Becoming A Man : Going to College in American First 

by Charles M. Kunz

Well, it’s time, time for me to leave my sheltered home life and emerge into the great big world and enter, dare I say it? College. I will be attending Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ where I am a History major and I figured the best way to get out there was a way that earned me a good amount of frequent flyer miles. I booked this odd one-way ticket back in early June for $269. I was traveling alone as is standard procedure for me.

American Flight 1293
Scheduled Departure: 11:13 AM
Scheduled Board: 10:43 AM

After dragging my large amount of luggage downstairs I made my goodbyes to my five siblings and my mother. I really didn’t like this part as it wasn’t really a goodbye but more of a good riddance to their eldest son who is definitely the black sheep of the family (and proud of it). My father had been nice enough to volunteer his services to get me to La Guardia but because he had to be at work in Manhattan that day, we left at 7:15 AM which got me to the airport at 7:50, about three hours before boarding. The drop off zone by the American part of the concourse was quite crowded today but we managed to wedge ourselves in and he put my two bags on the pavement and I shouldered my laptop bag, we shook hands firmly and he told me to call him whenever I needed anything. As I watched his Ford Expedition drive off in the direction of the Grand Central Parkway I couldn’t help thinking of some lyrics by the band Yes which went, “I’ve seen all good people turn their heads each day so satisfied I’m on my way.” Did my family think that? Maybe, did a lot of people in my home town of Rye think that? Probably. Well Same to you, I’m going through the biggest change in my life so far and I’m very happy to do it. I entered Ticketing D and walked to the First Class Elite line, I had upgraded all three segments of my trip so I could use this line two times over. After the one person in front of me was finished I was called up to the desk by a woman who I really don’t think wanted to be there. American has stellar flight attendants but I’ve noticed their check-in staff, especially at LGA is usually not the best. Today was no exception as my bag was eight pounds over the limit and I had to pay the $25 excess baggage fee, as she pecked away at her keyboard I asked her what she was doing and she jerked her head up and said in a tone colder then any Foreigner single “Printing out your receipt SIR ” I kept quiet after that. My gate for the day was in the decrepit C concourse but as I had over three hours to my departure time and a two hour layover to look forward to at Lambert, I figured a day pass to the Admirals Club was warranted. I was able to get down to the D Concourse easily, the people checking boarding passes told me I had to go to the C Concourse but I said “Admirals Club” and they let me through. After a smart remark from a TSA screener on my SF Giants hat, I was in the cool lobby of the LGA Admirals Club. Getting a Day Pass was no problem, I handed over the cash and I was presented with a day pass printed on Boarding Pass stock and told if I joined within the next month I could save $50 off the price. The LGA AC was stocked this morning with three different kinds of bagels with butter and grape preserves. Cream Cheese hasn’t been seen in either this or the JFK club for over two years. Over at the bar were tumblers of OJ, Cranberry Juice and Tomato Juice and four ounce glasses to pour them into. I remember when a glass of juice would run you six bits at any club. After two hours and six cups of coffee I walked out of the club and outside security, took a left and re-cleared security at the C concourse, which although painful and I had to stand in a ten minute line I wasn’t fazed because I’ll take two security checks with an Admirals Club visit over two and a half hours in the C Concourse. After a couple minutes at the relatively full gate I was the first to board:

Gate C6
Seat 4F First Class
MD-80 N7533A
Actual Board: 10:44 AM
Actual Depart: 11:15 AM
Take off 22 minutes after departure

