Blogging in bed is a bad habit. It is not good for posture, and it runs the risk of falling asleep and having my laptop fall to the floor. I’ve done that several times over the years. I did it again a couple of days ago. This time the laptop was damaged. With difficulty I can usually get it to work. The computer repair guy says repairs would cost several hundred dollars. My posts may be more sporadic than usual until I bite the bullet and get a new laptop.

This post continues the story of my first airline trip of the pandemic.

I booked the flight about five days before departure but was still able to find a great economy fare of $126 for a round-trip ticket to Denver, CO on American Airlines.  The routing was Charlotte to Denver nonstop, about an eight-hour layover at Denver, a red-eye flight to Miami, FL, connecting to the final flight to Charlotte.  The one-stop return routing through Miami was slightly more expensive than a direct flight but offered the advantage of a departure time that avoided having to spend the night (and hotel cost) in Denver.  Another factor in selecting this routing was the chances of scoring upgrades to first class on some of the flights class looked good. 

Other posts from this trip:

American Airlines Admirals Club Charlotte Concourse B

Charlotte American Express Centurion Club Lounge Review

First Class Flight Review – Charlotte, NC to Denver, CO

First Look – Denver American Express Centurion Lounge

American Express Centurion Lounge Miami Review

Economy Flight Review – Miami, FL to Charlotte, NC

I had been on the 1 a.m. red eye to Miami before. On that occasion the American Airlines Admirals Club was open until 00:30. I found out after walking to the lounge that it now closed at 16:30. Bummer! After the American Express Centurion Lounge closed at 19:00 I had to hang out in the gate areas on Concourse A.

Getting to and from the Centurion Lounge on Concourse C required riding the airport train. Social distancing was impossible. Riding the train was the only part of the entire trip that felt like it might pose Covid-19 risk.

20210331_171138 (2)
Social distancing (not) on the Denver airport train.

DEN has very good wifi so I was able to get some work done.  Noise and commotion on the concourse made me long for the comforts of a lounge.

20210401_001846
DEN Concourse A near Gate 51

A day or two after booking, American issued complimentary, space-available upgrades to first class on this flight and the flight from Charlotte.  The upgrade on this leg was the most important one  because the extra seat width and leg room would make sleeping easier.  

American Airlines Flight 2247 Denver, CO (DEN) to Miami, FL (MIA)

Flight Date:  April 1, 2021

Equipment:  737-800

Great Circle Distance:  1,709 mi (2,750 km or 1,485 nm)

Scheduled Flight Time:  3 hours and 47 minutes

Class of Service:  Domestic First Class

The flight was nearly full which was surprising for a flight departing in the wee hours of the morning during a pandemic. Airlines often assert the need for bigger airports and more runways to be able to offer additional flights. Yet there is much unused capacity at airports between 00:00 and 06:00.

In avoiding departures during those hours the assumption may be that people won’t book the flights. Based on this flight and others in various markets around the world, flights leaving during those hours are as full as others. Airlines and airports may be unwilling to staff for late night/early morning flights.

AA Flight 2247 boarded on time and without incident (no mask mutinies). My seat was 3E, an aisle seat in the third row on the starboard (right) side.

Normally, I prefer a window seat for the views. The aisle seat was the better option on this flight since there wouldn’t be much to see in the dark. Plus, taking the aisle seat made getting up easy if I needed to. Getting up from the window seat would probably require climbing over or waking up the person in the aisle seat.

20210401_003225
Boarding Flight 2247

American Airlines 737-800s are outfitted with American’s standard Rockwell Collins MiQ domestic first class seats. These seats have decent seat pitch (roughly the distance between rows) of 36 inches (91.5 cm) and are about 21 inches (53 cm) wide. MiQ seats are installed in premium economy on American’s widebody aircraft.

20190921_180646
Rockwell Collins MiQ seats in first class on an American Airlines 737-800. American does not provide blankets currently.

A couple of years ago, American, and many other airlines, decided that the best way to increase profits was to cram more seats onto already cramped airplanes. The generic term in the industry is “densification.” Decreasing comfort for passenger butts is how the airlines intend to improve their own bottom lines.

American’s densification efforts and remodeling of aircraft interiors are part of “Project Oasis.” Under Project Oasis American removed or is removing seat back video from its entire domestic fleet, and 737-800s that used to have 160 seats now have 172. Seat pitch in first class on 737-800s before the Oasis interiors were installed was a very generous 40 – 42 inches (102 – 107 cm).

Still, even densified first class beats coach. Standard economy seats on American 737s have only 30 inches of pitch and about 17 inches of width. The larger seats in first would make it easier to get a couple of hours of sleep on the way to Miami.

20210401_002930
Seat 3E legroom. Everyone gets squeezed with airline densification seating.
20210401_002953
Floor attachments for MiQ seats don’t leave a lot of room for stowing items under the seat in front.

Service on the flight was almost nonexistent. A concern I have is that some flight attendants will regard the minimal service they provide during Covid as the new normal. Prior to the pandemic, U. S. airlines had gotten flight attendants to offer much improved customer service. Not like Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific, but a lot better than it had been.

The flight to Miami showed that some flight attendants may be slipping back to their old ways. There was no predeparture beverage service (as expected) nor did the attendants hand out goody bags before departure as they had on the flight from Charlotte.

20210331_150716
Goody bag with small bottle of water, pretzels and antiseptic wipe handed out before departure on the flight from Charlotte.

Before the pandemic, on similar red eye flights, American would usually serve a light snack like warm chocolate chip cookies as well as offer a couple of beverage services in first class.

This flight had one beverage service shortly after takeoff. The attendant did not bring doubles as on the flight form Charlotte.

The major problem with service on this flight was that the attendant did not collect the plastic cups and trash in first class until just before landing. In the darkened cabin, passengers risked knocking over drinks that were on the console between the seats while sleeping or if they needed to get up.

20210401_012759_001
The complete service on the four-hour fight to Miami.

Not wanting to get accidentally dowsed, I worked up the nerve to ring the flight attendant call button before I dozed off. After only about a minute, the flight attendant responded. He had the “oh no you didn’t hit the call button” look on his face as he approached my seat.

That look was common a few years ago. Some flight attendants request assignments to red-eye flights because most passengers sleep. Flight attendants don’t have much to do and can catch up on their reading. Some do not like to be imposed upon with customer service duties.

The photo above shows the metal section on the tray table that flips up to serve as a prop for your phone when watching streaming entertainment. Streaming entertainment and phone holders supposedly compensate for the lack of video screens on seatbacks.

The flight was uneventful and after the attendant cleared the remains of the beverage service, I managed to grab a cat nap before arriving in Miami.

Final Thoughts

The two flights in first class were completely different experiences due to the difference in the time of day and the disparity in service. On the flight to DEN the crew provided proactive and friendly customer service. On the flight to MIA the crew seemed to view customers as an inconvenience. It will be interesting to see which attitude predominates as the pandemic wanes and airlines return, or should return, to pre-pandemic levels of onboard service.