A few years ago, I set out to review all of the domestic “premium” transcontinental services available. I started in 2017 with jetBlue Mint, then moved on to United “p.s.” and Delta One. Finally, the opportunity arose to close the loop with a ride in American Airlines’ A321T First Class. American currently is the only domestic airline that operates a three-cabin aircraft with First Class; thus, I picked that to see if the product justifies the price premium.
Unfortunately, American almost never provides MileSAAver availability in transcontinental First or Business. So, I waited for a day with discount fare availability, and paid $859 for my one-way ticket to Los Angeles.
American Airlines (AA) Flight 302
- Saturday, April 27, 2018
- Depart: New York – John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Terminal 8, Gate 38, 18:23, 7m early
- Arrive: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Terminal 4, Gate 42A, 21:30, 34m early
- Duration: 6 hours 7 minutes
- Seat: 2F
- Equipment: Airbus A321T (32T)
Check-In and Boarding
After arriving on Delta’s new Airbus A220 at LaGuardia, I made the long slog over to JFK for this flight. In case you’re wondering, the el cheapo route between the two airports really is a slog. It first involves taking the Q70/SBS bus to the 74th Street/Roosevelt subway station. Then, switch to the E Train to Sutphin Boulevard/JFK Station. And at long last, board the AirTrain to the airport. The whole thing, with a lunch stop, took about an hour and 45 minutes, and costs $11.50. On the bright side, the transfer to the E Train in Jackson Heights is a haven for cheap eats. So I plunked down less than 5 bucks for a couple of empañadas and a soda at a Colombian bakery.
Anyway, like at LAX, American offers “Flagship First Check-In” for transcontinental and international First Class customers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually find it, so can’t comment on how it works. James’ post describes the process in Los Angeles, though. With Precheck and a boarding pass already in hand, though, it took less than 5 minutes to get through security. I then headed to the Flagship Lounge to enjoy some pre-flight relaxation.
Boarding began on-time at 6 pm, and with just 102 passengers on a full load, boarding proceeded quickly. The pleasant FA welcomed me aboard, and We buttoned up quickly, and left the gate a full 7 minutes early.
American Airlines A321T First Class – Seating and Interior
American’s A321T First Class cabin is certainly intimate, featuring just 10 seats in a 1×1 configuration. While the seats don’t have doors, the angle towards the wall provides adequate privacy.
As you can see, the seat shell pretty effectively hides you, especially with the angle of the seat. You’d have to try really hard to see into your neighbor’s pod.
The seat itself is a standard reverse herringbone, providing 62″ of pitch and 21″ of width.
I did note a couple of issues, though. First, despite the generous legroom, the seat did feel a bit constricted, as the footwell tapers noticeably at knee level. Second, watching TV during takeoff and landing is a bit awkward, as the screen sits at an angle.
The seat does provide plenty of work and storage space, thanks to an oversized armrest. As a window seat fanatic, I also appreciated the two windows.
Storage space also includes a double storage rack near the footwell, and another at the back of the armrest. This storage rack also includes the 110v power outlet.
In the center of the armrest are the entertainment and seat controllers, a light, and headphone and USB ports. I found the seat controls easy to use, but also easy to jam. For example, on landing, I couldn’t get the seat to go fully upright. Both flight attendants then tried as well, and eventually gave up. Eventually, I found the culprit – an iPhone charger partially stuck between the seat cushion and the shell.
Waiting at each seat was Casper bedding and American’s new Athletic Propulsion Labs amenity kit. I’ll review the amenity kit in the future; the bag is large and looks nice, but doesn’t seem very durable. The logo started wearing off after just a couple of months of non-use in storage.
When it comes time to sleep, the seat reclines into a flat bed 82″ in length.
I found the seat generally comfortable in upright, reclined, and bed mode. The constricted leg space felt oddly most noticeable in upright mode. I didn’t notice any tightness in bed mode. Then again, even upright, I found myself comfortable enough to nod off after boarding for a good 30 minutes.
American Airlines A321T First Class – In-Flight Entertainment
All First Class seats feature generously sized seatback monitors with excellent resolution. My one complaint, as mentioned earlier, is the screen angle when stowed. This makes it awkward to watch TV during takeoff and landing.
The screen makes for excellent viewing or game playing during flight, however. Entertainment consists of the same selection of TV shows, movies, and games as on other American domestic flights. I enjoyed watching Green Book, followed by some map watching as I worked on my laptop.
