Tried & Tested

Flight review: American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago

27 Oct 2019 by Michael Allen
American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

Background

American Airlines flies six times daily non-stop from Las Vegas McCarran International Airport to Chicago O’Hare International Airport on weekdays and Sundays. On Saturdays, it flies four times daily non-stop.

Check-in

I checked in at McCarran International Airport Terminal 1. Check in is done using self-service terminals.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

This area was not busy and I did not have to wait in line to use a terminal. The machine prints your boarding pass and check-in baggage tags. You need to pay for the check-in baggage. I paid US$70 to check two bags of up to 23kg.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

I then proceeded to the nearby bag drop counters, where I had to queue for a short while.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

Boarding

McCarran International Airport consists of 110 aircraft gates at two separate terminal buildings T1 and T3, each with its own parking garage, ticketing/check-in area, baggage claim, and shopping and dining options, according to the airport’s website. The two terminals are not physically connected.

I boarded at Gate D6 in Terminal 1, which is right next to several F&B outlets including Burger King, Starbucks and Rachel’s Kitchen. Unfortunately, my 9:54am flight was delayed due to bad weather in Chicago and we didn’t board the aircraft until 11:30am. Fortunately, though, McCarran International Airport isn’t a bad place to spend time waiting. You can even gamble on slot machines while you wait, though I refrained.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

I had a hearty late breakfast in Ruby’s Diner, during which I was approached by an affable elderly man conducting a tourism survey. He interviewed me about my experience in Las Vegas and gave me a free pen as a gift.

Once we did finally board, it was via a jet bridge and in an orderly fashion.

The seat

There are 114 economy class (“Main Cabin”) seats in this B737-800 in a 3-3 configuration, as well as 30 “Main Cabin Extra” seats also in a 3-3 configuration. The Main Cabin Extra seats offer additional legroom and other perks outlined by American Airlines on its website here. There are also 16 first class seats, though remember that first class on US domestic is closer to a premium economy or regional business class product and a far cry from first class on an Asian flag carrier flying long-haul.

I was in 30F, an economy class window seat at the very rear of the aircraft. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the seat, which was very clean and coated in what looked like high-quality leather. When I sat down, it was very comfortable indeed for an economy seat. The whole cabin felt fresh and new.

It’s worth noting, however, that American Airlines has two different B737-800 layouts. I was flying in the older 160-seat version. In 2018, the airline started converting its B737-800 fleet to a new 172 seat layout, which could mean a tighter squeeze in the economy class cabin. American calls this process “Project Oasis”.

American Airlines has tables on its website showing the difference between the old layout (which I flew) and the new layout. I’ve replicated the tables below.

Version 1 – 160 seats
Class Seat count Seat pitch Seat width Wi-Fi Entertainment Power
First 16 39-40 inches 20.4-21 inches Yes Overhead, personal device Yes
Main Cabin Extra 30 34 inches, bulkhead, exit row 15.9 – 17.3 inches Yes Overhead, personal device Yes
Main Cabin 114 31 inches 15.9 – 17.3 inches Yes Overhead, personal device Yes

 

Version 2 – 172 seats
Class Seat count Seat pitch Seat width Wi-Fi Entertainment Power
First 16 37 inches 21 inches Yes Personal device Yes
Main Cabin Extra 30 33 inches at bulkhead (rows 8-10), 38 inches at exit rows 16.6 – 17.8 inches Yes Personal device Yes
Main Cabin 126 30 inches 16.6 – 17.8 inches Yes Personal device Yes

An American Airlines spokesperson tells me that 304 aircraft are set to be reconfigured The airline uses the term “fleet harmonisation” to describe this process. As of October 18, 2019, 72 have been completed.

“The Oasis project was launched because we need to harmonise our fleet types, post-merger. For example, when American and US Airways merged, both airlines had A321s in their fleets but they had different seat counts. It makes it difficult operationally on crews and airport agents if say we need to swap out an A321 aircraft in the morning possibly due to maintenance and the replacement A321 has a different number of seats,” the spokesperson says.

“The new seats feature in seat power and tablet/phone holders so customers can watch selections from the largest inflight entertainment library of any US carrier. The seats also feature additional underseat storage space as well as an additional cocktail table. Customers can also connect to high-speed satellite Wi-Fi gate to gate.”

