Thursday, June 11, 2009

American Airlines aren't always merde

I continually whinge when I have to fly American, the Aeroflot of the 21st century. A dedicated Virgin traveller for years, I’ve grown used to on-demand TV & movies (ones I actually want to see), a sense of humour, & imaginative food to dull the Cattle Class experience. AA is not known for ticking any of these boxes.

They were the preferred carrier of the axis of evil last year, and this time I needed to fly LAX-LHR-JFK & AA was super cheap, so I suck it up when I have to. The flight from LAX to LHR was misery in a metal tube; my vegetarian meal had been forgotten, the films were crap, the cabin crew were surly strop artists and I had a woman whose BMI was middle-aged in the teeny tiny seat next to me.

Fast forward. AA’s Heathrow Terminal 3 check-in is unfortunately bang next to Virgin’s shiny new flagship area, which makes AA’s section look even more low rent than normal. The flashy AA check-in machines of JFK & LAX are nowhere to be seen. Instead the scruffy desks are stuffed around a corner and usually manned by cheerless automatons.

But none of this mattered yesterday. Running true to form, I had arrived late at my father’s house for my lift to the airport, and, after he cheerily dropped me off kerbside,
I skidded across the hall with my cart on two wheels convinced that AA’s usual dismal queues would make me miss my plane.

There was no one there. Some SMILING check-in people and no travellers. Not one.

Turned out there were maybe 50 passengers on the 747, so I had two seats for my junk, and a row of five seats across the aisle which I turned into nest central with armfuls of pillows & lovely soft fleecy blankets.

We were delayed on the apron for 1hr30 but I was glad of the rest after my Geneva dash, & curled up like a very happy dormouse in my mental geraniums, with ample chocolate supplies and free copies of the high class literature on offer (Hello!, InStyle).

Of course the movies on offer were at the wrong end of dire (New in Town, Confessions of a Shopaholic) but my supper expectations were confounded by a delicious supper (al dente pasta, fresh Italian bread, Le Vache qui Rit cheese, beurre d’Isigny). And when we arrived (early) at JFK, the arrival gate was maybe 150 yards from Immigration.

Where there was no line. Let me repeat: no line. Of course, AA can’t be held responsible for the global downturn in the economy & resulting lack of travellers but I was very happy not to have to wait behind 400 people (the hideous JFK norm).

And the upside was a very cheery, flirty Immigration guy who wasn’t having to deal with thousands of travel sore passengers, and who high fived me after inspecting my O-1 visa (it’s an Alien of, erm, Exceptional Ability visa which is useful for spuriously impressing purposes and therefore getting through Customs quickly).

It got better. My luggage was already waiting for me on the carousel. SuperShuttle arrived in ten mins not the estimated 25 and, for the very first time dropped me off first not last. (Am trying to be good and not blow $60 on cabs from the airport every time I fly.)

I don’t know what I did to deserve such a blissful journey home, but I am hoping it’s a good omen for the next two months here in NYC.