Exactly one week after leaving home to head to Europe, we had to pack up and head back home again. On the way over, we went the long way via Philadelphia so I could sample the former US Airways Envoy Class. On the way home, though, we kept it simple and took the nonstop to Dallas. The bad news: American doesn’t operate the Paris-DFW route using updated aircraft. Specifically, the old style American Airlines B777-200 Business Class, about as long-in-the-tooth product as you can get. Hey, it’s still got to be better than coach, right?
American Airlines (AA) Flight 49
- Saturday, October 31, 2015
- Depart: Paris – Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), 11:04, Termainl 2A – Gate A43, 4m late
- Arrive: Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW), 15:58, Terminal D – Gate D18A, 23m late
- Duration: 10 hours 54 minutes
- Seats: 11H, 11J
- Equipment: Boeing 777-2000
It took about 25 minutes to make our way from the Hilton to Terminal 2A. But, I ended up wasting almost another half an hour to figure out how to get my VAT refund form stamped and where to drop it off. This included accidentally going to a customs desk in Terminal 2C, only to be told that I had to go to the desk in Terminal 2A. Word to the wise – that “Tax Free Shopping” that so many retailers in Europe promise is all too often not worth all the hoops that you’re forced to jump through to claim your refund. Anyway, the line for Business Class check-in was short. Even including the security theater of 20 questions that get asked for U.S.-bound flights, we were done in maybe 5 minutes. Security and immigration were likewise quick, getting us to the Admirals Club by about 9:15.
American Airlines B777-200 Business Class – Flight Experience
Once inside, the inside of the cabin looked all too familiar, as a long-time veteran of American’s nonstop Chicago-Delhi flight during its years of service. My very first time flying American’s Business Class was on the Delhi-bound 772 back in February, 2006, which then still utilized recliner-style seats. The angled-flat, 2-3-2 configuration was a major improvement – in 2007. Now, the cabin just looks sad and dated.
What makes this product especially uncompetitive is the seating configuration. In a day and age where a premium is placed on aisle access from every seat and privacy from your neighbors, these seats simply don’t cut it. There really is no privacy at all. Plus, unless you’re seated on the aisle, you’re going to have to climb over your neighbor to get out. That’s something easier said than done if he or she reclines their seat completely. On the other hand, for couples traveling together, an aisle/window combination is hard to beat. One of the major shortcomings of the increasingly popular reverse-herringbone configurations, such as the one found on American’s 787 Dreamliner, is that there really are no good seat pairs for those traveling together and wanting to socialize in-flight.
The old configuration also comes up short in the area of in-flight entertainment. Each seat features a power port, but only via the old school DC car adapter plugs. Fortunately, I still carry one in my laptop bag. The seatback screen is also small, and marred by poor picture quality. The system is on-demand, though the selection is a limited. Storage space is also extremely limited. As you can see from the first photo above, the only option, aside from the tray table, is the armrest. It can get quite congested if you’re trying to work and charge your phone, while also sipping on a drink or partaking of the mixed nuts.
One plus of this seat: plenty of space underneath the seat in front to store personal items. One of my pet peeves of newer seat designs is the lack of underseat storage. This forces you to stow your personal item in the overhead bin, and then hope that the captain turns off the seatbelt sign promptly. No need to worry about that in this cabin. As for the amenity kit, it was the same Allegheny Airlines heritage kit that we had on the flight over. Please see James’ amenity kit review series for a review of the heritage kits.
Shortly after sitting down, a flight attendant offered a choice of champagne, orange juice, or water. I’m not a champagne fan, but I always take a flute while on the ground for the obligatory champagne selfie.
As everyone got settled, our FA handed out menus and came by a few minutes later to take our orders. Strangely enough, my pre-ordered meal made the FA’s list, but not my wife’s. It wasn’t an issue, because what she wanted was available anyway. I should mention before going any further – our flight attendant, Martha, was simply AMAZING. She started off by introducing herself and addressing my wife and I by name, maintained a cheerful, helpful attitude from start to finish, and just generally gave the impression that she enjoyed her job and wanted her passengers to share in her enjoyment. Anyway, below is the full menu for the flight.
Pushback was just a couple of minutes behind schedule. As is usually the case from CDG Terminal 2, the taxi to the runway is long-ish. On the bright side, if you have a window seat, you can enjoy some interesting sightseeing on the airport grounds. It started with this interesting looking gray circular building, which I believe is the satellite building for Terminal 2A.
The ride out to the runway also makes for some spectacular planespotting. Among the highlights on this Saturday morning: an interesting Airbus parade at the 2A satellite terminal. First, an Air Tahiti Nui A340.
Behind it, an XL Airways A330.
And behind that, an Air Algierie A330.
And last but not least as we headed out towards the runway, a mock-up of the Air France Concorde, a memorial to the tragic crash of Air France Flight 4590 on July 25, 2000.
