Portland to London and back to Los Angeles
by N866DA 

This report covers the first part of a nonrev/mileage run that I just completed a few of days ago. I refer to it as such because I nonrevved to the starting point of the mileage run. Before anybody jumps all over me, I did double check Delta’s nonrev policies and I thought this to be a permissible use of my pass privileges because my travel, both on Delta and American, was strictly for personal pleasure purposes, not for any business activities. The mileage that I accrue from my American flying will also be for pleasure travel, as my job with Delta provides free confirmed travel whenever company business requires me to travel.

Well, after enduring endless needling from Sean about how great it is to be an elite nonrev, I made up my mind to see for myself if it really is all that cool. I decided to try for Platinum on American since I could use the Platinum Challenge to get there with just a couple of trips to Europe. This trip is the first of what I hope will be many more to come on American. The report is ultra long, and is extremely detailed, but I thought every little thing about these two transoceanic flights was too good not to share. So, without further ado…..

Delta Air Lines 1676
Tuesday, January 15, 2002
Portland International to Hartsfield Atlanta International
Boeing 757-232
N696DL / Delta Ship 696

After arriving home from work at 1 AM, I realized that in just 4 hours I would be back on the Hut Airport Shuttle to PDX, arriving there at 6:30 and taking the 8:30 to ATL. My itinerary called for PDX-ATL-LGW/LHR-LAX, all connections, no stopovers, no goofing off in London for a couple days, unfortunately. So this was it. My first trip ever which was entirely devoted to miles. I was excited but already feeling just a little bit dejected at not being able to stay in London for a few days.

I decided to pack my rollaboard with a couple of changes of clothes, just in case anything happened. Also, coming to London for 4 hours with no baggage might not be the kind of image I’d want to portray, given the fact that I am already often mistaken for someone of middle eastern descent.

I packed my rollaboard, took a shower, changed clothes, and sat down to watch CNN until my taxi came. I was unable to sleep, wide-eyed at the prospect of my 5,455 mile AA flight. Eventually, the taxi showed up, and took me to Salem Municipal Airport, where I caught Hut Airport Shuttle to PDX.

When I arrived at PDX, I headed straight for the e-ticket kiosk to get listed there, but remembered that I had an international itinerary, which meant I had to check in at the ticket counter. Taking a look at the size of the line, I decided to use my PDX airport badge to get through security and onto the concourse, then just check in at the gate.

I did just that when I arrived at Gate D7, and was the only nonrev cleared into F, which shocked me, given the fact that F is usually **** near impossible to get out of PDX, even for Medallions, let alone a lowly nonrev with measly seniority.

I boarded the 757 and took refuge in seat 5D. The name of the game here was sleep. I passed on breakfast, having eaten at Wendy’s on the concourse so as to allow me a full 4 hours of sleep.

We deiced right off the gate and departed to the east on runway 9L. I fell asleep as we climbed out over Gresham. When I awoke, we were on final approach into ATL. I’m sure the flight was very nice.

Delta Air Lines 12
Tuesday, January 15, 2002
Hartsfield Atlanta International to London Gatwick
Boeing 777-232/ER
N863DA / Delta Ship 7004

Delta Flight 1676 arrived at gate B16 and I headed straight for the escalator to take the train over to E Concourse. I had some time to kill, so I strolled down the South wing of Concourse E. This was prime time for the International Concourse. An assortment of over 30 767s, 777s, and MD-11s lined the concourse, preparing for the bank of late afternoon departures to Europe and beyond. I enjoyed walking down the hall and seeing different destinations on gate after gate. Paris, the other Paris, my London flight at E12, Zurich, Madrid, Rome, the other London flight, Mexico City, Dublin, Amsterdam, you get the picture.

Eventually I returned to E12 to discover that our equipment had been swapped. We had been scheduled to use N865DA, or Ship 7006, but the aircraft sustained damage to door 4R from the catering truck. Ship 7004, the lone 777 painted in Delta’s new colors, would be our ride to London.

