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National AAviation Day at O'Hare

National AAviation Day at O'Hare

Old Aug 24, 16, 1:49 am
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National AAviation Day at O'Hare

Disclaimer: All photos were taken with permission, and all individuals/paritcipants clearly pictured understand that their photos were taken as part of this tour. Any mention of websites or companies are not of a commercial nature, and are only mentioned to provide background information/premise for this review. I do not benefit directly or indirectly from mentioning these websites/companies, nor do I benefit at all from writing this trip report.

I hope you enjoy this trip report of a unique trip I took last week! I'm not a professional writer, so I may ramble on and on about something insignificant, but please forgive me, I like to pay attention to detail!

It all began when AAviation Day was announced by AirlineGeeks. For those who aren’t familiar with AAviation Day, AirlineGeeks partnered with American Airlines, to give small groups of aviation geeks such as myself, tours of American Airlines facilities on National Aviation Day on August 19, 2016.

Locations included: LHR, TUL, ORD, DCA, CLT, PHL, DFW, LGA, MIA, LAX, as well as American’s Integrated Operations Center in Fort Worth, American’s Headquarters in Dallas, and Envoy Headquarters in Fort Worth.

Each of these locations only had a handful spots available. The announcement was made in advance, I don’t remember when, but I’d like to say that it was announced sometime in May, with registration opening in June. When registration opened in June, I selected Chicago O’Hare, as it was a relatively close location with a large variety of international airlines and large aircraft, and it was also one of the least expensive destinations from Boston.

After I confirmed a spot at the event, I looked into airfares for BOS-ORD. The least expensive flights were on United, but least expensive was subjective. Boston to Chicago is normally a route that can cost anywhere from $90 to $300 roundtrip depending on demand and sales. There were no sales to be had, which was to be expected, as I would be traveling during the peak summer season. United was the least expensive at ~$250 roundtrip. I had an expiring $150 United voucher (which I received as part of service recovery during IRROPS last year) to use, so I decided to book myself in First Class as it was only about $200 more. I also booked a weekend stay at the O’Hare Hilton so that I would be able to make it a weekend trip, as well as do some planespotting while I was there. With my flights booked, I was ready to go! On the plus side, I was to be flying the old ex-Continental 757-300 to Chicago O’Hare. There aren’t very many 757-300s in the world, and I’ve always wanted to fly on one, so this was a treat! The return flight was on a 737-900. More on that later.


Flights booked! It was quite ironic that I would be flying on United to an event hosted by American Airlines.

On the night before, I decided that I wanted to print my boarding passes (I like to have paper copies just in case) and saw that my flight was cancelled. Nice going, United. Way to contact me about this! The system auto rebooked me onto a later flight arriving after 11AM. This of course did not work for me, as the event begins at 10AM. Now, seasoned travelers will now proceed to scold me for booking such essential travel so close to the date of the event. Most seasoned travelers would book their flights to arrive the night before, so that IRROPS wouldn’t cause them to miss their meetings and conferences. I decided that if something were to happen, barring catastrophic weather IRROPS, there were reasonable earlier and later flights that could get me there before the event began. Of course, this was one of those situations.

So, I called United, and told the agent that my flight was cancelled, and that I would like to be rebooked on another flight that would arrive earlier than the one I was auto rebooked on. The earlier flight to O’Hare was fully booked and would be standby only for Economy, so of course, I did not take that option. While I was on hold with the agent, I went onto American and Delta’s websites to see what my options were. Delta does not fly nonstop between BOS and ORD, so the only Delta option I had, BOS-DTW-ORD would be the last resort option. I looked at American, and noticed that there was availability on the first two flights to ORD, and both would reasonably get me there in time. I decided to pick the first one, flight 1155, which would get me to O’Hare a full two hours before the start of the event, which would allow me time to attempt an early check-in at the Hilton, and some time to relax before the event. The agent rebooked me on the flight, but put me in coach. I told him that I was booked on a First Class fare, with the fare class being P, but he said that he is unable to rebook in premium cabins on other carriers. I couldn’t believe it. That couldn’t be true, can it? Is that the policy, or was the agent simply a MOLA? I decided to HUACA and the second agent was able to rebook me in the correct cabin of service.


