A Few Firsts.... But Little First Class

Discussion in 'Trip Reports and Trip Photos' started by Shano, Sep 15, 2007.

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  1. Shano

    Shano Established Member

    Aug 17, 2006
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    Well, time to bite the bullet so to speak and post my maiden trip report. Apologies in advance if some of this sounds familiar as parts have been posted in various other threads to date.

    Well I can honestly say now that this site has had an affect on me (and I mean that in the nices possible way.... ;))

    I had a trip to our head office in Pittsburgh coming up, combined with a few days at a conference in North Carolina, so I set about thinking how I could maximise SC for this itinerary. I was comp’d WP this year with 840 SC, so wanted to make sure that I meet the requalification criteria this membership year to maintain the “perks” of this status.

    As our company has a Y only policy, maintaining WP is a bit of a struggle for me (as above). After reading on this forum about the earning potential of YUP/KUP fares it was clear that such fares would make a significant contribution to my requalification attempts. I was also prepared to personally foot for any fare difference between a flexible Y ticket and the P class fare (and then subsequently claim this fare difference as a tax deduction due to flights being work related).

    As all AA/AE flights to PIT are single class, trying to earn a reasonable (my interpretation of reasonable at least) amount of SC would involve a 3 sector itinerary – 2 in P class and the last to PIT in Y. This then raised the issue of misplaced checked luggage, particularly given the recent experiences of simongr and JohnK. Simon then started The Great Hand Luggage Only Challenge thread, which inspired me to also partake of this quest.

    So this trip would see a few firsts for me:
    • booking via aa.com
    • dealing with the IndiAA call centre
    • flying domestic first (P) class on AA
    • flying internationally with only carry-on luggage.
     

  2. Shano

    Shano Established Member

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    I knew reasonably in advance when I needed to be in Pittsburgh, so started looking at flight options on aa.com. The routing that seemed to work reasonably well that enabled me to connect with flights from Australia and only spend the one day travelling across the US was LAX-DFW-ORD-PIT. Tacked on tho this was a MEL-SYD-LAX-SYD-MEL with MEL-SYD and SYD-MEL giving me an additional 40 SC for the trip. Strangely, a more direct KUPP fare – such as LAX-ORD-PIT – was more expensive than the routing I settled on.

    I had a commitment in LA on the way home, for which the date hadn’t been confirmed when I made the first bookings, so this would happen at a later date.

    The LAX-DFW-ORD-PIT was put on hold on aa.com and I then rang AA IndiAA to organise payment and have them enter my QFF #. Getting them to correctly enter my address took some time using the phonetic alphabet approach that serfty suggested. After about 24 hours I still hadn’t received the authorisation form, so another call to IndiAA and the email was received in about 20 minutes. Form printed and faxed to Sydney and the reservation on aa.com showed as ticketed the next day.
     
  3. Shano

    Shano Established Member

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    Meanwhile I had to get hold of a suitable roll-aboard for my clothes for this trip. I already had an STM backpack for my laptop, but I was a bit lacking in the suitcase department. As QF seem to enforce the carry-on luggage requirement more than AA, I wanted to make sure I kept to the 45” total linear dimension. The High Sierra case that I settled on is actually 42”, but can be expanded for those times when extra space is required and I am happy to check my luggage. As I would later find out, this is small by comparison to the most of the cases that people in the US will carry on.


    My commitment in LA was then confirmed for the morning of Saturday 22nd, so I would spend Friday 21st getting from PIT to LAX. This time I settled on PIT-LGA-ORD-LAX as I had to make sure I got to LAX in enough time to pick up a hire car and drive down to SNA to collect them. This would also be my first time to NYC (albeit only at LGA) but again, this routing was cheaper than PIT-ORD-LAX :confused:


    I must confess though that for this booking I screwed up a bit. The original booking was a 14 day advance purchase KUPP fare, and was put on hold just inside that 14 day window. When I rang IndiAA the next day, the 14 day fare no longer applied so would need to be a more expensive 7 day fare. I originally thought that I was being screwed on the exchange rate, so decided to wait and call AA in the US. What I didn’t realise at the time was that this additional delay caused the original booking to expire, so the new fare was priced as the 7 day fare anyway. So IndiAA may have quoted the fare correctly after all. I am still not sure why the fare was repriced at 7 days when the booking was put on hold at 14 days?