I was half expecting to have to go in coach on this flight, as there were only two seats available for nonrevs in BusinessElite and about 30 people listed for the flight, 2 of which I was sure would be senior to me. Coach had about 100 seats open, though, so I hoped I might be able to snag a block of 5 seats for myself. I hung around, waiting to be paged, and finally, the ceremonial calling of the names began. The gate agent started calling people up, giving them seat assignments. After she had called about 15 names or so, she paged me to the service desk. Those two BizElite seats are long gone, I thought to myself.

She greeted me very warmly, almost as if she knew who I was, which rather took me by surprise. Then she asked if I prefer a window or aisle seat. I said, "Well, if you’ve got any block of five seats on the center section left, I wouldn’t mind that."

Her response: "So you want to go in back instead of in BizElite?"

I replied, "Oh, I thought there were only a couple of seats open up front. Yeah, I guess I’ll take a window."

She laughed, telling me, "No, I’ve got two seats up front and you’re number one on the list. How’s 13J?"

I replied that 13J would be perfect and I thanked her. Minutes later she made the preboarding call for BusinessElite and I went ahead and boarded. I walked down the jetway and was greeted by a flight attendant who was without a doubt one of the hottest flight attendants I have ever seen in my life. She greeted me warmly, took my coat, and asked if I needed help finding my seat. I stumbled with my words, saying that I thought I’d probably be able to figure it out on my own.

I plopped down into 13J and stared at the B777 entertainment guide, not really reading much of anything. I snapped out of my trance and looked for my amenity kit. I had barely been in my seat for 2 minutes and I was ready to get comfortable. Except for one problem. The amenity kit was nowhere to be found. Ah, shit. I attributed this to a service cut and my opinion of Delta started falling instantly. And where was the newspaper cart? Guess they did away with that too. Menus? Predeparture beverages? I guess now our premium business class, once counted among the world’s finest, is just a big seat now? I was sorely disappointed and it showed.

The flight attendant who took my coat came by to introduce herself. "Hi, my name is Amy and I’ll be one of your flight attendants for tonight’s flight. Just let me know if there’s anything you need." I stammered something to the effect of "okay." Maybe this is too much detail, but I have to say that her southern drawl and natural blonde hair were, shall we say, mesmerizing. I was too shy to ask about the amenity kits, newspaper carts, menus, and predeparture beverages, all of which were missing in action.

About 15 seconds later, the On Board Leader apologized over the PA for the missing service items and explained that due to the aircraft swap, all of that stuff was on the other aircraft and we were just waiting for them to bring it all over to our aircraft. I breathed a sigh of relief. Little by little, we started getting the stuff that was missing. The first thing to come was the predeparture beverage. I was offered the usual choices of water, orange juice, a mimosa, or champagne. I took the water, not being in the mood for anything else.

Next came the newspaper cart. I got a nice copy of the USA Today, which had plenty of interesting articles in the Sports section about the NFL. I also got The Times, which had many non-interesting articles in the Sport section about the Manchester United and assorted other soccer teams that I don’t care about. It surprises me that Delta doesn’t stock the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on these flights.

As I caught up on current events in Britain, Amy came down the aisle with the amenity kits. I instantly took mine and removed the socks and eyeshade. Those two items are really the only two that I care about when I fly, since I bring my own toiletries, but it’s nice nonetheless to get that stuff. I was glad to see that the L’Occitane kits are back after a lengthy hiatus.

Our departure time came and went. I stared out my window at some ramp agents apparently gawking at the massive aircraft parked in front of them.

I started getting nervous about my "connection" to American’s LHR-LAX flight. So did the guy in 13G, who had graduated from mimosas to champagne and was really loading up. He said something about a connection to Heathrow and was also visibly concerned. I got up and asked the On Board Leader if I could visit the flight deck. She asked the flight deck crew, and they welcomed me. I have to say that since September 11th, Delta has been the only airline where I have even been allowed to visit the flight deck prior to departure, let alone welcomed warmly every time I go up there. Not allowing passengers to visit the flight deck prior to departure is not only rude and a worthless "security" measure, but it serves to make passengers more nervous rather than to allow them to meet the Captain and see that the flight will be just fine.

