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AA TATL 788 J Covid Era (Trip Report)

AA TATL 788 J Covid Era (Trip Report)

Old Aug 22, 20, 4:17 pm
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AA TATL 788 J Covid Era (Trip Report)

Hello FT!

Since I know many of you are curious (myself included!) about what flying long haul has been like in recent times, I decided to document my first international trip in over 5 months and share a bit about what the experience was like. Please follow along if you're curious what flying AA long haul is like during this current pandemic.

I took AA long haul on the 788 this week between DFW-DUB to attend to a personal matter. Having been diagnosed and recovered from Covid-19 in early June, I finally felt confident enough to travel knowing that both the risk travel posed to myself and that I posed to others was minuscule. The days leading up to the flight were filled with anticipation, as I was genuinely looking forward to soaring above the oceans and clouds to a far away place after the longest break from long haul travel I've had since my school days.

There have been numerous reports from friends that frequent the airport that the DFW airport police have been aggressively patrolling and issuing speeding tickets to help make up for lost airport revenue. I didn't notice any police visible but drove right at the speed limit just in case. Pulling into DFW, it's clear that the travel recovery still has a long way to go, as public areas are still quite empty and lifeless. DFW seems to be using this downturn in volume to undertake several construction projects and upgrades. After parking, I discovered that the entire upper level (departures) curbside area of Terminal D was closed off for construction, so all vehicle access to the terminal is funneled to the lower level.

I was unable to check in online (presumably due to Covid entry requirements), so stopped by the desk to speak to an agent and pick up my BP. There was no line at any of the desks whatsoever. The agent took my passport, typed on his computer for what felt like 5 minutes (not sure why) without a word, then printed my boarding pass. I noticed that he wasn't wearing his mask correctly over his nose, but considering the deserted nature of the terminal didn't feel like challenging him or filing an official complaint.

I passed through TSA PreCheck in seconds as the only one in line, sanitized my hands, and walked to the gate where our beautiful 787-8 was waiting for us.

A sight for sore eyes

It became quickly apparent that this would be a very lightly loaded flight, and I later found out that there were fewer than 20 passengers on board. I was hoping I might get a taste of one of the newly delivered 788s with the upgraded Super Diamond seats up front, but unfortunately had the older Zodiac seats in both directions.

Despite its well documented flaws (rocking and narrowness, mostly), I actually enjoy certain aspects of the Zodiac seats. The rear facing seats (rows 2 and 4) don't have annoying shoulder belts, are more private and better insulated from the aisle, and window seats provide excellent wing and engine views with row 4 winning out slightly due to better window alignment.


788 Zodiac Seat 2L

788 Zodiac seat 4A

I also enjoy that IFE screens can be deployed for TTL, and that there is no restriction on legroom or knee room for side sleepers. I've had issues banging my knee onto the tray table/IFE screens on the Super Diamond while turning over, but vertical room is unrestricted in this seat. Rocking was not an issue as the 9 of us in J eventually spread out in the cabin and nobody was "attached" to anybody else.

Bedding was placed on every seat when we boarded, and shortly after settling in, the lovely crew came around to say hello and offer us menus, amenity kits, and the B&O headphones.


Onboard amenities


Food menu

Brandy (Courvoisier) still available, but no Guinness to Dublin seems like an oversight :P

Wine Selection

Shelee, one of the J FAs, was quite friendly and stopped by. We had a lovely chat about plans in Dublin, the light load, and the uncertain future for the airlines. Rebecca, our purser, took dinner and drink orders while we waited for pushback, and I ordered the fish in search of something lighter. I asked for Champagne to drink after take off, and also asked about the Somm Select featured wine. She told me that she would check with the galley FA and get back to me. A few moments later, she came back to my seat, told me she had heard I was making a connection (from Shelee I presume!) and offered to move me to the left side of the plane as Dublin had apparently been deplaning by sections and that side would be the first to get off. I was grateful for the heads up and took 2A instead of my original 2L.

After settling into the new seat, we pushed back and I started browsing the entertainment selection. Having not flown for months, I found quite a few TV shows and movies that I wanted to watch. While we were taxiing, Rebecca came back holding the Somm Select wine. I didn't have a chance to take a picture or take a close look, but it looked like a lighter dessert wine (perhaps Semillon or Sauternes), which I prefer to port. I thanked her for following up and asked to have it with dessert. Soon after, the GEnx engines spooled off, and we soared into the air quite forcefully due to our light load.

