As the last carrier to offer a true three-cabin first class product between New York JFK and Los Angeles/San Francisco, American can approach its competitive advantage in three ways: offer a truly compelling product, a marginally better product than the competition, or a subpar product while keeping the “first class” label. How would AA do?
Just to note, this review is from March 2015. I publish older reviews because they have never been previously published, changes are actually minimal (and noted) between then and now, and because they provide a better context for how I evaluate more recent flights.
I was connecting from my British Airways LHR-JFK flight and had a fairly tight connection planned…but not booked. My ticket was an award ticket and only the late flight from JFK-LAX had first class award space. I figured a five hour layover was a far better alternative than six hours in economy class but still wanted to get home to my wife. That meant I had to play the standby roulette. Would there be space on an earlier flight?
From Terminal 7 I took the AirTrain one stop to Terminal 8 and proceeded to AA’s Flagship Check-in door. The entrance is reserved exclusively for international and LAX/SFO first class travelers.
Inside, an agent checked me in but was unable to accommodate me on an earlier flight. She suggested I check at the gate.
Now stop for one moment. Yes, I was using miles, but let’s say I paid thousands instead. Would it have been too much of an effort to pick up the phone and call the gate for me? To at least place me on the waitlist?
Anyway, the whole first class setup is great at New York and after clearing security (with line-cutting escort) I proceeded directly to the gate.
The 5pm flight was boarding and I approached a gate agent, presented my boarding pass for the 8pm flight, and asked if I could be accommodated on the earlier flight. She took a quick glance at the boarding pass, shook her head, and said business class was full. I reminded her that I was seated in first class.
She typed for a bit and then handed me a boarding pass for 5F, in the last row of the cabin.
“You can board now,” was the only other thing she said. Alrighty then, let’s board.
American Airlines 133
New York (JFK) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Tuesday, March 17
Depart: 05:00 PM
Arrive: 08:26 PM
Duration: 6hr, 26min
Seat: 5F (First Class)
Onboard I found the first class cabin empty with boarding almost full complete. There were three non-revs (judging by their lanyards/badges) toward the front of the cabin, a man across from me, and me. Yup, the cabin went out half full.
That’s one reason United eliminated a three-cabin first class on its JFK-LAX/SFO route: it became known as employee class and often went out with open seats.
A FA offered water or orange juice in a plastic cup as well as an amenity kit.
We pushed back a few minutes earlier though ran into the usual afternoon congestion.
American Airlines A321T First Class Seats
The reverse herringbone seats on this flight were more spacious than the first class seats on my British Airways London to New York flight I had just flown. The seat was very comfortable in a semi-reclined mode and I ended up sleeping for most of the flight. I liked the bedding as well — the pillow could have been larger and plusher, but the blanket was comfortable.
American Airlines A321T First Class Food
It had been a couple hours since the afternoon tea service on BA so I was looking forward to dinner. Here’s the menu for the flight:
After takeoff, a hot towel and mixed nuts were offered. With the cabin so lightly filled, refills were offered as well, twice.
The Thai-grilled chicken with pineapple and watermelon was tasteless:
The salad course was much better: I appreciated the walnuts.
A surprise amuse-bouche appeared: mushroom soup. Just a tiny cup.
I chose steak for the main course because my brother had just flown from Miami to Buenos Aires in AA business and had commented that the steak was very good. Although the sauce helped to make it go down easier, the steak was well-done and very disappointing:
At least ice cream sundaes are difficult to screw up and I always enjoy this treat when flying on AA:
AA even has cappuccinos onboard its A321Ts:
In terms of food, that was it until a hot cookie was served prior to landing with some mints:
American Airlines A321T First Class IFE + Wi-Fi
AA uses Bose headphones, which are a huge step up from the noise cancelling headphones United uses. My flight had QC3s but AA now has QC35s. Gogo Wi-Fi was $40, but I had a pass via my American Express Platinum Business card (10 passes per year). AA also offers a good selection of movies, TV shows, and games. I kept the moving flight map on, however, in lieu of watching something else.
American Airlines A321T First Class Service
I must admit that service was disappointing. The FA working first class was nice enough, though he did not address passengers by name and just seemed to be going through the motions. He was not the least bit unfriendly, just not very friendly either.
American Airlines A321T First Class Lavatory
Just a small note: paper towels, no cloth towels in the first class lavatory. No amenities in the bathroom either, though it was clean.
Going back to my opening paragraph, I feel AA has missed out on a golden opportunity with its transcon first class product. It seems the only difference between first and business is the color of the table linen and larger seat. That larger seat counts for something, but Delta will introduce an even better seat for its business class cabin (closed-door suite).
Many studio contracts mandate “first class”, making AA the sole option. I suspect those contracts are lucrative. AA has also introduced a new Flagship Dining Experience at JFK that is available to premium transcontinental first class passengers. That is a great way to distinguish business from first. Still, I left the plane in Los Angeles satisfied but not at all impressed. Maybe it was just the surly ground service at JFK…