DCA-PHX-PSP MAY 2018: winging It to a wedding

    At the end of May, it was time for my nephew to get married. The bride’s family is from Palm Springs, so what a wonderful reason to head to the desert playground – even if we were looking at daytime highs around 110…. 

 

    Because we needed to be back in D.C. for a big philanthropy event on the Monday following the Saturday wedding, we were looking at daytime flights home on Sunday. Our particular dates and times took us well away from the lowest fares available – so much so that we booked first class. Now that we have not only a miles quota, but a dollar quota, it often makes sense. Particularly when you consider fares once upon a time: “In 1974, it was illegal for an airline to charge less than $1,442 in inflation-adjusted dollars for a flight between New York City and Los Angeles.” That example fare, from a 2013 article in The Atlantic, points to a pre-deregulation fare far higher than our transcon with American in first. The incredible drop in airfares over the years is certainly worth considering when bemoaning how crappy you might think air travel has become, versus some notion of a ‘golden era’ (when hardly anyone could afford to take to the skies). 

    Heading out on a Wednesday morning, a quick 20 minutes by Lyft to National (which I won’t call ‘Reagan,’ so don’t bother), we had our bags checked in just a couple of minutes. Even without ‘TSA Pre,’ I’m sure the security screening that morning didn’t take anyone more than about 10 minutes. So, up to the Admirals Club to kill about an hour before boarding. Notably, and sort of standard in the U.S., a first-class domestic ticket does not provide access. That comes via our American Airlines-branded Citi MasterCard. Let’s run some more numbers: If a day pass at the same club costs $59 and the card’s annual fee is $450, with secondary-user cards at no additional cost, this club’s visit cashed in $118 of that annual fee. With this particular card, the primary holder also gets reimbursed for TSA Pre membership. And the club’s also have dedicated desk staff in case of travel headaches. When weather is making a mess of flights everywhere, that opportunity to enter a quiet club and speak with a gracious agent who can help is priceless, compared to standing in a giant line with a million angry customers fighting for employees’ attention. Want to know more? Then you need to follow The Points Guy. If there’s a topic related to travel perks, TPG’s got it. 

Walk into my parlor – or lounge/club, as the case may be – said the Spider to the Flyers, and be sure to sample avocado toast from my new guacamole bar! 

    But, back to the Admiral’s Club, one of two at DCA. This was in the C Terminal, North Pier, not to be confused with the Admiral’s Club in Terminal B/C, Center Pier! (Check out a fun DCA map, via ifly.com.) American’s new club attraction is a guacamole bar. And, thanks to toasty millennials, it’s never too early for guacamole! Fernando stepped up to check out this new offering, asking the guac-prep-guy what might be available. The only answer he got was a piece of guacamole toast, topped with prosciutto. May have been lacking  in presentation, but Fernando seemed to like it. 

    A few minutes later, off to the gate. This was an older 737, though definitely an American Airlines original, rather than a US Airways holdover. With AA, it’s the first-class seat hardware that distinguishes them. So many metal knobs, toggles, handles and arms….  Fernando indulged in a pre-departure beverage, while I did not. Once airborne, however, I opted for some rosé. It may or may not be a winner with connossieurs, but I’m totally down with it. Les Papillons Grenache Rosé, Pays d’Oc. Same goes for the white I’ve been enjoying on American: La Montagne Noire Sauvignon Blanc, Côtes de Gascogne. Somebody at AA really knows what I like! $8 in the back of the plane, complimentary in Main Cabin Extra and First. 

Some 737 first-class legroom, plus grooves, toggles, and a heckuva lot of hardware for a tiny beverage table. Plus hot nuts! 

    Lunch, pre-ordered, was a cheese-stuffed poblano. Tasted better than it looked. Not bad! Followed by a cookie. Truth be told, I’ve only been offered the iconic American Airlines sundae once, LAX-DCA in 2017.  It was delightful, if arguably labor-intensive. 

The flying poblano, followed by a warm snickerdoodle. And an ode to the sundae that was not meant to be. The view, however, was sweet enough to pick up the slack! 

    We were easily on time into Phoenix, with a few minutes to spare in another Admirals Club. Nice view of the tarmac and Southwestern sunshine. I will admit, however, that I’m glad the US Airways/American transition has brought us DFW. It’s a nicer airport. Busier, but just a little shinier than PHX. 

Adjusting to the Southwest sun in the PHX Admiral's Club and enjoying the view, to include our next ride, there in the middle. 

    Just a transfer, though, and we were soon out in the open to walk a little ramp up to our tiny American Eagle Bombardier CRJ700, with 1 x 2 seating in first.. Plenty of these regional jets, on up to the Embraer ERJ145 can be more comfortable in coach than their larger siblings, with only 2 x 2 seating in economy. Because middle seats suck. 

Out of the club and into the heat; round the plane and up the ramp!

Great legroom comes in small packages. 

    With a flight time of an hour, if that, to Palm Springs, it’s nice to have any catering at all. I grabbed some popcorn from the “snack basket.” And, just like that, we were back on the ground. 

Catering for a 'kangaroo hop.'

    I’ve been to Palm Springs before, but never to the Palm Springs International Airport. I hear that it does, from time to time, rain in Palm Springs, so I don’t know how they can keep so much of it outside. But on our arrival, it was blazing hot with no risk of precipitation whatsoever. From plane to rental car to hotel in about 15 minutes. So efficient! 

A parched preview of Palm Springs.

De-planing just as we... planed(?). 

A proper welcome to Palm Springs.

(left) No umbrella needed – at least not today. 

(center) The Sonny never sets at PSP!

(right) JFK setting a return-trip tone, which we'd learn four days later.