The FAs jumped into action quickly after takeoff, and started off service with a round of sanitizer wipes, including a plastic cup as a receptacle for disposing used wipes in. Next, our first round of drinks were served with a packet of mixed nuts.


First drink service

The H Blin was serviceable but not great. The drink came in a plastic cup as expected, but the initial drink/nuts were served separately from the main meal tray (contrary to some other reports from FT).

Speaking of the main meal tray:


AA Red Snapper

Everything came wrapped (I took off the foil for the photo). The bread roll was sealed and served cold, but I removed it from the wrapper and placed it on the entree dish to warm it up a bit. I was offered another drink and switched to the Louis Latour. The Cajun shrimp with slaw was tasty enough, and the entree was actually quite nice. The snapper was a little overcooked as expected, but was still moist and tender with the sauce. The veggies were cooked nicely and the white wine risotto actually had a little bit of brightness that paired well with the fish. Halfway through my entree, Rebecca brought me a glass of the dessert wine "just so I don't forget", and it paired nicely with the AA-standard raspberry cheesecake. I had forgotten that dessert was part of the one-tray service, so having her remember my request for the Somm Select wine with dessert was a nice touch that elevated the service standard.

Trays were quickly collected after I was finished, and I took an extra set of bedding from a nearby seat to make my space extra cozy and took a nice nap for about 3 hours. After waking up, I was feeling peckish so walked up front to see if any snacks were available. I was offered a basket with chips, snack mix, or nuts and accepted some chips to graze on while I watched Jumanji.

I was offered drinks and snacks several times while watching my movie when the FAs did their walkthroughs. I started with water, and eventually indulged in a Diet Coke, since they were out of Diet Dr. Pepper (supply issues?).

Eventually, I was treated to a gorgeous sunrise as we approached Dublin. Just over an hour before landing, the FAs served a light continental breakfast. It seems that hot breakfast has been cut, which is disappointing, but at least the fruit plate was bountiful and quite fresh, with every piece of fruit sweet and ripe. The "granola" was an odd grain free mix of nuts, dried fruit, and date "nuggets" that I had mixed feelings about. I didn't touch the cold cinnamon pastry or the sugary yogurt.


AA Continental Breakfast

Soon after, we were descending past the lush Irish coastline and had a smooth, non-eventful landing at DUB.


Landing at DUB

Deplaning ended up being a non-issue. With our light load, nobody enforced deplaning by section so I actually ended up as one of the last off the plane. Dublin airport was completely DESERTED. Aside from our flight landing, there was no other visible activity throughout the arrivals process. It's clear that even though Ireland is one of the less-restrictive countries as far as border restrictions, very few people are traveling in and out of the airport for better or for worse.

It's also interesting to note that there is no sterile transit in Dublin currently, as the transit security checkpoints are closed and everybody is funneled through immigration, with those connecting needing to go through the landside security/immigration process to go back through to the secure side.

On the return, I checked in at the deserted AA desks and found out I was one of 3 pax in J this time, out of approximately 10 pax total (yikes...). I was handed a health form and told to fill it out after security but before US Preclearance.

After passing through security, I was pleased to see the duty free stores open for business. I picked up a few boxes of chocolates and some single malt Irish whiskey, and sat down and filled out my form. Once again, the terminal was deserted, and the employees at the duty free stores outnumbered the passengers. I noticed one of two grab and go places open in the main terminal area, but all of the full service shops and restaurants remained closed.

The US Preclearance facility was just starting to open up when I approached roughly 75 minutes before departure. I joined a small queue of passengers as we waited for the security staff to finish their opening duties. Once things were running, we had to go through a secondary security screening that was much less thorough than the initial airport security screening. Not sure what the point was, though you gotta love US security theater. The Global Entry lane was closed, but with three CBP agents working, everybody was quickly processed. Health forms checked, but we were instructed to hang on to them for the CDC to collect "later." Passing through, I noticed that the small duty free shop in the PC area was closed. Grateful that I had done my duty free shopping pre-Preclearance, I wandered down to the end of the gate area to see if the USPC lounge was open. Unsurprisingly, it was not.


