I recently wrote that I won’t buy Southwest Airlines flights where they aren’t selling Early Bird check-in. Now that I no longer have Rapid Rewards A-List status, I need a way out of a middle seat. And the odds I’ll hit checking in at exactly 24 hours out are low, plus that’s not even a guarantee.
Out of Austin, Southwest actually had the best schedule for me to fly to Chicago. When I booked this trip there was nothing between 8:20 a.m. and 3 p.m. on American. I didn’t need to be in before dinnertime, but I did need to be there for dinnertime. And I didn’t want to leave home before my daughter left for school just to take American. Southwest was out because their mid-morning flight to Chicago Midway wasn’t selling Early Bird. And United’s mid-morning flight doesn’t operate daily.
So I settled on an American Airlines connection from Austin to Dallas to Chicago.
- It didn’t really add additional distance to the trip
- The Dallas – Chicago flight would be on a Boeing 787-9
- And there was confirmable upgrade space into business class on that 787!
I used a Business Extra ‘BXP1’ domestic upgrade certificate to confirm my international business class seat on this two hour domestic flight. The loss of Business ExtrAA in a couple of weeks, which is being replaced by the far inferior AAdvantage Business program is really sad. I’ll miss confirming upgrades this way.
Meanwhile, my upgrade for Austin to Dallas cleared at the 100 hour mark, something quite rare these days but also not surprising following the long Thanksgiving holiday.
I left home around 8:50 a.m. for my 10:20 a.m. Austin – Dallas flight that was showing on time. TSA screening took an especially long time. The lanes without the Analogic scanners were all closed, so even without a backup of passengers PreCheck took more than 15 minutes as they were processing backs through the checkpoint slowly. (Pro-tip: whenever there are lanes with the Analogic machines and without them, always take the lane without them even if it appears to be longer.)
Then I headed up to the Admirals Club for just a few minutes, before heading down to the gate. Though I wouldn’t have a meal on either flight I skipped what they call breakfast in the lounge.
The agent there was a bit overwhelmed by a full flight, even though it was just a regional jet. She had to assist the crew in getting the lav services after having called for the start of boarding and just became flustered. I know that employing only a single person to board a domestic flight has become de rigueur but two makes travel so much smoother.
I do not mind Embraer ERJ-175 regional jets at all (except that most have slow air to ground wifi, even though high speed satellite is now possible) I do not much like similar-sized Bonbardier CR7 and CR9 planes. That’s because their overhead bins do not accommodate standard carry on bags. So you can carry your bag on, sort of. You drop it off on the jet bridge, and it’s returned to you there when you deplane. Only passengers line up in a long queue down the jetway, and it can take awhile to get yours as one comes up at a time – precious minutes when you’re on a short connection.
It turns out we came in onto the E concourse in Dallas, and not just E but the American Airlines E satellite gates. I’d actually never flown out of those before. You cave to walk to an underground tunnel to reach the main E concourse before making it onto the Skytrain to change terminals. I was heading from E satellite to E to D36. D is the international terminal, but some domestic flights leave from there, and it’s generally where widebody aircraft will depart from.
I made it just in time for scheduled boarding of my flight to Chicago, but the gate actually started boarding two minutes early. Cabin crew weren’t allowing passengers on yet, so there was a long backup on the jet bridge for my second flight even though I joined the queue before group 2 was called.
I had chosen seat 1L for the trip, the bulkhead seat in the first row on the right side of the cabin. That is more or less the most private. You’re angled facing the window and really don’t see anyone else. However I could hear loud galley gossip throughout the flight.
On American’s 787s you can’t use any floor storage so my laptop bag had to go in the overhead bin. No big deal, though I do prefer it within arm’s reach.
These 7 year old seats still hold up reasonably well. They’re a mostly off-the-shelf Super Diamond seat that’s popular with many top airlines. Qatar Airways uses it on a few aircraft. British Airways uses it, but added doors and a lot of bespoke design, for their new Club Suite.
American’s 787-9s have this seat. Four of their 787-8s have it. And about 60% of their Boeing 777-200s have it. The rest of those planes have ‘Concept D’ seats. My biggest complaint is that they didn’t install dividers between the center seats. That was their solution, I guess, to the dividers getting stuck on their previous (Concept D) seats. But it means there’s really no separation or privacy for solo travelers seated in the center section. I was in the window.
There’s a large, accessible lavatory between the business and premium economy cabins.
Predeparture beverages were offered, though just water, with a flight attendant explaining that they were late-catered.
Once we were in the air I fired up my laptop. American wanted $19 for one hour of internet, or $25 for the full flight. Their widebodies are served by Panasonic, and monthly wifi subscriptions are only valid on Gogo and ViaSat-equipped narrowbody aircraft. Still, I paid it so that I could work.
Shortly after drink orders were taken, and a snack basket was passed. We arrived after 3 p.m. local time, and I hadn’t had an opportunity for lunch. So the snacks were something, I guess. Dallas – Chicago is over 800 miles. That’s shorter than American’s meal threshold. But a hub-to-hub flight like this one ought to have something more substantive.
Ultimately though – limited inflight service on a short flight aside – there’s really nothing like flying a widebody domestically. It has premium economy sold as coach and business class in place of domestic first. Short haul flying between major cities in Asia is often like this, but widebodies U.S. domestic are far more limited – something that didn’t used to be the case when I began flying for work years ago. Along a certain margin I’ll go out of my way for it, though certainly more so on longer flights than on short ones like this.
I wouldn’t normally connect flying between Austin and Chicago but for this trip it worked out perfectly.
On arrival, I stopped at Tortas Frontera, the only really great food option in a U.S. airport to pick up a choriqueso that I’d eat once I made it to my hotel.
My flight arrived in Chicago early. It wasn’t that inefficient to connect in Dallas, considering my schedule options. It was far more comfortable than flying Southwest in a middle seat. And I got the chance to fly in an American Airlines international business class seat for the first time in quite some time. So I was happy!