Photo via Wikimedia Commons
In November, I had the opportunity to travel from Orlando to El Salvador via a connection in Miami.
Things were going well until the very last leg of my trip, but overall, you'll notice that things weren't all that bad. It even has me changing my mind about an airline that has changed quite a bit for the better since I last flew with them.
Check In/Security (6/10)
It was, possibly, the worst travel moment of my life.
As I stood at the customs agent’s desk and he told me I’d have to go to another line, I was sure I must be in some kind of alternate reality. I’d been waiting in line at the Miami airport for well over an hour at this point and had followed instructions every single time an agent directed me to a new queue. I was where I was told to be, but not where I was supposed to be.
Worst yet, there were similar issues across the board as I stood in line with people whose mobile passport and Global Entry hadn’t mattered as they were directed into lines that took far longer than expected.
Expert travelers know Miami is one of the biggest and busiest international entries into the country, so some of the hassle is to be expected, but a near-three hour wait (four if you add the TSA line) was a little ridiculous and a terrible end to an otherwise great travel.
Simply put: If you’re traveling internationally and you can pay extra to avoid Miami, it’s looking like a good option at this point.
I typically fly out of Orlando. So, I’ve covered that before in these parts. Not much has changed, and I still marvel at how so many people are moved so efficiently through the complex starting at check-in all the way through to the gate.
San Salvador’s airport has been upgraded quite a bit recently and far more work is to be done in the coming years. Incoming was a little underwhelming as the trip past customs and out to ground transportation is nondescript. However, the trip scored major points with a great terminal as I waited for my outbound flight. Dining options (both local and Americanized) were plentiful and not too pricy.
The one quibble with the airport is that it begs for larger gate areas (especially because they have an extra security check and it creates a bit of a choke point) and some moving walkways.
Miami’s security was a pain, but the airport has invested in international food options and shopping recently. Though I needed to grab food on the go as I ran for a connection, I was impressed by the options from brick oven pizza to sushi and ramen. I opted for empanadas, which helped soothe my stress post-customs.
Today’s airlines have two ways of making passengers pay a premium for space. Some, like United, have options that bridge the gap between “coach” and “first” classes. Others, like American here, simply make people pay to sit in any non-assigned seat that isn’t in the middle. On my last trip, I gladly paid a little extra for a modicum of extra leg room. On this trip, I paid almost the same amount just to guarantee an aisle seat. In many ways, it’s the same fee, but the way in which it is presented on American made it seem like I was on a low-cost carrier.
Even with the upcharge, I had about as little room as I could ever remember on my flight from San Salvador to Miami. When the person in front of me reclined, it made watching the onboard entertainment difficult and I could smell the person’s shampoo! The fact I paid extra for that seat was ironic to say the least and underscores the “budget carrier” point above.
Three of my four legs on the trip were in newer Airbus 319 aircraft. That means I got in-seat charging (a must for business travel these days) and the industry standard in inflight entertainment. On my two international flights, I was able to watch movies that weren’t even available for rental in my local Redbox yet! I wasn’t the only one happy with the entertainment, as the topic came up multiple times while in El Salvador for others who flew American. The system was buggy on the trip back, so docking one point there.
In-flight dining and other amenities are par for the course, but the entertainment was a wow moment and helped pass the time nicely.
There weren’t any wow moments when it came to the service at the counter/gate or on the airplanes. That said, there weren’t any overly negative moments either. One of my row mates was a bit of an amenity hog/call button aficionado, but the flight attendants catered to him well, as they did when another person nearby needed assistance and didn’t speak any English. Bilingual expertise can often be taken for granted on international flights, but it isn’t always the given that it should be. I’m giving American an extra point here for staffing appropriately.
This was a typical legacy carrier trip, with little out of the ordinary other than one overly negative experience thanks to a busy customs checkpoint and an extremely positive one thanks to American’s investment in onboard entertainment. At one point in my adult life, I actively avoided the airline because of some repeated issues, but I can honestly say that this trip overcame those reservations.