    So, back on aa.com, enter bookings and then try the payment on-line method. Initially the AMEX # wasn’t accepted, but a tip from Dave Noble got around this, so payment made in GBP via the website.
     
  4. Shano

    Shano Established Member

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    I set the alarm for 4:45am for the 12th. Unfortunately Mini Shano had a restless night so I only managed about 3 hours sleep. Oh well, at least I should be able to sleep on the SYD-LAX leg, even in Y. As I only had carry-on I did not need to be at the airport as early as I typically would, and was subsequently dropped off at the QF terminal at 6:00am for a 6:30 flight.

    Entering the QF domestic terminal there was a reasonably long queue at the International Transfers check-in area, so I went to the Business Class queue. There has been some discussion on AFF about correct etiquette here – the international transfers counter or the regular business class counter. Living up to my WP tag I decided that I was important enough to bypass the plebeian horde and join the elites. This turned out to be a mistake (karma perhaps) as it took 15 minutes for the three groups ahead of me to be checked in. So at 6:15 I was finally checking in and then told that they would have to put me on the 7:00am flight as luggage check-in had closed for the 6:30 flight….. WTF!

    I politely told the check-in agent that I was only travelling with carry-on…. No problem Mr Shano, we will keep you on the 6:30 flight (JAFW). With my MEL-SYD and SYD-LAX BP’s in hand it was through security and then straight down to the departure gate as they were in the final stages of boarding.
     
  5. Shano

    Shano Established Member

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    QF 404 MEL-SYD
    B734
    Seat 7D

    As I was one of the last to board it was a struggle to find O/H locker space for my roll-aboard. How dare all of the other passengers take up so much luggage space! After a bit of re-arranging it was stowed above row 3, meaning I did not have to fight traffic on arrival to collect this bag. With much consternation I was forced to place my backpack under the seat in front of me.

    We departed on time and then shortly after the bacon and egg muffin served for breakfast. I grabbed the Australian Way magazine after breakfast and managed to complete one of the Sudoku puzzles before we descended into SYD.

    Our arrival gate was as far as we could possibly get from the international transfer area, so it was a brisk walk to the other end of the terminal to catch the bus over the T1. I recalled serfty posting that busses left at the 00, 20, 40 minute marks every hour, hence my brisk pace. BP swiped, down the escalator and then straight onto the shuttle bus to the international terminal. I had originally planned to put T1 here but can never remember the correct terminal designations, so rather than sounding like an idiot thought it better to simply put international terminal.

    At T1 (or T2, or T3 ???) I went to the APEC lane and was through immigration in a couple of minutes (treatment befitting a WP I’d say). For the first time is quite a while my PP was stamped on departure without requesting this be done.

    Once through immigration it then occurred to me that by transferring MEL-SYD-XXX you miss out on the express security clearance as no voucher was issued in MEL.



    Thankfully I was only in the queue for a few minutes and then through into DF where I needed to pick up another memory card for my digital camera. I then changed some money for the deteriorating American Peso and then made my way to the QF First Lounge.

    I decided that I would have a sit down breakfast in the lounge this time, so made my way over to find a vacant table. I was surprised to see a mate of mine that I did my engineering degree with, so I joined him and ordered the ham omelette, coffee and fresh OJ. It turns out that he was also on QF107, but seated on the UD (spoilt prat!).

