trip report

Flight Review: American 777-200 Business Class - Buenos Aires to Miami

After checking out of the Park Tower hotel the latest that I could for free, which is 4pm for SPG Gold members if I remember correctly, as taxi was soon outside of the hotel to take me to the airport. This was well ahead of my flight, but I’d rather hang around the American Airlines Admirals Club than hang around the city that I didn’t particularly like that much.

Pulling up to Terminal A and jumping out of the taxi straight out of Grand Theft Auto, I made my way into the airport check in area. Unfortunately the American Airlines counter wouldn’t be set up for another 15 minutes… in Argentinian time, that’s 30-45 min. So I attempted to check in through an automated kiosk at the end of the check in area. Placing all of my documentation on the scanner and filling out the questions, the system then told me I need to see a gate agent. This is not an unknown problem to me, a similar issue happened in South Korea because I was attempting to check in too early. Figuring that was the case, I made one more attempt, after which I hung around and checked out a few shops here and there.

While walking around the check in area, a notice came through my phone that I no longer had a seat on my flight to Miami. What? This was a bit disconcerting, why was this happening? Logging into the app, my seat did in fact disappear, but a bit of searching and quickly I discovered why. Now American Airlines has two types of 777 aircraft. The 777-300ER flagship aircraft with a first class, business class, and economy. My flight was on the older 777-200 version of the plane. Thing with the 777-200 fleet is that American is in the middle of updating the interiors of the aircraft, which means removing the first class cabin and just putting a business class and economy cabin in place. Recently American halted this update due to slow manufacturing by the seat vendors for the business class, so the 777-200 updates had been stopped leaving the majority of the fleet with the old product that had a first class, I was supposed to be on this first class.

At some point, an old 777-200 with the first class was swapped out for the 777-200 with the new interior, since I was in first class, the new plane lacked a first class, so I was bumped down to business. A little disappointing to say the least, but I did end up getting my points refunded for the difference in class that I was flying.

After getting booked into a new seat, off to the terminal I went. A quick trip through security and I was into the Admirals club. A few hours later it was time to board the plane. Argentina is weird, they send you through security, and then before you board, they make everyone open their bags and check the interiors of the bags. This check is not thorough, and only serves to slow down the boarding process. Really I’m not sure what the point of these checks are, but they require them, so we obliged.

Boarding into the business class cabin, I was in love with the seats here. The setup is a reverse herringbone design where every seat has aisle access. This isn’t a true reverse herringbone design as every other seat is backwards here, so the 777-300ER reverse herringbone is slightly different. If you do fly one of these, the backwards facing seats have better window views, so if you like the window, check out those seats. These business class seats are probably some of the best in the airline world. Each seat is private… well except that my seat was broken and the arm rest was in its lowered position and wouldn’t come up… oh well. Of all my flights on this trip, this was the best seat.

Amenity kits were waiting for us at our seats, as well as a menu for the meals on the flight. Once again, I had requested the vegetarian/vegan meal, so none of it applied to me, but take a look at what was on offer.

Heritage Amenity Kit

Heritage Amenity Kit

Bose headphones were handed out to the cabin while we waited to push back from the gate. This is something that America deserves a lot of credit for, while many airlines hand out so called “noise cancelling” headphones, they are in most cases, not actually noise cancelling. Bose are definitely noise cancelling and so very much more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

Now let's cover the flight attendants, the word terrible comes to mind. While I give them credit for proactively confirming that I had a vegetarian meal, that's about the only positive that this crew had going for it. They were detached, clearly just there to do the bare minimum and unhappy to do it. This is business class and it was treated like we should be in the cargo hold.

Flight attendants addressed everyone in Spanish first… weird for an American carrier, every other flight overseas with American addresses passengers in English first. When I fly Air France, they address everyone in French first, as I would expect from a French carrier, this was just plain weird. When it came to meal time, everything was served on one platter… this is pretty rare in business class and just spoke to laziness of the crew. It was thrown down in front of me and then they just walked away. When I asked for some balsamic dressing, they rolled their eyes and begrudgingly grabbed the dressing for me, handing it to me without a word, even when I thanked them.

After waking up, I realized I had slept much longer than I had expected, Breakfast was just ready to be served, so as I was bringing my seat to the upright position, the flight attendant asked if I was eating breakfast, to which i said yes. I didn’t even have my seat fully upright when she was back with the try of food, reached across me and pulled out my tray table and threw down the tray. The meal looked like eggs, so in my sleepy haze I asked her if it was eggs, she told me she didn’t know. Alright… not a great interaction here either.

