Tuesday, January 11, 2011

To Madrid With American Airlines

Two of the more pleasant, stress-free, long-haul flights I've taken recently were between Miami and Madrid on board American Airlines. Flying in business class helped, of course, especially given that my flight to the Spanish capital in AA's Boeing 767 took 8.5 hours with the wind at our backs; the return flight, flying into prevailing winds on a 767, was a touch over 9 hours.

A lot of things helped the time go by. American's biz-class seats are comfortable, though not as large or posh as the near-sofas on board Singapore Airlines or AA's oneworld alliance partner Cathay Pacific Airways. What really worked for me was American's casually friendly but efficient cabin crew and three well-chosen amenities.

The first of these was the nifty digEplayer ET, the handheld digital in-flight entertainment device handed out free of charge in biz class. The device - a forerunner was created by a former Alaska Airlines baggage handler to brighten up in-flight entertainment - can be fitted in the seatback in front of you for easy use or propped on your lap or a tray table. It responds to button-pushing or use of a remote. The 8-inch LCD screen is well-designed for high-resolution images and American loads the device with almost uncountable hours of movies, TV shows, games and recorded music.

Amenity number two were the Bose headphones. You can use them to hear high-quality audio linked to the digEPlayer or use the 'phones to cancel out cabin noise and the drone of jet engines. Very cool.

Amenity number three is a tad caloric but fun. American dishes out ice cream sundaes - your choice of hot fudge or butterscotch. It's a yummy way to finish off a meal before drifting off, sated, to the Land of Nod. It even worked for me - for a time, anyway - and I have a horribly hard time sleeping on airplanes, thanks to noise, movement in the cabin and the unfortunate absence of my own bed.

I have but one complaint, a quibble to be sure: The airline was out of my preferred entree during dinner service on the flight to Spain. My back-up choice was tasty, and food shortfalls occur on a number of airlines. But that's the problem: Do airlines not survey passengers to pinpoint their favorites and plan accordingly? This is like putting a pair of socks into a dryer and coming up with one sock. It doesn't stop you from walking but why does it happen?

That pales, of course, next to a safe, on-time journey, which I had both ways on American. (Not so for my connecting flight on Spanish carrier Iberia from Bilbao to Madrid, which was delayed.) Gooey ice cream sundaes, Bach and Bob Dylan on the headset, and Bond - James Bond - on-screen also have a way of smoothing things out.

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