Island Hopping with American Airlines (San Juan to Honolulu)

B-757 at SJU

Background

One day last weekend I flew from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Honolulu, Hawaii on American Airlines. The reason for this is that represented a great way to earn BA Tier Points – which are based on distance as well as class of service – and at $999 for revenue First, it was a great way to travel. The trip earned 460 Tier Points (210 for both segments over 2,000 miles in F, and 40 for the single segment in Business, under 2,000 miles)

Routing

When booking online, the AA web site helpfully lets you choose from dozens of routing options and fares. Using the Instant Upgrade column, and by expanding the flight information, it is sometimes possible to find flights, via JFK and MIA on three class planes, for about the same fare as two class aircraft. Warning: there are reports on Flyertalk of people being downgraded when they come in to contact with staff members or during irregular operations. However, this has not been my experience in the past, nor was it this time.

So I was booked to fly San Juan – JFK, JFK to LAX on the 3 class 762 used by AA on this routing and then on LAX-HNL.

Departure

San Juan is a relatively small airport, although AA uses the old section. Before proceeding to Security you must have all bags (check-in and carry on) x-rayed by the US Government. Stickers are applied to your bags and you cannot proceed through Security without these. TSA Security has a Business Class lane so I was ready for the x-ray machine in about two minutes. You can self opt-out by using the lane to the right which has no nudeoscope – or back scatter machine as they are know.

Admirals Club

AA operates a large Admirals Club at SJU. The flight before mine to JFK was on a 9am decision (0555 departure), and so there was a line of people at the desk discussing options for rebooking. Several people walked in without having their cards/ID’s check, although I suspect the agent knew them. After 10 minutes it was my turn and the agent identified the gate for me. She also gave me a drink voucher, which she explained could be used for a bottle of water.

The club is on two levels, although the upper level is closed it seems. The range of snacks was very basic – some muffins on the bar, and some trail mix. Everything else had to be paid for. Coffee, juices etc. were free.

Admirals Club, San Juan

Gate Area

The gate was a good ten minute walk from the Club and boarding got underway early as they had nearly 30 people on the standby list. Being American, there was no ‘Global Service Members pre-board’ nonsense that you have on UA. Business Class boarded first (AA operates its two class aircraft as Business and Coach to Caribbean, as do many carriers).  There was plenty of leg room on the 757.

AA648 – SJU-LAX – 757-200, old seats

As with most airlines it seems, breakfast was a choice of a hot (eggs something) or cold (cereal) offering. American operates a system of meal selection based on flight number – front the Front on Even flight numbers and from the Back on Odd flight numbers – know as FEBO. As I selected a seat in row 2 I was pretty sure I would have choice of the two offerings. The egg offering was great – flight and tasty, hot and well presented. The crew were friendly and attentive and got the pronunciation of my last name right first time. Glasses were refilled quickly and a movie shown on the overhead screens. We arrived slightly early at JFK, at the mid-field terminal of American and so it was a 10 minute walk to the Flagship to await my connection to LAX.

AA Hot Breakfast

Flagship Lounge,  JFK

The Flagship lounge is collocated with the Admirals Club on the Mezzanine of the main terminal at JFK. The agent at the desk allows you access based on your OneWorld membership card or flight/class of service. My BA card got me in, and the lounge was the busiest I have seen it during the day. Probably 10 people.

The lounge sports excellent views of the AA gates where aircraft watching can occupy some time.

More impressive is the wide range of food available. How offering – soup and chicken chowder, as well as popcorn chicken (which was excellent). Cheeses, cold cuts, various breads as well as brownies, and cookies were laid out. Alcohol and wine were self-service and the coffee machine made a great espresso.

Free Internet, of course.

All too soon it was time to leave to go to the gate for the flight to LA.

Flagship Lounge, JFK spread

Flagship Lounge, JFK

AA117 – JFK to LAX – 3 Class 767-200

Just as we were ready to board, there was a delay announcement because the captain had decided that the plane was not clean enough and that he wanted it re-cleaned before he would take out the plane. I assume that this is part of the on-going campaign of disruption by pilots unhappy that the US courts have allowed AA to break their contract.

The First Class cabin on this aircraft is two rows, in a 2-1-2 arrangement. Rows 2 and 3. I chose the middle seat in row 3 as it is peaceful and people tend to cross back-and-forth in front of row 2.

The plane was full, probably because an early morning flight was still awaiting a decision.

Lunch consisted of a large salad (with chicken strips), a Beef Pot Pie, and an ice-cream dessert with a choice of toppings. The food was plentiful, and tasty. I was suitably impressed.

JFK-LAX, F Salad

JFK-LAX F, Pot pie

Entertainment was provided by a personal player with a wide range of movies, TV shows and reading material. I watched Goldfinger, one of my favourite Bond movies.

About 2 hours before landing a passenger in Business was feeling unwell and the crew were busy getting out the medical equipment that might be needed. When we landed, we were met by Fire, Ambulance and Police personnel, but the ill passenger was able to walk off under his own steam.

Flagship Lounge, LAX

As with JFK, the Flagship Lounge at LAX is inside the Admirals Club, near Gate 40 and on the First Floor. The agent at the reception desk on the ground floor issue you a white key to access the Flagship if you are allowed.

The agent at the desk was lovely, and after making the mistake of asking what sort of day I had, she was suitably amused when I repeated the cleaning story from my inbound.

View from Flagship Lounge at LAX

The food offering was limited at the time I was there – it would increase substantially around 6pm. There were rolls with various fillings, cheesecake pieces, cheeses, cookies and good selection of wine and alcohol as well as soft drink. All self-service.

AA LAX-HNL – 757-200 with new seats

Again the flight before ours was on a decision, and we lucky that they did not steal our aircraft, which I understand is common when the earlier flight has a problem. The newer 757 seats are very comfortable in my view although they still have the same overhead entertainment.

The highlight of this flight was the crew. They were welcoming and attentive; provide an individual and personal a service as possible. They remembered our names and served the dinner hot and quickly to the 24 passengers on the F cabin. I handed out the reward certs issued by AA for just such an occasion.

AA to HNL salad

AA dinner to HNL, Macadamia crusted chicken

We arrive slightly late and I was quickly out of the airport.

Honolulu Airport Shuttle

On Flyertalk I noticed last week that several people had praised Island Shuttle as a good, economic service so I thought I would give it a go. They offer a fixed price of $30, which to the Hyatt Regency is a good saving of $12 before tip.  The transfer is based on one party per vehicle so no multiple stops.

A few days before you travel you need to call them, give the flight details to their agent and then upon arrival call them from the baggage hall. (Tel 1-808 227 1111 or 1-800 387 1831)

I did this and it worked like a dream. The driver was identified to me during the second phone call as well as what he was driving – which turned out to be an A8 cab. No meter was used and I just paid over my $30 plus a tip, in cash. Great service and I would heartily endorse them.

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