This is the conclusion of my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain. For an introduction, see this post.
I left the Radisson at 6:30am for my 9:25am flight. Despite it only being a 10-minute walk to Dublin’s Terminal 2, given the rigmarole of US preclearance processes, I figured the extra time was well-advised. The check-in lines for AA were loong, such that I overheard one agent say “I’m going to see what’s going on over there, these queues are too long.” There were three separate lines: New York, Chicago, and Priority. (Presumably the 9:55am Charlotte opens later, Philadelphia doesn’t leave until 11:20am). The Priority line was long, although not terribly slow-moving. Unfortunately, a bunch of passengers couldn’t fathom that there would be a line for priority, and thus went alongside where the Oversized Baggage drop was and then tried (at least one successfully) to cut the line.
It took about 20 minutes to make it to the check-in desk, which was without incident. One thing that stinks about a summer flight from Dublin to the U.S. is the large number of passengers who don’t fly internationally much (if at all), so everything moved slowly and confusingly, with people interrupting to ask questions about immigration forms. From the ticket counter, it was off to security #1, which dumps you into a huge shopping mall. Until July, this would also be where you’d stay for a while, as it’s where the only lounges are. But one week before my departure, the Dublin Airport Authority opened a new lounge in the U.S. Pre-clearance area, so I headed to the US pre-clearance area, passing through a second security check and then using Global Entry to “enter” the U.S. All told, the process took about an hour from the time I arrived at the airport.
The new lounge is called 51st & Green (a play on the number of states and the color of Ireland?), and is awesome. Perhaps people don’t know about it yet, but it was pretty empty despite the many large planes leaving for the U.S. within 90 minutes of my own and the fact that it’s open to Business and First passengers and elites of all of those airlines.
The space is located right at the end of the pier, and has windows on three sides looking out onto the runways, making for great plane watching. (A lot of Ryanair and Aer Lingus.) There was a variety of seating, all with plentiful access to outlets. The food area had a variety of pastries, “American” waffles (which looked like Belgian waffles actually) with a peanut butter cream sauce, and “buttermilk pancakes” which were actually crepes. They would have been better hot or at least warm, but still good. There was also a variety of pastries, cereals, yogurt, juices and smoothies, and later hot dogs. Since most of the flights are morning flights (Aer Lingus does have afternoon flights to Boston, Chicago, LAX, New York, and Dulles, and United has a 12:25 to Dulles and a 12:55 to Newark), instead of a bar, there is a “Barista” station, which also has wine, beer, and hard alcohol, where I was able to get a delicious latte. The station highlights Cloud Picker coffee, a local craft coffee. There was also a small salty snack station with crisps and pretzels.
The staff was friendly, cleaning up promptly. I had about 50 minutes in the lounge before boarding, which was pleasant and lovely. There was great planespotting from the window, which directly faced the runway.
There was one weird thing though:
I then headed to the gate about 10 minutes prior to scheduled boarding time, where I got nervous and saw it said “Final Call,” before realizing that that was the Final Call sign for customs, something that confused many other passengers as they approached the gate.
Boarding wasn’t that well-coordinated between the gate staff and those on the plane, as I surprised both the maintenance crew and the lead Flight Attendant as I approached the aircraft. Due to the magic of cross-fleeting, although I was on a legacy AA route, I had a pre-merger US Airways plane and crew (the plane had just done the inbound from Charlotte). So, that means I had the same US A332 that I’d had on the outbound, and had two times last summer. So, you will not be hearing much about the aircraft: not the newest, perfectly fine, and better than the 757 that AA operates on the JFK-DUB (and seasonally on the PHL-DUB) route. It was the same Cole Haan amenity kit, too.
I changed into my PJ pants for the longish (8 hour) flight, and came back to my seat to an offer of sparkling wine, OJ, or sparkling water. Given the hour, water was fine. There was then a bit of a boondoggle, as a British family of five was seated in business class and didn’t have seats altogether, and wanted them; they were also the last passengers to board in Business, so about half the cabin had to move around which seemed entirely unnecessary, and I ended up with a child in front of me, another across the aisle, and a father on the diagonal. The kids weren’t that young, though, so I hoped they’d behave. The two older ones did, after some seating reshuffling, but the younger one was quite needy. The concept of children under 10 getting their own transatlantic business class seats will always be foreign to me, but then again the only place I ever flew as a child was Florida. I’m generally sympathetic to families traveling together wanting seats together. But not in business when they already had a set of 3 and a set of 2. At least they didn’t have a nanny with them (or maybe they did, in coach).
