American Airlines: LHR - LAX - JFK - LHR

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Member for

19 years 11 months

Posts: 6,503

Once I get going, there's no stopping me, so apologies for the fact that this review is just over 4,500 words!

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Flight Number: AA137
Date: 6 November 2007
Departing: London Heathrow, 11:40am
Arriving: Los Angeles, 3:05pm
Scheduled Flight Time: 11 hours 25 minutes
Actual Flight Time: 11 hours 0 minutes
Aircraft: Boeing 777-223ER, N792AN

Prior to this trip, I had never flown with American Airlines before, and booked up with purely because they were the cheapest carrier to offer the flights I was after; beginning in London, stopping in Los Angeles, then on to New York and then home again. At £373.80, it wasn’t bad value, although British Airways could be had for a mere £5.00 more, with the domestic flight operated by American Airlines.

I arrived at Heathrow’s terminal 3 shortly after 8.00am, knowing that American Airlines operates a fair few flights out of the airport. Extra time was allowed as queues at check-in were to be expected. I wasn’t wrong. The queues at the American Airlines counters were quite manic, and slow moving. After almost half an hour – it felt like a lot longer – we arrived at the counter, handed over our e-ticket confirmation and were soon issued boarding cards for the seats that we had selected at the time of booking the flights – 40A and 40B. Baggage was well within the airline’s rather generous baggage allowance. Each passenger may check in up to two cases, each weighing no more than 23kg. Whilst I didn’t use my checked baggage allowance, I did use all of my 18kg hand baggage allowance!

After a quick landside breakfast stop, we proceeded to the security check-point, expecting long queues. I cannot remember the last time I flew out of terminal 3 with a wait of less than an hour in line. This time it took a little over 30 minutes. I was stupid enough to have a can of deodorant in my hand baggage, which was confiscated. I was also concerned that the security guard who looked through my case wandered off, without an explanation, with my camera bag. Upon her return, I checked that the contents were still there and then continued on my way, this time avoiding the additional shoe screening, which seems to pick on passengers at random.

It was at around 10.25am that our gate number was announced, so we headed over to it. After boarding cards and passports were checked again, additional security was in place, with random passengers being pulled to one side to have their shoes prodded at and their bags emptied. About half of the passengers on the flight were checked.

Not long after sitting down, boarding commenced. As always, business and first class passengers were invited forward. After that, boarding continued by groups. Every boarding card has a group number on it, and this seems to work. There wasn’t a huge rush when passengers tried to board the aircraft. When our time came, we boarded the 777 and were greeted by a rather dowdy looking flight attendant, who had clearly made no effort with her appearance today. And as we walked down the aisle to our seats, they seemed to all look that way, with mis-matching uniforms – some wore blue, others wore red.

It took forever for a “Welcome On Board” announcement to be made. We were instead subjected to constant announcements about how if we had two pieces of baggage, only one should be placed in the overhead locker to make room for others. Eventually, the captain briefly spoke to us and told us about the flight, the route we would take, the weather in Los Angeles and the duration of the flight – 11 hours.

We pushed back and began our taxi to runway 27L, watching the safety video as we done so. There was a queue of five or six aircraft in line for takeoff as we arrived, however, they were going up at quite a rate, so little more than five minutes later, we sped down the runway and the almost fully laden 777 took to the skies.

The seatbelt sign remained switched on until we had reached our cruise altitude, which was surprising. As we leveled out, the captain spoke again, taking a little more time to introduce himself and the two first officers on the flight deck, along with the usual spiel about the importance of having your seatbelt fastened when seated.

