When I booked flights on AA.com Raleigh to Salt Lake City that had me on mixed airline segments, I had my doubts that it would work.  The first flight was US Airways to Washington Reagan, then on American segments DCA/DFW and finally Dallas to Salt Lake (I had booked an award travel ticket and had to take whatever weird schedule I could get to avoid paying double miles).

Coming home the website had me on US Airways again, first SLC/Philly, and then PHL/RDU.

Everybody knows that US Airways gobbled up AA and is now trying to digest its big meal, but since they are still running the two operations independently (until October, 2015–see Joe Brancatelli’s report on the US-AA reservation systems merger here), I feared that my inter-airline itinerary would have me chasing my tail as I moved between carriers at different airports.

Happy to report that I was mostly wrong.  When I booked the itinerary I had experienced the minor aggravation of having to phone US Airways directly to obtain seat assignments on the US segments, but that took just 3 minutes.

Then a day before my outbound flights, I got the usual AA.com check-in email.  The first flight was operated by US Airways, not AA, and I was happy to see a link in the AA email that redirected me to the proper US Airways site for check-in.  I soon had the boarding pass for my first flight (RDU/DCA on US) and was ready to print my two other boarding passes (on AA flights DCA/DFW and DFW/SLC).  But, try as I might, I could not figure out how to access and print the AA boarding passes even though the check-in email had come from AA.com.  Every time I tried, I was told that I needed to check in on AA (I was already checked in on the US segment).  It was maddening, like the classic Abbott & Costello “Who’s on first?” routine.

Finally it dawned on me that I might be able to trick AA into letting me check in and print my boarding passes for the two American segments if I bypassed the email and went instead directly to “My Trips” on the AA.com site.  Nothing doing!  Once I pulled up my itinerary via that method, it put me int the same loop as the check-in email by redirecting me to US Airways (which would tell me I was already checked in) but never let me check in for the two American flights.

I gave up and phoned one of the AA elite lines. Up to then it had been a matter of pride to figure it out on my own.  To my chagrin, the very nice elite customer service agents were also stumped.  After conferring with several colleagues and her supervisor, my agent admitted they had no idea how to get around the problem and suggested I get to Raleigh/Durham airport early enough that I would have time to go to the AA counter in person and have them issue my boarding passes.

So that’s what I did.  Arriving two hours before my first flight (US Airways RDU/DCA), I explained my problem to the AA agents at the main check-in counter.  They, like the elite line agents, had never encountered the problem.  They informed me that I was not checked in at all on the American system, but they quickly remedied that and printed my two AA segment boarding passes.  That was a relief, but I anticipated other murky problems before me. I asked them, for example, how to connect at Wash National (Reagan) between my inbound US flight and my outbound AA flight.  They didn’t know and suggested I ask the RDU US Airways gate agents.  They would surely be able to tell me, said the AA counter staff.

One thing the hybrid itinerary process got right was to show my TSA Pre-Check status on the US Airways boarding pass.  I was glad to see my trusted traveler status data had transferred over as I avoided the long general lines at the RDU security screen and had merely a tolerable wait to get through the Pre-Check access point.

Reaching the US Airways gate, I immediately inquired, as I had been instructed, how to transfer from my inbound US flight and my outbound AA flight at DCA.  They had no idea and suggested I ask a Washington National gate agent when I walked off the plane.  The flight to DCA was on time and easy.  On arrival at Washington I did indeed inquire with the gate agent as to where to go to get my AA flight to DFW.  She had no clue and suggested I try the US Airways service desk not far away,  Getting there wasn’t easy, though, as the concourse was jammed.  It was as busy as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and I had to fight a sea of fellow travelers to reach the US Airways desk.  Sure seemed like a lot of travelers for a Thursday morning.  I noticed as I made my way there that the flight information screens did not list my flight, an omission which concerned me.

After waiting a bit to see a Customer Service agent, she pecked at her keyboard and smiled while telling me that I was in luck!  My connecting AA flight was only a few gates down the same concourse (it could have been much more distant, she said).

