The DFW-SoCal route is one I’ve done tons of times over the last 8 years or so, as my wife’s family lives in the area. Most of these flights have been on AA, with a mix of flights in Economy and upgrades to First. But one big thing has changed – at the end of February, I lost my precious AAdvantage elite status after a glorious 8-year run, largely because of my job change which took me from annual international business class travel to pretty much no work-related flights at all. I needed to make an impromptu trip out to LA a couple of weeks ago to attend a friend’s religious ceremony, and with pretty much no seats available to be pre-assigned on only a couple weeks notice, thought this would be a good opportunity to test the value proposition of Main Cabin Extra from the point of view of the status-less masses (I have tried MCE before, but have never had to pay thanks to status).
Since I had already burned a bunch of vacation days on our road trip-cum-cruise to Bermuda, this would have to be a tight turnaround, with a Saturday mid-day departure and a Sunday evening return. At least we could freeload with my in-laws, so the only real cost of this trip would be the flights and a rental car.
American Airlines (AA) Flight 2447
- June 28, 2014
- Depart: Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) Gate C31, 13:34, 4m late
- Arrive: Los Angeles (LAX) Gate 48A, 14:29, 6m early
- Economy Class/Main Cabin Extra, Seats 18E/18F
- Equipment: Boeing 757-200
I never seem to get lucky and draw a random Pre-Check assignment, but truth be told, at DFW, it doesn’t really matter, since security lines aren’t usually very long anyway (which is also why priority security via Priority AAccess isn’t a terribly valuable elite perk here, either). Sure enough, there were only two other people in line ahead of us, and we were through in less than 5 minutes. We had about half an hour to wait at the gate before our flight started boarding. Boarding started right on time, and aside from the fact that we couldn’t hear a word the gate agent was saying thanks to an apparently inoperative loudspeaker, the process was uneventful. One big perk of MCE for non-elite travelers is Group 1 boarding included in the fee; this is a big deal, especially on full flights where overhead bin space starts running out by Group 3. With that, we were on board quickly, easily found space for our one carry-on bag, and settled in to our seats for the flight to LA.
Row 18 is an exit row, and legroom is more than ample.
MCE provides 4-6 inches more seat pitch than standard AA Economy, which is typically 31 inches. Being an exit row, it sure felt like we were getting the entire 6 inches. One thing I didn’t like about this seat, though, is the split armrest setup.
The lower portion is too far back, and the upper portion is too far forward and can’t be raised, making for an uncomfortable arm position.
This B752 is definitely showing its age, from the lack of WiFi, to the antiquated overhead monitors, to the overhead lights and exit sign ready to pop out of their housings.
On the other hand, much to my delight, the MCE section has been outfitted with AC power ports, so I could at least plug in my laptop and play games for awhile. Honestly, I can do without the WiFi – I don’t find it worthwhile since I no longer travel for business – but I really need that power port to keep my computer and iPhone charged.
As we pushed back from the gate, the old and new of AA manifested themselves, with a pair of Mad Dogs sandwiching a 737. (Say what you want about AA’s old fleet of MD-80s, but if you’re traveling as a couple, or just want to avoid a middle seat, that 2-3 configuration was perfect.)
I was also able to grab a photo of my favorite aspect of flying out of DFW – the taxiways crossing the main airport access road.
Apart from a light chop as we climbed through the broken low overcast, the flight to LAX was the textbook definition of uneventful. We did pass just south of a very large dry lake somewhere over New Mexico, which was interesting to see.
And of course, my favorite part of flying to LA is the approach to the airport from the east, which takes you just south of the San Bernardino Mountains, across the Inland Empire, and just south of Downtown LA before crossing the 405 and touching down.
A half empty Big Bear Lake
Looking north towards Devore Junction and Cajon Pass
A Virgin America A320 on a parallel approach
A traffic jam on the northbound 405? Surely you jest…
I wasn’t able to get a good photo of downtown LA this time due to the smog and a dirty window, but if you’d like some samples, see my old post about sightseeing at 35,000 feet here.
Our time in LA was much shorter than I would have preferred in a perfect world. We land around 2:30, had to pick up a car and then drive an hour and a half to my inlaws’ place out in the Inland Empire, and then head to Pasadena by 10:00 the next morning to attend my friend’s function. The function we were attending was the “annaprasanam“, a Hindu ceremony that is supposed to be performed the first time a baby eats solid food, usually at around 6-7 months of age. These days, though, the ceremony doesn’t necessarily coincide with the first time a baby eats solid food, though families try to do it as close to 6-7 months as possible.