American to the rescue!

I got lucky, and got a 737-800 with seatback IFE. Although there are quite a few newer American 737-800s with seatback IFE, the majority of them don’t have it. My aircraft was N990NN.




Early morning at BOS terminal B


Taking off on runway 33L at BOS

This flight was equipped with Gogo Inflight Wifi, and although the costs were quite steep for such a short flight, it turns out that my mobile carrier came to the rescue, offering a free hour of wifi just for being a customer!


Free Gogo Inflight WiFi courtesy of T-Mobile

Boston to Chicago is actually not a very long flight. Scheduled for 2 hours 47 minutes westbound, it’s actually just under the threshold for airline meal service. However, since this is a business traveler heavy route, and many airlines are competing for the business of these business travelers, this is a special route where meals are served during the traditional meal windows on both American and United. On this flight, I was given the options of Steel Cut Oatmeal, or Quiche Lorraine. I chose the quiche.


Mmm breakfast!

Shortly after the meal service was over, we began our initial descent into Chicago O’Hare.


Approaching ORD runway 27L

I have flown into Terminal 3 before, but never really stopped to take a look at the terminal. I realized that Terminal 3 looks a lot better than Terminal 1, which had more of an antiseptic vibe to it.


Terminal 3, featuring the globe, and the location where the airport scenes from Home Alone were shot.

I went to the Hilton to see if I could check in early, but could not as the hotel was sold out the night before. So, I left my luggage with the Bell Desk, and went back to the terminal at the meet up spot at Flagship check-in. There were 7 of us, and we were also joined by two journalists, a representative from Gogo Inflight, a representative from FlightRadar24, and two camera crews for ABC-7 Chicago, and WGN-9 Chicago.


Lewis Lazare of the Chicago Business Journal is surely dressed appropriately!

We were then led to a conference room (pre security) where we were given our badges, as well as gate passes to pass TSA.


Alright, FT, how many miles do I earn for this ticket?

Breaking with the serious tone of this trip report, this is how the meeting began.
“Lets go around the table, and introduce yourself, where you are from, and why you are here.”
“Wow, this feels like an AA meeting.”
“This IS an AA meeting.”
(for those who are not from the United States, an AA, or Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is therapy group that helps alcoholics discuss and solve their life problems to end the cycle of alcoholism. This is a play on words where AA is also the abbreviation for American Airlines)


Group photo provided by AirlineGeeks

We were then welcomed by Franco Tedeschi, the VP of operations at Chicago O’Hare, who introduced himself, and told us the story of his career with the airline, the role of Chicago as a hub for American, as well as what the airline has plans to do moving forward.




Where can I get a copy of this poster?

After the warm welcome, we went through TSA with our gate passes (they were quite confused). Our first stop on the tour was the AA Operations Tower. Our hosts for the tour were American Airlines O’Hare Communications Manager Leslie Scott, and Candace (I’m sorry, I didn’t get her full name)


A not-so-great cell phone shot

Just before our tour began, the weather went from sunny to dark clouds and a downpour. O’Hare was in a brief ground stop, and the tower was not pleased to have us there while they were sorting through the IRROPS. Although they were not pleased, Juan (I got his full name, but did not write it down, so I don’t remember it) gave us the tour of the tower anyway, which had great views of American’s operations.









On a corner of the tower, there was a screen showing the messages of the day, and is streamed directly from the American Airlines Integrated Operations Center in Fort Worth, TX.


This screen showed the most consistently delayed flights

After visiting the tower, we boarded a shuttle which drove us across the airfield to the main maintenance hangar. It was quite the experience to be driving by at ground level next to taxiing planes.


Click photo to enlarge

We were greeted by the Jack O’Callaghan, the head mechanic at O’Hare, who showed us around the hangar, and pointed out the pictures on the walls, which outlined a timeline of the history of aircraft operated by American Airlines






History!

We were then taken over to a 787-8 Dreamliner in the hangar. N807AA. We were allowed to walk all around and in it and take photos.




The front wheel well


They let us take pictures standing in the left engine too! (to the right)



We were then treated to lunch on board the 787. Of course, we all sat down in the Business class cabin and tried out the seats


Quite comfy! How often does one get to do this for free?


