13th October 2013 at 08:34 #547576
Anonymous13th October 2013 at 08:34 #547577
First Class (‘American Flagship Service’)
Aircraft: 767-200 (First, Business, Main Cabin Extra, Main Cabin)
Duration: 6hr5min (scheduled). 5hr18min (actual airborne time)
Departure: 16:30 (pushed 2min early).
My itinerary was LHR-Miami (BA-J class). Miami – JFK (AA domestic F). JFK – LAX (AA transcon F). LAX – Honolulu (AA domestic F). I had taken a months unpaid leave from work and decided to visit friends in Miami, NYC and LA before taking a holiday in Hawaii. When making my booking I was unsure whether to treat myself to First Class on the JFK – LAX sectors as many of my american friends who are AA regulars said it was a waste of money over the J class fare. Still, as the flight is almost the same duration as a JFK-LHR flight and I was able to nab an upgrade option for £180 I jumped at the chance.
I made my reservation online at AA.com. The site is very clear, well laid out and easy to use. The site allows you to choose your seat at the stage of reservation for free. None of the seats appeared to be ‘blocked out’ for top tier elites (I’m a lowly OW Sapphire but this flight will finally push me to Emerald YAY). I selected my seat and elected to receive texts to my mobile phone with status notifications of my flight. When travelling in First or Business you can also choose your meal main course online which is a fantastic facility so you are never disappointed due to your option running out.
AA operates from terminal 8 at JFK, a bright and modern facility. I checked in using the self check machines which printed both my boarding pass and bag tag. There was no wait at bag drop (the check in agent had the same amount of personality as the machine I used t check in) and then it was off to security. At security, First, Business and OW elites are given a kind of fast track route called ‘priority access’. Despite this it was still a lengthy line and a good fifteen minutes to pass through security.
AA operates two categories of lounges. Admirals Club and Flagship lounges. The admittance criteria is not like most airlines and quite complex though most of the US airlines seem to use the same format domestically. For Admirals Club members pay an annual fee or you can pay $50 for a one-off visit. OneWorld Sapphires can use the Admirals Club regardless of class of travel or route. Emeralds can use the Flagship lounges which are only available in hub airports.
If you hold no FF status and are travelling First Class domestically you have no access to lounges which will be a shock to most non-American travelers. The exception to this rule is on ‘American Flagship Service’ or ‘AFS’ routes which are JFK/BOS/MIA-LAX/SFO. On these routes Business class passengers with no FF status can use the Admirals Club and First Class passengers the Flagship Lounge.
At JFK the flagship lounge is located in the same complex as the Admirals Club. The welcome was impeccable. I was walked from the desk over to the ‘special’ door to the Flagship Lounge and the kind lounge host explained that my gate was quite a walk away and how long I should allow. Having used AA Admirals Clubs widely I was looking forward to my first visit to the Flagship Lounge. And to be honest I was a little disappointed. The lounge was quite small and lacked any real character. Unlike the Admirals Club the booze is free and help yourself (in the AC OW elites are given two complimentary drink vouchers to use at the manned bar – everything else is chargeable) and there were some food options (anything other than trail mix is at a cost in AC). The lounge was fine but not what you would expect for a ‘Flagship’ First Class lounge. It was basically an Admirals Lounge a little quieter and with free food (sandwiches, cakes, soup and a hot dish of meat balls) and drink.
The stalwart of AA’s transcontinental AFS services are on 767-200’s. These birds are old but extremely well maintained and the cabin was spotless and fresh yet decidedly ‘old school’. The 767-200’s are rostered exclusively on the JFK – LAX/SFO routes and unlike most domestic flights that offer a two class service the AFS flights offer three – First, Business and Economy. First comprises two rows (rows 2-3 AB D HJ) and is configured a roomy 2 x 1 x 2. Business is behind in rows 7-11 configured 2 x 2 x 2. I was welcomed onboard by a cheery crew. I settled into my seat and was offered a pre-departure drink. When i asked what was on offer I was told ‘whatever you like’. When I said I was feeling a little indecisive the flight attendant in good humor said ‘oh then it’s water for you’. The flight was completely full. We pushed back two minutes early.
I was sat in First Class seat 2H which is an aisle seat on the front row. They are wide chunky traditional First Class seats, extremely comfortable for a long day flight. There are only two rows of First Class and the distance between seats is excellent. The controls are electric and recline and leg rest can all be operated individually. There are a few pre-set functions including ‘dining’ and ‘bed’. Despite the ‘bed’ option these are NOT flat seats – although they are not far off from being flat when fully reclined. The F/A explained that these seats are the ex 777 long haul F seats which on that aircraft were spaced out enough to be completely flat. When fitted on the 767 though although they were spaced apart well enough to have an excellent recline, not quite enough for a fully flat setting. The seat also has lumbar support and a massage function both which worked. I found the seat really comfortable. And more comfortable than AA’s angled lie flat bed on international long haul flights. Stowage space is basically the overhead locker or the seat pocket. There is also an area large enough to stow a laptop bag under a floor level compartment at row 3 but as I was seated in row 2 (which is the front bulkhead row) everything had to go into the locker. Being traditional recliners no suprise with innovative tables or such. A large table came out of the armrest and there was a cocktail table large enough for two drinks and two warmed nut ramekins. The two ‘solo’ seats (2D and 3D) would definitely be my choice if I was flying alone.
