Saturday, 13 December 2014

#2: Retro AA First Class: SXM-MIA-DFW-LAS Sep 14

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Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Booking for this part was made through the AA website. The schedules meant I either had to choose an overnight stop in MIA or DFW. I chose MIA as that was my entry point to the USA, therefore any hold ups at immigration wouldn't be an issue.

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Once more, I could pre-select my meals:

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For those of you who read the first part, you'll remember that I arrived into SXM minus my bag. Luckily, it did eventually turn up, but it was a bit of a drawn out process - involving multiple phone calls to both the airport in SXM and the HQ in Miami. The general opinion was "we don't know where it is". Even the bag tracker on the AA website was if the same opinion.

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Finally, after making a visit back to SXM I was eventually reunited with my bag.

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I'll start off with a few pics of my time on the island:

The famous beach - I wish all Monday mornings were like that!:

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The small town of Maho Beach:

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Around the Sonesta resort:

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And of course, a few shots of the arrivals into SXM:

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Something major was on approach…

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AF A343 heading back off once more:

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DL as seen from the hotel bar:

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When it was time to leave, I made the twenty minute walk back to the airport from my hotel.

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Once there,I was informed that all the computer systems were down,therefore everything would have to be processed manually.

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I was given an interesting looking boarding pass and made my way upstairs to departures.

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I headed for the lounge, but was informed that it was privately owned, therefore American passengers weren't eligible. I still managed to access it though via my Airport Angel card.

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Around thirty minutes ahead of scheduled boarding, I made my way down to the gate, just as today's jet was pulling on to stand.

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There was a bit of a delay to boarding, but this allowed me to watch a couple more arrivals and take a look at what was around.

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I’d missed this one land by a couple of seconds when I left my hotel.

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When boarding did begin I was the first on board.

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AA2223
SXM-MIA
September 2014
Boeing 737-800 / N883NN
Seat: 5A/ First Class
Scheduled: 14:14/17:22
Off Stand: 14:30
On Stand: 17:30


I was pleased to see that this one, despite the old livery, had the Boeing Sky Interior. This makes a huge improvement to the 737 I find.

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Boarding continued, until the last few passengers made their way in board at random five to ten minute intervals... In your own time. This didn't matter however, as the captain informed us that the earlier power outage meant that everything was being done manually, therefore it was taking a little longer than usual. Boarding drinks were handed out.

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Once we finally did pushback, it was a quick process.

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We held at the end of the runway for a minute or two so everybody on Maho Beach could get a good grip on the fence, before we pulled into position.

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The Sonesta hotel seen from the plane

Once there, it was a very powerful takeoff before making a barrel roll to the right to avoid the mountain at the end of the runway. It was then out over the sea and more or less the last of the views.

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Some ten minutes after departure, the purser came around, welcomed me by name and confirmed my dinner order. A few moments later, hot towels were given out.

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Followed by the drinks - and this time around, they'd remembered to load the warm nuts too.

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During this time, no less than four pax from economy came up and used the forward washroom, despite the curtain being drawn. The purser looked quite irritated by this, but didn't say anything. Surely an announcement saying it's for first class only would have solved the problem?

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The meal service continued

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Following this, I watched a video on my iPad, after which descent started.

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It was definitely an interesting descent - due to the storms around, it was a bit of a roller coaster ride. My seatmate decided to make good use of the the sick bag during this time too…

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We landed into a surprisingly dry MIA and made the long journey over to our stand at the opposite side of the airport.

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I made my way through to immigration, via the sky train. It appeared the storm we had flown through a few minutes ago was slowly rolling into town.

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After seeing that despite being in one of the shortest queues it was taking the longest, I thought that maybe the officer may be a little on the strict side. How wrong was I! He was an easy going Caribbean guy who was very well humoured. And more concerned about changing his chair than interrogating me. I was stamped into the country again, and made my way through to baggage claim, hoping I would be a little more successful this time. I was, but I still had to wait a while - the agents in SXM hadn't placed the priority tag all that well - can you see it?! Trust me, its there…

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After this, it was a reasonably long line to clear customs before heading on to a shuttle to my hotel for the night, the Hilton at MIA.

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I arrived at the hotel, and was checked in by the manager who seemed very pleased to see that I was a HHonours member. This hotel was great value - a standard room was £72, where as a one bedroom suite with a balcony overlooking the airport came to £80. Eight pounds well spent!

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I had toyed with the idea of heading into town for the evening, however as I'd visited Miami many times before, the rain had now turned up with a vengeance, and I had a decent room to spend the evening in, I decided against it. Instead, it was some massively overpriced room service with a couple of beers that I'd "borrowed" from the minibar in SXM.

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At 4:30 the following morning, my alarm was going off and I was heading back to the airport once more.

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I was checked in by a business friendly agent and I then took the walk to the lounge.

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Once more, it was massively underwhelming.

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This mornings ride being prepared beneath us

I made my way down to the gate just a few minutes before boarding was due to begin.