After his announcement, the seatbelt sign was switched off, the inflight entertainment was switched on and the inflight service commenced. I rarely drink alcohol when flying so stuck to complimentary soft and hot drinks. All alcoholic beverages were charged at $5.00 or £3.00. I was a little shocked to discover that whilst a set of headphones were provided at no cost, the economy class amenity kit was available from the inflight shopping magazine at a further cost - $5.00. As the service commenced, the purser announced a technical fault with the entertainment system. Due to reasons beyond their control, we would be watching the programmes usually screened on flights to the UK. This wasn’t good news as it meant that we would be watching exactly the same films and TV shows when we eventually flew home. The selection of programmes on offer was actually not very good. At this time, American Airlines does not offer audio and video on-demand, although the inflight magazine explained that it was on its way. Two of the films on offer were High School Musical 2 and The Simpsons Movie – both having limited appeal to me. As well as this, a few channels showed American sitcoms and a BBC channel showed two episodes of Doctor Who and other shows, including My Hero. Audio entertainment wasn’t bad, with a good selection to choose from. I stuck with channel 4 most of the way as it was the only music I was familiar with.

Not too long afterwards, the crew began the meal service, again serving drinks. I chose the chicken with vegetables, served with the usual extras; a bread roll, dessert and salad. The portion was very small and presentation was not brilliant, but tasted fine. We were served further meals and snacks as the flight progressed. Approximately 6 hours into the 11 hour trip, we were served a small cheese and tomato pizza, which was very nice, and definitely one of the best things I have ever been served on any flight. As the flight neared its end, we were served a small snack pack, consisting of carton of juice, some shortbread and a small Toblerone bar. It would have made more sense to swap the pizza and the snack-pack around. Half way into the flight, I wasn’t hungry. When we landed, I was starving.

And so the descent into Los Angeles (or ‘LAX’ as the Americans call it) was under way and the captain announced that we should be on the ground within 30 minutes. The approach was very smooth and we touched down, albeit about 25 minutes late, and exited the runway to the right. We taxied towards the gate and the captain spoke again, announcing that the aircraft would be towed onto the gate. The engines were shut down and we were towed the rest of the way, past 2 British Airways 747-400s, one of which was waiting for us to move so it could begin its trip to London.

The terminal we arrived at was very quiet and it seemed quite small, but at least this meant that we shouldn’t be waiting in immigration queues forever! And we weren’t. The queue for American citizens was fairly long, although we were dealt with in just a couple of minutes, having our landing cards checked whilst waiting in line. And baggage handling was quick, too. Just as I strolled over to the reclaim area, a change of reclaim belt was announced, and then that promptly started up. After grabbing the cases, we joined one of two queues for customs and had to answer questions about what we were carrying – everyone had to – and also whether or not we had been on a ‘ranch’ in the UK, to which I replied, “oh, you mean a farm?”

Not too long later, we were in one of the blue Super-Shuttle buses bound for our hotel in downtown Los Angeles, at a cost of $16 each. Whilst that was good value for money, we decided to us public transport when returning to the airport six days later.

All in all, a decent enough flight, although far from the best I have ever been on. Unfortunately, the rest of the trip wasn’t quite as smooth!

Flight Number: AA30
Date: 12 November 2007
Departing: Los Angeles, 11:45pm
Arriving: New York JFK, 8:00am (+1)
Scheduled Flight Time: 5 hours 15 minutes
Actual Flight Time: 4 hours 50 minutes
Aircraft: Boeing 767-223ER, N321AA

This is where my plans with American Airlines started to go wrong. We were not booked to travel on flight 30, and didn’t know we were going to be on it until about 3 hours before departure!

We arrived at Los Angeles at about 5.30pm for flight AA1446 to San Francisco at 8.15pm, from where we would catch AA18 to New York JFK at 10.30pm after a 1 hour wait. I was looking forward to this particular trip as the first leg was to be on a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 – an aircraft I have never been on. Checking in was straightforward and took about 20 minutes in all. All passengers must first check in using the self check-in machine and then go to the check-in desk where bags are dropped. We again had pre-selected our seats; 25A and 25B on the MD-80 and 38A and 38B on the 767-300, so quickly obtained four very flimsy boarding cards, straight from the printer. After handing over our bags, the check-in agent advised us of our gate number for the flight to San Francisco. After a quick stop at Burger King, we went and sat by the gate, watching as a number of flights arrived and departed.