Lounge Closed

There was one quick-service counter offering grab and go food and drink as well as a limited bar. It seemed to be popular with the few people in the area who wanted one last pour of Guinness in Ireland. I heard the staff repeatedly inform guests that a food purchase was required to order alcohol. Not sure why...


Only place open in Preclearance

Soon enough, it was time to board. On my way down the jetbridge, I struck up a conversation with one of the other two passengers in J. She had returned to Dublin (her hometown) from her residence in Reno for a few weeks to care for her ailing mother and her sister who had recently been diagnosed with severe cancer. What awful circumstances to be traveling, but it reminded me why air travel is such an important resource for so many. Hopefully AA (and others) can survive this pandemic and emerge stronger on the other side...

Upon boarding, I found bedding on every seat similar to last flight, but the headphones, amenity kit, and menu had already been placed at each occupied seat, whereas on the last flight those were handed out after boarding. I decided to gift a box of the chocolates I purchased in Duty Free to the crew, as hearing the other passenger's story made me even more grateful that the crew were still doing their part to keep air travel going. The purser's name was Mike, and he was extremely gracious and appreciative. He made it clear that with only 3 of us in the cabin, we had free reign to more or less do as we wished and that the three J FAs would do anything they could to make our flight more comfortable.

Shortly thereafter, my jaw nearly hit the floor when he came around and offered us PAJAMAS..?! In J on a TATL daytime flight no less?? In case you don't believe me....

Pajamas on DUB-DFW??

I'm not sure if they had a few extra sets laying around and offered them to the us since there were only 3 pax in the cabin, if it was a mis-cater, or what. Nonetheless, they were much appreciated and I changed into them while we were still at the gate to get more comfortable for the flight.

The food menu was different on this sector, but the wine/drinks were the same.


Lunch DUB-DFW

Lunch orders were taken before takeoff. I wanted something heavy to help put me to sleep on Dallas time, so was wavering between the beef and curry. I couldn't help but chuckle when Mike came up and apologized that they were actually out of the curry, since they had only been catered two and both of the other pax in the cabin had ordered it. Beef it was, then! Interestingly, I asked Mike about the Somm Select wine to see if it was perhaps a different one than the dessert wine on the DFW-DUB sector and after checking the galley, he told me there were no off menu wines available. Mike also offered me the opportunity to have lunch at any point in the flight if I wasn't hungry right away. I chose to eat after takeoff to help adjust my sleep schedule, and thanked him for the offer.

As we pushed back, a few other FAs stopped by my seat to thank me for the chocolates, chit chat about my stay in Ireland, and offer their assistance if I needed anything in the flight. Folks, especially those that complain about bad service, the easiest thing you can do to ensure great service for a flight is to bring a little treat for the crew. Obviously it's not obligated or expected (I didn't do it on the outbound, for example), but if you have an opportunity to thank and appreciate those working the flight, it is worth it every time. Obviously right now is a tough time for those in the aviation industry. The box of chocolates was only 4 Euros at duty free, and if nothing else it was worth every penny to see the genuine appreciation from every crewmember to have a passenger do something thoughtful for them.

After taking off, service again started with a beverage and snack (crisps instead of nuts this time).


Initial Drink/Snack


AA Braised Beef Entree

The catering on this sector was exceptional, and even better than the outbound. The plastic-wrapped spelt roll was warmed. I've had this heat-resistant plastic wrapped warmed bread a few times on different flights, and it beats a cold roll every time. I wish it was something AA would cater consistently in all the stations. The burrata appetizer was fabulous and fresh, the beef was perfectly cooked and fork tender, the creamed savoy cabbage not mushy at all, and the horseradish sauce a perfect accompaniment to the beef. Even the sweet potato mash was great once I added a dab of the Irish butter to it and mixed it in. Downsides: the merlot I had with the beef was virtually undrinkable, and the lemon tart "seasonal dessert" was too sweet and tasted of grainy powdered sugar.

Once again, it was easy to nab an extra set of bedding and form a cozy pod for a good nap. This flight was operated by one of the first-production 788s, with the windows that don't get nearly as dark, and the difference was notable on this daytime flight. The eyeshades did the trick, my request for an extra bottle of water was happily granted, and I got a great 5 hours of sleep.