Anyway, our captain for the flight was to my knowledge the only ex-Western pilot currently flying in the left seat on the 777. He informed me that he was going to try for an expedited departure and that Operations Control Center had already authorized a faster cruise speed rather than our planned cruise speed of M0.83. As an aside, .83 is about as slow as the 777 can efficiently go. Any slower and, in the words of the captain, "She is not happy." The 777 is most efficient at .84 up to .85 (Boeing’s recommended long range cruise is Mach .84), but on Atlantic crossings which barely stretch her legs, she can go faster and still be reasonably efficient. Lately, congestion has forced slower cruise speeds, which are offset by the prevailing tailwinds on eastbound flights.

I chatted with the flight deck crew a little more, then thanked them for their time and returned to my seat to discover that the menus had been distributed and that the champagne man in 13G had advanced to Scotch. Wonderful. The combination of the menu and Vinum booklet, which was announced in November much to my dismay, actually was done quite tastefully. I realize that American and United both have combined menus and wine lists, but I always thought it was a nice touch that Delta did it differently.

Finally, 29 minutes past our scheduled departure time, door 2L was closed. 33 minutes past our scheduled departure time, at 6:23 PM, we pushed back from E12. Both of the monster Rolls Royce Trent 892 engines started simultaneously. As promised, ATL Ground gave us an expedited taxi to runway 27L, and the Trents growled as they spooled up to move the giant 777 from a standstill to 10 knots.

We taxied down past the Technical Operations Center, where 7004’s sister ship, 7006, was undergoing repairs to the damaged boarding door. As we reached the end of the taxiway, we turned onto 27L, skipping a few hapless AirTran DC-9s in the takeoff line.

We had barely aligned when the Trents spooled up, emitting the glorious (at least to me) Rolls Royce "buzzsaw" sound. 180,000 pounds of thrust pressed me hard into my seatback and we were off the ground before we reached the D Concourse. As soon as we were off the ground, I deployed my PTV unit and reclined my seat a few inches. We climbed out steeply over Atlanta, banking sharply to the north, then again to the northeast a few minutes later. We reached 10,000 feet quickly and I took out my Sony Discman and Bose ANR Headset, treating myself to one of my favorite albums by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

Our climbout was steep yet quiet and smooth, a great demonstration of the 777’s perfect combination of power and refinement. There is no airplane that I enjoy flying on as much as the 777. It is truly a shame that Delta only has 7 of these birds. Hopefully we will see an order when the financial situation is stabilized. I believe that the 777 will eventually become the mainstay of Delta’s longhaul fleet. It’s already obvious that most ATL-Europe markets have outgrown the 767. And if Delta wants in on ATL/JFK to more places in Asia than just NRT, which they say they do, then I’d say there’s more than a sporting chance that we will someday see a 777-200LR wearing Delta colors.

Anyway, I reclined my seat a bit more as Amy came around to take our drink orders and offer a dish of warmed nuts. As we reached our cruising altitude of 37,000 feet and our cruising speed of M0.86, I perused the menu to see what I’d want. Here’s what was offered:

Pepper crusted Ahi Tuna offered with Shrimp and a spicy Cucumber Salad

Red Leaf Lettuce and Escarole with Feta Cheese, Tomatoes and Kalamata Olives, offered with Tomato Basil Vinaigrette or Parmesan Peppercorn Ranch Dressing

Assorted Breads and Butter

Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Madeira Shiitake Mushroom Sauce, accompanied by Celery Root and Herb Mashed Potatoes, julienned Roma Tomato and Sugar Snap Peas

Regional Cuisine: This month we are pleased to feature a culinary selection from the Pacific Rim. Marinated grilled Mahi Mahi enhanced by Ginger Soy Sauce, served with a medley of Jasmine Rice, Asparagus and Squash

Farfalle Pasta complemented by roasted Red Pepper Cream, tossed with Green Beans, Corn and Leeks. Smoked Turkey Pesto Sausage may be added to this Entrée.

Hearty Southwestern Chicken Soup garnished with Green Pepper Salsa

Fruit and Cheese
Dried and fresh Fruit with a Cheese board featuring selections from around the world designed to perfectly complement one another in flavor and texture. Our Vinum Dessert Wine and Port make a perfect accompaniment.

