On Thursday evening, I found out I needed to be in DC for a Monday 9:30am court appearance. Although I could theoretically take an early morning Monday flight, that would be cutting it close and exhausting (and expensive). Since I live in midtown Manhattan, 2 subway stops from Penn Station, the roomy Amtrak is always a fine option. But the fact that I intended to spend Sunday afternoon with my mother and family at my parents’ house on Long Island added a wrinkle. Looking at the schedule, I figured I could head to Long Island for the afternoon, then back into Penn Station, and grab a train getting me into DC at around 10:30pm. Not appealing but doable. I knew that last minute Delta and U.S. Air Shuttle flights from LaGuardia to DCA are very pricey, but, on a lark, I looked at flight prices on Kayak. Sure enough, many flights out of Kennedy were going for less than the train from Penn Station. And Kennedy is about a 30 minute drive from my parents’ and I knew they’d be happy to drive me. So my two months of no flying looked like it was about to end.
But the only flight with sensible times flying into DCA as opposed to Dulles was on American.
I have often before blogged on my lack of love for American. On the most basic level, I have had unenjoyable flying experiences- with delayed and cancelled flights, and old equipment without modern industry-standard experiences. Admirals Clubs in the US are cash restaurants with free coffee, water, and carrot stacks. American’s upgrade policy for lower tier elites is nonexistent. And American consistently improves premium cabin offerings while degrading or neglecting the back of the plane. As a result, I tend to avoid American (and it doesn’t hurt that OneWorld is the one of the big three alliances I don’t have status in), and thus hadn’t flown it in about 16 months.
I was optimistic, though. The short hop down to DCA can’t be that bad. I posted a tweet about my ambivalence of returning to American, and American soon after tweeted me to offer assistance and wishing me a good trip. This was particularly impressive since earlier in the week I tweeted United after needing to call three times with calls of well over twenty minutes each just to get a simple online booking ticketed – and received no response. Also, American had added a number of perks I hadn’t yet had a chance to experience. For holders of the AAdvantage Platinum Mastercard, American recently added free checked bags, priority boarding, and discounts on in-flight purchases. None were really of particular value to me on a short flight on a short trip but its nice to have some perks on an airline I don’t have status on. But one new perk was.
The TSA has started a pilot “Pre-Check” program , by which registered can not only bypass the regular and traditional elite security lines in favor of a dedicated lane, but also keep their shoes on and liquids and laptops in their bags. The program is only currently available at select airports and select terminals at those airports for travelers on American, Delta, and Alaska Airlines. As a Global Entry member, I am automatically eligible to use Pre-Check by associating my TSA number with my American and Delta profiles.
American’s Terminal 8 at JFK just joined the program. I don’t know what the indication on my boarding pass indicating I was eligible was, and had been prepared to just go through regular Priority Access since I didn’t see any special indication. But sure enough, upon presenting my boarding pass to the agent at the entry to the Priority Access lane, I was directed to scan my boarding pass, and then go into a special Pre Check lane. While the line for general passengers had hundreds of passengers, and the Priority Access lane had at least two dozen, I was the only one on the Pre-Check lane- which had 3 dedicated TSA agents. Passing through was like travel in the days of yore. I could leave my liquids and laptop in my briefcase, and didn’t have to take my shoes off. Amazing!
Once through security, I headed towards the outer reaches of the terminal where American Eagle flights depart from, passing the growing number of non-AA tenants at Terminal 8, including Air Berlin, LAN, Royal Jordanian and Qatar Airways aircraft. I made a quick stop at the crowded Admirals Club where, after waiting on a long line, I was at least able to have some snack mix and coffee for free. (I had been tickled by the fact that, at check-in, I was offered the opportunity to buy a day pass at the Club for an outrageous $50.) After twenty minutes, I hiked the rest of the way to the gate, and prepared for boarding.
The flight was on a full tiny, well-worn American Eagle RJ, with several deadheaders, and a number of others clearly connecting from international travel. The only notable issue was a not-particularly-friendly Flight Attendant in her 50s, with blue eyeshadow, blue earrings . . . and blue hair. Not something you see that often. I’d dozed off as we waited to take off, and woke up for the short beverage service. It’s been awhile since I’ve flown into DCA in the daytime, and on a beautiful spring day, the approach was amazing – following the Potomac from Georgetown University to the Watergate and Kennedy Center, to a sweeping view of the Mall and monuments. Then a 20-minute Metro ride to an un-noteworthy hotel stay at the serviceable Hampton Inn Washington Downtown (the Courthouse is not in great hotel land).
Happy Mothers’ Day to my readers… I hope to pick up the posting pace as I have a busy summer travel schedule coming!