Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sunrise to Sunset....

Coast to coast, sunrise to sunset. 

(yes, I’ll get back to finishing up the final part of my JNB run shortly, but more current things are on my mind this week.)

Like most things on this page, this story begins with an upgrade.  Not just any upgrade, but a hard-won JFK-LAX business class seat that was ‘oversold by one,’ whatever that means, an hour prior to departure.  No clue how it worked out, but short story is my EXP status and connecting passenger clout somehow did the impossible (after much dismissive head shaking by the AC agents at YYZ and JFK, as well as my first ask to the gate agents). 

When I got called to re-check, it went something like this:

"I'm [CruisingAltitude], you called me up?"

"Yes, your upgrade went through, is a window okay?"

"As I'm guessing it's the one and only available, it's my new favorite seat." 

[Gate agent laughs and hands over my new boarding pass]

So here, I am, seat 10F on the 321 service to LAX, pre-departure beverage (“PDB”) and all.  This week has been a typical work travel week, with flights to Toronto via JFK both ways.  Yes, as many people have asked, American does fly to YYZ nonstop from LAX.  But…. Since when have nonstop flights been a mileage runner’s priority?? Plus, it was a late-scheduled flight, making non-stops costly.  And double plus- any AA traveler will tell you, the best (even despite my nit-picking below) domestic product hands-down is AA’s ‘flagship’ service on the 321-Transcon.  It features lie-flat seats in both F and J, and if you miss the upgrade (likely, due to high business and VIP travel on this route) there’s decent MCE availability with in-seat entertainment in all Y seats as well. 
I certainly feel welcome... 

As a side-note however, I won’t drop my allegiance to Boeing products.  There’s something about the flight profile of the Airbus planes that has less finesse.  The pitch changes on climb out are abrupt, and the fuselage seems to flex and rattle a little more than the Boeing jets.  Maybe it’s just us, but both myself and Mrs. CruisingAltitude noticed some differences this year since we spent a decent amount of time on various Airbus products this summer in Europe.  Could be that AirBerlin just needs to better secure their glassware in the forward galley…. It was like a china shop in an earthquake up there.  

Additionally, I’ve heard a thing or two about the newly delivered Airbus jets not holding up to service well in the AA fleet- broken seats, tray tables, and the like.  To add to that, my handset for my IFE never worked on this flight, didn’t connect on my outbound, and the entire system froze up in my last hour, refusing to play anything at all.  Maybe it was as mixed on its feelings about “Veep” as I am.
Yeah, so about that new high tech IFE...
Also, in my opinion, AA could do significantly more to improve the ‘soft product’ on these flights to match the impressive seating- the food ranges from ok to ‘I’ll just grab something in the terminal,’ and the drinks are fine.  Nothing worth writing home about, no matter how much AA *cough US* wants to show us their new dishes and flatware.  If it’s going to be called ‘Flagship Service,’ they should go the whole distance.  I mean, I'm not expecting a Michelin star here, it is at the end of the day airplane food, but there's some other airlines out there that do a pretty impressive job of it, even in economy. 

New plates, basic fare.

Aaaannnyhow…. Back to the trip at hand.  This week included flights to Toronto’s Pearson Int’l via JFK, a rental from National at T-3, two nights at the Westin Prince at York Mills, and one night at the Four-Points Toronto Airport.  Oh yeah, and I did some work in downtown Toronto, but you don’t want to hear about that.

This was my first trip to Toronto, and at the outset I was excited to see a new city.  However, due to some unbelievably big convention or such in town, every hotel- Starwood, Hilton, and Club Carlson cold only offer me a $500/night basic room at the Radisson…try taking that back to accounting.  Long story short, I ended up booking out of town at the Westin Prince.  It seemed like a decent option- helps me get to my 25 Starwood check-in goal for the year, and looked to only be a 20 min drive from where I needed to be. 

WRONG….so wrong.

I’ve learned my lesson.  In LA I say you have a choice between being 30 minutes early, or 10 minutes late.  I now know that in Toronto, you have a choice between being an hour early…. And being royally friggin’ screwed.  Traffic there is bad.  So, so bad.  For anyone reading this who knows LA, it’s the equivalent of taking the traffic from the 405 and re-routing it to Hawthorne Ave.  I’m not kidding.  The pouring rain didn’t help either.  In short, me, my Sonata (it was a late pick-up and I wasn't about to navigate a Yukon around a city) from National, that I never had the chance to test for power, and the GPS that refused to let me take any expressways and I got super well acquainted.  At least the mileage was low and the XM was active.
3 Hours a day of this.  I got beat to downtown by a guy on a bicycle wearing a poncho.
Really, the GPS had a sense of humor.  When I returned the thing at YYZ and they asked how it ‘worked out for me’ it was all I could to not to say ‘just great, I had a lovely hour long tour of the ‘hood on the way here just now.’ 

On one of my quick calls home on my international minutes, Mrs. CruisingAltitude stopped me mid-rant with, “you do realize we’ve been talking for 10 minutes, and all I’ve heard about Toronto is traffic?”  Sums it up.

The Westin Prince, aside from the location, was fine.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay there again, but I’ve had worse.  No upgrade as a SPG Gold, got stuck on the 4th floor, not much of a view.  The room was decently modern, as were the common areas.  No big complaints.  Had a pretty nice meal at the sushi restaurant next door- always a good choice when traveling alone on business. 

The last night I stayed out at the Four Points YYZ.  Of course nothing fancy, but I slept well.  Their shuttle runs every 30 minutes to the terminals, and the service and price point were right on.  I’d stay there again when I need an airport hotel. 

All in all, it was a productive trip, made much more comfortable by clearing 4/4 of my upgrades – both directions on the 321-T to and from JFK, and my Eagle flights onward to YYZ.  Sidenote- I really don’t mind the little cabin on the E75, props to AE for continuing to order jets with a first class.  Gives me faith with all the other benefits being eroded slowly but surely by the merger.  Plus, both directions it was half empty and I had my own 1st class row. 

One thing they can't take away, thankfully, are the views.  Tonight's been a treat start to finish, from a beautiful dusk light on take off from JFK, to the red and blues of that 'chasing daylight' flightpath on the way back West.  Cameras never do it justice, but I always have to try.   
Goodbye NYC
Chasing Daylight
Well, that’s all for the night.  Flight 181 just made the turn to sequence for decent into LAX, and they’re about to serve my sparkling water and lemon (nice touch, by the way).  As always, it’s been a journey. 

Until the next one, in a few days’ time,

Fly Safe,