Flying as a Gold Elite on American Isn’t Anything Special (Trip Report)

As you know, last month was the annual American Leadership Conference, and once again I was invited as a member of the media. This would be my first flights since being gifted entry-level Gold elite status through May 15 (, apparently), and I was looking forward to seeing the difference between that and traveling as a peon. As any Gold elite already knows, it really wasn’t much different. It certainly hasn’t made me any more interested in actually earning status.

[Disclosure: American paid for my flights]

I decided to go down to Orange County instead of LAX for this trip. I hadn’t flown out of there in a long time, but I really wanted to try the new Oasis interior reconfiguration on the 737, and American mostly has A321s from LAX. So I booked that and hoped I’d get lucky. After being booked by American, I received the one perk of Gold status that I actually used. I was able to reserve a window seat that was blocked for elites. In other words, I was able to sit a few rows ahead of where I otherwise would have sat.

The day before travel, I found I wouldn’t be on an Oasis airplane on the way out, so I looked to see if Main Cabin Extra was available since Golds can reserve for free during the check-in window. There were only middles, so I stuck with the seat I had.

I checked in on the app and then showed up a little more than an hour before departure.

Security was empty and staffed by absurdly nice agents. (The ID checker was stopping everyone for about 30 seconds asking about their lives.) I went through and then logged in to pass the time while I waited for my flight.

My Gold status offer came with ten 500-mile certs, so I had listed for an upgrade, because… why not? I looked at the standby list and it was full with me being number 17 out of 17. HAHAHAHAHA, no. The inbound aircraft arrived 11 minutes late, and boarding began soon after. There were a lot of elites in front of me. By the time I boarded in group 4, I’d say there were at least 30 or 40 people who had already boarded and the line stretched back through the jet bridge.

(Oh yes, boarding in group 4 was another “benefit” of Gold status, but since I have the credit card, I would have just boarded in group 5 normally. Again, not a significant difference.)

February 23, 2019
American 2402 Lv Orange County 1056a Arr Dallas/Fort Worth 350p
Orange County (SNA): Gate 6, Runway 20R, Depart 10m Late
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW): Gate C21, Runway 31L, Arrive 17m Late
N964NN, Boeing 737-823, Ugly Flag tail colors, ~99% Full
Seat 12F, Coach
Flight Time 2h30m

Boarding was painfully slow. We had every kind of annoying traveler in the bunch. One guy was already seated and decided he needed to get up, stop the line, and get something from a bag overhead. Another guy had put his briefcase into the bin, and people kept asking him if he would move it since there was limited room elsewhere. He refused until one passenger wouldn’t give up and finally got him to relent.

In my seat, I enjoyed that upgraded interior that will soon be ripped out. Now that Delta has committed to screens in the seat, it makes for a big, visible differentiator. It would mean a lot less if American and United had decided to keep them, but it really does impact the feel of the cabin. We pushed back 10 minutes late and then had to sit and wait due to flow control at DFW. It wasn’t too long and the pilots kept us informed.

The flight attendants seemed to be in a good mood, greeted everyone, and had a casually-reassuring way with their announcements. I started watching BlacKKKlansman on the ground, and I was glad I did. It’s a longish movie, and I wasn’t sure I’d make it all the way through if I had to wait to get to altitude.

We did the usual launch off the Orange County aircraft carrier and then settled back so all the rich people could enjoy their tea in peace. Once over the ocean, we started climbing again and headed east toward Dallas.

The scenery was absolutely stunning for the first half of the flight. The mountain peaks were covered in snow in California but by the time we got over Northern Arizona, it was a winter snowscape all around.

The flight attendants came by with a service and asked if we wanted cookies or pretzels. I asked if I could have two cookies and the guy hesitated. Then I mentioned it was because I have two kids that I bring them back to, and he gladly gave me both. I also had water, and I ordered a fruit and cheese plate which was… a fruit and cheese plate. (It’s hard to screw those up.)

Once we got over Texas, the white turned to brown and the chop picked up. The captain said that there was turbulence coming, so he seated everyone and then descended to try to avoid it. It was only light to moderate chop from there.

Closer to Dallas we found ourselves in a soupy haze as we came down. The map was completely wrong on our ETA, so my movie ended with plenty of time left. As we got lower, it got bumpier. Winds on the surface were so strong that they had to land on the 31s, the reason for our flow controlled-departure.

We took quite the route, heading south between Fort Worth and DFW, then turning east before coming back around by Dallas and paralleling Love Field before landing. We had a great view the whole way in and then we landed on 31L. That runway is so far west that you get the unique sensation of flying high next to the terminals before landing.

Unsurprisingly, we had a very long taxi back to our gate.

We parked right next to an MD-80. I’m going to miss the only planes with a true silver livery in the fleet once they’re gone. We poured out into the terminal and I headed to my hotel.

As you all saw here, Cranky Dorkfest was a big success. The next day was the leadership conference, and that night I stayed up all night with American. If you read those posts, you’ll know I rolled out of that all-night adventure and headed straight to gate C33 for my flight home.

Once again, my attempt at getting on one of the new Oasis interiors was thwarted. This plane had the same fancy interior as the way out.

When I looked, First was again checked in full and I was somewhere far down the list. Main Cabin Extra had a non-reclining exit row window available, but other than that, it was just middles. I don’t generally like exit rows, but my mind was made up to not move when I saw an empty row of seats behind me on the seat map. I moved myself back to that in the app and hoped for a coach flat bed.

February 26, 2019
American 2402 Lv Dallas/Fort Worth 845a Arr Orange County 1011a
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW): Gate C33, Runway 18L, Depart 5m Early
Orange County (SNA): Gate 6, Runway 20R, Arrive 11m Early
N955NN, Boeing 737-823, Ugly Flag tail colors, ~60% Full
Seat 12F, Coach
Flight Time 2h54m

Once onboard, I put my stuff up and took my seat. My row ended up having someone in the aisle, so my dreams of a flat bed were thwarted, but at least there was an empty middle.

I was seeing double by this point, and I have vague memories of the safety video showing. That’s most of what I remember on the ground. But the sound of the thrust increasing at takeoff woke me up, and I recall watching us clear the low cloud layer before heading into blue skies. I had flipped on a movie when we first took off, but I remember very little of it. I was out like a light.

Sadly that lasted only for about an hour or so. Somewhere over New Mexico, the air got choppy. The bounce combined with the seatbelt sign turning on, the captain coming on the PA announcing that we were descending to try to find smooth air, and the descent itself jolted me out of my slumber.

The air did smooth out, but I was now firmly awake. I had to go to the bathroom, but the seatbelt sign was left on, so I just passed the time watching the screen. I tried out some of the “calm” station features including a video of waves crashing on the beach, but it didn’t put me back to sleep.

Even though the turbulence had stopped long before, the seat belt sign didn’t come off until somewhere over Arizona. I went to the lav, and then I still couldn’t sleep. So, I decided to play with American’s new streaming content on my phone. I looked at the live TV option. It’s nice to have those 12 channels, but there is no guide and you have to open each channel to see what’s on, then close it and re-open another one. It’s a bit clunky, but the streaming itself worked well.

Soon enough we were descending, and I stared out my window watching the snowy mountains pass by. Only once we touched down did I get tired again. It was a long day.

My summary? The trip was perfectly fine, but Gold really didn’t enhance it very much at all. I’ve never valued elite status, especially the lowest levels, and this certainly didn’t change my impression. I’ll continue to fly the airline that gives me the best option on any given trip.

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