    After eating, a couple of cups of coffee and catching up with my mate from uni I then found a vacant PC and logged onto aa.com to print my LAX-DFW-ORD-PIT boarding passes. MY QFF # was clearly displayed on the boarding passes, so the IndiAA agent had successfully managed to do this. Then I logged onto my webmail account to check and answer a few emails then it was time to wander down to the gate for boarding.
     
  6. Keith009

    Keith009 Established Member

    Mar 6, 2005
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    Enjoying the TR so far - great stuff! :D
     
  7. Shano

    Shano Established Member

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    QF107 SYD-LAX
    B747-438
    Rego VH-OEE
    Seat 46H
    Scheduled Dep: 10:20AM

    My last overseas trip I had managed points upgrades to J in both directions, so it was a bit of a reality check to be back in Y for this much longer flight. I was booked on a non-upgradeable fare, so even if I felt like blowing 72,000 points on the upgrade, this would not have been possible. Hmmm, now that is an example of good value for the QFF program.

    Expertflyer the previous afternoon had been showing down to O9, so I knew that the flight would only be lightly loaded. Being WP I was one of the first to board to make sure I could stow my bag and backpack close to my seat. I then waited for my seat mates in 46J and 46K to show (whoever that was going to be) and was pleasantly surprised when it was clear I would have the row to myself. Alas, not new interior on this bird.


    Actual departure was not until 11:06 due to a “technical issue” with Captain Cook (seriously) hitting to go pedal down runway 16R at 11:17.

    There has been some discussion about the CSM personally greeting platinum status passengers flying. For this flight I was greeted by the Y cabin manager Russ (didn’t catch his surname – too busy thinking about what I could bludge from QF) who greeted me with: “Hi Mr Shano, I am Russ the cabin manager. You obviously fly a lot with us (well not as much as some – my comment not his). Obviously I can’t get you a seat up the front (must be a common request) but if I can get you anything else please ask. So I requested, and received, newspapers, noise cancelling headphones and a glass of champagne from the J cabin (with a few refills too). Small consolation for the lack of a skybed, but I’ll take what I can get. I don’t really know why I asked for champagne as I rarely drink the stuff – usually only when flying J (infrequent) or at weddings (even more infrequent at the moment) – but figured it was a bit too early for a glass of wine and the beer they serve on board is never cold enough (maybe not for you lot from the mother land). So bubbles it was.

    Sitting opposite me in 47G was sausage man. I named him this because not long after take-off he proceeded to pull out a Styrofoam package containing what appeared to be a mixed grill (where do you buy a mixed grill airside at SYD???). Now I like a barbequed sausage as much as the next person, but the thought of said sausages sweating in someone’s carry-on for a couple of hours before consumption was not overly appealing.

    Lunch was served some time after, consisting of some chicken and beef concoctions. As typically J and F menus are posted in these sorts of reports I figured that the Y swill that was offered was not really worthy of a mention. That didn’t stop me from eating it, although by this time was tempted to snag a sausage (no pun intended) from my mate in 47G.

    The AVOD worked perfectly for this flight, although I struggled to find something to watch that particularly interested me. I started with Oceans 13 (below par), then on to some Nicholas Cage movie (purely to watch co-star Jessica Biel) and then an English movie. Despite this boredom I barely slept for more than about an hour on the flight.

    A flight attendant came through the cabin with US immigration and customs forms. He asked me if I had a visa and I told him I wanted a visa waiver form, at which point he handed me the whiteform. I handed this back and asked for the green form. Poor mistake from QF – I hope that no first time visitors to the US ended up with the white form when they were eligible for the visa waiver program.

    Breakfast (mixed grille) was served about 2 hours out of LAX. We landed about 7:10 am and were disembarking about 10 minutes later.
     
  8. JohnK

    JohnK Veteran Member

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    Very nice trip report Shano. :) Looking forward to the rest of the adventure.

    Exit row? All to yourself? Some people have all the luck. I got stuck with someone who extended his shoulders fully and arms on both armrests for the duration of the SYD-LAX flight leaving me to lean into the aisle and have my shoulder bumped every 2 minutes.
     
