Yesterday I got to attend this awesome event at my local airport that I know a lot of you would appreciate. It’s organized by AirlineGeeks.com, an aviation news website maintained by young AvGeeks. This was their third annual AAviation Day, and as you can tell from the name, it’s done in collaboration with American Airlines.
Although I attended AAviation Day at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, they hold the event at several locations, including all AA hubs, a maintenance base in Tulsa, and London Heathrow.
Tickets for the free event are a bit hard to get – they become available one day in July at exactly noon (AirlineGeeks announces the time on their social media feeds), and typically sell out within minutes. The groups at each location are small (there were only about a dozen of us at DCA). I set a reminder and was able to snag a ticket for myself and one for my friend/fellow AvGeek Robert. Score!
AAviation Day at DCA
On the day of the event, we met some folks from American Airlines at the north side of Terminal C and were issued earplugs, high-visibility vests, and passes to get through security (mine said I was in boarding group 8 – yuck!). 😉 Then we went through security just like regular passengers and they took us to an executive room near the Admirals Club.
A communications specialist from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (who I happen to know – hi, Brian!) talked to us about Project Journey, the multi-year construction project that’s intended to improve the passenger experience with a new commuter concourse (eliminating the dreaded Gate 35X and remote stands), new security checkpoints, and an easier trip between gates on different concourses. Long story short: DCA is going to be a significantly better place by 2021 (it’s actually already one of my favorite domestic airports).
Then we boarded an American 737-800 (which was scheduled to leave for Chicago not too long thereafter), where we got to take some photos and look around. (Having flown on this aircraft type on American more times than I can care to remember, there wasn’t too much new about this for me, aside from the fact that it wasn’t packed with fellow passengers.)
When we were done looking around the plane, they took us to American’s DCA operations control center, where they oversee things like catering, refueling, flight connections, and more. That was pretty cool – sometimes you don’t appreciate how many behind-the-scenes people it takes to run an airline, and the amount of attention they pay to detail.
Then we got a ramp tour on the North Pier, which was a great opportunity for some photos!
After that we boarded a bus and went to American’s maintenance hangar. Waiting there for us was a foam fire truck…not something I typically get to see up close.
The hangar itself was impressive (or at least as impressive as a giant empty space designed to fit two single-aisle jets can be). They perform routine maintenance checks and repairs on American’s planes there every night.
Next we had lunch, which they served to us from galley carts. I think they wanted to make it feel like a real inflight experience…I enjoyed that. Whoever says there’s no such thing as a free lunch needs to sign up for AAviation Day. The choices were both chicken-based – either a Greek salad or a wrap. I had the salad, and it was good!
The last big activity was one of the best – an air traffic controller spoke to us for a while about his very cool career and then took us up into the ATC tower. Sadly we weren’t allowed to take photos from the ATC room itself, but it was fascinating to watch and listen for a few minutes.
There was an area in the tower from which we got an amazing vantage point of the airport, though. (Fun fact: the best view of DCA is from the ATC tower bathroom.) We even got to watch a go-around!
Overall this was an incredibly fun day. I hope they hold the event again next year, because I’d love to do this at another location. If you’re interested in aviation (I suspect many of you are, unless you’re just here for the Priority Pass restaurant reviews), definitely try to sign up next year, and follow AirlineGeeks.com.