little too much time near the dry ice, and was hard as a rock. After it sat out a while under the hot fudge, it finally became edible. Also, I don’t really get why they cater plastic spoons for a premium class cabin dessert. I guess I should have kept the one I had from dinner. In the end, it was good, but if I had it to do over, I think I would have gone with the fruit and cheese plate.
Entertainment for the flight was delivered via overhead monitors as there are no individual movie screens on the 757, nor do they supply domestic transcons like this with handheld tablets. No worries though because the seats are equipped with power outlets which kept my MacBook Air humming for the whole flight. I watched 2 movies, and soon enough we were landing at LAX. All in all, it was a great flight. The cabin crew were polite and attentive throughout the flight. My glass was never empty. If business takes me to Los Angeles anytime soon, I’ll look forward to flying AA’s new nonstop service.