I was headed to Spain for two weeks in the sun. I’d be heading to Alicante for three days, then to Madrid, then to Salamanca to teach Spaniards about English culture, then back to Madrid, and back to the United States. I chose to fly American because they were (a) the most cost-effective, (b) would be able to send me all the way to ALC because of their alliance with Iberia, and (c) because my mom is an ex-employee, unlocking some possibilities (to be detailed later).

As I was writing my Morocco trip report, I found myself wishing that I took more pictures on the flights, creating more detail. I was sure to document almost every inch of this trip, so I’ll mainly let the pictures speak for themselves, and provide comments when necessary.

First Leg // Baltimore (BWI) – New York (JFK) on AA3964 ERJ145 NXXXAE

I arrived at the airport quite early, and checked in with the agent there. She advised me to stay landside because the inbound aircraft had not yet left Chicago due to weather. She said that there was a possibility of the flight being cancelled, as it was already running a half-hour behind schedule and had not yet taken off due to thunderstorms.

This wasn’t really what I wanted to hear, because a cancelled flight here meant that the first part of my trip was basically screwed. AA flies one daily flight from New York to Madrid, which I was booked on. There isn’t another American Eagle flight to JFK after the one that I was booked on, so a cancelled flight meant a drive to DCA to catch a flight to JFK, or that I would miss my JFK departure and have to transit through Miami or Dallas.

Anyway, after about 20 minutes of waiting, I went back to check with the agent and she said that the inbound aircraft was in the air, and that I could proceed to the gate. She wished me a pleasant trip, and did everything with a smile. What excellent service!

Boarding pass for AA3964.

Once onboard, the doors were closed promptly after all had boarded, and we pushed back about 45 minutes behind schedule.

This American Eagle flight was at 100% load.

Legroom - but hey, it's a RJ.

Takeoff from Baltimore's runway 15R.

The flight attendant advised us of a 40 minute flight time to JFK, and commenced a small drinks service almost as soon as we were at 10,000 feet.

After takeoff, climbing out from Baltimore.

Descending already? On final approach to JFK.

Wheels down after just 184 miles of flying. Welcome to JFK!

My flight to Madrid was just an hour away from departure by the time we landed. It was departing from AA’s T8 main, and my Eagle flight landed in T8 satellite, so that meant about a 15 minute walk over to my gate. The flight attendant read out the connecting flight gates after landing. Our Eagle flight pax were quite a well-travelled group! In addition to me and four other people on AA94 to Madrid, there were pax destined for London, Barcelona, Milan, Rome, and Paris.

Not wanting to miss the initial boarding call, I was ready to start walking to T4. However, I had to wait for my gate-checked bags. I try to avoid checking bags through on flights whenever possible. Planning to only take carry-on bags means that I don’t have to worry about things getting lost, and it helps me streamline my packing to make sure that I take only what I need and not a whole bunch of other stuff.

But now, this was the time where I was kind of regretting that decision. Had I checked a bag, I’d be able to head over to my gate immediately, but now I ended up having to wait for my gate-checked bag. Mercifully, it was the first one off.

AA has a great terminal in JFK. It is bright, spacious, and clean. It is laid out more traditionally, with gates and stores/restaurants laid out on either side of the wide middle walkway, as opposed to say, DL’s T3, which is laid out … I don’t even know …

from Flickr.

After about a 15 minute walk to my next gate, Gate 7, I arrived just as the gate agent was clearing upgrades and was about to make the first boarding call. This gate agent was really efficient, but friendly too. It is all too common these days for a gate agent to either be inefficient or unfriendly, or both. But this one was really doing a great job, even when some passengers gave her a hard time about their seating assignments, or the fact that the checkin agent made them check six of their seven bags, leaving them only one to bring onboard.

