Today’s flight review is from reader Mark
A Friday morning saw me making my way to Dublin Airport’s Terminal 2 for an American Airlines flight to Charlotte, North Carolina. The next part of a longer journey to Los Angeles with American.
I had started my journey the previous evening in the UK and stayed overnight at the Dublin Airport Crown Plaza – an upgrade from the fellow IHG Holiday Inn Express next door after that hotel remained closed after a makeover took longer than planned! There are probably three reasons a UK resident may find themselves at Dublin en route to the USA – a cheaper ex-EU airfare, the attractions of US customs & immigration pre-clearance or the ability to connect directly from about sixteen other UK airports without getting yourself to London. For many, a combination of these reasons will apply.
In this post:
I found myself on an electric battery bus to the airport, which dropped me right outside the American check-in area. I had contemplated this flight from Dublin with some trepidation after seeing reports of the queues some travellers had faced in the last year to get through security.
However, such worries were uncalled for, and as I arrived, I headed for the Premium Check-In at American’s desks. None of their desks were especially busy, but I was able to walk straight to a vacant premium desk. I checked in my small suitcase, and the check-in agent asked if I’d flown from Dublin before – she explained pre-clearance and told me my suitcase would go straight through to LAX with no need to collect and drop at Charlotte as would happen if I was flying from a UK airport.
Next, it was upstairs to the departure lounge where not only was I able to use FastTrack, but the airport has recently invested in new security scanners which remove the need to take liquids and electronics out of your bags or remove items such as shoes. These are the same scanners in use in London City (which had been my point of departure from the UK twelve hours previously). These new scanners also had an implication for US pre-clearance, which I will reference shortly.
Like many airports, the route from security is now carefully laid out by the airport designers to take you through Dublin Airport’s Duty-Free shopping facility. It provides a great range of products, but the prices are not remarkable, and you have to commend Toblerone for persuading so many international travellers that their large chocolate gifts are a product of Ireland rather than Switzerland…!
As you exit Duty-Free into the departure lounge, this is where things start to get a little different from most international journeys. At this stage on a typical journey, I might be looking for a lounge I was eligible to use, heading to a restaurant/café or, if running on a tight schedule, heading to my gate. While the initial two of those things are still on the agenda at Dublin for many passengers, many will be thinking about proceeding through US pre-clearance and that process is managed by an entirely separate set of screens located throughout the airport.
The range of US flights from Dublin is really quite considerable, with each of Delta, American and United having a good choice of destinations and then Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus serves a large number of airports such as the fairly obvious New York JFK, Chicago and Boston but also the less obvious choices of Windsor Locks and Cleveland with quite a few more.
The airport generally allows passengers for about four US departures at a time to head to US Pre-clearance and shows when each flight is open for this on special screens located throughout the Terminal. While food, drink and very limited shopping are available beyond pre-clearance in the dedicated pier of gates, it’s important for passengers to recognise this range is limited and you may prefer to continue shopping or dining in the main terminal for a bit longer but taking care not to leave things too late.
Overall, I was tremendously impressed how, on a busy Friday just after the summer holidays at a time of the day when US departures peaked, the queues for check-in, security and pre-clearance were perfectly manageable and acceptable in each area I saw.
Pre-clearance involves heading down escalators in Terminal 2 to an area decked out with extensive US stars and stripes flags to a couple of desks at the end of a queuing line – although I didn’t queue at all. They swipe your boarding card, and I confess I went through slightly before my flight had been added to the list of flights on the screen, and I faced no challenge.
Then, it’s a further flight of escalators down to the lowest level of the terminal. Then you enter US security, but this has changed recently. Since opening pre-clearance, the Americans have insisted on an entirely separate scan of hand baggage and people on top of that already undertaken by the Irish authorities as you enter the departure lounge.
Now, in a recent change, most passengers do not face such measures, but the US pre-clearance team are selecting about 1 in 10 passengers who are handed a red card and are then directed to random screaming of bags and self, which requires removal of all electrical items including many you might not remove normally. But I was the only person doing this check, and it was over quite quickly, with the security crew suggesting it was something that may disappear as the US Authorities become more comfortable that the new security screening in place for all passengers at Dublin Airport provides them all the reassurance they need.
