As an extended Veterans’ Day trip, two friends of mine and I took advantage of a mistake fare from New York to Catania, in Sicily, with a fare of $270. The routing was a little bit kooky – flying American from JFK to Zurich, a 9 hour layover in Zurich, then onto Catania on Swiss for two nights. On the return, we’d fly on Alitalia from Catania to Milan-Linate, spend a night in Milan, and then on American from Milan Malpensa back to JFK. I was able to get pretty cheap positioning flights on American from DCA to JFK, and flew up the day before to spend some time with the family.
Before I even headed to JFK, our flight to Zurich was delayed by 45 minutes. The inbound flight (from Milan, actually) was arriving late, as it had left 3 hours late (as the inbound aircraft for that flight had left JFK 5 hours late the night before). Although it would shorten our layover in Zurich a bit, I didn’t really mind that short delay; I just left for the airport a bit later. When I got there, JFK was absolutely swamped, and I was convinced that no Americans were actually flying out of Terminal 8 that night. The Precheck line was filled with foreign passengers who not only had no idea what Precheck was, but had large drinks and perfumes in their bags. But soon enough I was through and headed to the Admirals Club at Concourse A. Being friendly helped, and after schmoozing at check-in, the agent gave me two free premium beverage chits.
The Admirals Club at JFK is nothing special, particularly when crowded, but at least the wifi was working, unlike the Club at DCA the day before (though the crackers aren’t as good). I had a Brooklyn Lager and some cheese and pretzels, started this blog entry, and just relaxed before what would be my first coach international flight in nearly three years.
Alas, the delays continued. And they were the worst kind of delays – without helpful updates. Our original (first delay) boarding time was 6:15, so we left the Admirals Club at 6:15 and headed to the gate. There were no announcements until around 6:25, when it was announced they just had to finish catering and then we’d board. At 6:45, our boarding time was updated to 6:20. Soon we were told that there was a maintenance issue, with no updated time. Finally, we were told there was a “decision time” of 7:30, and that we were approved for food vouchers. That was a first, but I guess they had already admitted it was a mechanical issue, and we were looking at at least a 2 hour delay. So we headed to the food court. Once there, American updated our boarding time to 7:04; it was already 7:20.
We quickly ate, and I headed back to the gate, reaching it at 7:32 – 2 minutes after the “decision time.” Well, they had apparently made their decision earlier, as the plane had almost entirely boarded. Again, really terrible communication. But I was happy to finally be on board, and only about 90 minutes after our scheduled departure time.
But it wasn’t meant to be. We wouldn’t end up departing until after 9pm. The Captain said we were waiting for the maintenance log, which somehow took over an hour. In the meantime, the passengers in coach began their litany of complaints to the Flight Attendant, who handled them really well. Complaints included: why did the delay take so long, passengers in the bulkhead got ripped off paying for extra legroom, and, upon realizing that there was no personal in-flight entertainment, just overhead monitors – “What am I supposed to do then?” Throughout, American kept calling and informing me of updated departure times, which weren’t so helpful. In the end, the Flight Attendant said it was because of a work slowdown by the maintenance crew. I’m skeptical, but have no idea if it was true or not.
As Brett Snyder said in a blog post about American’s 767s, in coach, its like the 1980s back there. While American has made a big deal about recently about the new business class they installed on their 767s, they limited their renovations to the front cabin. The back cabin just got new seat covers, but the rest of the old janky seats, and drop down monitors across the cabin as the only in-flight entertainment, remained. For some reason, I was unable to get seats assigned in the small Main Cabin Extra cabin, but the American Twitter team was able to get me into an exit row seat, which did have plenty of legroom.
Despite the delay and bad hard product, the crew was generally excellent. During the delay, they came by with water, and then pretzels. As soon as the seatbelt sign was off, the crew immediately went into dinner service, followed by drink service, explaining they were skipping a drink service because they knew people would want to sleep after the delay. The meal was decent for coach, with some kind of chicken and orzo, a small salad, cheese and crackers, and a snickerdoodle cookie. I had some of the free Cabernet, which was drinkable. All told, dinner was served and cleared in an hour, which is pretty good. The overhead movie, the terrible divorcee and widower Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore film (not that one, the other one), Blended, was not so good.
The delay had messed up my routine a little bit, but I was able to sleep for about 4 hours. There had been a pillow and blanket at each seat, and I had my own homemade amenity kit, Singapore Airlines slippers, and an inflatable pillow. I woke up a little bit before breakfast service, which was a “good morning box” on par with some business class breakfasts I had, with a hot muffin top, a granola type mix, dried fruit, and yogurt. The IFE had switched to an episode of Parenthood, followed by Chicago Fire. Soon enough we were beginning our initial descent into Zurich.
The Captain announced that the specific approach we were taking into Zurich had special requirements that all of our personal electronics be turned completely off, which was slightly odd and off-putting. It may have been the lake or the mountains, or the fact that the city was completely covered in dense fog, such that I couldn’t see the runway until we landed on it.
In the end, we arrived about 3 hours late, which essentially cut our time to explore Zurich in half. Not great. Thankfully, the immigration lines were negligible, though one of the other agents kept asking Americans how long they were going to be in Zurich… they all said “just for the day, and then onto Catania.” I even spotted a Flyertalk bag tag, so safe to assume there would be a party of mistake fare fliers in Sicily.
After a quick freshening up in the bathroom, we headed to the mega mall/train station/check-in “Airport Center” outside the terminal, where, after a little searching, we found the left luggage area, dropped our bags and bought train tickets into Zurich for about $14 roundtrip. The trains were superfrequent, and we waited about 3 minutes for the 10 minute, 2 stop train ride to Zurich’s main train station.
Next up: 3.5 Hours in Zurich, Zurich Airport and Zurich to Catania on Swiss/Edelweiss