Menus came after the Banks family. Although it’s a 9:25am departure, 3:25am in Chicago, AA starts the service with a heavy lunch. I had pre-ordered the chicken breast. This was a complicated affair for the family. “But can I get the pasta plain, daddy?”
I was tired, so dozed a little as we took off, waking up to a hot towel, and loading up “My Name is Doris” (which I still don’t know what I feel about) on the in-flight entertainment, with nuts and a Cotes du Rhone white.
The food was pretty good. The first course was a weird greens salad with parmesan and a yogurt lime dressing, and starter of a caprese salad. (Two salads is weird.) It took a while for my main to come, and the Flight Attendant apologized and explained that the rack with the chicken hadn’t properly cooked it so they were cooking it some more. She offered frequent refills of wine without asking while I waited. The chicken was a Mediterranean/Indian theme, and the chicken itself, and the harissa sauce, was delicious. The rest of the plate– cauliflower, spinach, bulgur, and yogurt sauce – was pretty bland and I only picked.
For dessert I went with the ice cream sundae – nuts, berries, hot fudge – delicious, and I finished it two hours after departure, while watching some of the Anderson Cooper/Gloria Vanderbilt documentary, “Nothing Left Unsaid,” which was excellent.
I then went to sleep for about 2.5 hours, waking up several times to the sound of the children, usually accompanied by one of the parents moving seats or visiting one of their kids. At one point, the mother was sitting on her husband’s lap while their youngest screamed on the other side of the plane. Rich people, man.
For “lunch,” the choice was a salmon edamame salad, which did not interest me, or a flatbread, which was basically a frozen pizza with vegetables, along with a small salad. The best part was a small pot of ganache. It was pretty weird to have had 2 lunches, since it wasn’t even 10:30am in Chicago yet. The flight attendant came by for frequent beverage checks, though.
In all, I actually really appreciated the service of the flight attendant working my aisle. She was attentive yet unobtrusive, particularly good for a US-based carrier. The only real negatives were the family’s constant movement in the aisles and noise. I also think the meal schedule should be revisited for flights that neither depart nor arrive in the afternoon.
We landed in Chicago on time, and it was nice to be able to just walk off an international flight into the zoo that is O’Hare on a summer Sunday. (Connecting in Chicago wasn’t some cockamamie scheme I did. This was a revenue ticket, and the ORD connection came up just by putting in DUB to DCA. While JFK and PHL would have been a little less mileage, ORD really isn’t far from DCA.) I headed to the Admirals Club between the G and H concourses at ORD. It’s an old, dark, huge Admirals Club – nothing special. Although it was very busy, there were seats available, and the only real crowd issue was people getting feisty with the sole bartender on duty. As a premium transatlantic passenger, I got a voucher for a premium drink, which I used for a glass of the good wine, a pinot grigio. I relocated once as I found myself near the British family from my DUB-ORD flight, whose youngest kept shouting and was dangerously riding her father’s rollaboard around the airport.
The 2-hour connection was more than enough time, but the madness of ORD on a summer Sunday kept me from wanting to do anything other than sit and start going through emails. The Admirals Club was right next to my gate, and, as I left, I saw there was a 6-minute departure delay posted on my flight. The gate was a zoo, predictably, and the inbound aircraft was still deplaning about 10 minutes before scheduled boarding time. The aircraft was turned pretty quickly, though the crew was still getting set when boarding began, hence no pre-departure beverages or any welcomes onboard. It was an older 737, which is perfectly fine for the 80-minute flight, with dropdown screens and in-seat power. First class was full, with lots of gate upgrades.
The door closed at 3pm, 9 minutes after scheduled departure, and the flight attendant came by to take food and beverage orders. ORD-DCA is one of AA’s short routes that is an exception to its general no meals on sub-900 mile flights, and offers meal service in first class. But, since this flight left after 1:30 and before 4:01, it was only a “Light Bites” flight, with a choice of a cheese plate or an antipasto plate. Since I’d already had two lunches that morning, that was fine.
Shortly after hitting cruising altitude, drinks and warm nuts were served. The friendly flight attendant kept the Diet Cokes coming. The antipasto plate arrived, and it’s quite strange – a few pieces of salami and cheese, a cherry tomato and some red peppers, and mini pita disks, served with a roll, and with crackers. Roll, crackers, and pita seems like a bit much even for the carbiest of consumers.
Anyhoo, the flight was fine, and overall it was a perfectly pleasant experience from Dublin back to DC on American. It turned out much more uneventful than my return trip from Berlin would be a month later… Stay tuned for that trip report.