One other incident happened on takeoff. The flight attendants were futzing about with a woman up at the front of business class, now I don’t know what the issue was, but they would help her and then wander off, then come back for a moment and wander off, all while taxiing. Then we pulled onto the runway, and the captain had long ago called for them to take their seats. Then we started our takeoff roll and a flight attendant still was at the front of the cabin. As the big engines kicked in, she tried to walk back to her seat and basically ended up running as she was thrown backwards. This was beyond unprofessional, this was dangerous.

Now back to the other parts of the flight. The seat was fitted with all of the updated electronics. There are multiple USB and power outlets at every seat, a big screen that pops out once in the air. The controller for the monitor has a second screen which i used to display the air show, showing our position, while the main screen played movies for me to watch. I loved this setup, but the controls for the volume were very difficult to access. It required something like 4-5 menu changes just to get to the volume control, that really needs to be corrected. Volume is a basic function that people want quick access to, this is some pretty bad UI design.



Seat controls

Seat controls

Seat controls were easy to use, the fully flat bed was comfortable to lay in and gave plenty of privacy while sleeping. The aisle access at every seat is great so that you can get up and use the bathroom without interfering with anyone else and no one is interfering with you when you are trying to sleep.

The hard product (seat, entertainment, ect) was great on this flight, the soft product (service, food, ect) was terrible. While I was initially very disappointed that I was bumped down a class, after the flight I was grateful. If I had been in first class and received that level of service, and food that was that bad, I would have been even more unhappy about that being my first experience in international first class. First class will need to wait until my British Airways and Emirates flights later this year.

Landing in Miami

Landing in Miami

After deplaning, I questioned whether or not I was being too hard on the crew. As chance would have it, later that week I ran across an article with a passing mention of American Airlines crew out of Buenos Aires and how universally terrible they were. Guess it wasn’t just me, as I would have been unhappy with that service in economy, let alone business class.

Final Day in Seoul

Today was my last day in Seoul. I woke up and had breakfast before heading to Seoul Station. From Seoul Station I made way to the I'Park Mall. The mall is the home of many stores, restaurants and an e-sports stadium. Before coming to Seoul I had planned to go to the stadium, however, it has been exceedingly difficult to find a schedule on when games were being played.

I could not get any definite on if there was any games playing today or not, but what I could find said that there was nothing going on today. Either way I went about experiencing a shopping center in Seoul. The day started out a bit uncomfortably, the way people help in certain department stores is to stand in front of the merchandise and wait for you. Being early in the morning, I was the only one there at this time, and this meant I was waling through a department store with roughly 30 people looking at me waiting to help... it was a little odd feeling for how we do things in the US. Outside of that store though it was fairly normal. The shopping center does try to force you through stores more here, less of a main corridor like the US malls have and more of a pass through one store to get to another. Makes for a bit of a maze, still not sure I figured out the layout of that place.

At the mall I found a cute hat for my niece. Then I returned to my hotel to drop off my purchase. At this point I decided to go to a beautiful science museum I had missed earlier in the week. Then it hit me, it's Monday and many things are closed here on Monday... this also included the museum I wanted to see. So I threw away that idea and returned to the Insa-dong streets. This time I was able to really look through some stores and find some fun items for people back home. I can't suggest enough that you stop at the Insa-dong streets if you visit Seoul. All in all this was a shopping day, and I still plan to make my way back up to see some of the city at night.

Being my last full day here, what are my thoughts on Seoul now that I have been here for a while. I'm still in love with this city. Once I was able to get a feel for how to get around easily, where things were located, this city became one of my favorites. It was a bit of a surprise to me, since France was the only other place I have been that was not English speaking and I didn't like it that much. Seoul has become a fast favorite of mine and I really look forward to bringing people back with me to explore the city more. This has been an incredible introduction to Asia and a place I have fallen in love with. If you ever get the chance, come here. It seems to be low on many peoples list of places to visit, though always high on mine. Do not overlook Seoul, this is a must see from my point of view.

Seoul - Here I Come

It's that time of the year again, time for me to take another big trip. As this post goes up, I am laying over in Dallas Fort Worth, waiting for my flight to Seoul to take off. This will be the first time that I am able to fly a Boeing 777, my first trip to Asia, and the first time I take a leisure trip to a non-English speaking country. I have visited France before, but that was mostly for work, so I am curios to see if that makes a difference.