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AA281
MIA-DFW
September 2014
Boeing 757-200 / N635NN
Seat: 4F / First Class
Scheduled: 07:15/09:25
Off Stand: 07:11
On Stand: 08:59


Almost immediately, my seatmate was pestering me to swap seats with his wife who was in the aisle seat in front. This is a seemingly common occurrence lately. In the days of being able to pre book your seats on line, and even check in online I take the stance that there's really no excuse to not get your desired seat - and even if all that fails, get to the airport early and claim one there.

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We pushed back and made a very short taxi over to the runway.

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After waiting a minute or two for a company 777 to land, it was our turn or make the characteristic powerful 757 takeoff.

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Much like the previous flights, shortly after departure the breakfast orders were taken, as well as drink orders.

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A bit of turbulence here, hence the slightly odd angle of the water.

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These were dished out a while later.

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I must admit it wasn't that great - quite stodgy and very sweet. Although I'm not a fan of American breakfasts in general really.

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I spent the rest of the flight reading through the small print of my travel insurance - wondering if I could claim anything back from the clothes I had to buy when my bag was lost. Turned out to be quite an amusing read, especially the part about dying being a valid reason for cutting your trip short!

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Descent started and the first officer announced that she would have us on stand twenty minutes ahead of schedule. The cabin crew also announced the connecting gate information as well as info on how to find the AAdmirals clubs at DFW.

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During descent, mints were handed out. We were treated to some good views of Dallas on approach - before heading out into the middle of nowhere.

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We touched down more than a few minutes ahead of schedule, after chasing our shadow for the last few miles.

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Luckily though, we didn't have the same issues that was suffered at JFK last year - where it took us forty minutes to find a spare gate - due to the size of the AA operation here at DFW it was easy enough to find a new gate. It was then off into a very bland looking DFW.

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I made my way on to the skytrain to the C gates, where my next flight was due to depart from and headed up to the lounge. This place was pretty big, therefore not too busy, but still offered virtually nothing in the way of free food or drink.

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I made use of the free wifi and made a phonecall home (that didn't cost a penny, thanks to Three’s feel at home plan - well worth it if you travel abroad a bit), before heading down to the gate a good hour or so before departure, for my second retro experience of the day.

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Boarding began, and for the first time in the US, there was a mass stampede towards the door. Luckily though, the boarding order was strictly enforced and I was through pretty quickly.

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AA1688
DFW-LAS
September 2014
MD83 / N597AA
Seat: 6F / First Class
Scheduled: 11:30/12:20
Off Stand: 11:31
On Stand: 12:11


Almost immediately I noticed a difference in the cabin of this one. The seats seemed much bigger, but the legroom was maybe a little tighter.

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Once more the cabin was in complete darkness. I'm starting to think its SOP for AA to close all the window blinds on the ground? One thing that does fascinate me though is how uninterested the rest if the cabin is in the outside world - on nearly all my flights, I've been the only person to open the window shades! The purser confirmed my meal choice, and offered everybody a drink of their choice. I declined, as pushback was near.

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Once we did head backwards, the engines were started and we made our way over to the active very quietly.

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The captain announced a flying time of two hours and twenty minutes and that there was just one aircraft ahead of us. We finally did take to the skies, and at this end of the plane it was very quiet. I'd imagine it was a different story down the back however.

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Once we had reached a decent altitude, the seatbelt sign was switched off and another drink run was done. I chose a Dr Pepper this time.

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It was a great clear day outside, so the views of Texas were pretty good as we flew overhead.

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The slightly reduced space on this old lady was becoming more apparent. There was barely enough room to swing a SLR, so phone pics it had to be. And there was barely enough room in the centre console for two drinks, so I had to get a little creative.

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A short while later, the lunch service began. It wasn't too bad - far better than this mornings effort anyway.

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After this, I reclined and read an ebook on my iPad, and continued to gaze outside as there was still no clouds or haze. With around thirty minutes to go, I could just about make out the engines spooling back. The captain announced our descent and mentioned that we would be passing the Grand Canyon in a few moments.

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Following our tour of the Grand Canyon, we were pretty close to landing.

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We made a reasonably hard touchdown and then made a long taxi over to the terminal. Upon arrival, there was no doubting I was in Vegas!

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It was then on to a shuttle. It was a bit of an odd setup, where some airlines have to collect their bags in T1 and others in the new T3. In my case, it was T1.

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Baggage claim area that was more like a casino

It was then on to the shuttle to my hotel. I had a bit of an issue when trying to choose a hotel here. Much like in Bangkok, due to the fact theres so many rooms here, they're all very reasonably priced. Some Cheaper rooms can be found for as little at £9 a night… but rather than that, I splashed out the £30 a night for an upgraded room at The Tropicana though. The last time I’d stayed here was back in 1998. Despite this, it still looked reasonably familiar, despite getting a lick of paint.

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Out of the frying pan…

And with that, I’d reached the final destination on this ticket.

AA performed well enough once more. The crew on the SXM-MIA sector seemed a little inexperienced but other than that, I had no major complaints. The only other niggle was the fact the same meal options were offered on all flights - if you're a real regular flyer, I’d imagine it would get a little boring eating the same over and over.