  9. Shano

    Shano Established Member

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    Yes, I was very fortuntate. I got many envious looks from other passengers and was expecting someone to try and take 46J, but thankfully this did not happen (that's me being a tad selfish :-|).

    I am in 46H for my Saturday night flight back to Australia so probably won't be so lucky. Expertflyer is currently showing F4 A4 J9 C0 D0 I0 B9 H9 K9 M0 R0 L0 V0 S0 N0 Q0 O0 X0 E0 so looks like it will be a pretty full flight.

    I have lodged an UG request, but not sure I want to spend 72,000 points on this (or if it will come through). I have several trips to China coming up later in the year, so this would give me nearly 3 x Y -> J UG's.
     
  10. littl_flier

    littl_flier Active Member

    May 1, 2007
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    Great TR Shano! :p It sounds like it was a bit of a reality check coming back to whY. I agree though, save those points for the China upgrades.

    Looking forward to the next installment.

    Cheers,
    littl_flier
     
  11. serfty

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    O9? A very light load.

    It that situation I would have tried to move to a row of three (non-exit) seats at F check-in, me in the aisle and the two to the window blocked off. I have had this both offered to me :shock: and granted on request :cool: .

    A row of three in A/B/C or H/J/K is better than 4 in D/E/F/G at they are easier to 'protect' when the seat belt signs go off.

    I can generally get a several hours sleep by lifting the armrests.

    Obviously, it's harder to do this when you are connecting of course.
     
  12. NM

    NM
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    This happened to me once ... and I was not a first time visitor to the USA. The FA was so adamant that I needed the white form (the one for Visa holders) that I thought it must be right. Of course when I got to the immigration officer I was sent back to get a green form and rejoin the end of the queue :evil: . There were at least 30 people in the same boat on that flight.
     
  13. Shano

    Shano Established Member

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    Just an update to my firsts for this trip:
    • booking via aa.com
    • dealing with the IndiAA call centre
    • flying domestic first (P) class on AA
    • flying internationally with only carry-on luggage
    • earning triple figure SC's on a single flight :D
    • staying in a Sheraton Hotel (Greensboro NC) :-|
    • getting connected to Skype
    Will try and write some more details soon to elaborate on these additional points.
     
  14. Shano

    Shano Established Member

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    The Great T4 APEC Swindle.....

    Being seated fairly forward in the Y cabin I was off the plane pretty quickly and heading to the T4 immigration queues. J class passengers were still disembarking as I exited through the door 2 aerobridge (they only seem to operate one aerobridge at LAX) so knew there would not be too many people in front of me.

    As I rounded the corner to the immigration area I caught up with my uni mate (spoilt prat on the UD – SPOTUD) and we both headed over to the CREW/APEC lane. There was an immigration officer at the booth and we pointed to the sign and our cards and asked to be processed. We were then met with a rather sour response saying that he wasn’t going to process us and we would have to queue up with everyone else and he walked off (again…. I was thinking WTF???..... welcome to the USA!!!).

    So here we were faced with a few possibilities:

    1. Argue with him that the US does officially recognise the APEC BTC and that we were entitled to clearance through the CREW lane.
    2. Call for this guy’s supervisor to get the problem sorted out.
    3. Give up and head over to the visitor’s queue.

    Needless to say we opted for #3. Despite considerable irritation at the actions of this obstinate individual, common sense did in the end prevail and we headed over and joined the other queue as neither of us particularly fancied antagonising a US official as soon as we had set foot on US soil. We could also see that the queue was starting to grow and neither of us wanted to be stuck in the back half of this sea of people.

    Thankfully this process only took about 10 minutes, but one of the attractions of the BTC is streamlined immigration processing at places like LAX. It seems that they have fairly inconsistent recognition / understanding of the APEC agreement. Maybe it is better at TBIT as more passengers from other APEC countries would get processed in that terminal compared to T4. So, if anyone has any ideas how to persuade T4 immigration staff that the BTC entitles the holder to processing via the CREW lanes, I would be glad to hear them.