Breyers All Natural Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae with your choice of Chocolate, Caramel and Blackberry Sauces, Whipped Cream and chopped Nuts, with a Pirouline Cookie

Well, by the time the On Board Leader got around to me, all she had left was the Mahi Mahi. I had wanted the pasta, but wasn’t terribly disappointed since I had figured I’d be the 51st person out of 51 passengers in BusinessElite asked for their choice. No problem. I asked for a glass of Chardonnay and was offered a choice of Danie de Wet (Limestone Hill, South Africa) or Greg Norman Estates (Yarra Valley, Australia). I chose the South African. Although I wasn’t planning on drinking any champagne on the flight, having heard all the talk on the Delta forum about the champagne selections in BizElite, I asked the On Board Leader what our selection was, and sure enough, they were serving Krug Grand Cuvée. Not bad, but I wasn’t interested.

The Ahi Tuna appetizer was quite good, and I selected the ranch dressing with my salad. The salad was excellent. I particularly enjoyed the Feta cheese and Kalamata olives, both of which were applied generously to the salad.

The Mahi Mahi was very good. Not excellent, just very good. I guess part of it was that it wasn’t my first choice. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. As usual, I did not eat my vegetables.

Next was the fruit and cheese plate. Now, reports here on FT of flight attendants offering the fruit and cheese plate or the ice cream sundae are inaccurate, as I have been offered both every time I’ve flown BizElite. In fact, when I passed on the plate this evening, Amy said "Now, you can have both if you want. A lot of people think they have to choose." I replied that I would be just fine without the plate, all I wanted was an ice cream sundae.

She said, "Would you like Chocolate, Cara—"

I cut her off, saying that I would like Caramel, chopped nuts, and whipped cream. She laughed and gave me a perfect ice cream sundae. It was delicious, as usual, and she retired my linen and plate with surprising speed.

I was going to go to sleep, but first I wanted to chat with the flight crew for a little bit. I ended up staying in the galley and talking about assorted topics for the better part of an hour, then retired to my seat, reclined to the full 160 degrees, and fell asleep laying on my side, gazing out at the stars.

I awoke to discover that we were on approach into London. The passenger in 13H expressed her jealousy at my ability to sleep so soundly. I was somewhat embarrassed and said that I was terribly sorry if I had been snoring. She laughed and replied that no, I hadn’t been snoring but that I hadn’t moved a muscle in the last four and a half hours.

About two minutes later came the final approach announcement from the flight attendants, and I proceeded to clean up the area around my seat by stowing my headset and CD player, as well as a few other items I had taken out during the flight. The On Board Leader came through the BizElite cabin passing out FasTrack passes and invitations to the arrivals lounge at Le Meridien, across the street from Gatwick’s North Terminal. She also took the time to individually thank each passenger for choosing Delta Air Lines. A minute later, she gave me a gift of the South African Chardonnay which I had been enjoying throughout the flight. I thanked her profusely and told her that I look forward to flying with her again in the future.

We touched down smoothly at Gatwick. Lo and behold, we were into Gate 47 two minutes early, at 0653. I thanked the flight crew again and headed down the corridor to formalities. The walk is an extremely long one, and time was of the essence. I wasn’t concerned though, at least not yet. There was plenty of time until the 0800 Speedlink over to Heathrow. As I walked to formalities, I concluded that the reports about drastic service cuts in BizElite are terribly inaccurate. Nothing was missing from the flight that had been there prior to September 11th. The only actual cut in service was the snack cart on westbound flights, and even that is something that I rarely ever saw anybody using. I didn’t feel like service was any less attentive despite the fact that the BizElite cabin was down one flight attendant. In conclusion, an excellent flight.

I wanted desperately to head across the street and take a shower at the hotel, and thanks to my FasTrack pass, I was through formalities by 0705. I headed over to Le Meridien and got cleaned up.

At 0745, I came back to the Speedlink desk where I purchased my ticket to Heathrow. I had a few nice words with a couple of British Airways ramp agents who had been reassigned to skycap duty there at the Speedlink bus stop. The bus arrived and one of the guys crawled into the luggage hold to get all the suitcases in there. Not exactly like loading cans onto a 747, but it’s a job, and we agreed that those are disappearing fast in this industry.

