InFlight: “Welcome to LaGuardia” American Eagle to Toronto

Route: New York (LGA) to Toronto

Flight: AA4644

Carrier: American Airlines / American Eagle

Class: Economy

Terminal: I arrived at New York’s LaGuardia airport’s American terminal about 90mins before departure after catching the Go AirLink shuttle from downtown.  The online booking engine for the shuttle insisted that I arrive 3 hours before departure, and not wanting to wait around at LaGuardia for too long, I decided to fudge my flight departure time by an hour so I could get on a later shuttle. I can understand why they insist on getting you there so early as my first impressions of LaGuardia is that it is an interesting affair indeed.

The check in area seems relatively organized with several dedicated desks for the main cabin, more desks for gold equivalent frequent flyers and then a few more desks privately surrounded in a frosted glass room for “Premium” check in guests. Despite this orderly layout, the place is seriously jam packed with people, mainly in the main cabin line, but it sure makes the place look and feel extremely busy with the queues stretching to the doors and almost out onto the cold New York curb.

Fortunately for me, the premium check in is definitely the way to go as it’s reserved for first class and one world emerald members, which I think equates to Americans Platinum and Executive Platinum members. If you’re traveling without status I can understand the need to arrive at the airport 3hrs early as the lines weave out the door. Within the relatively comfortable confines of the premium check in room, check in is much more orderly, although I did get quite a few “you don’t look like you should be here” looks considering I look like a backpacker (minus the smell) when travelling.

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I enquired as to the location of the lounge, to which the agent informed me that unfortunately my flight was departing from the C concourse and the admirals club was in the B concourse. They were in the process of building a new lounge in the C concourse, however for the meantime I could use the lounge if I was willing to clear security twice.

As clearing security twice wasn’t exactly an attractive proposition to attend a lounge that I presumed would be as disappointing as other Admirals Club’s I’ve visited, and given I only had about 90mins till departure anyway, I decided to just go straight to the gate, wander around that concourse a little and wait out my time there catching up on a few reviews. I proceeded to the security checkpoint and was the last passenger to use the priority lane before it was closed. Security was relatively pleasant with the TSA agents actually being friendly.

Unfortunately, my decision to skip the lounge and wait out my time here was a serious mistake.  My tweet to American at the time sums it up “@AmericanAir I love airports but seriously LGA concourse C is horrible. Could you fit any more people in this tiny space? Lounge Soon?”. What a fresh little hell this concourse was; It was hot, crowded with people and cluttered with the ridiculous amounts of carry on baggage that people bring along. The airport could probably add a few more chairs by removing the “check your carry on bag size here” stands as they seem completely irrelevant.

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Departure: I found my way to gate C4 pretty easily and noticed the board had quite a few flights listed for Toronto, some of which should have departed quite some time ago. The arrivals didn’t look that much better either, with several flights running significant delays. The mood at the gate wasn’t good, and I couldn’t help but think that TV shows like “Airport” or “Airline” might have been lurking around to capture some of the heated discussions between the ground staff and delayed passengers.

Despite my flight being listed as “On Time” it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if the two flights before your flight haven’t departed yet, its unlikely yours will. With no seats available I decided to wander the length of the concourse to see if the chaos was isolated or widespread and to try and find a snack to eat. There weren’t that many options available for decent food, so settled on a cookie and a sprite, which were also easy to eat on the go. The remaining gates all told a similar story, delayed flights, angry passengers and lots of overcrowding, so I decided to wander back to my gate, where I was fortunate enough to get a seat next to the podium for the neighbouring gate.

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Being unsure if this is the usual Monday situation here I decided to go online and have a look at Flight Aware for what was going on. Without any mobile broadband on this trip I paid for a few hours of airport WiFi and quickly found that some poor weather had resulted in delays this morning, combining that with an equipment failure at LGA, delays were sitting at an average of 1:47mins.

The boards still showed my flight as on time, despite the departure time passing. Another quick search for the inbound flight showed it hadn’t left Toronto yet, thus I was going to be here a while, but nowhere near as long as the two gentlemen travelling from Nairobi, who I gave up my seats for after hearing how long they had been waiting – 2 days! I figured they probably needed the seat more than I did as they waited on Standby for flight after flight.

After watching a few other flights board, and one in particular grumpy and arrogant gentlemen miss his flight after being told only minutes before to wait in the gate area as they were about to board, it was my turn to board. The boarding scrum developed very quickly, and despite numerous attempts by the agents requesting people to board when called, it turned out being a free for all, so instead of waiting to be pushed to the back, I reluctantly joined the scrum too.

Once at the door of the aircraft, my bag was tagged as First Class “Valet Baggage” and sent down a chute as I was told there was no longer room on board for carry on bags; a very familiar theme I’ve seen on almost every flight I’ve taken in North America. The final door was closed and we pushed back about two hours late, joining a long queue of departing aircraft before throttling up and climbing out into the busy New York skies. The girls in the seat behind me were commenting on how many planes lights they could see as we climbed; some passing under, some over and some off into the distance. It’s definitely a cool sight to see while at the same time you consider how much work those ATC guys are doing to keep us all safely apart right now.

