My First Time on an International Long-Haul Flight Operated by American Airlines
I rarely fly as a passenger aboard airplanes operated by American Airlines — despite the fact that my first time ever aboard an airplane was on a flight operated by American Airlines — but I recently had the opportunity to do so from Santiago to Miami one way, for which I redeemed 30,000 AAdvantage miles and paid $48.33 in taxes and fees six weeks and two days prior to the departure of the flight…
My First Time on an International Long-Haul Flight Operated by American Airlines
…and yet, the only seats which were available were those which cost extra: ones in the emergency exit row; ones with more leg room; and ones in the premium economy class cabin as just three examples. Even middle seats which did not cost extra were unavailable at the time when I booked my flight reservations; so I had to go without a seat assignment until the day of departure — even after I called American Airlines to get an agent to assist in assigning me a seat.
Still, I figured that 30,000 AAdvantage miles was a reasonably good deal — especially as American Airlines is expected to eventually follow the lead of Delta Air Lines and United Airlines in eliminating award charts and subjecting award travel to dynamic pricing instead of at traditionally fixed rates. That could mean a significant increase in the redemption of AAdvantage miles for that same flight.
Arrival at Santiago International Airport
I arrived at Santiago International Airport a few hours prior to the departure of the flight; and no employees were available yet, as the counters to check in were empty — so I attempted to use a kiosk to check in for the flight. At the point in the process where I was asked if I had any bags to check, the kiosk froze; and I could not exit from it; so I chose the kiosk adjacent to it — and it froze as well.
I approached a man who works for the airport who told me that the kiosks will eventually reset themselves after several minutes; so I waited beside them until that happened.
After waiting approximately ten minutes, I decide to try again with a third kiosk — and this time, I successfully completed the process of checking in for the flight. Armed with a boarding pass confirming my middle seat towards the rear of the aircraft for the flight of almost nine hours — which I expected and unfortunately became true — I was able to pass through the airport security checkpoint so that I may await the flight in the Pacific Club Salones VIP airport lounge. I intend to review my experience in that airport lounge in a future article.
I approached an agent at the gate prior to boarding the airplane to see what she could do in moving me to a different seat. After the boarding of passengers official began, my name was called. I was offered a choice of an aisle seat even further towards the rear of the aircraft; or a similar middle seat several rows closer to the front of the airplane. I hesitantly decided on the middle seat further towards the front of the aircraft, as I had a connecting flight in Miami.
I cannot fault the gate agent. She tried. The fact that I was assigned a middle seat unfortunately gave me little bargaining power to have my seat swapped with someone else.
Few people could hear the official announcements once the boarding process started, as the public address system was both low in volume and unclear. Although the boarding process did not descend into utter chaos, it was also not nearly as organized as possible.
Even worse was that once passengers entered the jet bridge to board the airplane, they were met with secondary security through which their belongings were rifled through on several tables, which only further added to the disorganization of the boarding process and the angst of passengers. This airplane was heading for the United States; so I suppose that the initial screening process at the security checkpoint was simply not sufficient enough.
Once I boarded the airplane, I found my seat — next to a larger man…
…but just as I was ready to accept my fate in being cramped in a middle seat for almost nine hours, we started up a short conversation which led up to this question:
“Would you be willing to trade seats with my girlfriend?”
Figuring few seats could be worse than mine, I automatically agreed. “Where is her seat?” I asked.
“That aisle seat two seats away,” he said as he pointed to his right. “I do not know why she would give up an aisle seat to sit in a middle seat next to me.”
Score! I thought to myself. This was a no-brainer.
Even better was that once I reached the aisle seat, the overhead storage bin was empty. Yes!
Interestingly enough, this started a wave of other passengers wanting to trade seats to sit with their families, acquaintances, colleagues or loved ones. The main reason which was cited was that they, too, could not choose a seat during the ticket booking process unless they paid extra for it.
One man would not give up his seat because he was near his family. “I don’t want him to sit near me,” joked a woman whom I assumed was his wife. “He smells.”
“Of course he smells,” I immediately replied with a straight face. “He has a nose.”
All right, all right — maybe you did not find that funny; but several other passengers nearby laughed. At least I brightened their days amongst the chaos still being sorted out.
I was just happy and relieved that I was sitting in an aisle seat — along with space overhead for my carry on bag — and that seat was many rows closer to the front of the aircraft than the aisle seat which the gate agent offered to me.
Seats and In-Flight Entertainment
The Boeing 777-200 aircraft had a seating configuration of ten seats across in the economy class cabin: three seats on the left side of the airplane; four seats in the middle; and three more seats on the right side of the airplane.
The cushioning of each seat was thin; but surprisingly not uncomfortable — especially for a flight of almost nine hours. Each seat was equipped with a fully adjustable headrest…
…as well as access to the in-flight entertainment system, a universal electrical outlet, a USB slot with which a portable electronic device can be charged, and a handset control.