At 7.45pm, an announcement was made, advising passengers on flight 1446 of a change to their gate number. Fortunately, the new gate was just a stone’s throw away, so we all shuffled over and occupied new seats. But looking over the information monitor next to the gate, the flight was delayed by 35 minutes to 8.50pm. It seemed that we were cutting it a little fine with our connection to JFK, but decided not to mention the problem anyway.

By 8.05pm, a member of staff announced that our aircraft had just departed San Francisco, and that it would be landing at 8.47pm in, so a new estimated departure time of 9.15pm was displayed. Perhaps we were not going to make our connection after all! I strolled over to the gate staff and explained our problem, to which the man replied, “that’s not good”. He asked for our boarding cards and started tapping away at this keyboard, asking the pair of us to bear with him. After a few minutes, he asked if we wanted to stick with our planned flights as we might make our connection. I just couldn’t get this to add up in my head – our flight leaves at 9.15pm, it will take off at around 9.30pm, it will arrive in San Francisco at around 10.20pm and should be at the gate 5 minutes later. That allows 5 minutes to get to our new gate, bearing in mind that the gate is closed 10 minutes before departure. “I don’t think we’re going to make that”, I said. He started on the keyboard again. “Okay, here’s what I can do”, he said. “We have a direct flight leaving at 9.45pm. I can get you two seats together on that”. We had no choice but to accept this offer and were presented boarding cards for two seats right in the middle of the Boeing 767. Before we picked up the boarding cards, I had one very quick question. “What about our baggage?” I asked. “Well.. I can’t get it off that flight now, so it will have to go to San Francisco and then be flown to New York. If it misses the connection, it will be put on the next flight”. Puzzled as to why the man did not explain this before changing our flights, I said I wasn’t happy with that option. I was even less happy when he explained that we would have to return to JFK to fetch the cases as a result of a delay caused by American Airlines. A slightly later direct JFK flight was offered, but again, for whatever reason, it was too late to change the course the bags would take. I wanted to travel with my baggage.

Until the cause of the delay could be established and ‘weather’ being eliminated as a possible cause, the airline could apparently not do much else for us. We were told that if the delay was due to weather and we decided to go to San Francisco and miss our connection, we would have to pay for our own food and overnight accommodation. Again unsatisfied, I asked that the reason for the delay be found out before we made a final decision. Fortunately, the weather was not causing the hold-up. The aircraft had to undergo a brake change in San Francisco, so if we did run into problems en-route to New York, American Airlines would have to accept liability and look after us. I was keen to continue with our original plans.

Just as we agreed that to stick with the original plans, the man said, “I’ll tell you what I can do. I can transfer you to the direct flight at 11.45pm and that allows plenty of time to transfer your baggage across”. This was a perfect idea, though this particular flight wasn’t one offered to us at the time of booking! The latest sets of boarding cards were taken back and the man continued to bash away at his keyboard. He asked for descriptions of both bags, although whereas my travelling companion’s case was bright and surely unique, mine was pretty standard, and there wasn’t much I could say about it to distinguish it from the hundreds of others it would have been mixed with. He sent some sort of message via the computer and issued two new cards. We were now booked to fly on the 11.45pm ‘red-eye’ flight to New York’s Kennedy Airport.

Knowing that we would around for 3 hours more than we expected to be, and getting quite tired, we went and killed some time in Starbucks and then took a wander over to the new gate. Fortunately, armed with my laptop and a Catherine Tate DVD, the time went by quite quickly! As we waited, we heard a final boarding call for flight 1446, the flight to San Francisco that we should have been on. And not much later, boarding of the 767-200 aircraft got under way, with us being in group 5.

