Go Behind the Scenes at American Airlines’ LAX Operations for National Aviation Day

Aug 19, 2018

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National Aviation Day falls each year on August 19, commemorating Orville Wright’s birthday. To celebrate, you could go fly, or go plane spotting at your favorite viewpoint — or you could spend the day geeking out with the world’s largest airline.

AirlineGeeks.com celebrated, a couple days in advance, by partnering with American Airlines to offer a select few AvGeeks rare behind-the-scenes tours of airports, maintenance hangars, operations centers and more at 13 hubs and facilities across the United States as well as at London Heathrow (LHR). Tickets were free, but only about 100 of them were made available, so they got snapped up within minutes after going online in early July. This year, I was among the lucky few to snag a ticket for the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) tour.

Maintenance Hangar

The first stop of the tour was the airline’s maintenance hangar. We were initially supposed to get a look inside a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, but unfortunately it rolled out of the hangar as soon as we arrived. Although disappointing that we weren’t able go onboard, watching a Dreamliner get pushed back from so close up was a remarkable sight nonetheless.

In addition to the Dreamliner, we saw a young Boeing 737-800, registered N989NN, which was taken out of service on August 13 for repairs to a fuel tank.

Ramp Tour

The majority of our day was spent on the apron, up close and personal with the planes. We donned earplugs and orange safety vests (which are ordinarily only worn by new hires) and got a first-hand look at what it takes to get a plane ready between flights.

We even got to crawl inside the cargo hold of an Airbus A321, which was certainly a rare opportunity.

The highlight for me had to be getting a photo in front of a jet engine — something that’s long been on my bucket list. This was a General Electric GEnx on a 787 that was being fueled.

Participants kept their cameras at hand for the entire day. Walking alongside an active taxiway, we never knew what unique sight we might stumble across.

Since Terminal 4, where most of American’s flights depart from, is directly across from the Tom Bradley International Terminal, we got to watch several superjumbos pull in and out of their gates, including a Korean Air A380.

Baggage Handling System

We then made our way to American’s baggage handling system, which all checked baggage goes through.

Although there will always be some bags that either get lost or take forever to arrive at the carousel, it amazed me how smoothly the system operates. After all, American handles over 30,000 bags at LAX each day.

Hub Control Center

From there, we headed up to American’s “Hub Control Center,” more commonly known as the Ramp Tower. The people here work closely with American Airlines’ Integrated Operations Center (IOC) in Dallas/Fort Worth and make sure that the airline’s 200 daily flights from LAX operate as smoothly as possible.

There were teams of controllers dedicated to managing every aspect of what it takes to turn an aircraft, from handling scheduled and unscheduled aircraft maintenance to shuffling gates and equipment to prevent flight delays. Besides these American Airlines employees, there were coordinators from airline partners who manage things like fuel dispatching, cleaning services and catering.

Flagship Lounge

Our final stop of the tour was the new Flagship Lounge, which you can read more about in TPG contributor Ethan Steinberg’s review. What no one was expecting, however, was the opportunity to visit and meet the executive chef of American’s exclusive Flagship First Dining room, ordinarily available only to passengers traveling in first class on a three-cabin American Airlines flight. While we didn’t get to have a full sit-down meal, we sampled the pear and walnut salad, the albacore poke and the pork tenderloin. None of the dishes disappointed.

Wrap Up

The day ended with a Q&A session with representatives from corporate communications, ramp operations, cargo operations, aircraft maintenance and Christopher Kaplan, the airline’s director of customer operations at LAX. Young enthusiasts were thrilled to hear that anyone passionate about working for the airline could apply for a job and that “educational background is not as important as you might think.” The American Airlines Cadet Academy allows prospective pilots with little or no flight experience to get the training they need to potentially become first officers at one of the airline’s regional carriers and eventually fly larger aircraft at American. Kaplan said that the airline isn’t trialing any enhanced in-flight services, such as Delta’s experiments with Bellinis and three-course meals in coach, but said that it’s always watching the competition closely. Likewise, although Kaplan didn’t have any new announcements, he did say that the airline is looking at adding more lie-flat transcontinental routes due to increasing competition from Delta and JetBlue.

Many thanks again to American Airlines for opening its doors for this event and Airline Geeks for its work in organizing it. Happy National Aviation Day!

All images by the author.

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