Tried & Tested

American Airlines B767-300ER business class

24 Nov 2007 by Tom Otley

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Business Traveller was on the inaugural American Airlines 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, as well as a champagne reception, the cutting of a giant cake, and the 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.

CHECK-IN 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 shuttle).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, which is due to open 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 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 US$125 onboard (none are available for hire) you may simply choose to work until your battery is flat and then fume for 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. 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, appetisers and wine choice all mark this product out as one competitive with other airlines flying this route.

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 prevent you from rolling off the seat. The service was efficient, 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 frustratingly, an hour before landing, first the headphones were collected for “inventorying” and then the personal IFE systems.Touchdown was extremely hard, but we quickly taxied to our gate, which was about a ten-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.

PRICE Business class fares with American start from £1,846 return but check for special offers.


Tom Otley

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