The smell on the aircraft was quite unpleasant, and I could not work out what it was. It was also unbearably warm and the fact that I was wearing winter clothes was no help at all! I wasn’t the only person who complained about the heat. We found our seat just a few rows behind the only over-wing exit and stuffed our bags into the overhead lockers. The aircraft gradually filled up to near-enough 100% capacity (we were lucky to have a seat) and passengers started to wander around with their large pieces of hand baggage. There was no space left to store the items. The crew found spaces in a few bins but refused to stow the items for passengers for fear of breaking other passenger’s possessions!

Eventually, we were welcomed aboard and given the usual flight statistics. An apology was given for the very warm cabin as a result of some fault, which would only occur on the ground. We were assured that we would be comfortable once airborne. Fortunately, it was a little cooler after takeoff.

Inflight service on domestic flights with American Airlines was as expected. The airline offers a buy-on-board service, although soft drinks are complimentary. Immediately after takeoff, I entered the land of nod and was woken about 4 hours 30 minutes later when an announcement woke me up, explaining that we would shortly be landing.

We landed late in New York by about 30 minutes and spent some time sat on the taxiway, waiting for a gate to become free. Once parked at the gate between other 767s, we were quickly disembarked, and moved towards baggage claim.

The baggage belt had started by the time we arrived and the cases gradually appeared. The few hundred passengers around the belt had fetched their cases and started to exit the airport. One or two cases were still coming through, but definitely not at the same rate they had been! I said to my friend, “I don’t think ours are coming”. I guess I had suspected that this would be the case, so wasn’t too surprised. At long lost, his case appeared, so I held out hope, but mine didn’t follow. The dozen or so passengers still waiting were whittled down to just three – me, my friend and one other gentleman. He later disappeared. By now, the belt was still spinning, but it was empty.

I walked over to the lost baggage office and explained that my case was missing. A stroppy Spanish lady told me that the belt was still spinning and that meant that cases were still coming. She insisted I go back and wait. That’s exactly what I did. As I got to the reclaim belt, it stopped, so I was furious. I went back to the office again and was dealt with by a much nicer employee of the airline. She took my boarding pass and baggage identification label and collected whatever information she could. Using a picture chart, she asked me to describe the case to her. After she had finished logging the call, she printed out a document and handed it to me. It contained my reference number and a telephone number, as well as a few paragraphs explaining just how sorry American Airlines were for this inconvenience. She also told me that if it was not returned to me within 24 hours (God forbid), then I should get in touch.

The following morning, 24 hours after my case should have arrived, it hadn’t, although there was a message for me from the airline. Unfortunately, they still had not found my case but were still looking for it. I was asked to contact their baggage department for more information, which I promptly did. The first lady I spoke to was abrupt and her English was appalling, so getting nowhere and not liking her attitude, I hung up. Stressed enough, I really wasn’t in the mood for having to say everything five times, just so she could understand. I re-dialled and got through to somebody just as rude, who couldn’t have been any more unsympathetic towards me, even if she had tried. She was argumentative and did not listen to my questions. Eventually, after talking non-stop drivel for a few minutes, she told me that my bag was now in New York and that it would be brought to me later that day. When I asked at approximately what time I should expect it, she cockily replied, “I am not the van driver. I don’t know”. Perhaps she wasn’t a van driver but she worked in the airline’s baggage tracing department and I would have expected some sort of indication, even if it would have been in the morning, afternoon or evening!

12 hours later, shortly after 8.00pm, my bag arrived at the hotel and it was in-tact. It took 36 hours to get the bag to me, which was disappointing. My bag was labeled up as it was back at LAX a few days before and it had clearly taken the route we were supposed to take. If the baggage handlers at LAX could not have found my case, would it have been difficult for them to let me know that it could not be located, and that it would be on a later flight?

So, the flight to New York was again bearable. I slept the entire journey, so missed out on a free can of Coca Cola. The heat was too much to bear once on-board, but that was soon sorted out. The situation with the baggage was terrible, and I feel that American Airlines could have worked much harder than they did to get it to me.