(It’s worth noting that American is also reconfiguring 202 A321 aircraft, with two having been completed already – but I’ll focus on the 737s for the purposes of this review).

The leg room felt reasonable and I was able to stow my small backpack underneath the seat without restricting my leg room too much. On the rear of the seat in front, there is mesh netting where you can store a book or similar-sized item.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

The air conditioning was easy to adjust thanks to a manipulate dial above your head. There is also an individual reading light which can be switched on and off using a button next to it on the ceiling.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

The seat had a decent IFE system

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

Which seat to choose?

While a popular aircraft seat rating website marks my seat, 30F, as an undesirable seat in this aircraft, I actually found it to be perfectly fine. Being in a window seat afforded me some spectacular views during the flight (more on that later), I was sufficiently far to the right that the proximity to the lavatories did not bother me, and being a morning flight I did not feel the need to recline during the flight.

That being said, you may wish to secure a seat further up the cabin, perhaps from rows 16-19, if you need to disembark from the aircraft quicker. I was one of the last passengers to get off, being right in the back of the plane. Furthermore, this is a fairly long flight, especially given that we had a delay on the tarmac, and so you’ll most likely need to get up at least once during the flight. Both passengers to my left nodded off for large parts of the flight, which meant that I felt compelled by common courtesy to not disturb them and wait to go to the lavatory until just before landing. Those with less willpower may wish to choose an aisle seat.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

The flight

We experienced some delay on the tarmac due to severe thunderstorms in the Chicago area. More than 1,000 flights were cancelled in Chicago because of the storm, so I guess we were lucky to have taken off at all. Due to the backlog, there was quite a queue of aircraft on the runway.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

When we did finally take off, I was treated to some incredible views of Las Vegas and its surrounding suburbs. As the plane banked around, I was able to capture some photos of the suburbs.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

We also flew right past The Strip, which looked rather sad in the daylight and amid the vast desert surrounding it.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

Climbing further, the sky remained cloudless and I got a free aerial tour of Nevada and Arizona.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

The photos don’t really do it justice, but believe me when I say it was definitely the most scenic flight I have been on this year.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

Indeed, I spent a long time just staring out of the window and didn’t use the IFE system at all.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

Eventually, we entered an area with cloud cover and the view was gone. I was starting to feel hungry, so decided to browse the menu. While economy class passengers get a free snack and drink on this flight, all other food needs to be paid for.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

The menu was nicely presented. The food is from Zoës Kitchen, a Texas-based restaurant chain with which I wasn’t familiar but with which local flyers may be better acquainted. American Airlines first partnered with Zoës Kitchen in September 2018 to introduce this new food-for-sale menu for customers seated in the Main Cabin. The menu was designed in collaboration with Zoës head chef and vice president of Culinary Innovation Antonio Iocchi, according to a press release from American Airlines released in September 2018. The new items became available for purchase on most domestic flights longer than three hours beginning December 1, 2018.

The food selection was good, the various meals were elegantly presented in the menu with full colour photos, and I thought the prices were reasonable. In case the photo below is too small, here is a summary of the meals available on this flight (excluding the breakfast items, which are only available on flights departing from 5am-9.45am).

  • Fruit & Cheese Plate (US$8.99) – fresh fruit served with sharp Cheddar, Monterey Jack and smoked gouda cheeses. Served with gourmet crackers and premium dark chocolate.
  • Hummus Duo Box (US$9.99) – Zoës classic hummus and basil pesto-topped hummus served with pita rounds, cucumbers and carrots.
  • Gruben (US$10.99) – All-natural sliced turkey, Havarti cheese, crunchy slaw and feta spread on marbled wheat bread. Served with spicy brown mustard and a chocolate chip cookie.
  • Chicken & Artichoke Wrap (US$10.99) – Grilled chicken with mozzarella, tomatoes, arugula and artichokes on a wheat tortilla. Served with balsamic vinaigrette and a chocolate chip cookie.
American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

I wanted the Gruben, but the stewardess told me it was sold out. I guess this was because I was in the very back of the plane. I decided on the Fruit & Cheese plate. At US$8.99, this seemed like a bargain to me, given that cheese in Hong Kong where I live tends to be very expensive.