And indeed it was close by, but with a three hour layover.  However, I noticed at the same gate that an earlier DCA/DFW flight was just boarding.  Though I was holding single digit aisle seats in Main Cabin Extra on both the later AA flights, I preferred to get to DFW (and then to SLC) earlier than the flights I booked.  So I politely asked the AA gate agent if I could stand by for the earlier flight she was working, but stipulated that I’d stick with my later flight if the only seats available were middle seats (in other words, I’d be okay with an aisle or window).

Remember that I was flying on award travel free tickets, so I didn’t expect any real priority.  Pretty soon, though, she handed me a boarding pass for 26D, an aisle seat near the back to the 737-800, and I was on my way.  Every seat was full, and the claustrophobia was like a weight everyone could feel bearing down on us, but I toughed it out for the three-plus hours to DFW.  En route I found that there were no USB recharging outlets for my phone at 26D, just a 120V outlet, and it did not work.

At Dallas I did the same thing: I took note of a much earlier connection DFW/SLC and stood by at the gate.  DFW was as much a zoo as Washington National had been (even the restrooms were SRO), so I was glad to be waiting in the sanctuary of gate A8 at the very end of the concourse.   Late in the boarding process I was informed that I could get on the flight, but the only remaining aisle seat was 30D, the very last row on another 737-800 (AA’s standard domestic aircraft these days).  I took it at once, acting on my lifelong credo that it’s always better to get where you’re going earlier.  The photo below was taken from 30D.

20150709_190224-The view from 30D on AA DFW-SLC 08-Jul-15

The good news was that nobody was sitting behind me and the lavs were real close; the bad news was that I had to wait for everybody to get off before I could (18 minutes).  I don’t think in 55 years of flying (1st flight was 1960) that I have ever been seated in the last row. When I flew every week (and often several times a week) for over three decades, my favorite seat was always 1A, which I invariably got on every flight for years I was routinely upgraded). Oh, how far I, the once mighty road warrior, have fallen: from 1A in the front row to 30D in the last row!

In the way-back of the plane, I endured another near-thousand mile flight for over about three hours, and I didn’t even complain about the babies on board. I counted 7 just in the last 10 rows. The chorus of their howls and screams was diminished somewhat by the Kleenex tissue that I rolled up and stuffed in my ears.  I “zenned” out (nee zoned).

Returning from Salt Lake City two nights later on a redeye was easier to make work because both segments were on US Airways.  Once again, though, the check-in email came from AA.com because I had booked the tickets through te American portal.  Once again there was a button embedded in the email to push that redirected me to the US Airways reservation system to be checked in, and once again I was able to check in and print my boarding passes easily and quickly.  And once again the US Airways boarding passes included the TSA Pre-Check banner to speed me through security.  No muss, no fuss; it all worked well despite the process straddling two airline reservation systems.

Everything else to get me from Salt Lake City back to Raleigh worked as advertised, too. I won’t dwell on the tired and shabby nature of SLC Airport’s Terminal A and the dearth of electrical outlets so serious that some travelers had brought their own extension plugs!  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a picture to prove it:

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Philadelphia had the same problem: no plugs to recharge smartphones. No doubt about it:  Both the US terminals at SLC and PHL desperately need to be brought up to 21st century standards. Philly’s facilities reminded me of B movie cellblock scenes with its dingy furniture, naked concrete, and harsh fluorescent lights.

But the staff was super-friendly, and the background music was 1950s-60s rock’n’roll and R&B.  Hmm-mm!  I never knew the Supremes and Marvin Gaye could pick a sleep-deprived guy up so well after being squeezed into a narrow coach seat all night.  The Philadelphia airport seemed to be a throwback in a lot of ways, at least the US Airways concourses.

As I was humming along with the good music, waiting for my last flight and reflecting on how somehow AA and US had made my hybrid flight itinerary work between two rez systems, I noticed yet another airport anachronism, a pay phone!  And it still worked (I tried it)!

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