Flight Number: AA132
Date: 15 November 2007
Departing: New York JFK, 9:05pm
Arriving: London Heathrow, 9:05 am (+1)
Scheduled Flight Time: 7 hours 0 minutes
Actual Flight Time: 6 hours 15 minutes
Aircraft: Boeing 777-223ER, N778AN

After arriving at the airport in style, not intentionally, in a stretched-limousine, it seemed that luck was at last on my side. However, my luck abruptly ran out, as I passed straight through a rather deep puddle, soaking my feet. A quick stop at the toilet to change footwear soon sorted the problem.

Kennedy Airport’s terminal 8 was looking very clean and quite empty, so checking in was going to be quick and easy. Again, we had to use self check-in and were given boarding cards 32H and 32J, two window seats on the opposite side of the aircraft that we had been used to! As we printed our boarding cards, a check-in agent called our names and already had our baggage labels in her hands. Within seconds, our bags were loaded onto the belt and disappeared. I was hoping that I would be reunited with mine the following morning.

Security was also very smooth and fast, especially considering that every passenger must also remove shoes at the x-ray machine. After security, you are in amongst the shops and restaurants, so we took a stroll over to the food court and enjoyed a few slices of pizza and a drink. Shopping was also fairly good at the airport, although not tax free, but I made no purchases, not even with $200 left in my pocket! We found our gate and sat down.

I pulled out my laptop and went to watch my DVD again when I was told that wireless networks had been found, so I tried connecting to a few. Fortunately, one of them allowed me to connect, so I was able to enjoy 2 hours of free internet before the flight to London started to board. As I browsed the internet, I heard final boarding calls for the new Stansted flight being made.

We were boarded earlier than I thought we would be, but how could I complain? Perhaps an early departure was also likely. With all of us on board the 777 approximately 20 minutes before departure, the doors were closed and we were welcomed aboard and given the flight statistics. Our flying time was to be 6 hours and 13 minutes.

The aircraft sat at the gate and eventually pushed back at about 9.07pm. We made a very fast taxi to the runway, although seeing a long queue out of the window, it looked as if we were in for quite a wait. As the we neared the end of the queue, we slowed down and appeared to be joining behind an Air France A340-300. We did in fact not join the queue and sped up again before finally coming to a halt on a rather empty taxiway. The captain made an announcement and explained that air traffic control were in the process of swapping runways, so we were required to hold for a little while.

It took about half an hour before anything happened – we continued our taxi. The captain came back to us and apologised for the wait. He told us that we still had 15 or 16 aircraft in front us, at which pointed, those passengers who were awake, gasped! Fortunately, with just 90 seconds between aircraft, it wouldn’t be too long before we were airborne. At last, shortly after 10.10pm, we took to the skies, hitting turbulence almost instantly.
As always, the seatbelt signs remained on until we reached our cruise altitude of 37,000ft, and the captain made another announcement, repeating the flight statistics. He also told us what the forecast in London was likely to be when we arrived – 0 degrees or 32 Fahrenheit!

The drinks cart was wheeled out and service promptly began. An attendant who was chewing so blatently on a piece of chewing gum served me a can of Coke. The dinner service began moments later and I went for the chicken pasta. The portion was again very small, the meal itself was flavourless and the disappointing salad consisted of lettuce and shredded carrot. The bread bun felt like stone. Most of the meal was not eaten.

I didn’t rush to watch my PTV, as I knew that the entertainment would have been the same as what we had seen when flying out to Los Angeles, and it was. I had the same choices as the outbound flight and watched once episode of the US version of The Office, before getting out the laptop and falling asleep in front of Catherine Tate.

Not quite 3 hours later, an announcement woke me up, letting everybody know that breakfast was about to be served. What a relief! Having barely touched the evening meal a few hours beforehand, I was looking forward to something to eat. There was no choice this time, just the same tray being handed to every passenger. Mine was at last handed to me and I looked at in disbelief. A huge tray with nothing but a dry croissant, some jam and a carton of juice was offered to me. I took it and devoured it, but it wasn’t very nice, and was as hard as the bread bun from earlier.