All passengers then proceed to the US Immigration desks. On the occasion of my visit, there was a very small wait of about five minutes. US Immigration staff were polite and in good humour and no longer bring your checked baggage up on a screen for you to identify. So, if you avoid being one of the 1 in 10 randomly selected passengers, the process is now much simpler than it was previously.
51st & Green Lounge
You then walk into the ground floor of the largest pier at Dublin’s Terminal 2. You will then find that certain gates are closed off by glass screens at certain times with the object of always keeping the US Pre-cleared passengers “sterile”. I chose to walk the length of the gate pier to reach the “51st & Green” lounge, which occupies the far extremity of the pier on the ground floor. Business Class travellers and those willing to pay a Euro45 extra charge can use the unique “51st & Green” lounge provided solely for US travellers of all four airlines by Dublin Airport. This potentially makes the decision as to whether to proceed through pre-clearance a bit easier if you know you can use this facility.
The lounge has a good choice of food and drinks with a bar and self-service buffet and is perfectly adequate, although it lacks some of the refinement of, say, the choice of lounges at Heathrow for some US customers. It’s certainly not a Virgin Clubhouse or a Concorde Room! I arrived shortly after 09:00, and the main focus, of course, was on a hot breakfast with the usual items available, but the bar was serving alcohol to those who had determined it was 5 p.m. somewhere!
The airport provides a different mix of departure screens beyond pre-clearance to show passengers who have already done pre-clearance when their flight is ready for boarding. As I geared up for my American flight from Dublin, I had been looking at its previous performance on FlightRadar 24, and I was hugely impressed it generally pushed back early each day from the stand at Dublin ahead of the 11:15 STD and was often airborne prior to this too. On this occasion, we flew on a day with strong westerly winds, which bought a small disadvantage of an easterly departure towards the Irish Sea and the UK with a 180-degree turn after departure but a massively favourable tailwind across the Atlantic – a major contributory factor in our early arrival at destination.
American Airlines B777 Seat
Boarding at Dublin with American Airlines B777 is well managed, with a few passengers pre-boarding but then quickly calling Group 1 passengers, which includes One World Emerald cardholders such as me in Business. The B777-200 variants operated by Americans have no First Class, so Business Class passengers are always the highest-yielding passengers on the aircraft.
I was greeted at the aircraft door and pointed to my American Airlines 777 seat by a member of the crew with the offer of champagne, orange juice or water following soon after, along with a printed copy of a menu, which I always like – nothing worse than being asked “What would you like to eat Sir “ with no idea of what each chicken, beef or vegetarian option is likely to bring in terms of other ingredients, cuisine or cooking style.
American Airlines 777 Menu
American Airlines 777 Food and Drink
As suggested above, we pushed back early at 11:08 and soon taxied out to the western end of the airfield for our departure. With two runways, Dublin is well provided with space and runway capacity, and flights rarely experience much, if any, delay on the ground. Once airborne, service began quite promptly, and the American Airlines 777 crew were capable, competent and mostly friendly although they lacked the attentive style of the best of BA’s crews who can bring a customer focus and finesse to proceedings when you get the right team onboard.
I thought I might order a Budweiser Light, which was on the menu. The Cabin Steward laughed, told me it was flavoured water and suggested I think again! This slightly threw me, and I did as I was told, selecting a Mexican beer which was served with some very warm nuts, which I noted the crew had warmed in a foil container in the galley. The choice of beer was, with hind-sight, correct, and while his style was unconventional, I was grateful the cabin crew member had suggested I rethink matters!
American Airlines allows Business/First Class passengers to choose their main course online from 30 days to 1 day before travelling, and the cabin crew were keen to tell me how much this helps them and avoids disappointment for the passenger. There is no choice of starter, and dessert choice is handled on the aircraft after the main course, which, I think, is sensible.