Seat: 6A.  The second row of economy on this aircraft was pretty clean and comfortable. Each seat is leather with an adjustable headrest, and a slight amount of recline. As it’s a regional jet, the 2-2 seating configuration removes the middle seat so it’s just you and your seat buddy without the uncomfortable person in the middle. The window was also well aligned to the seat, with the extra side panel cut out making the window feel slightly larger and giving the window seat passenger a sense of having more space. Despite the overhead bins being smaller (comparable to an E-190), they were relatively empty as most bags were checked at the gate.

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Aircraft: CRJ-700 (N539EA). This was my first time on this type of aircraft, and my first real regional jet experience. Unlike the mainline American fleet, this one is painted instead of polished (although soon the polished mainline fleet will also be painted after American Airlines launched its new look livery). The interior is relatively clean and is fitted out with three rows of first in a 1-2 configuration followed by 13.5 rows of economy in a 2-2 configuration. I wouldn’t want to be sitting in the half row at the end (Row 18) as it appears to be pretty much pinned between the toilet and the left engine. From where I sat, the noise level was ok, nothing like the super 80’s and the flight was relatively smooth and uneventful despite crossing some weather around Toronto.

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IFE: If you’re looking for IFE, you’ll be disappointed, as this bird contains no audio, video or any sort of electronic fun gadgets in the passenger cabin. It’s a strictly BYO entertainment affair. I’ve spoken before about the pros and cons of wanting or needing IFE on small planes before (even down to Porter Airlines Dash 8), and although it is a cost, it would be cool to have. I’m not saying its needed or justified, but it would look cool to have an IFE screen in the back of each seat.

Meal: No food offered on today’s flight just a choice of soft drinks, water or juice. By this point in my travels around North America I was getting used to the lack of any food on flights, so my usual can of sprite with some ice goes down well.

Arrival: It was a cold rainy night on arrival into Toronto and due to the extensive use of the Valet Baggage in New York, everyone was forced to wait in the cold open walkway while the baggage crew unloaded a mountain of valet bags. I’ve departed out of Toronto International Airport before but never arrived here. I found the Customs and Immigration halls to be well laid out and well staffed with no wait at all, with the addition of Canadian border control staff being their usual welcoming, friendly yet still efficient selves.

The purpose of my trip to Toronto was to catch up with a friend for dinner that night, before heading back to Washington the next day. A short trip indeed, which would later require some explaining when trying to enter the USA the next day, but in the grand scheme of things, an hour flight here and there is nothing when you love planes, and you’ve already invested so much time in the flight over here. Unfortunately due to the delayed arrival, our catch up time was reduced to a quick dinner after arrival but definitely worth the trip.

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Crew: I felt for the crew on this flight as it wasn’t like the plane was full of happy campers on their way to a summer beach holiday. It was full of mostly business types, who’d been delayed for quite a while and probably were heading somewhere for work (Although they were going to Canada – that’s got to be a plus in my book). Despite the less than happy mood on board the crew seemed to have a “make the best out of a bad situation” attitude and were friendly and efficient, helping out where they could. The gentleman next to me requested something that they had run out of on the trolley, and despite him getting an alternative, the crew member later bought his original request from the first galley and apologised for the inconvenience. In my view, the crew were trying their best to lift the mood of the flight, and thus did a great job.

Overall: There’s a few take away points I got from this flight, or more so the experience before the aircraft even arrived at the gate, as after that happened it was pretty routine and uneventful. Firstly in the future I think I’ll avoid LaGuardia airport when flying American. I’m not sure if other airlines terminals or concourses are any better, but the C concourse is a fresh little hell I don’t really want to experience again unless I have to. Despite the overhead display boards proudly displaying “Welcome to LaGuardia”, it didn’t do it for me one bit.

Secondly, and this one is more for the airlines out there; if a flight is delayed, and you know its delayed, don’t list “On Time” on the departure board, especially if that departure time has already passed. All this does is makes people irate as it’s clear that you aren’t being told the full picture. Even an unknown or “TBA” departure time is better than one that’s in the past yet hasn’t occurred. Honesty is always a good policy, albeit sometimes unpopular.

The final point is for the delayed travellers out there. Yes its annoying to be delayed, especially when you have no control over when you’ll be able to get to your destination. However, no matter how much you yell, get angry or be rude to the ground agents, its very unlikely that you’ll get to your destination any faster than if you just take the view, like my flight crew did, of making the best out of a bad situation, and just wait it out – read a book, write the next best seller novel, catch up on some work or just relax. By getting upset, all you’re doing is increasing your own blood pressure and that of those around you, and making everyone more uncomfortable than they already are. Of course, if you piss the agents off enough, they may just crack and make sarcastic fun of you over the loudspeaker, which is somewhat entertaining for those waiting, but at the end of the day, also doesn’t get any of us any closer to our destination.

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