With meal service out of the way, preparations were being made for landing at Heathrow, so electronic devices were switched off, seatbelts were fastened and seats were returned to their upright positions ready for touchdown. At the time, the weather in London was brilliant – blue sky and not a cloud in sight, so on approach to runway 27R, we had spectacular views of the city.

After touchdown, we taxied to the terminal and were disembarked. Unusually for Heathrow, terminal 3 was passed through in about 20 minutes.

American Airlines disappointed me, not only because they lost my baggage and took their time finding it, but their service was not at the standard I was expecting, neither was the food they served inflight (with the exception of the pizza). In terms of value, £373.80 seemed good at the time of booking, but I wish I had paid that £5.00 for British Airways. If I need to fly across the pond in future, it will definitely not be with American Airlines.

http://www.web-wings.co.uk/screenshots/albums/userpics/10001/plane-wing.jpg
Taken about 2 hours before landing at LAX.

Original post
Profile picture for user A330Crazy

Member for

19 years 11 months

Posts: 6,072

Bloody excellent and quite an entertaining read! Very well composed and a great in depth report on all flights. Just sorry to hear you had a few spots of bother with them.

The holiday overall (bar the flights) was ok though right? :)

Profile picture for user Mark L

Member for

16 years 8 months

Posts: 4,209

Nice to read an in depth report about AA, thanks for taking the time to write it all out Michael!

I must say that pretty much everything you've written about AA matches up to my experiences on them this year (110,000 miles flown in 11 months and counting :eek: )

The uniforms across the entire airline are an embarrassment, passengers and staff alike detest them. I so wish they would get a new design. :(

As for your catering on the LHR-LAX flight that was done incorrectly for some strange reason. The three times I've flown AA137 this year it has been main meal, then after a couple of hours the snack pack, followed by the pizza an hour or so before landing. The return breakfast just gets worse too. They used to at least serve a tub of yoghurt with the croissant, but this got dropped in April :(

As for your baggage that was always going to be hit and miss. Baggage tracing is always a nightmare and I SWEAR AA relegate all their worst staff who have had the most complaints to baggage tracing, they are truly useless and downright rude too!

Overall I'm not sure that £5 would have got you anything better on BA. You would have faced the truly awful TBIT in LAX as opposed to the wonderful T4 AA use. I honestly find the service identical between AA and BA in Economy these days too. Food is made by the same people to the same specifications so you can't differentiate on that. The only noticeable difference is the uniforms and the average staff age!

Oh, one thing you mentioned but didn't elaborate on was public transport to LAX! I've done this a couple of times and it is a fantastic cultural experience. I am assuming you were staying in WeHo or somewhere like that and took the bus eastbound to connect to the subway?

Not for the faint hearted! :p

Profile picture for user B77W

Member for

12 years 10 months

Posts: 1,037

Nice report, but more pic's would be a big improvement! :o

Profile picture for user T5

Member for

19 years 11 months

Posts: 6,503

Nice report, but more pic's would be a big improvement! :o

Thanks for the comment, though I am not convinced that a few photographs would have made the quality of this report any better!

Knowing that American Airlines does not tolerate photography on it's aircraft, it didn't seem worthwhile to take pictures. Even on the many other flights I have made recently, I have never taken my camera out, just in case I get a few embarrassing stares from other passengers or hassle from the cabin staff.

Profile picture for user B77W

Member for

12 years 10 months

Posts: 1,037

just in case I get a few embarrassing stares from other passengers

Why are you that bothered about what people think, who you will never see again in your life? :D :D :D

Member for

16 years 7 months

Posts: 12,842

Thanks for the comment, though I am not convinced that a few photographs would have made the quality of this report any better!

A pictorial will always add to a very good report in my opinion!!