Considering that I’d been up since 5:30 in the morning, I was REALLY looking forward to the next stage of our trip to Europe, a flight to Paris in Business Class on an American Airlines A330. Why did I pick this routing through Philadelphia, with a nonstop from Dallas available? The US Airways “Envoy Suite” earned rave reviews, and I wanted to try it out before the airline’s demise. I missed the cutoff by a week, but fortunately, the equipment for this flight didn’t change. That meant I still got to check out Envoy Class.
Note: Brad and Rocky both sampled this product previously under the US Airways Envoy banner. See Brad’s review of his flight from Philadelphia to Madrid, and Rocky’s review of his flight from Philadelphia to Rome.
American Airlines (AA) Flight 754
- Saturday, October 24, 2015
- Depart: Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), Gate A24, 18:15, on-time
- Arrive: Paris – Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), Terminal 2A, Gate A38, 06:28, 27m early
- Duration: 7 hours 13 minutes
- Seats: 3C, 3F
- Equipment: Airbus A330-200 (332)
American Airlines A330 Seat and Interior
After our second visit of the day to the Terminal A – West Admirals Club, my wife and I headed over to the gate about 10 minutes before scheduled boarding time. It only took a few minutes to get there. Just as we walked up, the gate agents announced boarding for Business Class passengers. My wife and I made our way down the jetbridge, but I snapped a quick photo of our plane first.
The fading daylight and glare on the window made getting a good photo difficult. However, you can see that American already re-painted the plane in the new livery. Talk about quick. The flight attendant directed us to our seat, and I had a few minutes to get a few photos and first impressions of the cabin before settling in. First thoughts: the cabin and seats bore quite a resemblance to British Airways Club World. But, the faux wood paneling on the bulkheads seemed rather kitschy. To me, it just screams of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster in the original National Lampoon’s Vacation.
I also quickly sought out the amenity kit to see which of the “heritage series” kits were loaded on this flight. Today’s selection: Allegheny Airlines. I won’t go into details of what’s in the kit, as James already covered this in his amenity kit review series.
The cabin features a typical 1-2-1 all-aisle configuration, so the standard advice applies. In other words, if you want privacy, grab one of the window seats. If you are traveling with a companion or significant other, take a pair of middles. With the divider down, the middle seats lack privacy, since with the angle of the seats, you look right at the person next to you. That was fine for my wife and I, but if you are seated next to a stranger, you might find it disconcerting.
The seat itself is quite spacious. Even with the seat upright for takeoff, there is plenty of room to stretch out fully. If you are shorter like me, it’s difficult to prop your feet on the ottoman. Because the ottoman is fixed in place, there is also a small storage area underneath for a laptop bag or purse.
As for power, the seat features one USB port and one AC plug in the armrest area. Both are well-placed to plug in your phone and/or computer and work at the same time. There is also a small storage area where you can rest your phone when it is plugged in but not in use. As you can see, it is plenty big enough to hold the amenity kit.
American Airlines A330 Meal Service
As I explored the cabin, the FA handed out menus, and offered a choice of water, orange juice, or champagne as a pre-departure beverage. I took a champagne, in this case “Charles Ellner Grande Reserve Brut”. I’m really not a fan or connoisseur of champagne, but it retails for about $40 a bottle, and appears to rate pretty highly. As for me, while I take the obligatory pre-departure flute, I immediately switch to something else. Below is the full food and beverage menu, if you wish to peruse the selections.
Shortly before departure, the purser came through to take meal orders, and addressed passengers by name. Great, I thought – but then he got to me, just said “Hello!!”, and asked for my order. So, I don’t get addressed by name because it’s hard to pronounce? I’m used to having it butchered (I really don’t consider it a big deal when it is), but c’mon, not even trying is just bad form. Anyway, AA’s online meal ordering system had been out of commission for several months prior to our flight. I called reservations a few days before to place an order, but apparently it never made it to the flight manifest. It wasn’t a big deal as what I wanted was available anyway, but that was annoying. Fortunately, that functionality is live once again.
We pushed back right on time, and were soon on our way across the Atlantic. Once we reached 10,000 feet, I enjoyed finally getting to relax in my seat with a drink and those famous mixed nuts while watching a little TV. I like the TV screen in this seat. While relatively small, it features excellent resolution, with great sound from the Bose headphones. Unfortunately, the only scotch available was Dewar’s White Label, not the greatest choice for drinking straight. As an aside, this is a step down from what I remember from several years ago, when a limited quantity of Glenlivet single malt was kept in stock. At least the FA was kind enough to bring me two bottles.
