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LAX-JFK-DCA JUN 2018: from kerfuffle to Flagship

    While the flight from Washington to Palm Springs ran completely by the numbers, the return was a little bumpy. We may have paid a premium to fly home Sunday morning, rather than the dreaded redeye, but nothing in air travel is guaranteed. Say it with me: NOTHING IN AIR TRAVEL IS GUARANTEED. 

    Sunday morning, after enjoying the glorious Saturday evening wedding, we awoke lazily at our hotel. Our flight to Dallas was departing around 11 a.m. With an hour or so to connect, we were due back into DCA before 10 p.m. That morning, there was no need to rush. The Palm Springs International Airport is easy to navigate, we had TSA Pre-check, and the hotel was less than a 5-minute drive to the airport rental-car drop-off. Let’s just sit around eating yogurt and berries, OK?


    Then came the first text: a 20-minute delay. Fine. Instead of an hour to make our DFW connection, we’d have 40 minutes. Plus, more time for Palm Springs poolside berries! No problem. The second text, about 15 minutes later, pulled the rug out. The delay was now nearly an hour, and we’d been pulled from our DFW-DCA flight. But at least an algorithm was doing its darndest to find us another way home. All of those alternatives, however, directed us to the redeye from Phoenix, in economy. That some of these routings wouldn’t have us home till Tuesday was out of the question. (From the prior trip report, you’ll note that the husband was on the host committee of an annual fundraising gala Monday night. Couldn’t miss it!)


    The lazy Sunday morning had morphed into un-showered, barely caffeinated confusion. Coincidentally, we suddenly had the worst WiFi connection of the stay. Because of course. Obi-Google.wan/flights, you’re our only hope.


    Through two American Airlines agents – certainly the first dropped call must’ve been an accident – the negotiations began. 


    “You’ve got two later flights out of DFW to DCA. Booked?”


    “Front to back. Both flights.”


    “I think I see a connection through Chicago.”


    “I’ve got one seat.”


    On and on, round and round. So, considering we still had the rental and LAX, an American hub, was not so far away, with traffic at merely Sunday levels, I removed PSP from the calculations. Could we still make the daytime, nonstop LAX-DCA? No. So many permutations I explored, but shot down again and again. Finally, realizing the possibilities were far slimmer than I initially reckoned, a routing that would do in a Palm Springs pinch flashed on the screen.


    “I’m looking at two seats in first, from L.A., via JFK, a redeye, getting us into DCA around 1 p.m. Monday. Do you see that?”


    “Mmm, what’s the flight number?”


    “The first flight is AA 30. I’m looking at the two seats on Google. I could buy them right now. Can you put us on that?”


    “Mmm…. OK.”


    Certainly not optimal, but we’ll make the Monday night appearance. But I’m in 1A? Drat. Bulkhead. I’ll need to put my small bag – the one with the earbuds, iPad, sanitizer, etc. – above me for takeoff, then climb over Fernando afterward to get it back…. It was such a pretentious thought going through my privileged head! I was immediately reminded of Jessica Lange in American Horror Story: Coven, whining in the final episode as she gets her seating assignment from Air France as she plans to hightail it out of New Orleans: “Why do they always put me in 1A??” Seems I’m a bad witch. But, hey, I feel you, gurl. 


    My next stop was We were both in A seats, rows 1 and 5. I wanted to examine the layout, not knowing what sort of aircraft this was. I’m sure Google had listed it, but I wasn’t paying attention. In my panic, that was secondary information.


    “O, my,” I thought. No need to worry about the bulkhead. We’d just been assigned American’s signature Flagship First pods, a transcon class only available between  JFK and LAX/SFO. Even the business class on this plane would’ve been superior to the seats we should’ve been flying home. 


    “Fernando, they might pull these seats from us when we get to LAX,” I warned. While these pods are the equivalent of American’s international, long-haul business seats, it offers only scant few of them domestically. So, when God closes an original itinerary, sometimes she makes up for it with an airborne bed with all the bells and whistles. 

    First, we had to get ourselves to LAX. Luckily, our hotel had been sold, and this was its last weekend in business. Meaning staff couldn’t care less when we checked out. With an 11:30 p.m. departure, we certainly had time to kill. One last brunch with the family? You bet! One more shower to wash off the Palm Springs heat? Yes, please. Taking our time, we were still on the road by about 3 p.m. Yelling at Fernando every time he passed a car did no good. “We’re gonna have like six hours to kill at LAX. Slow down!” Not possible, apparently. 


    Barely two hours later, arriving at the Enterprise return, I was relieved there was a discrepancy regarding the amended-drop-off fee. Good! Some bureaucratic quibbling could kill some time. But by 6 p.m., we were pulling up to the American Airlines premium counter. We’re used to the premium check-in just looking like a counter with a shorter line. Here, it was roped off in a corner with no line whatsoever. After checking the bags, the agent urged us to indulge in the full experience. So did Fernando: “It’s not like we’ll ever be paying for this….” True.


    The first novel perk was the security line. Adjacent the premium check-in counter was a dedicated elevator, taking us up one floor to possibly the loneliest TSA agent on earth. “So, this is how Britney Spears travels,” I wondered, dating myself by my choice of hypothetical celebrity.


