From this month, all premium cabins on American Airlines flights from London Heathrow will have fully-flat seats with direct aisle access. The B777-200 is the fifth version of business class that the carrier has, with the B777-300ER, B767 and B787 all having different variations, as well as the A321T Trans-Continental, the first class seat of which is similar to business class on the B777-300ER.
I’ve read that this is at least as much to do with the well-publicised problems with deliveries from seat manufacturer Zodiac as with the different shape of the aircraft, but AA is to be applauded for aiming to have fully-flat seats on all of its long-haul fleet. Some 13 of the airline’s 47 B777-200s have so far been retrofitted, with all to be completed by mid-2017.
I arrived at Heathrow T3 at 0900 for my 1015 departure on flight AA101 to New York JFK. I headed for the premium check-in desk and handed over my passport; I was then asked why I was going to New York, how long for, whether it was for business and leisure, who I worked for, how long I had worked there and where I was staying. These are all questions I expect from immigration staff when flying to New York but not from someone checking me in. Even if necessary, it created an unfriendly first impression.
After fast-track security, I went to the Admirals Club lounge briefly. It is large and impressive, with a buffet of hot and cold food, and many places to sit and charge handheld devices.
The flight was called at 0930. As I walked to Gate 30, the screens showed that it was boarding, and then when it was closing. When I arrived, there were several lines. I joined the premium one, which did not move at all, while all others were quickly processed. Eventually, I ducked under a divider and joined the economy queue. At the front, my boarding card was flagged because of an issue with my business visa – ironic considering the grilling I received at check-in. About ten minutes after boarding, Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve champagne was offered.
Business class on the B777-200 is in an uncrowded 1-2-1 herringbone configuration (A ,D-H, L) across two cabins (rows one to six and seven to 12), with seats alternated forwards and backwards. The Business Suite turns into a fully-flat 77-inch bed and “provides infinite adjustability in the upright position, including a unique Z-shaped lounge position for increased comfort”. This is achieved by a phone-sized controller set into the seat wall, which illuminates when you touch the screen. Unfortunately, I discovered that my seat, 11L, was broken, and despite two helpful crew members trying to fix it, I had to move from the window to the middle – 12H.
The seat had two universal AC power outlets and two USB ports, so I could charge my phone and laptop at the same time. The 16-inch IFE touchscreen is recessed into the wall of the seat in front, and can be released with a push-button. There isn’t much storage for take-off and landing, although once airborne you can spread out using the side tables; there is also stowage for a few magazines in a side pocket and by the USB sockets. There was a good choice of entertainment and Bose 15 noise-cancelling headsets were provided, as well as a Cole Haan amenity bag.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?
I went for a backward-facing seat because, other than United and BA, it’s a fairly unusual phenomenon. There are small differences between them – forward-facing ones have a shoulder strap for take-off and landing and a side armrest. I’d go for one of the window seats, which seem more spacious. In this main cabin, I’d avoid 12H (where I ended up) and 12D because you look backwards into the economy class cabin every time the curtain moves, and also across at the passenger in 12L and 12A, respectively, across the aisle, like the yin-yang layout of BA’s Club World. The lockers above the central seats are also slightly smaller.
We pushed back on time and took off half an hour later. Drinks were served at 1140, followed by the meal. I thought the wine list was good, but it seemed a missed opportunity that there weren’t any North American labels represented, and only one Latin American. Options included Bouchard Aîné et Fils “Vieilles Vignes” Bourgogne Chardonnay, France; Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega-Chardonnay, Veneto, Italy; and Catena High Mountain Vines Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza, Argentina.
Bizarrely, the whole meal was served at once – both my starter and hot main, which was perched on the edge of the table. My Thai green curry was tasty enough, but clearly had just been inverted into the bowl, and the “gourmet cheese plate” comprised a packet of wrapped Jacob’s Table Crackers, a bunch of grapes and three bits of tired cheese. Other mains included grilled beef fillet with porcini sauce, roasted duck with cranberry sauce, and a seafood trio of roasted cod, pan-friend king prawns and crayfish risotto. A light meal was served before landing.
The aircraft is wifi equipped, with access for the whole flight costing US$19. It was slow but usable, and I could keep up with emails for most of the journey.
We landed early at 1225. Immigration and customs took 25 minutes to clear.
The seat is comfortable for working, eating and sleeping, and the 1-2-1 layout is spacious, although it seemed slightly less so than on AA’s B777-300ER. The service after initial check-in and boarding was friendly and swift, but there wasn’t a lot of care taken over the food and drink, and none of the attention you get on some carriers, where staff walk up and down and see if there’s anything else you’d like. Overall, good, but with a little more enthusiasm from the staff, it could be great.
- DEPARTURE TIME 1015
- JOURNEY TIME 7hrs 50mins
- AIRCRAFT TYPE B777-200
- CONFIGURATION 1-2-1
- SEAT WIDTH 21in/53cm
- SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
- BED LENGTH 77in/196cm
- PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to New York JFK in July ranged between £1,844 and £6,915 depending on flexibility.
- CONTACT aa.com