American Airlines: the magic of air travel in the Age of Corona

A friend recently flew Dallas to Boston on American Airlines (AA2579). He was accompanied by his 15-year-old son.

Has American adopted my dream scheme and blocked off the middle seats except for families traveling together? Not exactly! In fact, my friend and his son were both parked in middle seats, but not in the same row. Each was seated next to two strangers. Everyone was supposed to be wearing a mask on the flight, but a guy sitting next to my friend was not wearing a mask and was, in fact, coughing. The family now has direct seat-adjacency exposure to four unrelated people (would have been 0 under my plan!).

The Boeing 737-800 was almost 100-percent full. There were no special boarding or unboarding procedures for plague-minimization. It was the usual Fall of Saigon attempt to get everyone into seats and bags into overheads. I asked if people had to raise hands to get sequenced for using the bathroom and the answer was “no”.

What about the luxurious cuisine and wine list for which American Airlines is justly renowned? “They handed everyone a bag with a bottle of water and a snack at boarding.” The flight attendants came through the aisles only towards the end to pick up trash.

The wife is a medical doctor. She decided to place both father and son into home quarantine on their return!

Readers: How much would you have been happy to pay for this experience?

Vaguely related, my most recent flight on American Airlines, Miami to DCA back in February:

Disclosure: As a former Delta Airlines (proud union) employee, American is the frenemy!

15 thoughts on “American Airlines: the magic of air travel in the Age of Corona

  1. I’ve flown across the country and locally a few times since the lockdown started, on both United and American. One weird observation: no two legs have been exactly the same. The regional carriers seem to be setting their own policies, so on a cross-country flight, you might experience regional 1, main carrier, regional 2 each having different seating, boarding, and service practices (forget about getting anything other than water on a short hop), even though they are all on the same ticket. That and the practices seem to be evolving pretty quickly with time. At first flights were very sparsely packed, and they made a big deal about how clean the airplane was, recently, it’s been more like pre-covid with seatmates and normal-feeling airplanes. I have yet to see anyone cough on one. (Thank goodness) When I’m at home, I’m pretty well self-quarantined.

  2. Hygiene theatre to go along with the post 9/11 security theatre. Wonderful. If I can’t fly myself or drive I ain’t going.

  3. Why should anyone expect better from a coast-to-coast flight in a soon-to-be Communist country?

  4. You would think this would cause a great demand for general aviation. At what distance (500km? 1000 km?) does a Cirrus or Cessna become a faster option than a car, assuming the weather co-operates?

    It looks like the current Cannonball record for driving from New York to Los Angeles is 26:38 for a average speed of 171 km/h over a distance of 4500 km

    Could you make it faster in an Cirrus SR22?

    • 600-700 miles is usually my “break even” point for GA. At least that is what I plan for. I am not sure what our host plans for. His aircraft, an SR20, is less capable than the faster and longer ranged SR22. I’d be interested to hear is take. Also don’t forget, Pavel, I know you are a foreigner trying to meddle in our election 😉

    • Let’s see. SkyVector right now says that one could make it from KTEB to KSMO in 15 hours and the return trip would be 13:45 in flight time. That’s in a feeble SR20, not even the SR22.

      Is that faster than a Honda Odyssey? No! Even if we assume that the Cirrus is as mechanically reliable as the Honda (it is not!) and that the weather is perfect and does not delay us (which it will), you have to add into the Cirrus time all of the hours spent doing training, recurrent training, talking to mechanics about the annual inspection, updating databases, etc.

      I don’t think that there is ever a time-saving argument to be made for self-flown general aviation. If you sign up as a NetJets customer and are going to a destination that isn’t well-served by an airport with commercial airline service, then maybe…

    • philg, Lets assume that all of the hours spent doing training, maintenance and etc are a part of the aviation hobby experience, what would be the minimum aircraft that is reliable and has reasonable weather capability?

      Window shopping on controller, here is a TBM-700A

      Toucan Sam, I no longer need to meddle in your election, I just grab the popcorn and watch the news, it is as if your country has activated the self destruct sequence, although it is in slow motion 🙂

    • Pavel, I think you are right about the TBM. Piper makes a slightly cheaper version as well. Basically I would want a turboprop with full de-ice capabilities. So to buy a very old cheap one would be about 1,000,000 and operating costs are probably around 750 per hour. For that you can carry 4-6 people in a more cramped setting than an economy seat in an airline, with no bathroom. Also the effective range of these are probably around 1200 miles. So a few stops if you want to cross the country.

    • Pavel: The Cirrus SR22 with A/C and TKS de-icing is edging into the territory you’ve laid out. Those are available from $300k for a nice one. Example:

      The Piper Malibu is a lot more capable. Climb over most turbulence and weather. Starting at around $400,000 for a nice one: or $700k for the latest and greatest with Garmin G1000 and GFC 700 autopilot. Example:

      The Malibu is awesome because you pay piston fees for everything and don’t have to think before turning the key and going out for an afternoon at the beach.

      If you really want to go on a schedule almost as reliably as an airline, I think the Piper Meridian ($550-600k for bottom of the market?) or the TBM is the minimum. The TBM is awesome because the latest Garmin GFC 600 autopilot is available for it as a retrofit. If you have a bulletproof autopilot like that it is almost like having an additional crewmember. My friend who owns a Meridian says that nobody with enough money to buy a TBM should ever buy a Meridian!

  5. Though they may all be subcontracting the same companies for their regional flights, I developed a strong Delta preference following the SWA 1380 incident back in 2018 ( I found the responses to a 2017 proposed FAA safety directive for inspection of this very fan shroud component enlightening (or damning). Every one of the carriers except Delta commented to oppose a requirement to inspect their CFM56-7B engine fan shrouds based on their fatigue life consumed. ( This type of asset management became standard fare for most industrial plants back in the 90’s.
    Recently they announced a Delta Global Cleanliness Group and are promising not to sell the middle seat until September. (

  6. Experienced a 1.5 hour flight on West Coast on Southwest, originating in Oakland, on Sunday. There were 60 passengers on a 737. Maybe 1/3 full.

    Strict compliance throughout the flight by passengers and crew for mask wearing.

    They asked us to maintain 6 feet while boarding.

    Overall, a reasonably well run flight.

    The pilot was very eager to thank us for flying. As usual, Southwest is a class act.

  7. My grandson flew Delta 737-900 Atlanta-Portland(WA). It was spot on 60% load factor as advertised, IR temp check, no middle seats sold, everybody masked, wrapped snacks and water. It was the only flight ATL-PDX that day, 5:20 PM departure.

    disclosure: I’m retired Delta Tech Ops, don’t quite see how they fly out of this…

  8. We had the same experience flying American Airlines from LaGuardia to Atlanta. Every seat on the plane was full! We flew Delta on the way back and the middle seats were empty. We took heavy precautions and fortunately did not get infected on our trip. I’ll never fly American again.

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