    Once through immigration I bypassed the luggage carousel :cool: and then headed straight up to the check-in level of T4. I had printed my AA BP’s in the SYD Flounge, but SPOTUD had to have his LAX-ORD-NAB BP’s issued. From there it was up through the premium security screening lanes (thanks serfty) and then on to the T4 Flagship Lounge. SPOTUD is also a WP so I did not have to make that decision about whether or not I would guest him in to the FL ;) (although given our different itineraries this may not have been possible anyway).

    I asked at reception for the complimentary T-Mobile wireless access card and a key for the showers. Only 1 shower suite was available at the time, so SPOTUD would have to wait until I was finished. I would like to say that this was karma for me slumming it in Y, but to be honest I would have easily forgone first use of the shower for the Skybed on the SYD-LAX flight.

    Once cleaned up and feeling quite refreshed after a shower I got a cup of coffee and passed on the poor excuse for food offerings in this first class lounge. The SYD Flounge makes this place look very average. Then it was a matter of setting up a T-mobile account to use the complimentary access so that I could check emails and log on to AFF.

    My DFW flight was scheduled to depart at 9:35am, so at about 8:55 I wandered down to gate 27.
     
  15. simongr

    simongr Enthusiast

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    Apart from the sitting in whY this sounds just like one of my trips ;)
     
  16. Shano

    Shano Established Member

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    I have enjoyed the conversationalist tone of your TR's, which has formed the basis of how I have approached this report.
     
  17. Shano

    Shano Established Member

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    Time for an update......

    As I was leaving the Flounge I checked which gate my DFW flight would be departing from, with the monitor showing 47.

    As I got to gate 47 I was confronted by a sea of people still seated in the departure lounge and no aircraft waiting at the jetbridge???? Hmmmm,…. Must be a delay….. why wasn’t this showing on the monitor in the Flounge?

    As none of the monitors at the departure gates were working it was not clear what time we would actually start boarding. Dilemma….. with no aircraft at the gate it will be at least 30 minutes before boarding so do I sit and wait at the gate or head back to the sanctuary of the Flounge……Obviously the lounge wins…..

    I turn and head back down the walkway towards the lounge, only to hear the following announcement: “we are now in the final stages of boarding for flight AA2434 to DFW….” Final stages???? There is no bloody plane!!!!!...”….will all remaining passengers please board through gate 49”.

    Gate 49? WTF???? So I turn around and head back to gate 49 and ask the gate attendant “Is this AA2434 to DFW?”….. “Why yes sir” so I have my BP scanned and board the plane. OK, so gate changes do occur pretty frequently, but is it that hard to update this information?
     
  18. Shano

    Shano Established Member

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    Did someone say first class.........

    AA2434 LAX-DFW
    Boeing 767-300
    Seat 4J

    All of my previous AA flights have either been on 737 or the good old S80. As I have trudged down to the rear crate with the rest of the sub-prime beef on these flights I have looked at the “first class” seats in these aircraft with some bemusement at the lack of “luxury”. I guess this is where first class is a bit of a misnomer and the Americans really should adopt the Australian approach and call these seats business class – first class they ain’t. Anyway, back to the point of this paragraph, I have read threads on AFF on how people try and select the 767 (particularly those on DONE tickets) for the greater comfort when flying AA domestically. With this in mind I tried to select flights on this aircraft and managed to get the 767 LAX-DFW on the way to PIT and ORD-LAX on the way back.

