This Woman Just Flew Atlanta To Charlotte Alone Like American Airlines Was A Private Jet

During bad weather delays stack up. Delays can either mean very full flights, as more passengers from cancelled trips wind up on the few planes that manage to take off, or they can mean empty flights as passengers go and find other flights or cancel their trips. That happens most often after extremely long delays.

Regina Jackson was traveling from Atlanta to Charlotte on American Airlines, and had the best flight of her life despite a series of delays and a whole bunch of weather-induced turbulence. That’s because American Airlines flight 533 had just one passenger on board – her.

She sat in first class – why not, there weren’t any seats taken on the plane so she had her pick – and reported that the crew “were INCREDIBLE” on the mere 226 mile hop. She probably didn’t want that flight to end.

It’s a cool experience when you get super personalized attention – spoiled even – by a flight attendant. And being alone in a plane makes service super personalized almost by definition.

And it’s a great way to make up for a day of delays. Still, you’ve had to go to the airport amidst the crowds and go through TSA checkpoints, which you’ve probably arrived early for. So it doesn’t quite compare to actually flying private or taking JSX from a private terminal.

I’ve flown alone in first class many times, for instance flying Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Paris, Thai Airways from Bangkok to Tokyo, and ANA from Chicago to Tokyo. But I’ve never had an entire aircraft to myself.

In the late 80s I flew New York to Cincinnati on Delta with just two or three other passengers after a series of delays. And then my January 1, 2000 (“Y2K”) flight on United from Los Angeles to Washington Dulles flight was on board a a near-empty Boeing 777. Everyone else was afraid to fly that day.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. During SARS in 2003, I was on several planes in Asia that flew with only a tiny handful of passengers, including JAL 747s that had about 10 people on them in all classes between NRT and JFK. It seemed completely surreal at the time but I had no idea what was to come 18 years later.

  2. I’ve had to fly from DCA to ATL on AA and back over the past few weekends for personal matters, and almost every flight has been 20% full, at most.

    May have to start flying standby on those flights, because they always all fly first class!

  3. My closest equivalent was on an Eastern shuttle, years ago, when they rolled out a plane just for me from LGA to DCA, when I walked up to the gate 5 minutes before departure and the passenger ahead of me took the last seat… and we arrived at DCA ahead of the first section! I did feel like it was my private 727!

  4. I flew from MHT to DTW on a 7:00 AM flight on Super Bowl Sunday several years ago. There were I think 5 people on the flight. That was weird enough.

    But what was truly a bit disturbing was walking through an empty DTW. I was first off the flight walked the entire length of one terminal without passing 1 person other than the gate agent. Some real post apocalyptic vibes.

  5. Recently flew LGA-DCA on AA on an Airbus A319 that had six passengers. I was upgraded to First Class thanks to my status, but beyond that, the crew were so kind to everyone and referenced the small load a few times in their comments. It was 45 minutes of pure bliss and tranquility, even amid a bad weather day and a full work day ahead.

  6. Haha, flashing back to the old Eastern Shuttle from DC to New York. I never had one to myself, but they did roll a plane out for three of us once!

  7. Years ago, I was on a NWA flight from DTW to MKE, alone. Well, with a flight attendant. It was actually pretty funny and the FA sat next to me and we had a nice conversation for the 30-40 min flight.

  8. I have one that’s hard to beat – ONLY passenger on NW 120, MSP-ORD, 12-11-91, 747-200. NW flew the MSP-ORD route hourly. NW 120 was the 0700 departure, and always a 747 to cover the 1100 daily departure ORD-NRT. A tug bumped the assigned aircraft that morning, and the MSP maintenance guys needed to inspect. The other passengers bolted for the door to standby for the following departures; 0800, 0900, 1000, etc. I’d been seated towards the rear of the aircraft, (my usual spot because the 747 was never full, and I could usually have the entire rear cabin almost to myself,) and therefore I deplaned last to the sight of lines of folks trying to rebook. Like most everyone else, I hate lines, and I was thinking of sacking the entire trip; but I hung around the gate area to use the large pay phone bank and to call my customers to tell them I would need to reschedule, and to take care of other phone business. After a couple hours, one of the gate agents (I knew many of the agents because I flew the flight nearly every week for a few years) saw me at the phones and asked why I hadn’t rebooked. I indicated I would probably just skip the trip when she said the aircraft had been cleared, and she asked if I’d like to fly in my “personal 747.” The trip was back on! (Remember, the aircraft had to fly because it’s primary purpose was to cover the Narita schedule.) All other passengers had rebooked on the next three flights, and when they closed the boarding door at 0940, I made a point to take my seat, now in first class, on the port side to observe the looks of shock from the just-boarded 1000 departure (DC9-30) as NW 120 pushed back with just one smiling face at the windows. All flight announcements from Captain Brown and the crew were personally addressed to Mr. Smith, and we all had a great time. I was hoping the winds that day would require us to head out over the lake and approach from the east, but no such luck. We were straight-in from the west. The skipper and crew all shook my hand on the way out, and having nothing specifically for the observance of a lone passenger on a 747, they presented me with a copy of the flight plan, signed by all 11 crew members, and a pair of plastic kiddie wings — which I wore on my lapel that day to the customers that I was able to see. The NWA Chicago station manager hustled down to the arrival gate to see me deplane and said in his almost 20-yrs of service, he had never seen anything close — and I suspect he never did again.

  9. I flew BOS-LGA as a non-rev when I was in college on an AA Lockheed Electra. One other passenger, an Air Force officer in uniform who probably was half-price, was on board.

  10. Many, many years ago when I was a young Coast Guard officer, I flew military standby on from San Francisco to Saint. Louis on TWA. It was Christmas day. I found myself to be the only passenger on the plane. I was in uniform, which apparently got me lots attention from the stewardesses, who asked me which airline I flew for. (Yes, they were called stewardesses in those days.) Alas, the plane went on to Chicago where the women were stationed. Not chance of getting a phone number. Sigh.

  11. The evening of the “Sully Miracle” , TWO Midwest Express flights were delayed leaving MCI for LGA. The first one was delayed for hours and crowded / packed while mine, the second, was slightly delayed and I was the only one it. Both left within 15 minutes of each other. I was surprised no one moved over to the second flight in the “panic” to get home although I guess it mattered little with the all business class seating. While on approach to LGA flying up the Hudson, I could easily see the plane tied up to the shore of lower Manhattan. The “stewardesses” gave me fresh baked cookies to take home to the kids. Sad that the “save the cookie” campaign did not work out, just a great way to fly….

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