After we were done, we had loads of time before our 5:35 flight, so we decided to drive down old Route 66 from Pasadena, down through downtown LA, then over to Santa Monica. The route is easy enough to follow, and the occasional exemples of art deco along Huntington Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard are fascinating if you’re into that sort of thing. But the stretch through West LA is incredibly maddening due to poorly coordinated traffic signals (you end up stopping at every 2nd or 3rd one). Pack plenty of patience if want to try this route. From Santa Monica, it was an easy shot down the PCH through Venice and Marina del Rey to LAX and the rental car return.
AA Flight 2461
- June 29, 2014
- Depart: LAX Gate 42B, 17:35, on-time
- Arrive: DFW Gate D20, 22:39, 4m late
- Economy Class/Main Cabin Extra, Seats 14A/14B
- Equipment: Boeing 757-200
I once again lost the lottery for a random Pre-check assignment, but we did end up lucking out in that while waiting in line for the Terminal 4 checkpoint, about 20 of us were told to head over to the line normally used for Pre-check and elite fliers. While we didn’t get the full Pre-check experience, that lines has no full-body scanners. With only metal detectors to deal with, this line moved quickly, and we made it to the gate with a little more than half an hour to spare before boarding. Plenty of time to grab a couple of sandwiches and catch up on Facebook with the free WiFi in the terminal. Once again, with Group 1 boarding, we made it to our seats quickly, and had no trouble finding room for our bag at our row.
I have to say, this is probably the first time I’ve had a 757 on both ends of a round-trip. This plane was a little less ragged than the bird we flew out on, but AA still seems to be working on the whole in-flight entertainment experience thing. On the way out, we had AC power ports but no WiFi. This flight had WiFi, but only the old-style DC power ports. Luckily, I still had my car charger from my old days flying AA, so it wasn’t a problem.
Row 14 isn’t an exit row, and while legroom isn’t quite as generous, it’s still quite good.
Perhaps more importantly, this seat doesn’t have the annoying split armrest design, and has a traditional tray table, as opposed to the fold-out version in the exit row (not ideal if you’re trying to use a laptop). That made the overall experience more comfortable, in my opinion, at least. NOTE: SeatGuru indicates that Seat 14A has a missing window. This isn’t entirely true; the window parallel to the seat is very much alive and well, albeit dirty. What is “missing” is the second window that is sometimes found slightly forward of the row of seats. However, if like me you enjoy looking out the window, the view isn’t obstructed at all.
As we taxied towards the runway, another plAAne was taxiing towards the gate, this one with the new livery and controversial tAAil. The tail didn’t bother me at first, but the more I see it, the more I agree that it is indeed rather garish.
As is typical for an LAX departure, we took off to the west, then did a U-turn, passing by Ranchos Palos Verdes followed by the port of Long Beach before finally jetting off to the east-northeast.
I then decided to try to connect to the Gogo Wifi on my phone – not to purchase a package, but just to see if I could pull up a moving flight map, or a sudoku puzzle or something. Much to my surprise, an offer came up for 30 minutes of free WiFi, as long as you were willing to give up your e-mail address to Allstate. I took advantage, though this offer is apparently only available on mobile devices. When my wife tried to connect from her laptop, the only options were pay options.
The flight home was once again uneventful as we flew roughly parallel to IH-10, then IH-20 as we made our way through West Texas. It was a beautiful, cloudless night, providing for an excellent view of Fort Worth as we flew through the southern portion of the city.
We took a rather odd path to the airport, flying northeast across Fort Worth and up past Grapevine Lake, before making a U-turn and approaching the runway from the due north. I have to assume this was because of the gusty south winds affecting North Texas that evening. In any event, we made it to the gate quickly after touchdown, and within 20 minutes, were in our shuttle back to the parking lot to make the late evening trip back home.
Service on both legs was standard economy class service on AA – free beverages, but pay for snacks and alcohol. I wouldn’t say the service was particularly good or particularly bad. The FAs were friendly enough, but pretty much did their one drink service and not much else. Then again, you can’t really ask for anything more on a domestic flight these days – both legs on-time, and non-surly gate agents and flight attendants.
The buy-up to MCE was $94 per person round-trip for this set of flights (the fee varies by flight length but starts at $19 one way, per seat). If you don’t have elite status and have to pay, is it worth it? MCE isn’t a true “premium economy” product in that all you get is a regular economy seat, and regular economy service, with more legroom. You do get Group 1 boarding thrown in, which can be a very big deal if you typically travel with a large carry-on and need overhead bin space (more often than not, gate agents start confiscating carry-ons during Group 3). I’d be tempted to pay for MCE on that reason alone, just because I hate having to claim bags at DFW, where you’re looking at a minimum of 20 minutes usually. And of course, if you’re a taller person, the few extra inches of room might be a big deal to you. I’d pay for MCE again, but $45-50 each way is probably the max I’d be willing to go.
On international flights, it’s really a no brainer – fees usually range from $100-150 each way, which is a bargain for an extra 6 inches of legroom and a more comfortable sleep, if you ask me.