In flight service / IFE
After take off hot towels , menus, water bottles and personal tablets containing IFE were distributed. Drink and meal orders were then taken. I ordered a Bombay Sapphire and Tonic which was served with a choice of warm nuts of cheese antipasto. The Purser, Cynthia, then took meal orders – or in my case confirmed my online choice of Chile coconut shrimp. Tablecloths were then laid and the meal service began. I have experienced many meals in the ‘regular’ AA domestic F/J cabins (which have been pretty good) and was expecting the First ‘AFS’ product to be more or less the same with a few enhancements. I didn’t expect the superb inflight culinary experience I was to receive – especially not on a domestic flight within the US! The meal started with a jumbo shrimp and somen appetizer. Then a salad cart was wheeled into the cabin with fresh salad mixed chair side with ingredients of your choice. I had mixed greens, cucumber, feta and smoked chicken with balsamic. It was delicious. A selection of warmed breads accompanied. My Chile coconut shrimp with jasmine rice main course was hands down the best I have had on an aircraft. It was flavorsome and perfectly cooked. The other main course options were macadamia crusted chicken with mash potato or four cheese ravioli. The dessert/tea/coffee/liquor cart followed and I had the iconic American sundae which did not disappoint. Like the salad these were custom made and options included butterscotch, hot fudge, berries and nuts. About an hour before landing we were offered warm cookies and drinks. Then around 40mins to landing the crew brought around a tray of chilled sparkling water with lemon.
Inflight entertainment were handheld tablets in First and Business with superb Bose noise canceling headsets. The tablets had a decent amount of content for a 6 hour flight. The aircraft was also wifi equipped and there was the option of purchasing movies (from $3.49) and tv shows ($1.89) to stream.
I have flown AA quite a lot and have never had a bad crew. Yes, they are not as elegant or young or eager to please as your asian or middle eastern airlines F/A’s but something they seem to possess which lacks in nearly every other airline I have flown is a genuineness. They genuinely seem happy to be your ‘host’ and no they won’t gush over you but they are willing to crack a joke, be a bit cheeky or engage in some banter. I find them informal and experienced and that is the kind of service that suits me down to the ground. They never seem to get flustered and seem able to resolve ‘situations’ fairly rapidly. Give me a genuine flight attendant in their 40’s or 50’s with messy hair and grandma shoes yet with a bit of personality anyday than a glamourous yet robotic and false smiling 20-something in a tight fitting kabaya. The two crew members looking after us ten passengers in First class managed just the right mix of informality, professionalism, friendliness and efficiency. They patrolled the cabin throughout the flight and were constantly topping up glasses.
We arrived at our gate fifteen minutes ahead of schedule at LAX. I had a wait of around 15minutes for my checked bag.
An excellent service and in my opinion well worth the premium over Business Class on this route. You can see the importance of the JFK-LAX route to AA as competition is intense with Delta and United also offering special enhanced services on their NYC-LAX routes. AA stands out though as the only airline on the route offering three classes (or four if you include ‘main cabin extra’) and a wide body aircraft (Delta and United using 757 or 737 narrow bodies). Alas, AA is ramping up the ante by retiring their old 767-200’s and replacing them on the route with special configured A321’s with flat beds in First and Business. Many will rejoice their arrival but being the self confessed airplane geek I am, I will be sad to see the retirement of the old 767-200’s. I couldn’t help but feel I was having a retro flying experience ina time when yes, aircraft lacked the comfort of flat beds yet there was an element of glamour and open space about the cabins.13th October 2013 at 14:13 #547578
Great review RF.
5h18m, not bad. My last transcon was 6h45m on an A320 🙁
Totally agree with your comments about good, mature, cabin crew.
Also, good to hear AA are keeping their 762s in good order, as I had an MD80 flight a couple of years ago, where the cabin could have been a bio-hazard lab 😉13th October 2013 at 19:04 #547579
Great Review, rferguson! keep the good reviews up!14th October 2013 at 18:16 #547580
Can you shed some more light on the upgrade costs. Had you booked J and then paid at checkin?
Bet the 757 service to HNL was a shock after the Flagship service, though I must confess a solid domestic business product.14th October 2013 at 21:10 #547581
Great review, thanks!
Flying SFO – JFK with AA in F next month.
Will add my experience here afterwards.15th October 2013 at 08:10 #547582
Great contribution, as always, rferguson! One slight correction, though – “house” drinks are free in the AC lounges, the two coupons you get are for “premium” drinks (i.e. wine you can actually drink and spirit brands you have actually heard of). If you aren’t fussy, you can consume as much of the house drinks as you like15th October 2013 at 15:25 #547583
i’ll echo everyone else……great review rferguson
Especially the food….
You’ve got me drooling like Homer Simpson…: )15th October 2013 at 19:59 #547584
superb review rferguson
I had a similar lounge experience with Continental. Travelling domestic first, Continental Gold Elite status….sorry you cannot access our lounge said the lounge dragon gleefully.
I asked for a manager… He asked whether I had any other FFP cards. I showed my BMI Gold card….and that did the trick. Mind you the lounge dragon was apoplectic !!
Enjoy the holiday!
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.