Once on-board I plopped myself into my favorite seat on the plane, the second row of First class on the EF side and was quickly met by a flight attendant who asked me my choice of beverage, Orange Juice for me as usual thank you. The flight was quite full, a lot more so then I expected as according to the Captain, coach was 100% full, though I couldn’t tell and First Class had eleven seats out of fourteen occupied, including the one next to me. We were buttoned up and ready to go eight minutes early but being that I was at LaGuardia on a weekday, planes were behind us in the alley for a few minutes before we could taxi out and join the long line for take off. During the wait the flight attendant named Rick was able to do a rather humorous safety breifing, I appreciated the break from the mundane especially when he said “If you have any questions please let us know. Ah-ha! Now you look up!” We were number six behind a US A319 Shuttle, two Eagle ERJ-135's, one company Super-80 plus a US 737-400 and Saab-340. But then we were on Runway 4 and the engines revved, the plane surged forward and the state in which I was born in and had lived the last seventeen years, nine months and twenty-six days released its hold on the plane and I was off to a new life with no regrets or reservations. We made a left turn over Rikers Island and then over the Bronx where I was able to pick out Yankee Stadium and the traffic on the Henry Hudson/State Route 9A looked good (only when I’m not trying to drive on it of course!). Once we were over Western New Jersey drink service was brought around and my real glass of Diet Coke with a lime (no lemons) was served with a bowl of warmed mixed nuts. I appreciated how the service was down individually from the galley, not on trays.

Then the meal choices were presented, for the first time in my young career FEBO was implanted on one of my flights. The choices were a cold pasta salad or a chicken salad sandwich, neither were too appealing but I always consider chicken to be the safe option so I went for the salad. Turns out most of the plane did as by the time they got to the first row they were out of sandwiches. Soon a tray came around with my sandwich on a plate with some weird vegetables and potato wedges, a couple of crackers and a package of Monterey Jack Cheese and a couple of Milano cookies. The sandwich was on Italian bread and had a generous helping of chicken with a leaf of lettuce, no mayo or mustard was offered much to my chagrin. In my opinion, Chicken Salad is the worst part of the chicken smothered in mayonnaise but today’s one wasn’t bad by any respects, I was able to finish most of the sandwich. The potatoes were good but I think they were a little strange complimenting the sandwich. After the tray was taken away I was just settling my back with the MD-80's glorious in-flight entertainment, a.k.a my CD Player basting Aerosmith and a fresh Celebrated Living when I was asked by one of the coach flight attendants if I wanted anything. I replied some coffee would be great. Usually they bring you a cup with milk in it and two packs of sugar, today she just brought me a cup of black coffee and walked off. I didn’t want to bother the man next to me to get some sugar or hit the call button so I drank my first cup of black coffee, hmm not too bad but I like a little coffee with my milk and sugar thank
you! After taking the Mensa Quiz in the American Way (and scoring a decent 2.25 out of 10) and doing the crossword puzzle we began to descend, soon we were over the gray, murky depths of Lake Poncherton, all I can say is some causeway on that lake and then we touched down near some UPS 767's and taxied to the terminal which was covered by a large sign saying “Welcome to New Orleans, bringing the America’s to the world.” Hmm, I don’t know about that but I did see a widebody (Delta 767).

Land Time: 3 Minutes Before Arrival
Scheduled Arrival: 1:13 PM
Actual Arrival: 1:13 PM
Gate C10

American Flight 1342
Scheduled Departure: 2:33 PM
Scheduled Board: 2:03 PM

As I had never been to Louisiana before I walked outside security, down an escalator and about two-hundred yards past pick-up/drop-off until I found some soil which I firmly planed both feet on, looked right then left and then walked back inside the terminal and re-cleared security and headed back to the area from which I came. My impressions on Louis Armstrong was that he was one great musician, his airport was decent enough, it didn’t have enough concessions, both land and airside. The security check points were well manned with competent but could do with an Elite line as I had to wait about ten minutes. The gates were nice with good departure screens and I can’t blame the airport for not having an Admirals Club can I? After sitting at the gate for about fifteen minutes next to a man with Delta Gold Elite tags on his bag, I asked him what he thought of the changes to Skymiles but he just looked at me like I wasn’t good enough to talk to him, oh well, just trying to help. Soon enough they called for First Class passengers for:

Gate C8
Seat 4F First Class
MD-80 N---TW
Actual Board: 2:00 PM
Actual Depart:2:25 PM
Take off 10 minutes after departure

The cabin on this aircraft had been reconfigured in what looked like a pretty half-assed job. The seats did not have power-ports or the swing out drink trays from the center armrest and the seats were not quite AA but not quite TWA, similar to the new ones put on the A-300 if anyone has flown one of those recently. But hey the leg room was good and the flight attendant fabulous as is the norm with AA. The only problem with this plane was the air jets were leaking water, 3AB and 5EF had it pretty serious so the FA came around constantly to wipe up spills. Mine didn’t leak as long as I left it closed but then it got really hot so I just endured the leakage. Once we were airborne and above a large layer of overcast skies that was hitting the state of the Pelican the FA served us drinks in real glasses with a choice of pretzels and honey roasted almonds, I took two packs of each and kind of made sandwiches out of them. Remember the days when a 603 mile flight got a meal in coach let alone First? I have vivid recollections of getting a snack on GSO-LGA DC-9's from USAir. I pulled out my laptop and tried to watch the Arnold Movie Collateral Damage but the noise was deafening even in First Class and I couldn’t hear the dialogue out of my headphones so I was content to listen to Queen and play Vegas Solitaire while the clouds drifted by. By the time the pilot announced initial decent into Lambert I was $483 in debt, hmm maybe gambling is bad. This flight had four people in First, me, a non-rev gate agent behind me and a married couple who fought most of the way up. The Coach load was light so the FA would put four drinks on a tray and serve the passengers in back sans cart which I think definitely boosts the enjoyment of a flight so props to her! It was quite strange when the FA read out connecting flight information and my flight to Phoenix as well as a Cedar Rapids connection were missing from the list. Maybe the Missouri board of tourism wants me to stay. Soon suburbs were just under our planes silver belly and we landed next to some Missouri Air National Guard Fighters and I was back in the land of the American MD-80.

Land Time: 7 Minutes Before Arrival
Scheduled Arrival: 4:19 PM
Actual Arrival: 4:10 PM
Gate C25

American Flight 1219
Scheduled Departure: 6:27 PM
Scheduled Board: 5:57 PM

Before this year I had visited Lambert twice, I’m already at three times this year and each time I find it to be perfectly fulfilling the needs of a Transit passenger. It has a good Admirals Club, plenty of Departure Screens and moving walkways and an O.K. amount of concessions, it could use more I think but hey, most airports have a drawback somewhere. I schleped to the Admirals Club and grabbed a Diet Coke and a cup of snack mix. Definitely a perk of flying through St. Louis, there’s snack mix around! I plugged in my laptop charger and started replenishing the thirsty battery while I replenished my thirsty self. I did begin to get a little worried as my STL-PHX flight is a continuation which comes in from Detroit and the inbound was being delayed in ten minute increments until its arrival time was two minutes before the scheduled boarding time for my flight. Oh well, these things happen. In the chairs behind me was a girl of four and her grandmother going to Bloomington and the girl was hilarious to listen to. Her grandmother tried to call her mother so they could say hi and when her mom didn’t answer the girl goes “I guess she doesn’t love me anymore” in this perfect melancholily voice. Ahh childhood. Even with the impending delay, I left the club at 5:45 for the long walk back to the end of C.