There was also an MD-83 next to us. N565AA. This aircraft was retired Tuesday August 23, 2016, after this tour, and the day before the publishing of this trip report.


Parking markings for aircraft of days gone by.


Group photo provided by AirlineGeeks

After the shop tour, we were then shuttled back to the terminal where we met Tim Raynor, one of the chief pilots at O’Hare, and is a captain on the 737. We also met Chip Long, another chief pilot, who is a captain of the 777.


Chief Pilot Tim Raynor introducing himself and what he does for other pilots based out of O’Hare.
Photo courtesy of Airlinegeeks.

After meeting the chief pilots, we were taken back to the terminal, where we were led out a door. They gave us a few minutes for a rare opportunity to do some planespotting from the ramp.


Click on photo to enlarge

At the end of the tour everyone said their goodbyes, and we each left with a large amount of swAAg.




The swAAg included a drawstring bag, a t-shirt, a notepad, a notebook, a hat, a first class blanket, and an American Airlines stress ball for when I’m flying United (just kidding!)

The next day, I did some planespotting around the O’Hare area, which wasn’t as fruitful as I hoped, as showers moved through the area causing flights to be delayed (as well as getting me wet!). They were using the 22 runways due to the Chicago Air and Water Show, so the lighting angles also were not ideal.

I was scheduled to fly home Sunday morning, but I wanted to take an evening flight instead. (At the time of booking, the evening flights cost more than $75 more, the cost of a same day change, so I booked knowing that I'd gamble with an SDC hoping that the P bucket would still have availability) So, I did a same day change (SDC) and changed over to an evening flight. I was now flying home on a United 757-300! This also allowed me an extra day in Chicago. I decided to go to the Chicago Air and Water Show at North Avenue Beach. I had decided not to attend the day before because of the weather, and I’m glad that I ended up going, because the air show was spectacular, and the weather couldn’t have been nicer!



The evening flight home was an uneventful 1 hour 41 minutes. The 757-300 was quite nice, although it was dark (wifi streaming entertainment only). At least it’s not the dark 737-900 that I was originally booked on! Of course, they served Dinner on this flight (remember what I said about this being a special route). My choices were either Chicken Katsu Curry, or Chicken, Shrimp and Sausage Paella. I went with the paella and was not disappointed!



After a quick flight, we landed on runway 22L in Boston, and thus ended my amazing weekend trip.

Here's a compilation video made by AirlineGeeks of the events taking place around the world. Most of the footage is from O'Hare!

Last edited by diburning; Jun 18, 17 at 1:40 pm
diburning is offline  
Old Aug 24, 16, 10:46 am
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Thank you for posting. Very interesting. Looks like you all had a blast. I always wanted to see the behind the scene ops of an airline. I wonder how this center compares to DFW in size/flights/etc.
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Old Aug 24, 16, 2:22 pm
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Chicago is a unique co-hub. 80% of the flights in and out of ORD are either United or American, with United having a share of slightly more than half of that 80%. I'd imagine that American would have a much larger share of traffic out of DFW as it's a fortress hub where a large majority of the flights are American. In fact, on that very evening, DFW went into a meltdown due to thunderstorms. I had a friend connecting at DFW on American, and they diverted his (and about 40 other flights) to Austin. He didn't get where he was going until the next evening. (I had to play travel agent for him to try to find alternative flights. AA refused to rebook him on United through ORD which would have gotten him home earlier, but it could be that those flights were also full by the time he got through to someone for rebooking)
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Old Aug 25, 16, 2:49 pm
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Great report, very interesting look into AA ops at ORD ^
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Old Aug 28, 16, 1:13 pm
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That was a fantastic opportunity. I'll have to keep it mind for the future. Thanks for posting!
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Old Aug 31, 16, 8:17 pm
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Super cool report! I'm really jealous of the behind scenes tour. It's a dream come true for every avgeek.
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Old Sep 3, 16, 12:06 am
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Thanks for taking the time to share your experience, diburning!

Very cool to be able to go behind the scenes and see where it all happens and how it gets done.
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Old Sep 3, 16, 1:02 pm
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Thank you for sharing this report. It looks like a really fun event, and that is great that you got to go inside one of AA's new Dreamliners!
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