First impressions I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 at 0900 for my 1055 departure to Boston. American Airlines (American) has a premium kerb-side check-in service for business and first class passengers but, having arrived by underground, it was faster for me to walk around to Zone B, and I was quickly checked in.
As an Executive Club member with British Airways (a Oneworld partner of American), I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that when flying with another Oneworld airline I would earn miles and tier points in the Executive Club programme, but I was not able to on this trip. As a result, I enrolled in the loyalty programme of American Airlines, AAdvantage. At present, transatlantic passengers cannot check in online or provide this information through the American Airlines website.
The lounge I walked through to the large American Airlines Admirals Lounge, which has seating for 224, TVs with CNN and 10 workstations with credit card telephones offering complimentary local calls. The lounge has a selection of magazines and newspapers (both UK and US) and a free bar with drinks and snacks, as well as showers. There is also complimentary internet access, fax, photocopying and shredding facilities, and wifi internet access is available. I used this, paying £6 to T-Mobile, to work until my flight was called.
Boarding I queued at Gate 18 to present my boarding card, after which all passengers had to stand in another queue for 45 minutes, waiting to remove shoes and jackets, be searched, turn on our laptops and have our bags checked. Finally, we boarded the aircraft.
American Airlines flies with a Boeing 777 from London Heathrow to Boston twice daily, as well as Chicago (five daily), Los Angeles (two daily), Miami (two daily) and New York (six daily). It also has flights from Gatwick, Manchester, Dublin and Shannon.
The seat The Boeing 777 has seat configurations of 1-2-1 or 2-2-2 in first class, 2-3-2 in business class and 2-5-2 in economy. The business class seat is of the old cradle variety, with controls for the recline (up to 60 degrees), lumbar support and an extendable leg rest. It is not fully flat, but it is comfortable. The business class cabin was only half full on this particular flight, and the seat next to me was empty, so I found it easy to sleep for a few hours during the course of the flight.
American Airlines is currently introducing a new angled lie-flat business class seat (see Business Traveller, September 2006) on its Boeing 767-300 and 777 aircraft. It will feature: audiovisual on demand (AVOD) from a 27cm (10.6in) monitor and mood lighting, a seat length of 195.6cm (77in), a privacy divider and the ability to drop the outer armrest to gain a seat width of 58.4cm (23in). The seat also has a track-forward feature allowing passengers to move forward to a position where they are separated from their fellow passengers. This gives added privacy and comfort (and also makes it easier to reach the tray table and in-seat power supply). The seats will also have another industry-first: interlocking tray tables, one dropping down from the seatback in front, and a second lifting from the centre console. The tables can be used separately or opened together to create one large work area or dining surface.
The flight An attendant took my jacket, offered me a glass of Pommery Champagne or a soft drink, and we quickly moved towards take-off. However, because of congestion at Heathrow, we did not get airborne until 1125. Thereafter, Bose noise-cancelling headphones were given out, and when I released my personal TV screen, I discovered the entertainment had already begun. Since only a few minutes had passed, it wasn't hard to pick up the plot of X-Men: The Last Stand.
The food came round quickly, with a short but well-chosen selection of drinks (two white wines and two reds) and a choice of main courses: salmon, chicken, pasta or a vegetable dish. British Airways has its culinary committee to choose the food and wine; American Airlines has its Chefs' Conclave.
New for September 2006 were artisan breads, an antipasto plate and after-dinner chocolates – these were by Lindt and it's worth noting that some had extremely runny centres, which proved the end of the clean shirt I was wearing. To complement the meals, American maintains 18 different wine lists that are specially selected for various markets (see aa.com/dining for details). It's possible to download a 35-page guide to the wines in business and first class from the website – which, if you are interested in wine, is worth doing, particularly if you have your laptop on board and therefore don't have to print out the whole thing.
Before landing, we were offered a choice of Unos Pizza ("an individual Chicago-style cheese pizza") with green salad or a beef fillet sandwich.
Arrival We arrived only a few minutes late and swiftly disembarked via an air bridge without any problems.
Verdict Very good. The product may be old compared with other business class offerings, but it is comfortable, everything works, the entertainment on board is sufficient and the food and drink excellent. In addition, the service was extremely professional and staff were courteous and friendly.
Price A return fare with American Airlines for travel in mid-October is £2,926 in business class.