As mentioned, economy class passengers on this flight also get a free drink and snack. My free snack was a Biscoff biscuit and for my free drink I chose a hot coffee. The Fruit & Cheese plate was nicely presented. The grapes were fresh and the cheese was tasty. The crackers were also good quality (from a brand called Acacia Gourmet) and came individually wrapped for freshness. The meal also came with a small bar of honeycomb chocolate from Chuao Chocolatier.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

For those interested in what actually goes into airline food, I took a photo of the ingredients of my Fruit & Cheese plate. It turned out it was made my LSG Sky Chefs, which is owned by German flag carrier Lufthansa.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

While I didn’t feel like drinking alcohol on this particular flight, I thought it’s worth noting what alcoholic beverages were available for purchase. Spirits all clock in at US$9 per 50ml and include:

  • Bacardi Rum
  • Baileys Irish Cream
  • Bombay Sapphire Gin
  • Canadian Club White Label
  • Dewar’s White Label
  • Disaronno Amaretto
  • Jack Daniel’s Tennesse Whiskey
  • Tito’s Handmade Vodka
  • Woodforwd Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

There were four choices of wine, each costing US$9 for a 187ml bottle, basically a normal sized glass.

  • Madame de Sainte Helene Merlot, France
  • Les Papillons Grenache Rosé, Pays d’Oc, France
  • Maison Robert Olivier Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc, France

I thought for a US carrier they would want to showcase some wines from one of the country’s wine regions, like California, but all the wines were from France.

Although it was not available on this flight, on transcontinental flights between JFK-SFO, JKF-LAX and MIA-LAX, as well as flights to Hawaii, a sparkling wine is offered for US$9. This is a Francois Montand Blanc de Blancs Brut, France.

There were five types of beer available at US$8 each:

  • Bud Light
  • Heineken
  • Dos Equis XX
  • Goose Island IPA
  • Fat Tire Belgian White

There was also a “rotational offering” of Samuel Adams. You had to ask the flight attendant about availability of this, though I didn’t inquire.

Furthermore, in case you didn’t fancy a full meal, there were three types of snacks available for purchase:

  • Power Bites Box (US$9.49) – Grass-fed beef jerky and almonds, cheddar cheese cackers, cheese spread and artisan crackers
  • Tasty Travels Box (US$6.99) – Gummy fruit snacks and almonds, energy bar and emoji cookies*, cheese spread and wheat crackers
  • Pringles Original snack chips (US$4)

*In case you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about, these are cookies in the shape of emoji’s, which are symbols like smiley faces used in electronic messages like texting to convey emotions. They are clearly targeting a certain millennial demographic here.

I’ll also list the complimentary drinks available here:

  • FreshBrew Coffeehouse Roast
  • FreshBrew Decaffeinated Coffeehouse Roast
  • Bottled water
  • Bigelow Tea
  • Mott’s Tomato Juice
  • Mr. & Mrs. T Bloody Mary Mix
  • Minute Maid Apple Juice
  • Minute Maid Cranberry Apple
  • Minute Maid Orange Juice

It’s worth noting here that you only get a snack if your flight is over 250 miles. The snacks are:

  • Biscoff cookies
  • Pretzels

Though I wasn’t offered a choice of snacks and just given Biscoff.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

Arrival

The rest of the flight went smoothly and we made a smooth descent into a slightly rainy Chicago, the storm that had delayed us having mostly passed already.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

On the tarmac, I was able to spot this American Airlines Airbus A319 in Piedmont Retro Livery.

American Airlines B737-800 economy class Las Vegas to Chicago / photo by Michael Allen

Verdict

Very seldom do I truly enjoy flights when I sit in economy class, but I have to say that this was a very pleasant experience. The seat felt well-designed, comfortable and it’s made of quality materials. The food and drink selection is just right for a flight of this segment. The food I had was high quality and I thought good value.

The spectacular scenery certainly added something special to this flight and contributed to my enjoyment of it. Of course, depending on what weather you get and where you sit in the aircraft, you might not see the same scenery I did, but it’s definitely a flight I recommend taking with a window seat on a cloudless day.

I am a little concerned that the new 172-seat layout being gradually introduced to American’s B737-800s will reduce comfort for economy class passengers, since it appears that more seats will be crammed into the same space – but I’ll withhold judgement until I’ve tried it. Indeed, it does seem that the new seats will have some features lacking in the current cabin, such as adding power outlets and larger overhead bins.

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