American Airlines 137
Wednesday, January 16, 2002
London Heathrow to Los Angeles International
Boeing 777-223/ER
N789AN / American Aircraft 7AW

The Speedlink bus over to Heathrow took nearly an hour and a half, due to morning traffic on the M25. No problem. I simply fell asleep for most of the ride. When I awoke, we were driving by the Air India cargo building on our way to Terminal 4. Next stop was Terminals 1 and 2, and finally, Terminal 3.

I found my way over to the American ticket counter. Thanks to the generosity of a friend who gave me a VIPOW, I upgraded my LHR-LAX flight to Business Class, so I walked across the street to the Park Avenue check in.

It was, to say the least, very impressive. The porter came literally running out of the building to greet me and help me with my rollaboard. I thanked him for his offer of help but said that I was traveling light and would not need any help.

I checked in with a very attractive agent who was extremely friendly and efficient. Her only mistake was to be a little too obvious about checking the VIPOW I presented against the blacklist. Having worked on the other side of the counter, I understand the need for this, however it is something that should be done discreetly. No big deal, however. I ended up staying and chatting with her for about 20 minutes until she about kicked me out and told me I should get to my gate.

I headed for security and passed through the Accenture FasTrack checkpoint. I walked through the departure lounge, passing all the duty free shops as I headed for Gate 17. First, though, I’d have to stop by the Admirals Club. I entered, presented my boarding pass to the agent, and had some pastries and orange juice.

I then walked over to the phones and called American to sign up for the EURY3 promotion. The agent asked, "So do you have any upcoming transatlantic flights already booked on American?"

I replied, "Well, actually, I’m sitting here in the Admirals Club at Heathrow, checked in for Flight 137 to Los Angeles, so I guess the answer is yes."

She laughed and signed me up for the promotion. I thanked her, and with that, headed for Gate 17.

When I arrived there, I presented my boarding pass and passport. The agent wanted to take my white AA Business Class ticket jacket back from me. I replied that I had used it to store other documents as well and was under the impression that a ticket jacket is an item that is complimentary for passengers. He said it was no problem but that some people don’t need them and they like to reuse them. I found that very comforting. Some guy with the flu handled my ticket jacket before I got to use it. Lovely.

He let me into the gate area, where the next person I saw was an agent deciding who to subject to security screening and who to let pass. I happened to be wearing my "Proud to Fly American" button which was given to me by bbinchi, and the AA gate agent conducting the selectee screening, who was not an American, sort of laughed at my button and asked with a smirk, "You’re proud, eh?"

Needless to say, I did not appreciate this. But in the interest of not creating a scene and causing an unexpected extension to my stay in London, I didn’t blow my stack. I just replied politely that I am very proud to be an American and to fly on American, and smirked right back at him. He rewarded me by making me go through the "random" security screening.

During screening, he made several errors, and I corrected him on each of them. He was unable to hide the look of surprise on his face that I knew the difference between the way he was doing things and the way things are supposed to be done. I told him that I am qualified as a Ground Security Coordinator and Security Screener for the airline I work for. He gave me a dirty look.

Just as my search concluded, another gate agent made the boarding call for passengers seated in First and Business Class. I proceeded on board.

I walked down the jetway and was greeted by a very, very senior flight attendant. I turned right to the Business Class cabin and sort of stood there for a minute, surveying the cabin. I then took my seat, which for this flight was 10A. I guess doing all of that must have made me look like a party crasher up in Business, because not a minute after I sat down, that very same senior flight attendant came over and asked accusingly, "Is that your assigned seat, sir?"

I replied that it was and she huffed, "Well, I need to see your boarding pass please." She had a look on her face like she knew she had just busted a party crasher. With a huge grin on my face, I produced my boarding pass stub and she apologized, saying that she just wanted to make sure that nobody was "stealing the product." Okay… whatever.

I asked the flight attendant if I would be able to visit the flight deck. She said she’d go ask, and returned with an answer of no. I was beside myself. How stupid. What was I going to do, hijack the plane while it was still on the ground?

By this point I was thinking that American Business Class was going to be about as good as I expected: not even close to being as good as BusinessElite. Surly flight attendants, horribly insulting comments by a gate agent, and no flight deck visit "for security reasons." Well, I thought to myself, this is the world’s largest airline. A dubious distinction, I guess.

I took a look at the amenity kit. Very nice. Lotions and stuff provided by Origins. Nice eyeshade and socks in typical dark blue.

