American Airlines Flight 179, New York to San Francisco

By Paul Riegler on 1 April 2010
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It was a public holiday, so the roads were empty at rush.  Most flights were full, but the American Airlines Terminal 8 seemed welcoming and peaceful.  I had printed a boarding pass before leaving and there were only two people ahead of me in the first class security line so my entire wait consisted of about two minutes.

Despite the lack of traffic, I had played my arrival time close to the vest and arrived less than an hour prior to departure so I spent about half an hour in the lounge and proceeded to the gate.

BOARDING

Boarding was well underway when I got to the gate but American offers PriorityAAccess, which includes a priority boarding lane at the gate.  First- and business-class passengers (as well as full-fare passengers and top-level AAdvantage program members) can board at any time, bypassing what could be a long wait for those of us who prefer not to “pre board.”  Boarding was completed very quickly and we pushed back on schedule.  As I settled in, a flight attendant offered to hang up my coat and provided me with a choice of pre-departure drinks.

SEAT COMFORT

American recently outfitted its 767-200 aircraft, which it uses for almost all of its JFK to San Francisco and Los Angeles flights, with new Voyager first class seats.  The Voyager seats were originally installed in the company’s 767-300 fleet when those aircraft had three classes of service.  When the company converted that fleet to a two-class cabin, the Voyager seats, which had only been in use for at most two years, were put into storage.

The Voyager seats are true, international first-class seats although, in their domestic reincarnation, they recline to 150°, not 180°.  Theyare fully adjustable and have direct selection buttons for Massage, Bed, Takeoff/Landing, and Dining.  The bed position, as noted, is not quite flat but very comfortable and an unexpected pleasure for a domestic flight.  The pull-out tray table has an extension for personal video devices and, since I was travelling with an iPod touch, it was perfect for watching a movie and dining.

The seats were fully reupholstered before they were brought back into service with a cloth seating area and leather trim. They have a luxurious amount of padding, infinite adjustability (each seat has three motors, nothing is manual), and a built-in massage feature.

The standard American duvet cover is still a bit too warm and the pillow is still not fluffy enough but one makes do.

IN-FLIGHT INTERNET

American was the first airline to offer domestic in-flight Internet service and has outfitted the entire fleet of 767-200 aircraft with Aircell’s Gogo system.  It’s also found on many other American aircraft.   I’ve used the Gogo system multiple times since it was launched (it’s $12.95 for a transcontinental flight) and continue to find the speed quite satisfactory.  On this flight, I was able to achieve download speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps, which is faster than what I have found in some hotels lately where they don’t have to figure out how to get the Internet signal to 35,000 feet.  I was able to watch videos, browse Web sites, check my e-mail, and use various collaboration tools for work, including sharing and editing documents.

As we began our descent, the purser made an announcement advising that the Gogo network would shut down at 10,000 feet so passengers should save whatever they are doing so as to not lose any information, a nice touch and perhaps a necessity in the information age.

THE FLIGHT

We pushed back on time and there were only a few aircraft ahead of us on taxi so we were quickly underway.  At the start, there was much and rather severe turbulence due to significant headwinds. Our initial cruising altitude was 26,000 feet but that proved to be too choppy.  The pilot did apologize several times over the PA for the bumpy ride and did his best to find a cruising altitude that was comfortable.

The breakfast of fresh blueberry pancakes and maple syrup, served with sliced melon, was tasty and it was accompanied by a Gloria Sonoma Carneros Ferrer Brut. Warm biscuits and rolls was offered as well.  An hour before landing, mixed nuts were offered as a snack.  That was followed by freshly baked cookies.  Shortly before landing, we were offered chilled sparkling water with a citrus garnish.

ARRIVAL

We arrived a few minutes early and, since I only had carry-on luggage, I headed straight to the curb for my pick-up feeling relaxed and knowing I had kept up with e-mail and other matters throughout the day.

VERDICT

I had a very enjoyable – and more importantly – productive experience on this flight, which was in the course of a regular business day.  Having a comfortable work environment and in-flight Internet made it possible for me to relax before jumping into meetings in San Francisco.

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