American Airlines: First Class A321T
Flight: AA 2
Flight Route: LAX to JFK
Flight Time: 5hrs 35mins
Why did I pick American for a transcon?
As you may know, I typically like to fly Virgin America on transcons, mainly due the fact that I have status and I already have a decent amount of points with them. However, this particular trip was a business trip where due to the timing I was able to route through LAX. Additionally, I have been desperately wanting to give AAs new A321T first class a go.
For some background, if you are not aware, AA started this service in March of 2015. Prior, you had the option of their older first class which looks like the following (not nearly as nice as the new reverse herringbone seats):
There are plenty of reviews on this first class at this point, I am offering some further thoughts and images below which will hopefully give you a stronger well rounded view of the experience.
The new first class seat on the A321T for AA is actually the same product that is on their 77W's which mainly operate between US and LHR or US and Sao Paolo. The 777-300's business class is the same set up, therefore if you are traveling business class international any time soon it also happens to be my favorite international business class product operated by a US airline and is in my top-3 business class in the world (granted I have yet to review Cathay or Singapore).
On this trip I was heading back home to NYC. I chose to fly on a Sunday and the difficult part about flying back from the west coast to the east coast of the US is that due to the time difference it always seems like there is really no good option. Here's what I mean:
Morning flights: 6-9AM PST but they arrive around 1-4PM EST
Afternoon flights: 12-2PM PST but they arrive around 9-11PM EST
Red-Eye: I've taken more of these than I'd like to count so let's just stop there.
Point is, I chose the early flight so that I could get home in time to be ready for work. If anyone has a favorite of the above times let me know, I have a really hard time sleeping on planes regardless of what class of service I am in so it's not like I can 'just sleep through it'. However, that does provide me the opportunity to ensure I get the full in-flight experience and then I can tell you all about it!
Flight Review & Ratings
Everything below is on a 1-10 scale, to see my official ratings guidelines you can go here.
1. Quality of Seat: 10
So here is the deal, if we check SeatGuru, you can see the different class options (as highlighted below). One of the things that I like the most is that you have window and direct aisle access because it is a 1-1 set up. In Business on this airplane it's a 2-2 configuration, which I am personally not the biggest fan of but is fairly standard on any domestic First or Business class product. Therefore, what I actually like the most about AA's First Class transcon product is the seat, not the service or the food or the entertainment, but just the darn seat. It's comfortable, spacious, has all of the power you could possibly need and allows you to not have to worry about anyone next to you, behind, or in-front of you. Win.
Thank you SeatGuru.
Amazing seats all around, I was nothing short of impressed.
2. Quality of Entertainment: 8 (it would be a 9 if wifi was free)
I'm a huge fan of American's IFV and their entertainment system on the 77W and now the A321T. On the 77W it's not just first or business, even in coach it is one of the better entertainment systems that I have used. The screen is large for the seat and does actually come out of the wall, the only downside with this seat is that the screen cannot actually be seen much at all when it is tucked-in (which they ask that you do for taxi, take-off, and landing) as one would expect. So therefore, unless you enjoy watching movies from the side of the screen, you'll just have to wait to get in the air to use the awesome system here. Once airborne however, you have both movies, games, and wifi. American's wifi is unfortunately not free, even for those folks in first or business (some airlines have free wifi for those in Premium classes). American's wifi I have found to be generally good for those of in-flight systems, i.e. I can get Email done. It's not going to be nearly strong enough to stream content but it doesn't die out during the flight as multiple others will (JetBlue and unfortunately even Virgin America).
I like the IFV comes with a controller but it is also touchscreen. A good touchscreen at that. There is also a ton of content in this system, I've actually thought at times this seat is dangerous when I need to get work done because the entertainment system is awesome!
Overall, it's a solid entertainment product.
Note: The only better entertainment system I have experienced is Etihad's on their new A380 business class product.
