Short Flight in the Back of a Fancy Airplane: American 787-9 (Trip Report)

It’s February and that means it’s time to take my annual pilgrimmage to Dallas/Ft Worth for American’s Annual Leadership Conference. The ALC is a great event that’s for managers in the company to learn more about how the last year has gone, see what’s in store for the future, and schmooze with other managers. American also invites a handful of media to attend, and that’s great… but it’s all off the record. So you won’t be getting any reports from me except on my flights, the eastbound of which was my first American 787 ride.

[Disclosure: American provided flight and hotel without charge]

When American invites you to go to the ALC, you just pick the flights you want and send to them for booking. So I sent some Delta options… ok, just kidding. But I was excited to see that a morning flight to DFW is now operated by a 787-9 that flies in from Sydney overnight, so naturally I chose that one.

I was booked in regular coach and was happy to see I snagged the last window on the flight. I was actually interested in trying the new premium economy seats, but for whatever reason, my ticket didn’t allow for any paid upgrade options. I just saw everything on the seat map grayed out. Oh well.

Traffic was brutal, and after parking at Quikpark, I saw my gate had shifted to the Bradley Terminal. I was cutting it a bit close as we left the garage with less than an hour to go until departure. I could have gone through security at the Bradley Terminal, but they don’t have Pre Check there, so I went to Terminal 4 instead where things were not moving quickly.

Once through I started walking over to the connector to Bradley when I saw the escalator going up was out of service. There was a mass of people huddling to get into the elevator. I don’t think they realized there were functioning stairs right next to it. I took those. On my walk over, I noticed that the security checkpoint at Bradley was mostly empty. That may have been a quicker option. But then I would have missed this view.

I got to the gate and boarding was just beginning. The 787-9 was looking pretty sharp in the early morning light.

Since I have the American credit card, I was in boarding group 5. By the time it was my turn to go, the line had backed up all the way up the jet bridge and nearly to the point where they take boarding passes. This was going to take awhile.

As soon as I got onboard, I liked what I saw. Those big, sexy windows just call out to me every time I see them. I walked pass the premium economy section and thought it looked like a solid offering in that kind of cabin. The seats on the side hadn’t filled up yet, so I was able to snag a photo.

Then I kept trudging back until I was just a couple rows from the rear. Now I see why this was the last window seat. It has no window.

To be fair, the windows are so enormous on this airplane that I could lean forward and look out the one in front fairly well.

We pushed back and one of the pilots came on with a sound of surprise in his voice. Despite one runway being closed for construction at LAX, we were taxiing out quickly and would be airborne soon. He said it would be bumpy at first but it would smooth out once we got into Arizona.

Sure enough, after we got in the air, it got bouncy and the flight attendants stayed seated for awhile. I suppose the only fun part of this was being able to watch the inboard ailerons flutter up and down to try and smooth out the ride. I opted to watch a movie and flipped on Logan Lucky. Not a bad airplane flick, even if Daniel Craig doing a southern accent just seems so wrong.

The chop continued well past Arizona, but the flight attendants were able to get up. It was about an hour and fifteen minutes before I was given a Biscoff and some water though that certainly wasn’t their fault. I alternated between the movie and looking out the window where we moved in and out of a high overcast. Boooo.

I was going to log on and test out the satellite wifi, but by the time I did, there was only about an hour left of usable time (it warns at what point you’re expected to not be able to use wifi anymore, which is nice), so I decided it wasn’t worth the $12 for that.

Once we got into Texas, the chop finally calmed down and the seatbelt sign came off. One of the pilots came on the horn to give us an update. It was very clear he was from Texas when he said “I want to be the first to welcome you to Texas. The skies are clearing and temperatures are in the 60s. Welcome to paradise.” I’ve heard people call Texas a lot of things, both good and bad, but “paradise” is not one of them.

I tried out the live TV in the seatback, and it was ok. Options were very limited to only BBC News, CNN International, CNBC, and Sport24. I opted to turn on some music instead as we descended into DFW.

We landed early and our gate was waiting. I was off for a whirlwind couple of days. As usual, I crammed in a bunch of meetings/beers and was completely exhausted when my alarm went off far too early for my flight home.

I hopped in a Lyft and met Casey Norton for some pancakes. Casey used to be in corp comm at American, but these days he’s heading up the effort for DFW Airport. Since I don’t get to talk to him as often as I used to, I really enjoyed having some time to catch up and talk shop. Once we finished, he dropped me off at the airport right around 9. I was leaving from Terminal A, so I went into the line that had Pre Check and then promptly stopped moving.

I have no idea what the heck was going on, but it looked like there was a group of high school students who somehow all had Pre Check despite not really knowing what to do with it. People were taking their shoes off, their belts, etc. To make things worse, the TSA officer working the metal detector apparently really did not want to send anyone to get a secondary check. The person in front of me was directed to come through 6 separate times. She told him to take his belt off, then his shoes. Then she asked him if he was touching the gate when he walked through. It was as if she just didn’t want to be bothered with calling someone over. Finally after 6 tries, she did make him step aside, and the line started moving again.

On the other side, I had time to kill, so I logged on and worked. Wifi was humming along quite nicely at DFW that morning. All I had to do was try to mentally block out the loud TVs blaring overheard, and I was good to go. Our airplane came in from Austin, and it was ready to board on time. I got on in group 5 again and went straight to the back.

Again I found myself in a seat on the window on the left. Once boarding completed, we were on our way to the runway. Winds were howling out of the north, so we had to taxi to the southern end before rocketing into the air. Nothing like a stiff headwind to get things moving upward quickly. As on the way out, we soon settled into a high overcast, only occasionally poking out. That is just so frustrating since I love me some window watching. This was one of the more clear moments of the flight.

This time, the flight attendants were up quickly and slinging drinks and Biscoff. I watched another movie (the truly awful “Geostorm”) and waited as we winged our way westward. Other than a “flight attendants prepare for departure” and “flight attendants prepare for landing announcement,” the cockpit was completely silent. It got to the point where the flight attendant began relaying messages to us. The seatbelt sign came on somewhere over New Mexico, and once in Arizona, the flight attendant came on to tell us that moderate chop was expected, so everyone needed to stay seated.

We descended down to 26,000 feet at that point and found slightly smoother air below the clouds. After we crossed into California, it got bouncy again and we went down to 24,000 feet until we began our descent.

Even sunny Palm Springs was cloudy that day, but just a bit further west, the skies cleared and it was a beautiful day in LA. We landed really early, and I figured that meant we’d head to the penalty box… but no, we had a gate waiting for us. WHAT IS THIS SORCERY!? I was already in my car by the time our original arrival time came around.

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