Gate C27
Seat 4F First Class
MD-80 N---TW
Actual Board: 6:05 PM
Actual Depart: 6:44 PM
Take off 16 minutes after departure

Every flight I took today left out of a gate in the C concourse, that is definitely a first. At the exact time I arrived at the gate, they opened up the door and the people from the Motor City started walking off the plane, so I sat down and settled in for the slight delay. After ten minutes First Class was paged and I boarded and sat down in the refurbished, this time with American seats right down to the power ports. A word to the wise on AA First Class travelers out of or into St. Louis. If you are scheduled to be on a MD-80 with a flight number under 2800, your plane might have a huge amount of leg room in the 3AB seats. To get the plane to AA standards they removed what was the old row 3 so now where row 4 was, row 3 is now so you get a huge amount of leg room. There is no rear closet like on AA MD-80s though. Because this plane had already done one rotation and there was no time to service it before the flight to PHX the cabin was a bit dirty with cashews on the floor next to me. This was the ONLY dirty plane I was on today, despite constant complaining on the AA board. Shortly we pushed back and because we were delayed we were granted an expedited departure allowing us to muscle our way in front of some other MD-80's and take off quickly. This may be the last time I see Lambert the way it should be, as a full American hub, the next time I may be here I’ll probably see a downsized version so goodbye to a good hub, thanks for the smooth connections. After I finished reminiscing the Flight Attendant who also FEBOed, wow two in one day even though I’d never had it before had reached me and asked me if I wanted pasta or BBQ chicken and would I like Pepper Ranch or Vinaigrette on my salad? Was this a three course meal culminating in a tasty desert I wondered? But I didn’t want to be disappointed so instead of thinking I just selected the chicken and the Ranch. Soon the first course came, a large glass bowl filled with lettuce, both iceberg and romaine, feta cheese, tomatoes and black olives with a package of dressing. This salad could have been the whole meal and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was offered as a full meal on some shorter flights. Even after clearing the entire plate I was ready for the next course which was a good sized piece of chicken, about the size of a hockey puck which was tasty and not dry. It came with sweet potatoes and green beans. Now I will NOT eat green beans under any circumstances so they remained forlorn at the top of the plate; while I don’t usually like sweet potatoes these were tasty and I ate some of them. Warm wheat or sour dough rolls were offered. I looked on the tray and I didn’t see any plate that would usually contain a slice of cheesecake or something similar so a thought began to form in my mind, could this be an ice cream sundae flight? The FA, who was a very nice man named Joe took my tray and I figured there wasn’t going to be any dessert and was a bit upset until he came and asked me what would I like on my ice cream sundae? Ahh now there’s a dessert! I had a full scoop of vanilla ice cream with fudge that was served hot, strawberries and strawberry sauce and some whipped cream, god it was delicious. For the diet conscious there was also a fruit and cheese plate which had red grapes, crackers and two kinds of cheese. After polishing this off I started to wonder something which I found to be odd. Why is a domestic mid-con getting better desserts then Business Class with American Flagship Service? Specifically JFK-LAX and JFK-NRT-JFK which I flew this year? Oh well, trying to understand what goes through airline exec’s heads is about as easy as trying to understand me and my crazy antics. We chased the sun to the west but it gradually won and by the time we were over the desert east of Phoenix and it was full dark and I began to get really excited. When the wheels touched the pavement and the Flight Attendant said “Welcome to Phoenix” I wanted to let out some form of jubilation. Finally, after all these years of waiting, I’ve gotten where I want to be and I did it by myself to boot.

Land Time: 7 Minutes Before Arrival
Scheduled Arrival: 7:48 PM
Actual Arrival: 7:56 PM
Gate 6

I stepped out into Skyharbor and was greeted by a Ghost Town. I saw no other people including no “Agents meeting our flight” the little newsstand where I was told “God bless you” twice last year was closed, the feeling can only be described as surreal. The feeling soon ended as I walked past the thankfully maned security check point and found the baggage claim where my bag was the twelfth off. I then walked outside, hailed a taxi and walked into my new home at Palo Verde Main.

I’m writing this report exactly a week later then I arrived and I am still as happy as the day I got here, I love my classes so far, the people are all very nice (albeit very drunk) and I am very happy to be on my own. I’ve made friends but no enemies. I’ve also met two Flyertalkers and yes, its hot enough for me. Home       Trip Reports Index       Whine And Cheez Index       Discussion Forums

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