First Class, New York-Los Angeles
BACKGROUND AA has a new plane for mid-haul transcontinental flights – the A321, with fully-flat beds in first and business class.
It’s currently on select daily service between NewYork JFK and Los Angeles; by June, when the frequency goes up to 13 times daily, it will be on all LAX flights. It also flies the JFK - San Francisco service.
CHECK-IN I arrived at JFK Terminal 8 at 9:20 AM. There is curbside check-in, but the bitterly cold temperatures forced me inside to Zone 1, where the premium check-in is. The check-in attendant was very helpful and offered to put me on the 10:30 flight since I was so early, but I elected to stay on the 12:00 departure. From there it was a short walk to security, where despite there being only a few passengers it took over ten minutes to be processed.
THE LOUNGE AA has a few lounges at Terminal 8. Since I had time, I went into the Flagship lounge by gate 12 and relaxed, had some breakfast from the buffet and did some work. I then headed toward the gate, which means taking an escalator to go under one of the taxiways and then coming up on a different concourse. I spent 20 minutes in the large Admiral’s lounge there and got to the gate about 11:30.
BOARDING There was priority boarding for premium passengers through the doorway at the front of the plane, which meant that every passenger walks through First and then, if in the main cabin, the business section as well.
THE SEAT The aircraft is configured in three classes, four if you count the Main Cabin Extra. The five rows of First, configured 1-1, are all angled towards the windows. The seat is similar to that on the 777-300ER, and fully flat is just as comfortable.
The in-flight entertainment (IFE) has a wide choice of entertainment – 200 films, up to 180 TV programs, more than 350 audio selections and up to 20 games. However instead of the more traditional handset, there is a touchscreen handset. I found this very tricky to use. There was also a fault in my system so when I paused a film it would not restart. Despite having my system reset, this problem persisted. I tried to listen to music, but the music jumped around so I gave up altogether, and instead just worked, keeping my laptop charged using the individual power plugs.
The price of Gogo’s upgraded ATG-4 WiFi was $11 for one hour, $22 for two hours (but with one free, so three hours), or all day $28.95. I thought this was expensive and did not connect, but at least four of the six passengers in First did, so perhaps I’m alone in that.
THE FLIGHT My coat was taken after a few minutes, and I was offered a either Champagne, water or orange juice. We backed away from the gate at noon. Menus came around shortly after take-off, and the option of another drink. This was done individually (i.e. not from the trolley). The menu included a salad with seasonal greens and either chicken pot pie (“An American Classics item”) or lemon and dill grilled salmon. The portions were huge, and it was all very tasty, particularly the salad, which came with the option of two large grilled chicken breasts which made it entrée size.
Throughout the flight the service had a sense of being almost improvised. I reclined the seat and relaxed for a while. I didn’t get much sleep, however, because of all the flight attendants laughing and talking in the galley. But later on in the flight, when I asked my flight attendant if they had herbal tea or anything without caffeine, he said he didn’t, but then both he and a colleague went into their own flight bags to offer me what they brought along for themselves. So how do you rate service like that?
ARRIVAL We arrived on time into LA and there were no problems getting off, with First given priority. As I was arriving as a domestic passenger, I was quickly out of the airport.
VERDICT It was disappointing that the IFE didn’t work on this flight, but this was true of all three American Airlines flights I took in business and first on three consecutive days. The service was very good at times, and not so great at others. BT