Domestic First Class on American is generally nothing to write home about. You get a little extra legroom, a meal, and free alcohol, but the seat is nothing special, usually just a “cradle”-type seat – the notable exception being transcontinental routes such as Los Angeles to New York, which features the ritzy Airbus A321T lie-flat product. Occasionally, though, you can luck out on shorter routes when your flight is assigned a larger plane featuring an international configuration, meaning you get a big, comfy seat, even if only for a few hours. This is most common on hub-to-hub routes such as DFW to Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami, where American will sometimes schedule a 767, 777, or even a rogue 787 Dreamliner on select flights.
Such an opportunity presented itself on my most recent flight from LA, when the Sunday afternoon schedule presented multiple options on the 767-300. The advance purchase buy-up to First on the way home was compelling, and the times worked well, so I booked one of the 763s to enjoy a fancy ride home. My buns could use the break from the uncomfortable slimline seats used in the A321 that typically plies this route, anyway.
American Airlines (AA) Flight 2388
- December 13, 2015
- Depart: Los Angeles (LAX) Gate 47B, 13:46, 16m late
- Arrive: Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) Gate D29, 18:45, 10m late
- Duration: 2 hours 59 minutes
- Seats: 2D, 2G
- Equipment: Boeing 767-300
A quick primer before I begin. The 763 used on short domestic routes is NOT the retrofitted configuration used on international routes, with fully lie-flat Business Class seats. This plane is one of 20 in the old configuration, featuring angled-flat seats. These planes will not be retrofitted, and will be sent to the boneyard gradually through 2018.
I had been nervously our incoming flight from DFW, as there appeared to be a “creeping delay” thing going on – first 20 minutes, then 32, then 39, which also passed without the plane taking off. It finally did leave the gate 44 minutes behind schedule, but made up a good bit of that time en-route, resulting in only a minor delay getting out of the chute in LA. Unfortunately, perhaps due to impatience with the delayed boarding, the gate area had perhaps the worst case of gate lice I’ve ever seen I wish I had taken a picture, but it was seriously impossible to tell where the boarding lane even began due to the overcrowding. I just hope I didn’t cut in front of someone without realizing it.
Anyway, once we made it on board, my wife and I were happy to settle in to our spacious seats. The downside – since this is an old configuration, the seats were definitely showing their age. Anyone who flew AA Business Class between about 2007 and 2012 will recognize these seats.
The 30-seat cabin is in a 2-2-2 configuration. If you’re traveling with someone and both of you want aisle access, make sure to pick a middle pair. Otherwise, you’ll have to scramble over the person in the aisle to get out.
It’s difficult to tell in these photos, but there is a significant drawback to this plane in all cabins – the overhead bins over the middle seats are too small to fit roll-a-boards of any size. These must go in the side bins, but even then, will only fit sideways. This isn’t really an issue in First, but if you’re flying in Main Cabin in Group 3 or later, beware, as there’s an enhanced risk that your larger bag will be gate checked.
Our seats were at the bulkhead, but one nice thing about this older seat is that even in the first row, you can still store smaller personal items in the footwell. That’s actually one of my pet peeves with many newer international Business Class seats, the need to store laptops in the overhead bins no matter where you’re sitting.
On the other hand, inflight entertainment, or perhaps more accurately, the lack thereof, leaves much to be desired. Even in First, there are no personal screens, nor is WiFi available. Make sure to load some games or programming onto your laptop or iPad/iPhone, or you’ll be relegated to watching the NBC Universal on American shtick on the overhead screens. (Note: on international itineraries, Business Class passengers are provided tablets with pre-loaded TV/movie content.)
The previous generation 763 also features the old DC car charger-style power outlets in First, and in the bulkhead, the outlets are located in front of you, inside the magazine rack. Though I initially thought this would be an awkward setup, it’s actually quite convenient for portable chargers for tablets or smartphones. You can keep your phone/tablet/charger on the secondary table, out of the way of your food and drink. Incidentally, the main tray table folds out of the armrest. WARNING: if you are flying in Main Cabin, there are NO power outlets at ANY seat, either in the old or new 763 configurations. Make sure your devices are fully charged before getting on board.
I was eagerly awaiting a pre-departure beverage, but none was offered this time. I found this a bit irritating, as even after boarding was complete, we sat there for a good 5-10 minutes while the catering truck finished loading the First Class meals. Anyway, meal service on this mid-afternoon departure was a choice of Asian chicken salad or cheese lasagna. Both my wife and I ordered the lasagna, a choice that I’m sure would have made Leslie Nielsen proud.
I have to say, this was a surprisingly good meal! The salad was fresh, and the sourdough roll was soft and chewy on the inside but had a nice crunchy crust on the outside. The pasta was more like manicotti than lasagna, but it was nicely done, with a tangy tomato sauce, lots of creamy ricotta, and noodles that were firm, not mushy. I’m not sure if the cookie was fresh baked or just warmed over on-board, but it, too was tasty, with a gooey chocolate chip interior. Overall, this was much, much better than the rather poor meal I had on my last First Class flight to LA back in May. Maybe there is hope for the “Dougie Diet” as Rocky likes to call it. Or maybe my standards are just pathetically low…
Once meal service was over, I had a few minutes to play around with the seat, curious to see what it was like in the sleeping position. The verdict: I definitely would have nodded off quickly (though I admittedly fall asleep on planes very, very easily), and the seat is generously padded for a nap, but the angled-flat nature of the seat is going to be annoying to some.
In my case, I’m short, and so I have a tendency to slide down angled-flat seats when I sleep. It’s not a comfortable feeling when you wake up mid-flight with your feet bunched up against the front of the seat shell. It’s a non-issue on a 3-hour flight from Dallas to LA or Miami, but if you end up on one of these old-configuration planes on, say, a longer flight to Honolulu or Europe, it’s likely to be problematic.
As far as in-flight service goes, it started off a bit disappointing when no PDB was offered, but the FAs did a reasonable job once the drinks and meal service began. The woman serving my half of the aisle was pleasant, and made multiple runs through the cabin to top up drinks and such. But I have to call out the New American on one thing – the dreaded credit card shilling that US Airways was infamous for has now apparently infected legacy American routes like DFW-LAX. If anyone at AA is reading this, please please please please PLEASE stop the shilling. It’s annoying, unnecessarily interrupts the IFE playback on aircraft with personal TVs, and frankly makes you look like Spirit.
Anyway, as we started down, a cold front had passed through North Texas earlier in the day, and as a result, strong north winds created quite a rough ride on descent. On the other hand, a strong tailwind as a result of the storm made enabled us to make up all of the departure delay and then some, and it looked like we would be at the gate a few minutes early. Until, that is, we got the dreaded announcement from the captain that we would be sitting in the penalty box for 20 minutes because another plane was occupying our gate. Curse you, hub rebanking…
So now the burning question – would I put much effort into seeking out the 767 on a domestic route? If you need WiFi for work, then cross this plane off your list, as it isn’t even available. Ditto if IFE and in-seat power is important to you. I’d stick with the “32B” instead if that’s what you’re looking for. On the other hand, even though I’d be p*ssed if I paid for a Business Class seat like this on a long international flight, for a 3-ish hour short hop, even a dated, angled-flat seat is far superior to the normal cradle seats found in domestic First, and I’m the type that prefers to bring my own entertainment on a phone or laptop as opposed to rely on the airlines anyway. So yes, I’d choose the 763 over the A321 or 737 any day. But if you REALLY want to treat yourself to a cushy ride, especially up front, try to find a domestic route featuring the Dreamliner.