I had been looking forward to this trip to New York City for months now. First, after 16 years of trying to gain required experience and status within the airline industry, I was finally invited to join the prestigious Wings Club, thanks to my former boss at Continental Airlines, Gordon Bethune, and former TWA Captain Gordon Beaubien. My gratitude goes out to both of them for recommending me, and they will not be forgotten. Second, this was my chance to take my last flights aboard American Airlines Boeing 767-200ER's. These planes have been plying the skies between Los Angeles and New York/JFK for the last 30 years and AA felt it was time to put them out to pasture and replace them with specially outfitted Airbus A321T's.
Back to the trip at hand. The day started out fabulous, and it was still dark by the time Mary dropped me off at Salt Lake City International Airport. Check-in took a while, only because there were two agents on duty, and alas, they were the ones who had our bag tags. they were professional and friendly about the delays, though. Once I surrendered my bag to TSA I headed for security, where as i predicted, was pretty busy, what with multiple departures going on from not only American/US Airways, but with Frontier, Alaska, United, and Southwest as well. The TSA treats SLC like a lab rat, with various adaptations of screening going on at various times. This time was a good one, and one that I hope will stick. We didn't have to take our shoes or jackets off, as the full body scanners were updated with software that could detect anything from the bottom of the scanning area to the top. I liked this, and told them so as I left the security area and made my way to the departure gate.
In Salt Lake City, American is one of the most convenient airlines to fly on, as their gates are the absolute closest to the Terminal 1 security area. they occupy gates A3 and A5, and from time to time will use A1 when there's overflow. The CRJ-200 that would take me to Los Angeles was at A3, and by the time I got there, boarding had begun. Luckily I paid for the Choice Plus fare (slightly higher than the basic lowest fare), and had been placed in Boarding Group 1. Off i went to get shoehorned into the tiny Regional jet. This service wasn't the regular American Eagle service, it was operated by SkyWest, having been contracted to fly smaller routes that American Eagle didn't want to fly. Nonetheless, it was still a pleasant ride, with no one seated next to me for the 2 hour ride to LAX.
The Admiral's Club in LAX is accessed from the West side of the concourse, across form Gate 40. Once you check-in, you are directed upstairs to the Club, where it occupies a large area on the North and West side, while the Flagship Lounge takes up the East and South sides of the floor (you must be booked in International Business or First Class or Transcontinental Flagship Class to access the Flagship Lounge). Oh, by the way, departure announcements are not made in the Admiral's Club, so you have to keep an eye out on the time.
Sure enough, by the time I had a little juice on my phone and a few drinks to clear my head, it was time to head down to the gate and off on my 6 hour jaunt to New York courtesy of American flight 2 (One of the few flagship routes still in existence from the original days of flying, AA002 was the original LA originator flight at 9:00AM since 1939). Luckily, the gate wasn't too far, and my carry-on was light (I only had a couple of books with me). Boarding went by rather smoothly, and again, as I was in Boarding Group 1, I got on relatively early and in my seat, ready to go.
Looking around in the plane, you could tell she'd been flying a long time, just by the very vintage vibe she oozed. The overhead bins were of the old fashioned upward-sloping bins that don't really fit much, but somehow people can cram entire Samsonite's up there! Speaking of the plane, she was Boeing's 168th 767-200 off the line, first flown on March 13, 1987. I felt at home on her, as the seat was ok for Economy Class, and though some people don't enjoy it, I loved sitting by the mid-cabin galley. It gave me a chance to talk shop with the crew stationed there for a while before being left to my own devices and started watching the 1974 classic disaster film "Airport 1975" the rest of the way to JFK. Funny thing about those phones, the juice goes fast when you start watching a movie or listening to music, so about the time we were over Ohio, I flipped it off to conserve the battery until landing.
It finally came time to land, we had arrived in the New York area, the worlds busiest airspace. After a few turns to get out over the New Jersey shoreline, we sailed right into JFK and landed as light as a feather. i will say this, the 767 has the absolute best designed landing gear that make landings such a smooth experience, much like its slightly younger stablemate, the 777. It didn't take long at all to get to our gate, and we were ushered of with the typical grace of a classic airline crew with smiles and thank you's all around.
Stepping into the Jetway, i realized it was cold in New York! So what do i do? I made my way to the closest Admiral's Club to recharge my phone, get a little bit of liquor of hot coffee in me, and put my coat on to face the weather. Most people don't even think of recharging themselves before heading to baggage claim, but not me, I know better. I'd rather stop for a second to get my bearings and be better prepared for the maze of subways I'd have to navigate through to get to my ultimate destination in midtown Manhattan. Also, why try and do that when you're bone tired and weary after a cross-country leg? Those private clubs are a haven for road warriors such as I.
After a good half hour or so, I gathered my belongings, paid my tab, and headed down to baggage claim. American has one of the prettiest and biggest terminals at JFK, so you really have to watch the signage if it's your first time so you don't get lost in that shopping mall just before the escalators down to baggage. I got turned around in there and almost headed back for the concourse I had just left!
The walk from the Baggage Claim to the AirTrain stop is completely enclosed, so no worry about getting cold or schlepping your bags in the rain. Not the same thing at Jamaica Station, once you paid the $5.00 toll, you walked out to the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) tracks overpass (which is covered, but still exposed), and to the elevators down to the Subway level.
You can tell the masses of humanity use the Subways System in New york simply by taking your first lungful of air in the underground caverns. I purchased my obligatory MetroCard, vaulted my bags over the turnstile, swiped my card and scooted through, while a huge line was forming behind me. My apologies for bringing my baggage with me! Lurking through the tunnels I found my way to the Manhattan bound E Train, with its final stop being the World Trade Center. The E train took me to the 55th Street and Lexington Avenue stop, where i switched to the 6 Train, and down to my final stop at the Grand Central Station, which is under the famed Pan Am Building (now known as the MetLife Building) and across the street from my lodging, the Yale Club. I have arrived!
My sojourn continues in Part II, out on April 2!