The problem with the in-flight entertainment system is that prior to viewing any form of entertainment, the viewer was bombarded with a minimum of three full-length commercials — and if anyone committed the mistake of starting the movie or television program, that person suffered again through those same commercials.
The in-flight entertainment had plenty of games, movies, episodes of television shows, live television programming, and music from which to choose — as well as a system through which you can chat with other passengers aboard the airplane; and a system with which the status of the flight can be custom monitored in real time several different ways at the command of the user.
In addition to a tray which folds in half when the full tray is not needed, passengers have access to a handset which controls a number of functions for the in-flight entertainment system — including volume and channel as only two of the many functions — as well as for turning on a reading light and for calling a member of the flight crew.
Pull the handset out and buttons and a keyboard are available on the reverse side for better control with playing games and typing messages.
Dinner Meal Service
The meal service began approximately one hour after departure. Each meal came with a roll, a salad, a square of soft orange cheese, crackers, a roll, butter, a creme cake dessert, and a bottle of water in addition to a choice of beverage. I ordered ginger ale; and without even asking for it, I was given the entire can.
One choice was rotini pasta covered in a soft melted — almost liquified — white cheese, which was difficult and time-consuming to remove.
When I started to eat the salad, I was taken aback: I automatically thought that the small cubes were of crunchy cucumber. Instead, they were cubes of soft potato. This was the first time that the color of potato resembled the light green color of cucumber. I wondered who in the world puts golden Italian salad dressing on potatoes; but they were too bland to eat alone.
The slice of tomato in the salad was good; but some of the lettuce was brown and wilted.
The cake was good. The square of cheese — with a color of orange which just looked too artificial — bordered on disgusting.
The other choice was white meat chicken covered in a tomato sauce and served with carrots and assorted limp peppers which would have been mush if cooked any longer — as well as mashed potatoes in some kind of a watery gravy or sauce. Passengers did not seem too keen on this dish either.
Breakfast Meal Service
One hour and ten minutes prior to arriving in Miami, members of the flight crew distributed bags…
…which contained a sandwich comprised of ham and cheese in a croissant — as well as an apple snack bar.
I do not eat ham and cheese; but this sandwich looked disgusting…
…especially as I saw what appeared to be congealed hard butter on each slice of croissant, which should already contain plenty of butter. Note how greasy my fingers became just by touching this buttery mess.
The apple snack bar resembled a marshmallow square consisting of crisped rice — except that it was hard and crunchy and not chewy. I felt like I was eating a block of cardboard with a faint flavor slightly reminiscent of apple.
I could not even have real orange juice. Rather, orange nectar and apple nectar were offered as “juices”; and what was even worse was that they were sweetened artificially rather than with real sugar or with the natural sweeteners of the fruit themselves.
Towards the conclusion of the flight was a long pledge for donations to UNICEF — which interrupted the in-flight entertainment system and dominated the public address system — with flight attendants coming around with bags to collect any denomination of money in any currency. While I am sure this is for a great cause, I thought it was a bit much, as it felt to me like outright begging for donations. In my opinion, donating to any cause should generally be a personal and private choice.
Although the entire experience was not terrible, parts of it felt cheap — as though I was patronizing a low-cost carrier. I have traveled as a passenger in the economy class cabin on airplanes operated on numerous other airlines worldwide; and I felt that the food quality needed to be upgraded, as it was mediocre at best, in my opinion. The boarding process could be improved and better organized.
By my count, 109 seats in the economy class cabin — which does not include the entire premium class cabin — cost extra money. Before airlines started profiting from what may be considered preferred seats or premium seats, this precious space aboard the airplane used to be populated by economy class seats. This potentially causes a shortage of seats which do not cost extra money and therefore subjects families and other passengers traveling together to sit apart from each other aboard the airplane, which can seem especially cruel for a flight which is almost nine hours in duration.
Families and other passengers traveling together should not feel like they need to spend extra money just to be seated together. What American Airlines could have done is given a “surprise and delight” upgrade to a few select passengers to a preferred seat at no cost so that passengers traveling together could sit together for such a long flight.
I also thought that the “begging” aspect towards the end of the flight also contributed towards cheapening the experience.
Access to Wi-Fi costs extra money. Even though I am not necessarily against an airline profiting from offering Wi-Fi access to passengers, other airlines — such as All Nippon Airways — have offered complimentary Wi-Fi access on select flights in the past.
I did like the whole can of a beverage every time I was offered one; the number of choices available to passengers with the in-flight entertainment system.
American Airlines supposedly claims to do whatever its employees can do to ensure that the experience is “great.” I believe that the overall experience has potential — but it has a significantly long way to go before it reaches the status of “great”, in my opinion; and it is not the best which I have ever experienced.
All photographs ©2019 by Brian Cohen.