Flight Report: American Airlines Shuttle LGA-BOS
Welcome to the "summer of hell!" As Amtrak has become less reliable with delays, poor service and Penn Station resembling one of the deepest circles of eternal torment, air is becoming the better option for travel between New York, Washington, D.C. and Boston. With oil prices helping keep airfare relatively low, flying becomes even more practical of a choice.
Even if Amtrak service wasn't so poor, the price of airfare has fallen below the cost of northeast corridor rail service in many cases. At the "saver" level, Amtrak's standard Northeast Corridor tickets are $49 each way between New York and either Boston or D.C., but saver fares can be hard to come by unless you're booking far in advance. "Value" fares are $78 each way. If you want to take the Acela to save some time over the regular train, there are no saver fares and tickets start at $117 for each way. Meanwhile, roundtrip airfare can be found in the low $100s, depending on when you're flying. With Delta and American Airlines operating regular shuttle service between the cities, and United offering a full schedule of flights, flying often becomes a better option.
That was how my fiancée Reni and I found ourselves taking the American shuttle to Boston on Memorial Day weekend. I've reviewed the Delta shuttle, which operates from New York's La Guardia to Boston, D.C., and Chicago, and United's EWR-BOS flight, but this was the first time I've tried American for the hourly short hop. So how does it compare to the competition?
When we booked the trip, we found some intense price variation — fares ranged from $120-$350 between the three legacy airlines and JetBlue, depending on whether we left Friday or Saturday and what time we flew. We decided on an 8 a.m. Saturday departure on American's LGA-BOS shuttle. The early weekend wakeup was rough, but had a perk: the ride to the airport was a piece of cake with no sign of the perpetual La Guardia traffic disaster. Since La Guardia is a pain to get to by mass transit, especially from Brooklyn, we took a Lyft — earning some extra Delta miles in the process.
Security was easy thanks to PreCheck. American's shuttle leaves from Terminal C, which is shared with Delta. While the Delta shuttle to Chicago and D.C. leaves from the Marine Air Terminal, the Boston shuttle is grouped with regular Delta flights.
Reni is an authorized user on a Citi AAdvantage Executive card, which meant that we had access to the Admirals Club lounge. At 6:30 on a Saturday morning, it was virtually empty. There was a nice assortment of breakfast foods including Chobani yogurt, assorted bagels, english muffins and loaves, hard boiled eggs, oatmeal and cereal.
More importantly: there was coffee. And not just any coffee: La Colombe coffee.
Plenty of comfortable seats, and because the windows face east-ish there was a ton of sunlight in the morning. The wifi was fast, and service was great.
After a pleasant breakfast, we left for the gate a few minutes before boarding; knowing how overzealous American can be with "D0" on-time performance, we didn't want to risk being late. American recently changed their boarding process, and as a Citi AAdvantage Platinum card holder we had "priority boarding." That meant that we were in group five, just behind the first class and elite passengers. In practice, this was more like being in the second group to board, since groups 1-4 all boarded at the same time and were fairly small.
The plane, an Embraer E190, was fine. Not much to write home about, but it's a 45 minute flight so what do you really need? There was no seat-back In-Flight Entertainment (IFE), which is the growing trend on American Airlines planes, as well as many other airlines. Delta flights I've taken between New York and Boston have had IFE, while United has been hit-or-miss. The cabin was relatively sparse, with outdated-feeling blue seat covers with adjustable headrests and large tray tables. Soon enough, we were in the air.
American recently announced that they were cutting in-flight service on their flights shorter than 250 miles. This includes JFK-BOS flights, but LGA-BOS flights on the designated shuttle service were exempted from the cuts. I suspect there's so much competition for business travelers that American felt they'd lose an edge in the shuttle offering.
While I definitely appreciate the complimentary drink service and like that they kept it, I have to admit it's a little silly. The flight is so short that by the time the flight attendants come through the cabin and finish giving out drinks, they have to turn right around to collect the cups before landing. You basically end up chugging your drink. It's not like you get to relax and enjoy it. It's worth noting that beer and wine is included, even in economy.
After a smooth and easy flight, we were on the ground in Boston. One really nice feature of the American Airlines shuttle that the competition doesn't have: passengers exit from both the front and the rear door of the plane. That speeds things up, and while it may only save a few minutes, that actually makes a difference when the flight is so short.
Our flight back was scheduled for 7 p.m. on Memorial Day. Before we left for the airport, we got notifications that the flight was delayed until 7:50 because of poor weather. We went to the airport on time anyway — just to be safe — knowing we'd likely have to sit around for a while. We also figured it was worth trying to get on an earlier flight.
When Delta has announced flight delays, I've been able to switch flights for free — it seems that space is allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis. For instance, on that trip to Chicago we were able to snag the last two seats on the earlier flight from right within the app while we were in the cab to La Guardia. On this flight, American didn't give us the opportunity to change flights. Maybe the alternatives were already full, but we couldn't even find the option to search. When we got to the airport we asked about walking onto an earlier flight, but the standby list was extensive and full of elite passengers. We ended up just settling in to the Admirals Club again and waiting out the delay, which was pushed back to 8:30.
The Admirals Club at Boston Logan's Terminal B was also on the nicer side. It had standard domestic lounge food including hummus with vegetables, cheese, cookies, crackers and a few kinds of soups. The complimentary alcohol selection was weak, with a couple of subpar wines, well liquors, and just Bud Light. Higher-quality drinks were available, although they cost extra. That's roughly on par with most domestic lounges, although I prefer the house wine in Delta SkyClubs, and their complimentary liquors and beers are higher quality — you still have to pay for "premium" drinks.
The Admirals Club had an unexpected surprise: a complimentary guacamole station! An attendant at the station would mix any toppings or seasonings you wanted into guacamole, which was served with chips and salsa. The "base" guacamole was clearly pre-made and packaged, but it was still tasty enough. Especially once you chose toppings.
We left for the gate shortly before boarding, and enjoyed another easy boarding process. Because virtually nothing on American's fleet is standardized, the plane had a different refreshed interior despite being another E190.
It was a bit nicer, though still no IFE. Again, this was perfectly fine considering how short the flight was, though it would be disappointing on a longer one. Despite the rainy weather, the flight was smooth and easy — no bumps, no spilt drinks (quickly gulped down before landing). There was no back-door exit at LGA, but it really wasn't a big deal. We took a Lyft home. Our car had a little trouble getting to the passenger pickup area due to traffic, but everything was clear after that.
Which Shuttle Wins?
When it comes down to it, on 45-minute flight there's not much in terms of in-flight service that could make a difference. I would give the edge to Delta because of the incredible flexibility when a flight is delayed. On a shuttle with service once an hour, that can be extremely useful. It's disappointing that Delta's Boston flights from LGA no longer fly out of the Marine Air Terminal with the Chicago and D.C. shuttle service, but Terminal C is fine — especially if you have access to a Delta SkyClub through a credit card or frequent flier status.
That said, American is also a solid option, providing a pleasant and comfortable flight. I know the airline has been taking a lot of flack because of its mismatched fleet, devalued frequent flyer program and other complaints, but I found nothing bad to report about the shuttle. IFE is a nice perk, but it's such a short flight that it really doesn't matter. Obviously, having lounge access was a big help.
I rank United third, though it doesn't count as a real shuttle service. The last time I flew EWR-BOS it was an aggravating experience, so I would definitely opt for Delta or American over United. I also want to give JetBlue a try, although I have less use for the airline's TrueBlue points than SkyMiles, AAdvantage Miles, or MilagePlus miles.
Have you flown on a shuttle service out of New York recently? How did your experience line up with mine? Let me know in the comments!