My plans for my trip to Seoul are planned out right now. My strategy is always to plan out every activity I want to do while there. The plan is used as a guide so I don't spend tons of time looking up what the next thing is to do. The plan is never followed to a T though, I always change things around once I actually get a feel for the city. Activities get dropped, some get added, but overall the plan gives me a general idea of what to do while in whatever location I am traveling to.

Some of the planned thing to do in Seoul:

  • Gyeongbokgung Palace
  • National Museum of Korea
  • Mt. Bukhansan
  • 63 City
  • Seoul Tower
  • Insa Dong Streets

Those are the main points, there promises to be a whole lot of other things to see in Korea, and I have built in many open stretches of time to do some exploring. Photos will certainly be high on the list of things to do.

I look forward to sharing my adventures through Seoul with everyone. See you on the other side of this 13hr flight.

New Zealand to France, Long Way Round

While some of us may be more experienced than others at travel, we all have long trips that really stand out as being a nightmare. My nightmare trip was coming back from New Zealand last year. Was it anyone’s fault? Nope, well no one’s but possibly my own and some bad luck, but Qantas was still just as great as I had heard. Possibly a few American Airlines flight attendants could have been better but… well let me get to story of my trip.

After finishing my time in New Zealand, I had an extremely early flight the next day and because the trip from downtown Auckland to the airport takes so long, I opted to stay at the airport hotels. This still demanded a 4am wake up time, as the airport wanted everyone on international flights there at least 2 hours before departure. Yet, security wasn’t open until an hour before the flight, so we got to twiddle our thumbs until they opened security for the day.

Next was a flight to Sydney, it takes roughly 3 hours to fly to Sydney, and everything went smoothly. We arrived and after that, I had to deal with an 8 hour layover in Sydney. I’ve never had the opportunity to attempt to kill 8 hours in an airport, but it is not the best way to spend one’s day. The time went slowly, but eventually the plane began boarding, which was not nearly as smooth as boarding in LAX, despite them being the same plane. Then again, fitting 400-500 people on a single plane cannot be an easy thing to do.

Shortly after everything was closed down and the plane pushed back, we were in the air for our trip from Sydney to Dallas Fort Worth. Now let me explain this flight, the Sydney to Dallas flight, at the time, was the longest flight you could take in the world. In air time for this direction was slightly less than going Dallas to Sydney, but still just short of 16 hours in the air. Now if you’re keeping track, with this flight included, I had been in transit for 27 hours.

This seems a great time to tell you, I can’t sleep in economy class. I’ve tried many many times, the most I can get is maybe 30 minutes at a time. So including when I had gotten up, I was awake for roughly 30 hours at this point. Global Entry didn’t work for me at Dallas for some reason, so I had to wait in a long line at customs. By this point I was hungry, and really wanted a shower, but still had one more flight to Philadelphia… after another 2 hour layover.

We boarded the plane to Philadelphia, an old American MD-88 aircraft if I remember correctly. These planes have the ability for the pilot to open small side windows while on the ground. Apparently the pilots had done so, and they could not get it to close properly. They brought a technician on board and worked to get it fixed. Now I am an Aerospace Engineer, so I know what they are going to have to do on some rudimentary level at least. So after a little while it hits me, we’re going to have to exit the plane, they need to do a pressurization test when they get this fixed. No more than 20 minutes later the announcement was made, “please get off the plane we need to do a pressure test.”

We exit, and wait, and wait… finally 2 hours after scheduled takeoff we get called to reboard. Except, the flight attendants had wandered away and no one could get ahold of them. So we waited some more for them to come back, an additional 20 minutes trying to find them.

We took off, I made it home, was picked up from the airport and went to bed… for a few hours and I do mean a few. Then I was awake again and packing for a work trip. I had to leave that day to France for a week of work meetings. So back to the airport I went. Boarding a plane to Paris, flight time of around 8 hours to France, 2 more hours in the airport, 3 hours on the TGV train, 30 minutes on a bus, and finally in the hotel in Aix En Provence. Immediately I went to sleep and having never wanted to explore a city less than when I arrived in Aix.

My inability to sleep while traveling is a problem, which is part of the reason I have been seeking out all of these points to help me travel more in business and first class cabins where seats are lie flat designs, this is far more likely to allow me to sleep at least enough to keep me from going slightly insane.

So that was my nightmare trip from New Zealand to France, the long way round. Does anyone else have some nightmare trips they want to tell me in the comments?