This trip was a mileage run, as part off my switch of ff loyalties from DL to AA, to get miles necessary to achieve Executive Platinum (EXP) status on AA. Having secured AA Platinum status through a status challenge earlier this year, I was eligible for upgrades on AA. But for Gold and Platinum levels one must have 500 mile certificates to upgrade. On this trip I wanted to experiment with how these certificates work and also evaluate various seat options in economy.
This trip report is divided into three parts.
- CLT – ORD – MIA – PTY;
- The Sheraton Hotel Panama; and
- PTY – MIA – CLT
1. CLT – ORD – MIA – CLT
CLT – ORD new 737-800
The flight left at 5:15am. So I had to wake up about 3am. The one and probably only good thing about such an early flight is having no traffic driving to the airport. I left home just after 4 and arrived at CLT at 4:30. Parking at CLT is easy and close so with TSA precheck I was at the gate at 4:45am just as boarding started.
I did not elect to try to upgrade and actually had a regular economy seat 22C with no extra legroom on a new AA 737-800. Fortunately no one was sitting in the middle seat so room was not a problem on this flight of about 90 minutes. If the flight was for more than a couple of hours or the row was full, the narrow seat width and lack of legroom would be a problem.
The early departure made the flight seem like a night flight. The lighting in the economy cabin was soothing. Most people slept. This aircraft is equipped with personal audio-visual on-demand (AVOD) entertainment systems and AC and USB power at each seat. AVOD menu and flight-following system.
ORD Terminal 3 Admiral’s Club
I would have time for a brief visit to the Admiral’s Club between the K and H concourses. I have membership in these clubs through the AA World Executive MasterCard that also provided 50,000 AA bonus miles for signing up. Upon checking in, today the lounge was giving everyone a coupon for a premium drink. I used mine for a Bloody Mary with Grey Goose vodka. Normally there is a charge for premium liquor while the house brands are complementary. I was also able to pick up a USA Today and Financial Times while in the club.
ORD-MIA old 737-800
The flight to MIA was on one of the old 737-800s. There is quite a difference between the old and new models. No personal AVOD on the old ones, and the seats and interior were worn. I had an exit row seat in economy so there was plenty of leg room.
MIA- PTY and MIA Admiral’s Club
One irritating thing about switching to a new airline is learning new airports. I know the location of all lounges, favorite restaurants, gates, and transportation systems at the DL hubs by heart. AA hubs are all new to me, and the layout of AA hubs I find are not as simple. I was forced to take a few minutes to consult an airport directory to find the D30 lounge. Ughh! Admiral’s Clubs are as nice as Skyclubs and usually larger from what I have seen so far. The entrances to most clubs have some nice architectural features.
Like Skyclubs, the first floor has agents who verify your credentials for entrance and the second floor has agents who assist with flights and other issues. This club did not provide a premium drink coupon at check in like at ORD. Admiral’s Clubs always have at least two or three elevators. That makes access to the lounge area on the second floor a breeze compared to second-floor US Skyclubs which have only one elevator. There are usually two sets of agents in each Admiral’s Club to provide flight assistance. One for AA and one for US passengers. I assume this will change when the reservation systems are combined in October.
Like most Admiral’s Clubs, this one has showers, plenty of seating, ramp and runway views and a bartenders to fix drinks. These clubs have servers who circulate to clean up. These folks also take orders and bring drinks to your seat. That is something you won’t find in Skyclubs. This lounge also had a small area where passengers could purchase cold meals in addition to the ubiquitous self-serve snacks and soup.
MIA-PTY New A319
My flight to Panama was on a new A319 aircraft. I requested an upgrade but it did not clear. There are only eight first-class seats on AA A319s. That is the smallest number of FC seats on any AA plane that has FC. Even AA regional jets, which are much smaller planes, have 9-12 FC seats.
In the Main Cabin all seats are leather and have personal AVOD, wifi, AC and USB power. Main Cabin Extra (MCE) seats have four to six inches of extra legroom. I chose the MCE exit row with six inches of added space to stretch out which was good because all of the seats on this flight were filled. AVOD supplies great entertainment: however, the boxes take up some of the space under the seats.
I wanted a window seat since I expected that our route would be over Cuba and I wanted a look at this island from the air.
The AVOD displayed information on our flight progress very clearly.
I did not purchase any of the movies and TV shows on this flight but I noticed that the cost was one cent more than on the 737-800 for the same programs! Not a big deal, but the cost of entertainment had always been the same irrespective of the aircraft on all other airlines I’ve flown.
Like other airlines AA charges for food and alcoholic drinks in economy except that AA top-tier ffers get a free alcoholic beverage if they are in economy. DL provides a free snack and alcoholic beverage to anyone in Comfort Plus economy seats. Not being top-tier on AA yet, I paid for my mixed nuts and died fruit and beer. My AA Executive Master Card affords a 20% discount at least for all on-board purchases.
Panama is the southern most country in central America. It borders Colombia. Yet the flight from MIA-PTY is shorter, 1151 miles, than the flight from ORD-MIA, 1197 miles. The flight time of 2:34 hours went by quickly, and we were soon landing at Tocumen International Airport in Panama.
The flight path took us over the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean for the final approach to PTY.
Deplaning at PTY is directly into the main passenger terminal. There is no segregation between arriving and departing passengers prior to clearing customs (at least for flights from the US) as at every other international airport I have seen. It is a short walk through the terminal to the customs area one floor below. After clearing customs, passengers pick up any checked baggage and then proceed through a final checkpoint where all bags must go through an X-ray machine.
Taxis are the easiest way to get to the city. It takes about 15 minutes via an expressway. Just step outside the terminal and there are taxis lined up. The fare is $30. Panama uses the US dollar so there is no need to change money. ATMs and currency exchanges are located on the first floor after exiting customs for anyone who needs them.