    After security, we walked down a hall to enter the “Flagship” complex, two venues of elitist allure. Checking in with the lounge staff, we handed over the glossy, black dinner invitations – of a sort – we’d been handed downstairs. With these, we could enter the überexclusive American Airlines Flagship First Dining experience.  How exclusive? So much so that the place was essentially an awkward ghost town. We came in contact, barely, with only one other passenger during our visit. She, like us, seemed also to have won the rerouting lottery. “Do I have to eat?” she asked, seemingly confused about this maze of perks. “I just need someplace to sit before my flight.” 


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The long hall to Flagship First Dining. You can almost sense that lone hostess' longing for human contact. See her? Looking back through the glass? 

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And adorning that long hall was an amazing collection of celebrities-flying-American portraits. Eartha Kitt was my favorite!  

    No, you don’t have to eat. But we weren’t letting this opportunity pass us by, so eat we did, three courses full. Along with a couple rounds of crafted cocktails and Champagne. Notably, the staff were even sweeter than the dessert, seemingly bored out of their heads. 

    “Does it ever get busy in here,” Fernando asked .

    “No,” came the immediate answer from one of the servers. “Can I get you some more coffee? Another Bailey’s?” The implied plea was, “Please don’t go. You’re my only table!”

    We tipped generously (If not us...?), but asked them to confirm that they don’t work for tips. Otherwise, slim pickin’s! 

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Round 1: the cocktails! Granted, Round 1 included two rounds. Fernando had the Far Eastside, Agave Cooler for me.

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Menu pages! Everything's exciting when you're in Flagship First! 

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The eggplant was very good, as was the Bollinger. You get no photo of the soup. Cuz soup is soup.

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For the second round of Round 1, I devolved from the arguably more sophisticated cooler to the sweeter Eastside. I regret nothing! 

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My pad Thai was fine. First time I ever had to salt pad Thai, though. Certainly, they have plenty of palates to cater for, so best to err on the side of bland! 


Though the Flagship Burger speaks for itself, Fernando offers: "It didn't disappoint." 

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One very empty dining venue.

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A very reflective view from Flagship Dining.  

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Kahlua, Bailey's, coffee.... And the amazing mango and toasted-coconut crème brûlée! Also on offer: a berry-lemon crumble, AA sundae, and a cheese plate. But this'll do, Pig. This'll do. 

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A final Club sip before boarding.

    Killing as much time as we possibly could in the dining area, we finally left to let the clock tick down another hour or so in the Flagship Lounge. At about 10 p.m., neither of us was much motivated to explore. I grabbed a drink and we settled in for more sitting till it was time to head to the gate, where we were reminded that no matter how special the trappings from time to time, you’ve always got to come back to reality. People were not meant to live on pedestals. 


    I had hoped boarding would be by the center door, rather than the one directly behind the cockpit. Why? Because I know full well that visceral feeling of resentment, whether I’m the one receiving it or the one delivering it. And here, on a plane full of people hoping to harvest some bit of sleep in the next four hours, I was one of only 10 passengers with the luxe airborne bedroom. And I hadn’t even paid for it in AAdvantage miles or cash money! Not that anybody else knew that, but it made those resentment vibes all the more stinging. 

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Back to life, back to reality, at Gate 47A. 

    Soon enough, everyone was boarded, and we began rolling away from the terminal. At the first groove in the tarmac, my big video monitor popped out, startling me. Lemme just follow the rules and make sure that’s stuck back in place…. POP. Again it swung out, almost violently. Sheesh! Maybe if I push it back, then press extra hard, and then sort of jiggle it even more tightly into its frame…. There. POP!Seriously? I tried. I know this must be stored for takeoff and landing, but I’ve done my best! It’s in American’s hands now. 


   Among the wonderful bedding – Just the pillow please, need to be freezing to sleep! – and Cole Haan amenities, we were also handed a menu. That grilled lobster and cheese sandwich certainly called to me! But, seriously, how much more food could I stuff into myself? Just wine and my book, please. This combination presents my best chances for getting any in-flight sleepytime. And, to a small degree, it worked. I probably got a couple hours of turbulence-tossed zzz’s. Better than Fernando, who couldn’t sleep at all. 

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Where's Fernando?? A couple pods back, all smiles, Main Cabin Extra be damned! 

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That dang screen, just waiting to pop out. But with this much legroom, who cares? 

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Nuts to lobster! This is all the catering I need. 

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LAX looking iconically so beyond the Casper bedding package and Women of the Resistance.

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The woman on that stupid screen? I call her Poppy. 

    On the upside, the Admiral’s Club we’d be using at JFK has showers. Along with a pot of coffee, that usually gets us back to human. One short flight afterward, and we were back home. Just in time for Fernando to run to the drycleaner for his soiree suit. I’ll admit to crashing for about 30 minutes. When it came time to make our entrance, we made it, lasting the whole evening! Only took a week or so to recover. 

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The calming sunrise glow welcomes us back to the East Coast

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Arrived Monday morning to an oddly empty JFK Terminal 8

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Not the Cathay Pacific Long Bar, but it'll do! 

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Gonna wash that jet lag right outta my hair! 

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Rest of the private shower room, for the curious.

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If it's American Airlines, it's C.O. Bigelow. 

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Tiny planes often allow for tiny cockpit peeks! 

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