I Just Flew Cross-Country With American Airlines. I May Never Get Over It

December 15, 2018 12:01 pm

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Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

I admit it’s been a year.

I’d avoided the airline a little on my travels, but it was time to try again.

Gingerly, then, I booked an Economy Class ticket from San Francisco to Miami and then paid another $ 90 for an exit row seat.

Because, well, it’s a relatively long flight and, for some odd reason, the airline claimed it was flying a Boeing 767.

Airlines are mostly sending these old beasts to the Arizona pastures — or, perhaps, to marginal billionaires who build tasteless castles in Arizona pastures. 

These planes, though, used to offer something so lacking in the latest models: air.

They’re wide-bodied, so you can at least fool yourself into believing there’s more space.

I used to go out of my way to fly American to New York when they flew 767’s there.

Things have changed. Now you are the sardine and the airline is the can-I-make-a-bigger-profit.

Would this be a strange throwback to a forgotten time? 

Waiting For Godot-ful Disaster.

Flying involves worrying. Before you do the actual flying, that is.

When it comes to American, one of the primary concerns is whether the flight will be delayed more or less than Brexit.

Yet, as the day and the hour approached, no message from American that the plane was out of action, I’d be reseated on a narrowbody bus and driven to Miami.

I arrived at San Francisco airport. The luggage tag machines were working, The man at the bag drop even smiled and made a joke about my name. (If you don’t make a joke about my name, what is wrong with you?) 

Still, I wasn’t comfortable. This thing was going to go wrong. It was just a question of how, how badly and when.

The departure board didn’t twitch. It was as if it had smoked a decent brand of THC pot.

Boarding was announced on time. People didn’t even crowd the gate area to distraction. This bordered on the haunting. 

Who, though, would I have sitting next to me? That can make a flight enjoyable or dip it into unbearable.

My seatmate was on his phone. He ran a tech company. He needed one of his employees to know just how much he sympathized with her problem.

His drippingly unctuous tone told me that he was unlikely to do anything about it.

I sat down in my window seat and the first shock hit me. 

Waiting For Bad News To Bear.

Yes, the tray tables were as yellow as a smoker’s teeth. The seats, too, looked like they’d supported a thousand passengers and ten thousand hurried cleanings too many.

As I lounged tentatively, an announcement from the cabin crew.

Here it was, the bad news. It had to be bad news:

Welcome on board, ladies and gentlemen. This is NOT a full flight, so you should have plenty of room to store your bags and stretch out.

My mouth opened, my jaw seized up and my eyebrows began to vibrate.

I can’t remember the last time I heard such an announcement.

So many times I’ve been on flights that were patently not full, yet the cabin crew announced this was a full flight and please think about checking your carry-ons, before we confiscate them and sell them on eBay.

Yet here was American Airlines being honest?

Suddenly, we were pushing back. The tech type next to me was still bleating into his phone.

No one came to admonish him. I tried to give him a sly glare. 

He finally got off the call and began to furiously type into his phone. Perhaps these were his self-help notes, I’ve no idea. 

And then we were in the air.

Wait, we were on time? It seemed like it. 

After a few minutes, it was the pilot’s turn to make an announcement: 

There’s normally a lot of planes lining up for takeoff, but when we got to the runway, there was no one there. So we took off. Looks like we’ll be in Miami at least 30 minutes early.

This was beginning to feel like a parallel universe. I had descended into some weird time warp. Had I inadvertently inhaled some of that THC?

Now It Was Going To Be Ruined.

Oh, but then my seat-mate began to eat lunch. A vigorous eater of a carry-on salad, he was. And goodness did his elbow jab into my ribs with every jerk of his plastic knife.

Did he say sorry?

Did I mention he was a tech type?

This is where it would all go wrong. I felt sure that, once he’d finished his lunch, out would come the laptop and in would go his elbow to my ribs for the rest of the flight.

I was mostly right. His MacBook came out. What was surreal is that, unlike most self-important men I’ve sat next to on planes, his elbows stayed in.

Not once in the next several hours did he jab me again. It was almost as if, having satisfied an employee with platitudes and his hunger with a salad, he became fully sentient.

Meanwhile, the cabin service was efficient, if not effusive. Just like the biscotti-type things they handed out.

The Flight Attendants performed their duties and then disappeared.

I leaned into my slightly dreary Canadian detective novel — I refuse to work on planes, save in an emergency — stretched my legs right out and wallowed in a peculiar calm.

American Airlines Really Let Me Down.

We didn’t have to divert to Albuquerque because of an engine problem. 

My seatmate had excellent noise-canceling headphones, the sort that truly are silent. 

A baby trying crying a couple of times and then realized that so much attention-seeking just wasn’t going to work.

The whole thing was eerily tolerable, verging on the pleasant. It was like a blind date that involved easy conversation and even a kiss at the end.

We were at the gate almost an hour ahead of schedule. 

This was as close to perfect as I could have conceived.

Even my bag came out quickly, which anyone who’s ever flown into Miami knows is a bizarre event.

I walked away, talking to myself. I try to do it quietly.

I only had one thought: American Airlines, you really let me down. I could find nothing to complain about, because it felt like flying from a few years ago.

The pilots couldn’t even muster any turbulence.

How lovely it is when nothing goes wrong with a flight. And how relatively rare that seems to be these days, especially if you’re flying in the back. 

When the airline, the staff and the passengers all conspire to make it a pleasant experience, flying can be genuinely relaxing. 

If only these three could conspire to make it happen more often. 

Tech

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