No menu yet. I assumed that they would be distributed later. A flight attendant offered me my choice of champagne, mimosa, orange juice, and water. Again, I chose water, not interested in alcohol. Not yet, anyway.

As I looked around the cabin, I decided that I liked it. Very spacious, despite the 2-3-2 configuration, and the seat design was quite good. I noticed on FlyerTalk that a lot of people don’t seem to like the AA Biz Class seats on the 777. I thought they were quite nice. I wasn’t used to the manual seat controls, so that took a little practice to figure out. I reclined my seat a bit and looked out the window at the United 777 at the next gate, probably also preparing for a flight to LAX.

A few minutes later, the flight attendants came through the cabin with a newspaper cart. Choices were The Times, The Independent, a few tabloids, and USA Today. Maybe there were more, but I didn’t notice. I asked if by any chance they had the Los Angeles Times. They apologized that they did not. One thing I wish airlines would do is to give us a U.S. newspaper other than the USA Today, which is not my idea of a quality newspaper. I’d rather read the LA Times, Atlanta J-C, New York Times, or San Francisco Chronicle.

Also, the reports on FlyerTalk of both Delta and American eliminating newspapers on international flights are clearly inaccurate. They were distributed on both flights.

Next came the menus. The flight attendant distributing these was a really cool, laid back guy who introduced himself as Rick and told me that he was going to do his best to make my flight safe and enjoyable. I thanked him and he offered me a menu. What I received was a nice menu with a piece of artwork on the cover that was by an American employee who works in Miami.

I had some time to kill before we pushed back, and I couldn’t bear to read any more of my current book, "From Worst to First" by Gordon Bethune, so I started reading "Hard Landing" by Thomas Petzinger, Jr., a book about the chaos surrounding the industry in the period following deregulation and focusing on the personalities and dealings of the top executives at the major carriers. Probably the most enlightening book I have ever read about the airline industry and I highly recommend it. It was a lot better than the Bethune book. If I had wanted to read a ringing endorsement of Gordon Bethune by Gordon Bethune, I would have asked for his résumé.

I was enthralled in my book when the announcement came informing us that pushback was imminent. I brought my seat upright and stopped reading to look out the window. As we pushed back, the twin Trents started simultaneously. Moments later, they roared as the Captain advanced the throttles very liberally in order to break away, causing Rick to stumble as he walked down the aisle. I smiled as I was pushed hard into my seatback.

We taxied past what must have been about 40 or 50 British Airways 777s and 747s. Skipping 2 British Midland 737s in the takeoff line, we aligned and held for about 5 to 6 minutes. I was thinking we were going to experience a long takeoff run and shallow climbout, given the fact that we had a full load of baggage, freight, and fuel, not to mention a full coach cabin. I thought wrong. The Captain rode the brakes as he advanced the throttles, and the Trent 892s roared as the massive 777 surged against the brakes, which in turn emitted a groaning sound. The brakes were released, and the aircraft jumped forward, jerking everybody backward. Somewhere behind me, somebody joked, "Watch out everybody, Maverick here is taking off." About half of the Business Class cabin heard this and laughed, including me. We accelerated hard, and climbed out steeply into the clouds. When I had arrived at Gatwick, it was a clear morning. By the time we were taking off at Heathrow, the ceiling had dropped to about 2,000 feet AGL. Climbout was very turbulent, and our steep climb did not do much to make the passengers feel comfortable. It’s not often that a routine takeoff and climbout becomes such a demonstration of power, but for most passengers, it was probably more like a white knuckle ride. I, however, could not hide the huge grin on my face.

We came barreling through the top of the cloud layer at about 5,000 feet and soared over the clouds, suddenly basking in the sunlight of a clear day. We continued our steep climb and banked sharply to the north, then again to the west.

I looked out at the massive wing, flexing upward, and looked down at the massive powerplant. Engine #1, a Rolls Royce Trent 892-17, similar to those on the Delta birds, but I’m told they have some minor modifications so as to allow for more efficient operations at high altitude and short airfields. Guess American had it in their plans to fly 777s to some interesting places in Latin America.

