My AAAdventures Trying to Fly AA to London

My AAAdventures Trying to Fly AA to London

I thought you didn’t like flying American? That’s what my wife asked when I booked our business class flight to London. A decade ago, I had terrible luck with American. About 70% of my trips were postponed or canceled. I assured my wife that AA has improved. quite since then. I haven’t had any significant problems with AA in several years. All will be fineI answered her.


American Airlines jets seen from AA’s Flagship Lounge in Chicago

My wife had a meeting in London scheduled for Tuesday morning, so I booked a Sunday night departure: Detroit to Charlotte, then Charlotte to London. We would arrive in London around noon on Monday. We even planned to have dinner with friends who lived in London on Monday night.

On Sunday night, the flight to Charlotte boarded half an hour late. That was OK. We had a long enough layover in Charlotte to accommodate the delay. At worst, we thought we would have to give up our plans to visit the Centurion Lounge at Charlotte airport and go straight to our gate.

If only.

We were on the plane for a while in Detroit, but never left the gate. Eventually, the pilot announced that we would be delayed due to bad weather in Charlotte. Oh, and there was a small maintenance issue with our plane.

Oh no!.

My faith in AA’s ability to get us to Charlotte before the flight to London left was now very, very low (and indeed, we later found out that the flight from Detroit to Charlotte didn’t take place until Monday morning, while the flight from Charlotte to London took off on time on Sunday evening. Hint: that was the only AA flight in this story that departed on time.). I tried calling AA, but the wait was long. Instead, I picked up my phone and looked for alternatives myself. Could we get to London overnight any other way? No. It was too late for any other overnight option, even with other airlines. How about a daytime flight on Monday? Yes! There was an AA flight: Detroit to Chicago to London. We were arriving in London late Monday night. This meant canceling our Monday night plans with our friends in London, but we had no choice. The good news was that the business class award was available for fewer points than I had originally spent (62k vs. the original 65k per person).

I confirmed with a flight attendant that we could still disembark the plane, so I booked the new itineraryWe grabbed our carry-on bags and got off the plane (yes, I had renewed faith in AA, but thankfully not enough to actually check bags). In the departures area, an agent was waiting to help passengers who wanted to change or cancel their plans. If I had known she was available, I could have gone to her to change to the new itinerary, but then we wouldn’t have saved any miles. Still, this would have been a better option if the alternative flight had been more expensive, since she would have had wide latitude to put us on almost any AA itinerary without a change fee. She canceled the original itinerary for us, but then I had to talk to an AA representative over the phone to get the miles refunded. Luckily, I had left my callback number ahead of time and was able to take care of that part on the way to the airport hotel.

I used a 35,000 free night certificate that was about to expire, plus 6,000 points to stay at the Westin DTW airport hotel. Unfortunately, it’s connected to the Delta terminal instead of the one we were flying out of, but it was still very convenient.

The next morning, we had an early flight to Chicago. After a quick trip back to Evans Terminal, we found that the TSA PreCheck line was out of control. Luckily, the CLEAR lane was empty and we breezed through.

Detroit Airport Evans Terminal. View of the PreCheck line from the empty CLEAR corridor

We arrived at our gate in plenty of time. You know what comes next, right? Yes, the flight to Chicago was delayed. The departure delay was minimal and wouldn’t have been a problem. What could have been a big problem was that our gate wasn’t available when we landed in Chicago. Luckily, our flight from Chicago to London was also delayed, so we arrived at our gate about 20 minutes before boarding.

Business class on our AA flight from Chicago to London

We finally boarded and I was blown away by how nice the business class cabin was on this Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The seats were comfortable and spacious, and there was plenty of storage space near the seat. The flight attendants were cheerful and attentive. While waiting for takeoff, I texted the FM team to update them on my AAdventures so far. Nick thought it would make a good blog post. I replied that there may still be more AAdventures to come..

I’ll jinx myself for sure.

We took off without incident. We placed our meal orders. I spent some time looking at the in-flight movie options (they had a great selection) and bookmarked the ones I was interested in. I started taking pictures for what I thought would be a very positive flight review.


About 30 or 40 minutes into the flight, my wife heard a loud banging noise (I missed it because I had my headphones on at the time.). And then the sound of the engines seemed different. And both the in-flight entertainment screens and seat controls went completely dark (I didn’t miss that!). The flight attendants rushed forward to whisper to each other and probably to talk to the pilot.


This is me listening to the pilot announcement

Soon the pilot announced that there was a small problem with the right engine (as in, stopped?) and we would be returning to Chicago. Fortunately, we returned and landed without any problems.

It was probably around 10am when we landed. After a while, a gate agent announced that the flight would resume (on a different plane) at 5:30pm. That wouldn’t work for us. My wife had an early morning meeting to get to in London, and a 5:30pm departure would have put us too late. For those wondering, I found out later that the flight actually left around 6:30pm.

We rushed to the AA Flagship Lounge to speak to a counter agent there. While on the plane, I found a United flight leaving at 3:45 PM that still had business class seats available. My hope was that they would move us to that flight.

In the Flagship Lounge, I told a counter agent that we had tried unsuccessfully to fly to London and asked if there was any way we could get to London sooner.

Agent: “No, nothing previous is available”

I asked about the United flight. Could she put us on there?

Agent: “The only available United flight leaves at 9:30 p.m.”

I told her that United was still selling seats for the 3:45 p.m. flight. I quickly pulled up the United website on my phone to show her that I could buy tickets if I wanted. She typed around a bit and found that after all there were seats available on United’s 3:45pm flight. She called her manager and asked if she could put us on a UA flight.

Manager: “Is this a prize ticket? You can only do this if it is no a prize ticket”

I answered yes it was an award ticket, but this was the second failed attempt to reach London on AA. Could she make an exception? She didn’t specifically answer that, but she went on to say that United was probably overselling the flight. She told the counter agent to call United and ask if they could reserve two business class seats for us. The answer: Yes! It took a while, but eventually they did (yes, they took both). was able to successfully book our flight on United!

United Polaris 767-300. We did it!

It’s ironic that United saved our trip, since United’s wheels keep falling off. Our United flight departed on time and, as far as I know, didn’t lose any wheels or engines. The 767 doesn’t have United’s best Polaris seats, but they were still comfortable. We landed at London Heathrow around 5:30 a.m. We checked into our hotel, and my wife still had time to shower and eat breakfast before her meeting. And she made it to her meeting right on time.

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