American Airlines B767-300ER business class

31 Oct 2007 by Mark Caswell

American Airlines’ new service from London Stansted to New York’s
JFK, which began on October 29, is notable for a number of reasons. Announced only four months ago (see online news July 13) it is the debut of the new lie-flat business class
offering from American. It also marks the return of legacy carriers to
Stansted; both American (from 1992-1993) and Continental Airlines have in the
past served Stansted. And while the all-business class carriers such as
airlines Eos and Maxjet have been there for almost two years, American is entering the market with a two-class product, allowing economy class
passengers access to the route.

Lastly, it allows the estimated 14
million people living in the Stansted catchment area (calculated as those within
a two-hour drive of the area) the chance to fly into not only New York, but
American Airlines’ recently opened $1.3 billion hub at JFK (see online news August 30) and onwards to over 40 destinations across the
States and down to the Caribbean.

First impressions: Business
Traveller was on the inaugural flight from Stansted, so service was definitely
above normal. There was a swing band at the gate, the cutting of the ribbon by
American actor Christian Slater, speeches by Stewart Wingate, managing director
of BAA Stansted and Maria Sebastian, vice president of sales and marketing EMEA
for American Airlines, a champagne reception, the cutting of a giant cake and
traditional water shower from the emergency services as the Boeing 767-300
taxied out onto the runway.

Flight times are
AA125 departing Stansted 0915, arriving 1315 JFK Terminal 8, with AA124
departing JFK 1945, arriving London Stansted 0700.

The check-in area for the flight is
split between Zone D for economy passengers and Zone K for business class
passengers. Business class passengers have access to the fast-track, and the
shuttle train takes you through to the gate at Terminal 2 (second stop for the

At present there is a temporary
lounge opposite Gate 31, although American is building a dedicated lounge to
seat 48 with restrooms and two shower rooms to be opened in the first quarter
of 2008. This will be in time for the second daily flight to JFK by American starting April 8,
2008, which will depart London Stansted as flight AA129 at 1800, arriving into JFK at 2050, and returning
on AA128 departing JFK at 2145, arriving into Stansted at 0945.

The flight: The Boeing 767-300 has 225 seats (30
business, 195 economy). The redesigned cabin seems spacious partly because of
the ergonomically designed overhead lockers, and partly because the business
class seats, though contained within their own shell, aren’t very high,
allowing for clear sight angles around the cabin. The new business class seats
are in a 2-2-2 configuration, and are lie-flat with personal in-flight
entertainment (IFE)
with audio and visual on demand. This comes from a large laptop-like screen,
which can be detached from the seat in front, or simply unfolded to act as a TV
screen with the controls where the keyboard would normally be.

To one side of this is a power
socket which can be used for charging either the IFE unit or a laptop. Note though that a
special adapter is needed to power your laptop when using this socket. It can
be bought onboard from the duty-free catalogue, but at $125 onboard (none are
available for hire) you may simply choose to work until your battery is flat
and then fume the rest of the journey. The IFE was disappointing in its choice – under
‘Thrillers’ for instance, there was only one selection – Rear Window, from
1954. Nevertheless there is a large choice of TV programmes and audio choices,
and BOSE noise cancelling headphones were handed out

The food choice is a large one, with
four options for the main course, devised by AA’s ‘Chef Andrew Bailey
from [American’s] London
kitchen’. Cutlery is metal, and breads, salads, appetizers and wine choice
all mark this product out as one competitive with other airlines flying this

The seat is comfortable, with an
array of pre-set choices for positions suitable for take-off and landing,
reading or sleeping, as well as a ‘Memory’ button allowing the passenger to
find the perfect position and then enter it into the seat’s memory. In common
with most new generation business class seats, this is a lie-flat product
rather than fully flat. In the lie-flat position the arms of the seat can be
pushed down to give more room, though some may prefer to leave them up, partly
for privacy, partly to provide a brace to stop from rolling off the seat. The
service was efficient and friendly and professional.

Arrival: Arrival into JFK was
preceded by a lunchtime snack, the choice being a huge breast of cold chicken,
or a pizza (again both delicious). But an hour before landing, first the
headphones were collected for ‘inventorying’, and then the personal IFE systems about 30
minutes later. This may be necessary for the flight crew, but for anyone
watching a film it is very frustrating. Touchdown was extremely hard, but we
quickly taxied to our gate, which was about a 10-minute walk from security.

Verdict: American Airlines’ new
business class is a workmanlike product, which serves its purpose in allowing
travellers to sleep on night flights and work during day flights, but
reinforces the divide between carriers which offer fully-flat beds and those which do
not. In the latter group are many big names (Air France, KLM, Lufthansa,
Emirates) but on the competitive routes out of the UK, point-to-point flyers
may well choose another airline. Where American comes into its own is with the
depth of its connecting schedules from the new JFK Terminal and of course
connecting flights from its Dallas and Chicago hubs.


Tom Otley

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