We banked again to the north and finally settled on a flight path that, according to the Captain’s announcement and the Airshow map, would take us right up over Scotland, over to Iceland, then over central Greenland, and descending down over Baffin Island, crossing the Northwest Territories, down over Saskatchewan, continuing just west of the Rockies, over the northern Idaho panhandle, crossing into eastern Oregon, and finally down over western Nevada, crossing into California at Markleeville and making the Pacific coast at Santa Barbara, then the normal northern arrival into LAX. Our cruising altitude and speed, according to the Captain, would be 31,000 feet and Mach .84.

We reached FL310 very quickly, due to our steep climbout, and when we leveled off, Rick, one of the flight attendants working the left side of the J cabin, came around to offer me a Bose Acoustic Noise Reduction Headset and ask me what I would like for lunch.

The menu offered the following:

To Start
An assortment of warm roasted Nuts to accompany your preferred Cocktail or Beverage

Puff Pastry Tart topped with fresh Tomato Slices, Kalamata Olives, caramelized Onions, and fresh Basil

Fresh seasonal Salad Greens offered with creamy Caesar Dressing, or Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

Bread Basket
Warm Breads, freshly baked on board


Filet Mignon: Tenderloin of Beef complemented by sun-dried Tomatoes, and a caramelized Onion Demi-Glace, presented with a Parmesan Potato Diamond and Haricots Verts Amandine

Horseradish-Crusted Salmon: Horseradish-seared Salmon in a breadcrumb and Ginger Crust, enhanced by a Soy Glaze and served with sautéed Chive Potatoes and mixed Vegetables

Farfalle Pasta with Wild Mushroom Sauce: Pasta tossed with oven-roasted Rosemary Tomatoes and a light Porcini Mushroom Cream Sauce

Key West Chicken: Mango-marinated grilled Breast of Chicken topped with a Pineapple Mango Relish, served on a bed of Cumin-scented Rice, accompanied by a Spinach with a zesty Orange Butter

Vegetable Plate: Seasonal Vegetables that include a Wild Rice Medley, braised Leeks with Chervil and Roasted Carrots with Sage Butter

The Dessert Cart
Fresh Fruit and Cheese with selected Crackers
A scoop of Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream

I told Rick I had my own headset and wouldn’t need that one, but he insisted, saying I should save my batteries. I told him that I wasn’t going to watch any movies, and he said that I could use American’s headset with my CD player. So I took one.

After taking a moment to decide whether I wanted the salmon or the filet mignon, I decided on the latter, and asked for a glass of Chablis. Rick laughed and asked if I was sure I didn’t want a red wine to go along with that Filet Mignon. I told him no thanks, after reading the description of the Chablis I wanted to try it. It was a Vincent Sauvestre Chablis Premier Cru "Beauroy" from 1999. The description extols the virtues of the Beauroy vineyard, and they weren’t kidding. It was excellent, every bit as good as the South African Chardonnay from the Delta flight.

I was offered a second helping of nuts, which I accepted. The appetizer came shortly thereafter, and I skipped it since I don’t like tomatoes and this dish was full of them.

The salad was tomato free, and I enjoyed it with the Caesar Dressing.

The entrée was excellent. The Filet Mignon was nice and tender.

I was offered my choice of the fruit and cheese plate or the ice cream. I asked what flavor of ice cream was available and was told that today’s selection was Mocha. I asked for that, and enjoyed it. After finishing it, I was given an After Eight mint chocolate.

The guy across the aisle from me had a beer with his pasta.

I must have had about four or five glasses of that Chablis, because at the end of the meal service, I was fighting to stay awake, even though my book was outstanding. I had Mel Torme playing on my Discman, and his soothing jazz was putting me even closer to falling asleep. Finally, I relented, putting down my book, closing my three windowshades, and bringing my seat to full recline. I fell instantly asleep.

When I awoke, we were over Missoula, Montana, just about to cross the Idaho-Montana border. While I was asleep, one of the flight attendants had placed a large bottle of drinking water on my armrest. As soon as Rick noticed I was awake, he offered me another glass of Chablis, which I turned down.

I listened to some music as I watched the Salmon River Mountains pass by. The sky was completely clear. The view of the mountains and the horizon was absolutely breathtaking. Everybody on the left side of the cabin was gazing out the window.