After a smooth take-off roll, drinks service began fairly promptly after reaching 10,000 feet, with the usual warm mixed nuts. I decided to go with white wine, the California chardonnay. It wasn’t bad; it’s light and features noticeable vanilla notes, though it is a bit tart.
The nuts and chardonnay made for a nice combination as we passed over the French countryside, and eventually, crossed the French coastline.
Shortly thereafter, meal service began with a mixed greens salad, herbed chicken with tzaziki, red onion and cucumber relish, and a cheese-stuffed “peppadew”, a type of sweet pepper. I also selected my favorite option from American’s bread basket, the pretzel roll.
The salad was decent, the sundried tomatoes adding a sweet/tangy combination that worked nicely with the bitter greens. I wasn’t a big fan of the chicken dish. The tzaziki was nice, and it’s hard to go wrong with a stuffed sweet pepper, but I’m just not a fan of cold chicken dishes. The meat gets tough, and to my tastebuds at least, takes on too much of a “gamey” taste when refrigerated. I also don’t like raw red onions; because it’s such a strong vegetable, the taste just lingers way too long. But these complaints are my personal tastes; it seemed OK from a quality standpoint.
For the main course, I selected the parmesean crusted roasted cod, and Prita had the piri piri chicken. The fish came with mashed potatoes, grilled zucchini, and marinara sauce.
I actually hardly ever eat fish, but I decided to try something different this time. The “crust” wasn’t much of a crust. It flaked right off, though at least the cheese was tasty. The fish itself was moist and flaky. The mashed potatoes were dry and flavorless, however, and the zucchini was rather rubbery. I also didn’t really get the choice of marinara sauce. I love a good marinara sauce, but this cheese-crusted fish filet screamed for something heavier like a cream sauce. Overall, I found the main dish pretty mediocre, though edible enough to eat. Martha diligently kept my wine topped up throughout the meal, which was much appreciated.
For desert, I chose the Ben & Jerry’s hot fudge sundae, along with some Bailey’s.
I can’t say anything bad about ice cream or Bailey’s, so I’ll just let the photo speak for itself.
The combination of wine, ice cream, and Bailey’s made me really want a nap, so I reclined the seat into bed mode.
The seat makes for fair sleeping, though as mentioned earlier, it is angled-flat, not fully lie-flat. For someone shorter like me, the problem is the tendency to slide down the seat. That leads to the occasional involuntary wake-up due to your feet bunched up against the floorboard. Overall, though, I slept for about 4 hours, and probably could have kept going for a couple more if I hadn’t forced myself to stay wake.
A couple hours before landing, the second meal service comenced, this time a choice of a croque monsieur sandwich (basically a grilled ham and cheese) or a Waldorf salad. I went with the sandwich.
The problem with warm sandwiches on board airplanes is they are frozen and then reheated, and thus tend to get stale. This one wasn’t stale, though also wasn’t exactly a proper croque monsieur, as the cheese on top should be melted and not crusted. It was too crunchy, and also, served only lukewarm. But it tasted OK.
A bag of chocolate chip cookies accompanied the sandwich. Not much to say, really – they’re packaged cookies, but I can’t complain too much about chocolate chip cookies, regardless of the source or presentation.
Soon enough, we began our descent into a cloudy DFW Metroplex. It had stormed pretty bad the night before, and the ensuing backside of the storm system made for some rough air in the area. The ride down was bumpy, though it was pretty cool to see a dual cloud layer as we descended, one up high, with a layer of low stratus down below.
Finally, upon landing and heading towards our gate at Terminal D, I caught a glimpse of two titans of the sky, a Qantas A380 and a British Airways 747, heading off in opposite directions. That’s a whole lot of airplane in one place…
As is too often the case at DFW, our bags took forever to make it off. At least since our Global Entry approval came through before our flight to Europe, we took advantage of it for the first time on the return. With a few international flights arriving about the same time as ours, the customs line looked really nasty by the time we got our bags, with what looked like at least a 45 minute wait. We sailed on through in less than 10. Believe me, I’m kicking myself for being too cheap to get it sooner…
American Airlines B777-200 Business Class – Final Thoughts
The differing Business Class experiences on our outbound and inbound demonstrate just how maddening American is for long-haul travelers. The flight to Paris featured a top-notch hard product, but the middling, indifferent service from the purser made me frustrated that I’d ponied up extra money for Business Class. On the flip side, the return to Dallas featured ancient, uncompetitive equipment, but with an FA so on top of her game that it made the overall experience feel like one of the best I’ve had. It just goes to show, as many of my fellow UPGRDrs have similarly pointed out, while a good hard product is a nice starting point, it really is the crew that makes the difference.
At last, that wraps up my Czech Republic/Romania trip report. Thanks for following along, and stay tuned for more adventures!
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.