So the main meal, of course, is lunch, and the starter arrived on a tray with the sole option of vegetable antipasti served alongside the salad of seasonal greens. Of course, many airlines (including BA now) offer a choice of starter, and I felt I wanted to have had that choice. I almost certainly would not have chosen vegetarian antipasti, but I have to admit it was absolutely delicious, with the baby leeks and artichokes perfectly combined with the eggplant puree (read aubergine if you are British!). The seasonal greens were a baby leaf salad with toasted pumpkin seeds, pomegranate seeds, and pecans served with balsamic vinaigrette. With my starter and salad, I took a glass of the Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.
My choice of main course was between steak, chicken, fish or Vegetarian Indian and full descriptions are shown on the menu extract. Frankly, I was impressed, and if American had plonked any of the four dishes down as my main, I’d have been reasonably happy, although obviously, anyone who wanted a vegetarian choice without Indian spice would have struggled!
I chose the Grilled Sirloin Steak. I always think anyone ordering steak on an aircraft has to moderate their expectations somewhat. It is always cooked more than I would like and always slightly tougher with a lack of the normal knife. On this occasion, I think the supplier had replaced Sirloin with a fillet of moderate quality. It was probably cooked Medium to Well Done and was served with Truffle Jus, potato and celeriac gratin with caramelised carrots and roasted leek slices.
At this point in food service, I switched to Argentinian Malbec to sample some red wine with my steak. It was a good selection, and the wines went well with the food.
I took the lemon tart for dessert and greatly enjoyed it, although many AA regulars will always sample the Ice Cream Sundae. A green tea brought things to a conclusion for lunch and allowed me to take a bit of rest and enjoy a small amount of in-flight entertainment.
Later in the flight, prior to arrival in Charlotte, I enjoyed a Thai Noodle Salad served cold with vegetables – the other alternative being a toasted BBQ beef sandwich with brie, which just didn’t appeal!
American had a variety of snacks available throughout the flight and also plated up the cold starters from lunch and made them available for business customers in the pantry.
Anyone booking an American Airlines flight with a 777 aircraft needs to understand there are three different layouts on their fleet with space preventing a detailed description of each although the internet has covered this previously. I recommend checking the type you expect on your flight and always consult the excellent seat maps available on www.aerolopa.com
My aircraft was a 777-200 with Collins Aerospace Super Diamond seats arranged 1-2-1 in a reverse herringbone layout with 15.4-inch IFE screens. Fundamentally, it’s the same seat fitted to British Airways aircraft as the new Club World Suite.
The toilet in our cabin was compact, nicely fitted out, and kept clean. In-flight entertainment was not something I spent much time on, and while the choice looked comprehensive, I couldn’t see anything that attracted me.
The aircraft had no first class cabin and just three rows of Premium Economy, which looks like a pretty reasonable upgrade on the baseline Economy product. The aircraft has two cabins of economy providing a substantial 212 economy seats, and this obviously represents the bulk of accommodation on the flight.
The seat ahead of me (1A) was not reserved for a passenger but was used by one of the flightdeck crew for his rest area during the flight! The cabin I was in was about 75% full, but passengers spent most of their time sleeping, resting, watching IFE or eating, and the cabin was tremendously quiet and peaceful.
The American Airlines crew were competent and efficient but lacked any degree of style, panache or delivering a special level of service. Service was just fine, but it didn’t impress or make a special impression.
The flight made excellent progress across the North Atlantic with that tail wind and we landed at 13:34 after a short flight of 7hr10min and were on the stand just three minutes later. I was one of the first off the plane and made my way to the exit as quickly as possible with no luggage to worry about. I set out to use my five-hour-plus layover productively while my luggage waited for the 18:45 flight to LAX.
Charlotte is a massive American hub, and this airport is somewhere to consider as an interchange to connect to virtually anywhere else in North America served by American – a fantastic choice of destinations.
In conclusion, the combination of pre-clearance working well, the flight running early, a great seat, efficient service, and some nice food/drink all combined to make this a good flight and an experience I’d be happy to repeat again with American.
This flight review was contributed by Mark Hopwood, who has made a video to go along with the review:
This video forms a small but growing collection of travel videos on Mark’s channel @markstrainsplanes on YouTube. Further videos from this trip will appear soon.
Like our American Airlines B777 reader review? You can read more flights reviews here.