3. Quality of In-Flight Food: 5
I know what you're most likely thinking, 'this guy talks up this flight and the seat so much and then gives the food a 5, how could he really enjoy this first class so much?'. I do take the food and the service into account but the fact is, I'm on a metal tube at 30k feet in the air, I do know that across the board, airline food is still airline food. Let's call a spade a spade. OK, now that we're passed that, US domestic carriers do not have the best track record of food or service in the airline industry. The issue I have with American is that on the menu everything seems decent!
In reality, things usually disappoint me rather than pleasantly surprising me. On this trip I ordered the omelet then the fruit. It's general pretty hard to screw those up, but the omelet was not good unfortunately. My favorite part of this service was the 'warmed on board' chocolate chip cookies. These are actually pretty darn good, but then again, you put the cookies in an over then serve them, how hard is that?
Overall, for the price of the ticket, the food leaves a lot to be desired. Then again, if you're buying a domestic first class ticket for the food, you don't really know what you should be expecting anyway.
4. Quality of Customer Service: 3
If you've ready my summary around how I rate airlines, you'll recall that I am extremely critical of customer service. In my opinion, the airline industry unerestimates how important customer service is to loyalty. If you ask someone how their recent experience on their flight with airline 'X' was, they can vividly recall their experience and unfortuantely that experience is usually not positive. I struggle to understand this and it seems to be an issue with that American carries more than any other regional airlines.
As far as American's first class service, once again, if you're paying $3k+ for a domestic US ticket, they should be walking the aisles routinely. During my flight it seemed they were walking the aisles more to go back and forth between the front and the back than anything else. They were not attentive to the needs of the passengers unfortunately. There were several times where I waited for 45 mins to get some water and instead I ended up getting up and then asking for it. You would think when that happened a flight attendant would say 'oh of course, I'll bring it to you.', nope, not on this flight.
Service was sub-par at best and the flight attendants attitude was terrible. American has to be careful here, if I compared my experience on American's first class vs. JetBlue or Virgin America's first class, American falls short, big time.
Side note: Recall my Mom was a flight attendant for 20 years and taught me how to treat people with respect at all times, even more so when they are paying for a product which in-part is built on the ability to provide exceptional customer service.
5. Quality of Fleet: 6
With AA, they have a pretty strong discrepancy in their domestic products now, however with the A321T it seems they are really trying to compete with the strengthening smaller airlines like JetBlue and Virgin America, however American's price point is just too high. Yes, American does offer a slightly better experience but the price is strikingly different (~$999 on JetBlue vs. $3k+ on American). I've always been a fan of American's 77W product but not the 777-200. Now that they are re-vamping the 777-200 and introducing new 787-8 & 787-9 layouts, I am hopeful but initial indications seems they are getting rid of first on the majority of their international aircraft in-exchange for a larger business class. The business class product has been adjusted since the 77W product's debut and I've yet to review American's new international product but I hope to soon!
<Insert picture of American's dated 777-200 business class, current 777-200 business class, new business class seat>
6. Flight Access and On-Time Reliability: 8
Flight boarded on-time and left on-time. American's boarding process is and always has been simple and straightforward in my mind. No major critique being it's a domestic flight with three classes.
7. Lounge Access: 6
AA's flagship first lounge at LAX has been under-going some much needed renovations, therefore they had some roundabout ways to get to a separate part of the lounge for first class passengers. They share the LAX lounge with additional OneWorld first airline passengers (i.e. those on Qantas), being as there was a Qantas flight leaving around the same time as our domestic flight the lounge was actually quite crowded. The Business class lounge (which you had to walk through to get to the first class lounge) was insanely crowded, there were absolutely no seats left and at 7AM on a Sunday morning it was at an unacceptable decibel volume due to all of the people.
8. Availability & Cost: 3
It's pricey and upgrade options are few and far between, even worse is with the recent American mileage devaluation it makes it more difficult to book first on this flight. When referring to cost it is also critical to keep in mind competing airlines, JetBlue and Virgin America both have lower cost first class options. Although both JetBlue's and Virgin America's first class products are much different then American's A321T service, they also have the added benefit of having stronger frequent flier availability and they are cheaper in both cost and points (JetBlue ultimately taking the cake here).