I woke up as we were over Canada, and noticed a snack basket in the galley area between J and W on my way to the lav. Still full from dinner, I didn't partake. Once I settled back in my seat and started watching another movie, Laura stopped by and offered me something to drink. I sipped my Dasani lime and gradually brightened my windows while watching TV.

About an hour before landing, the second meal was served. Similar to the outbound, the hot option seems to have been cut (I believe it was formerly a flatbread pizza of some sort).


AA Thai Noodle Salad

I was surprised at the overall quantity of food, as there were 3 cheeses of fairly decent quality and size, the large salad, dessert, and a pack of crisps. The noodle salad was fresh but a bit bland and didn't taste particularly "Thai" to me. The squeeze of fresh lime and a sprinkle of salt helped brighten it up. Those chocolate puddings are ubiquitous but oh so tasty.....

Since we went through USPC, we landed and taxied to Terminal A as a domestic flight. I was the first pax off the plane, and was stopped by one of 3 workers contracted by the CDC to ask a few questions and collect the health forms. After that brief 15 second interaction, I was free to go and caught the Skylink to Terminal D where I had parked my car.

Thank you for following along! Happy to answer any other questions you might have. As has been mentioned by some others in this forum, when AA gets it right, they are amazing. I think they definitely got it right on this trip, and the few Covid era cutbacks didn't impact the overall flight experience that much. As with most flights, the crew will make or break the experience, and I had a great experience all around.

Best of luck to my AA friends and all others directly/indirectly employed by the airline industry. I hope to be back in the air with y'all again very soon...
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Old Aug 22, 20, 4:47 pm
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Thank you for this comprehensive and informative report!
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Old Aug 22, 20, 7:05 pm
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Thanks for the report! Catering looks a lot better than I imagined in the current environment.
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Old Aug 23, 20, 8:02 am
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Thanks for posting. Enjoying reading the few trip reports we are getting nowadays and learning how travel is different nowadays.

Also chuckled at the closed captioning on the IFE during the second meal on the DFW-DUB flight. "The saline gently displaces the cyst." Great meal time viewing.
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Old Aug 23, 20, 8:22 am
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Nice review. Thanks for taking the time to share.
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Old Aug 23, 20, 8:37 am
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Originally Posted by GregWTravels View Post
Also chuckled at the closed captioning on the IFE during the second meal on the DFW-DUB flight. "The saline gently displaces the cyst." Great meal time viewing.
Haha! I was binging The Good Doctor. There were a few times where the timing of the procedures and mealtimes made me a bit queasy, but I powered through
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Old Aug 23, 20, 12:07 pm
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Thanks for this TR!

Can you please send a PDF version of it to BA just to tell them what is possible in terms of catering in current times
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Old Aug 23, 20, 12:10 pm
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Did you fly to Dublin just to turn around and fly back or was there a time gap from your arrival and departure?
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Old Aug 23, 20, 4:16 pm
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Thank you for sharing your trip report, it was very interesting.
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Old Aug 24, 20, 8:48 am
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Nice report! Your angle is a little tolerant than my experience
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Old Aug 24, 20, 11:20 am
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great TR and glad you had a nice flight - sad about the curry!

Originally Posted by HawaiiTrvlr View Post
Did you fly to Dublin just to turn around and fly back or was there a time gap from your arrival and departure?
I pondered the same but there was a Connection (as mentioned by Purser Rebecca) in Dublin, and that’s different from a Round Trip...

plus the whackiness of having to depart & “immigrate” into Dublin in order to then enter airport and then fly that connection...

so I believe there was a trip, and then the DUB-DFW was the part mentioned for “the return” - just very subtle.
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Old Aug 24, 20, 1:05 pm
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I love the positivity and upbeat attitude this report exudes. It gives some of us at home something to look forward to when we return to the skies ourselves!
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Old Aug 28, 20, 6:40 pm
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Thanks for the update. Haven't flown internationally since mid Feb. Hope things open up soon.
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Old Sep 2, 20, 4:32 am
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Thanks for the TR.
Irish law states currently that you must be served food with alcohol. 'Wet pubs' (without food) are closed down right now.
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