    As I boarded the plane I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the first class seats. As many of you have flown AA first class domestically I probably don’t need to describe them, although I did try and find a photo on airliners.net (as you can see from the lack of a photo this proved unsuccessful). These are the new style first class seats. I found these seats very comfortable. Softer than the Skybed and probably not quite the same seat pitch, but great for this 3 hour flight to Dallas. As I was about third last on to the plane it wasn’t long before the door was closed and we were on our way. This 767 also has what looks like to larger 777 style overhead bins, so plenty of room to stow my roll-aboard and backpack.

    [There is a trip report that I just read on FT about this same aircraft that included some photos. Will try and link.]

    Once in the air with seat belt sign turned off I set about trying to find my optimum seating position. As I am feeling like crap from the previous Y flight to LAX I thought I would try and nap for a while. Fortunately the passenger sitting beside me must have also been having her first first experience, so I didn’t look like too much of an idiot driving the seat up and down, backwards and forwards. Well, I probably did, but there was someone else to take some of the attention away from me.

    I settle for the seat back fully reclined and the leg rest extended and in this position the seat feels a bit longer than the Skybed. I didn’t fully recline as I was a bit worried I would start snoring, with the resultant percussive effects causing fatigue of the airframe and interference with the aircraft navigation instruments.

    Unfortunately I didn’t get to experience this state of relaxation for terribly long as breakfast was served. This consisted of an egg and cheese quesadilla with salsa, which was actually quite nice. Once this was cleared away I played with the seat controls again for a while, settled into a comfortable position and dozed for the rest of the flight to Dallas.

    At Dallas I had to change terminals (didn’t take note from what to what, but believe it was from D to A), which took all of about 10 minutes from the time I was off the plane to the time I was at the correct terminal courtesy of the skytrain. Once there it was down to the Admirals Club (no Flounge at DFW) where I fired up my laptop and was able to re-use the complimentary T-mobile pass I had been given at LAX (these are valid for 24 hours).
     
  19. Shano

    Shano Established Member

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    AA2360 DFW-ORD
    MD-80
    Seat 5E

    My next flight DFW-ORD was back on an S80. While the seats are nowhere near as nice as the 767, they are still quite comfortable for a shortish flight.

    This flight had a snack service, consisting of a bowl of warm nuts and a warm chocolate chip cookie, which kept me sufficiently content until we reached Chicago.

    To pass time I attempted the Mensa quiz in the AA magazine, which once again confirmed that I am no genius.

    Once at Chicago (by now it was 7pm) I searched for somewhere to get something to eat. I had contemplated going straight to the Flounge, but felt like something more substantial than a sandwich, so walked past the eateries searching for a vacant table. This proved to be about as easy as finding a seat in the QP at 5pm on a weeknight – everywhere was packed.

    Finally some people got up from a table just as I was walking passed, so I grabbed it. A waitress then brought me a menu and that was my last interaction with any of the staff for over 10 minutes (there goes your tip I thought…..) I was just about to walk out when someone came and took my order. I settled on a BBQ bacon burger with fries, which in hindsight was probably a mistake considering the crap I would eat over the next week, and iced tea. Iced tea to me is a bit like champagne (OK, strange analogy), but I only ever drink it when I am travelling. I do quite like it, but it is not something that I would think to brew at home. If the pot of tea goes cold at home it gets turfed out, not put in the fridge.

    Once finished I got the check and left the cash on the table, including a grand tip of about a dollar as I couldn’t be bothered waiting to sort out change. Given that the service was not what I have come to expect when in the US I did not feel compelled to leave what would be considered an appropriate tip (OK, call me a tight ****).

    As it was only about 30 minutes until boarding I decided to forgo the Flagship Lounge at the far end of concourse K and make my way over to the AC on G concourse, from where I would be departing on my American Eagle flight to PIT. This is only a small lounge, but it did give me a quick opportunity to check emails.
     
  20. Keith009

    Keith009 Established Member

    Mar 6, 2005
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    Re: Did someone say first class.........

    :D :D

    I probably look like a first time flyer on every flight as I'm always busy taking pics of stuff. :oops:

    Loving your TR, Shano! :D
     
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