Second Leg // New York (JFK) – Madrid (MAD) on AA94 B757-200 N18XAN

Boarding was orderly, and started with Business class passengers, as well as AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum, and Gold members. Next came the traditional zone boarding, beginning with zone 1. Once in the jetway, it took a good 5 minutes to get to the door. The jetway was the longest one I’ve ever walked in, and I think that I walked through five or six hallways before I actually got to the door of the aircraft.

Boarding pass for AA94.

I was one of the first ones onboard, and found my seat 10A. It was a little bit surreal flying TATL without IFE of any sort, but I was thankful to have at least AC power so I could use my iPhone the whole flight and still have a full battery when we land in Madrid. I had looked at Seatguru to find the best seats, and saw that 10A and 10F had no seat in front of them, which would allow for great legroom and aisle access by walking forward instead of to the side and therefore bothering my seatmates.

As boarding wound down to the final stages, I was happy to see that somehow I had ended up with both seats next to me free on a pretty full flight. Of course, the last minute passenger that boarded had the aisle seat, 10C, but that was pretty much a non-issue because I could still raise the armrest and stretch out abit. Since the seat in the middle was unoccupied, I asked my seatmate if it was alright if I put my backpack under seat 10B, since he had stowed both his bags in the overhead. He said that it would be fine, so I got out into the aisle and searched for my backpack in the locker….where was it? It’s a red neoprene backpack from PUMA Ocean Racing, with a huge puma on the back, so I knew I couldn’t be missing it.. After some searching, I finally found it. The passengers that boarded after me had rudely pushed it into the back of the overhead bin, then stowed their bags in front of it, basically crushing it into the back of the overhead. I was flabbergasted. I know this is coach and not everyone is a Georgia peach, but I’ve never seen such rude people.

Anyway, moving on, I finally got it and stowed it under 10B. We moved to the active for a takeoff about 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled departure time, a first for me at JFK.

Something to mention about seat 10A/10F is that there isn’t actually the whole space of a seat in front of you. The emergency slide cover takes up pretty much all space gained by having a missing seat; so while it’s great for legroom, it would be a pretty tight squeeze impossible to try to get out into the aisle there.

Soon after, the flight attendants came around for the first F&B service.

Apologies for the bad photo quality.

At cruise over Rhode Island, the American Airlines “Flagship Meal Service” started. I’m not sure why they call it this, because the food isn’t terrible, but it’s not spectacular either.

Tonight's dinner.

Dinner was a choice between chicken and pasta. I chose the chicken, which was some kind of barbecue-type chicken with mashed potatoes and chopped up green beans. Not too bad, but again, nothing I’d want to eat on the ground. Also included was bread and butter, cheese and crackers, a small salad, and a “blondie,” also known as a golden brownie. Very similar to the setup on my Delta flight just a week earlier.

One thing I did really like about AA’s service was that they gave the whole can when pouring soda (without being asked), as well as giving a bottled water with dinner (in addition to whatever drink you’d already been served). These were small things, but nice touches in my opinion.

After the dinner and another drinks service, I reclined my seat and tried to sleep a little. I had learned my lesson from not getting sleep on my Delta flights the past few weeks, so I immediately tried to get comfortable. I fell asleep for a good two hours or so, and woke up over the pitch-black Atlantic.

One final Atlantic sunset before sleeping.

I woke up with about 3 hours to go before we landed in Madrid. The cabin was darkened, and most people were still sleeping.

Dark cabin.

About 1.5 hours out of Madrid, the flight attendants came around with breakfast boxes before our estimated 6 a.m. arrival into Madrid-Barajas.

Breakfast box.

Opened up.

The box contained a banana nut muffin, a banana, raspberry yogurt, and some sort of dried fruits. The banana products were good, but everything else was awful. The yogurt was disgusting (but I’m not a yogurt guy anyway), and instead of big chunks of dried fruit, the packet contained little mini bits of fruit matter.

At about 05:40 local time, we began our final approach to MAD, and we were parked at the gate around 06:10 local, nearly an hour ahead of schedule. I love early flights, but this one meant about a four hour layover for me.

Continue reading about my transit through Madrid at Part 2 of the report!