I continued to read for about another 30 minutes, then the snack service began. Rick came around to ask for my order. The menu offered:


Beef Tenderloin Sandwich: Sliced Tenderloin served on a Rosemary Roll, presented with a roasted Garlic Potato Salad, garnished with Lettuce and Tomatoes

Salad Niçoise: Our version of this classic with Italian Tuna, Haricots Verts, Plum Tomatoes, Potatoes and Kalamata Olives dressed with Simple Red Wine Vinaigrette

Orange Tart presented in a Biscuit Crust and topped with a Kiwi slice

I asked for the sandwich. Instead of more wine, I asked for some Coke to drink. That orange tart dessert was looking pretty nasty so I passed on that, and Rick took my tray shortly thereafter.

I continued to just look out the window and contemplate the blue sky and California’s Central Valley as we got closer and closer to Los Angeles. When we reached the Coast Ranges at the southern tip of the valley, we began our slow descent from cruise altitude. Eventually, Santa Barbara and the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean appeared below us. We banked to our left, inward toward the coast again, and the engines slowed down to flight idle. We continued to the southeast, following the coastline until we reached Westwood, at which point we turned again to the northeast, into the northerly arrival pattern for LAX.

Rick came to my seat and said, "Mr. XXXXX, thank you for flying American today. It was great having you onboard."

I replied that I thought the food, wine, and most of all, the service had been outstanding, and that I definitely planned to fly American more often. He thanked me and we chatted for a few minutes about how only the most senior of the senior flight attendants based at LAX get to do the LHR run, and what it’s like to work for American. He then went on to the next customer.

A few minutes later, he came back to my seat with a bottle of wine wrapped in a plastic bag. He said, "Since you liked that Chablis so much, I thought you might like to take a bottle home." I thanked him again and he turned around to head for the galley, finishing up the process of preparing it for arrival into LAX. He then came back and said, "Make sure you declare that at customs." He winked at me as he said that. I laughed. Two flights on two airlines, and two bottles of wine. This was definitely a first. I got up to put the bottle away in my rollaboard, right next to the bottle of Chardonnay from my Delta flight.

The approach was executed perfectly, with the first right turn made just before downtown Los Angeles, and the turn onto the base leg made over East L.A. We coasted down to 2,000 feet, at which time the massive engines spooled back up. When we reached Hollywood Park, just east of the airport in Inglewood, it became clear that we were too low. The twin Trents roared as the aircraft accelerated, temporarily stopping the loss of altitude. The Captain stayed on the power until we touched down smoothly at LAX.

We arrived about 40 minutes early at gate 101 at Tom Bradley International Terminal. I had been hoping we would arrive at Terminal 5, as is usually the case. Earlier in the flight, I had even asked Rick about where the flight usually arrives, and he said it almost always was T5. As we were being towed into Gate 101, Rick came around and accused me of jinxing the flight and causing us to arrive at TBIT. I accepted responsibility, admitting that it was all my fault.

I thanked him and the rest of the flight crew for their excellent service. I did not want to deplane, but I guess all good things must come to an end. I waited patiently in line at TBIT, which for your information is about 80 degrees inside and smells like sweat, and cleared formalities with no problem and walked out into the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles International Airport, where I hope to work by the end of this summer. I was already listed on Delta for LAX-SLC-PDX, and it was with a great deal of reluctance that I walked over to Terminal 5 for my flights back to Portland.

I made a few phone calls, then went across the concourse and stood at Gate 57A, looking out the window at N789AN being towed into a gate at Terminal 4 for the flight back to London. I turned around and noticed that N67171, Delta's newest 757, was being towed into Gate 56 for Delta’s daily Mexico City flight, at 8:05 PM. The information screen at the gate had the information for Delta 396 posted already. I looked at my watch. It was only 4:30 PM. They had towed over pretty early. I looked over at the Gate Information Display at Gate 55A, where my 5:00 PM flight to Salt Lake City was departing from. My name appeared on the cleared list. Seat 29C. I looked longingly at Delta 396 over at Gate 56. I then walked over to 55A and back to my daily life, with a connection in Salt Lake City. Home       Trip Reports Index       Whine And Cheez Index       Discussion Forums

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