And in a quick episode of “Airline Bloopers”, which airline are we flying today, anyway?
Before I knew it, it was time to chow down, starting off with a mixed green salad with sour cream and herb dressing. Accompanying the salad: a tomato tart with artichoke hearts, olives, and what appeared to be a pesto condiment.
The salad wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t much variety to the fixed greens. It was mostly lettuce, with a little arugula thrown in. The sour cream herb dressing was excellent, however, and the pieces of parmesan cheese gave it some needed heft. I’ve really taken a liking to the new pretzel rolls, and it was excellent as always, with a soft, tender center and a meaty crust. The tart was forgettable, mainly because I hate pesto, and it really needed a sauce. As an aside, the whole wine in a Coke glass thing is a bit weird. At least the French red pictured here, though inexpensive (it retails for $10-15 a bottle), was of good quality, with a strong peppery note that paired well with the main course.
Speaking of which, I rolled the dice and went with the coffee crusted beef filet (what I had tried to order in advance). It was served with red wine sauce, roasted potatoes, and sauteed spinach.
I know I take a big risk ordering beef on airplanes, but I just can’t help myself chasing unicorns. And unfortunately, the dice came up snake eyes again. The meat was overcooked, with the unfortunate freezer burn taste that goes along with it. Which was too bad, because the meat actually had a very nice sear on the outside. Plus, the slightly sweet red wine sauce created a wonderful contrast with the slightly bitter coffee crust.
Last but not least, time for dessert, for which I chose the Ben & Jerry’s Heath Bar Crunch ice cream.
I was kind of hoping for a sundae, but this was a good consolation prize, especially since I really like Heath bars.
American Airlines A330 Sleep/Breakfast Service
Dinner service was completed fairly quickly, with trays cleared a little under 2 hours into the flight. A stiff tail wind, though, meant only about 4 1/2 hours left to go. Not wanting to waste any more time, I switched the seat to bed mode to settle in for some sleep.
This is a very good product for restful sleeping. The seat is fully lie-flat, and though the stated dimensions are similar, feels more spacious than, say, American’s 787 Business Class seat. It’s also super comfy, and I was out cold in only a few minutes. Perhaps it was a bit TOO comfy, as when I finally came to, a look at the moving map showed only 55 minutes until landing. I had planned on skipping breakfast all along, but I found it disappointing that it wasn’t even offered when I woke up. Usually when I wake up so late, the FA will at least ask if I’d like a cup of coffee or water, but I didn’t even get that.
American Airlines A330 – Overall Thoughts
And that was a microcosm of the service level on this flight in general. Not terrible, but generally disinterested, and not particularly eager to go the extra mile to please. I just never really detected much enthusiasm on the crew’s part, especially the purser. It just seemed as though they wanted to go through the motions and get the flight over with. So overall, despite the excellent hard product, I found myself disappointed with the experience overall. That just goes to show that the quality of the crew can make or break a long flight.
Even more than that, though, I find that these east coast runs are just too short to fully enjoy premium class. I’m used to flights out of DFW or IAH, where a 9-10 hour flight time to Europe provides plenty of time to enjoy a drink, the full meal service, and a good sleep. With a 7-hour total block time, though, I feel like I have to rush to eat. For me, the meal service is one of the most important pieces of the premium class experience. I hate the choice of either rushing through or taking my time and then feeling like a zombie the next day while operating on 4 hours of sleep. Not AA’s fault, of course, but I’ll stick to direct flights from home next time.
When I booked this trip, I had to do separate tickets beyond Paris. Given the horror stories I’ve heard about connecting at CDG, combined with the need to clear immigration and collect bags before checking in for our onward flight to Prague, I built in an extremely generous (more than 6 hour) layover, with a 1:20 P.M. scheduled departure. But our flight ended up getting to the gate nearly half an hour early. Much to my surprise, clearing passport control and collecting our checked bag was a piece of cake. We were ready to go before 7. That also gave us a good chunk of time to head into Paris and check things out. A good problem to have, if you ask me. In my next installment, tune in for what you can accomplish with a few unexpected hours in Paris.
This post is part of my trip report series about our trip to the Czech Republic and Romania in October. Click here for the introductory post and trip report index.