American recently began switching from Bose to Bang & Olufsen H9i headphones, and my flight had the new ones. They certainly look and feel snazzy, and I found sound quality excellent. But are they really any better than the Bose QC headphones they replaced? I guess so, but I for one am not ready to plunk down $500 for a pair, yet. In any event, you won’t have any complaints.
American also offers their new high-speed WiFi on these flights; however, I did not try it out.
Food & Beverage
Beverage service began with a pre-departure beverage shortly after boarding. After – ahem – imbibing a little too much in the lounge, I stuck with water. In the meantime, the purser brought the dinner menus for the flight.
Meal service began quickly, just 25 minutes after take-off. After the usual mixed nuts (not pictured), I started with the burrata for an appetizer. I enjoyed this dish; it was a nice mix of light, fresh vegetables, and richness courtesy of the dollop of mozzarella.
Next, I had the soup, a cream of mushroom soup.
The soup had a decent flavor, though was a bit watery, even after swirling in the cream. I could do without the piece of garlic bread, though, which had that dreaded stale half crispness.
Next up was a salad course of mixed greens.
Or, at least advertised as a plate of mixed greens, but really a giant plate of arugula. Now, I like arugula and all, but gee whiz, AA – can’t you spare even one tomato? Or a couple of olives or carrot shavings, or something? Anyway, at least the greens were fresh.
Next came the main course, and I pre-ordered the chicken Romanesco. Honestly, none of the main courses looked terribly appealing, but this one seemed the most promising.
Unfortunately, the meal seemed to go downhilll with each course, and it reached rock bottom with this one. I remember thinking, this looks like the rubber chicken I usually get at continuing education classes. And indeed, the chicken had the consistency of rubber. It desperately needed a sauce, but the ratatouille was too chunky to get it done. Good thing I ate such a large meal in the lounge, or I’d have gone home hungry.
I didn’t mention the wine so far, but I nursed a glass of the white Burgundy during the meal. I found it perfectly drinkable, with the dry, fruity flavor a good match for an otherwise unmemorable meal. But does a $15 bottle of wine really cut it for First Class?
At least dessert proved reliably good. I kept it simple with an ice cream sundae, with caramels and lots of pecans. In a rather humorous bit, both the purser and Business Class FA competed for the rights to make it for me.
First Class passengers received a chocolate chip cookie about an hour prior to landing. I forgot to take a picture, but if you’re a regular in AA domestic First, it’s the same one.
Overall, I found myself really disappointed by the meal, especially the main course. And frankly, it really p*sses me off that the same airline with the terrific Flagship First dining comes back with such a poor offering in the air. It’s Exhibit A of the frustrating inconsistency of American these days.
American Airlines A321T First Class – Service
The purser taking care of First Class on this flight was an affable fellow, though with an “informal” approach to on-board service. For example, he didn’t address passengers by name, and interactions had more of a “hey, how’s it going” feel. However, I thought the approach worked on this flight. He provided friendly, but more importantly, proactive service. Too many domestic First flight attendants simply disappear after meal service, but he checked on the cabin several times during the flight. Of course, I think I was the only passenger (out of 5) awake for most of the flight. Naturally, personal service is kinda easy when there’s only one passenger to serve…
Sadly, I dozed off shortly after boarding, not waking up until a few minutes before meal service started. Thus, I missed the planespotting leaving JFK, and a shot of New York City. But heading west in the evening, we enjoyed a sunset that lasted for much of the flight. Some cloudy skies below left the sunset looking like this for much of the flight.
But as we passed over Kansas, skies briefly cleared for this view of Milford Lake, near Junction City.
We landed in Los Angeles a full 30 minutes early, and amazingly, didn’t get stuck in the penalty box. You can’t complain at all when your day ends half an hour early!
American does provide a fairly unique hard product in transcontinental First Class. The intimate, 10-seat cabin, along with access to the Flagship Lounge and Flagship First Dining, provides a superior experience to other carriers flying these long distance routes. However, I struggle somewhat to see the value proposition. Discount First Class usually runs about $300 more each way than discount Business Class. For that, you receive a marginally longer bed, direct aisle access at each seat, and access to Flagship First dining. Is that worth $300? Doesn’t feel like it, in my opinion.
Meanwhile, if using miles, a one-way flight sets you back 50,000 miles, compared to 25,000 for Business Class. Double the price really doesn’t feel worth it to me. Assuming you can even find saver award space, that is. Stingy award availability is a huge frustration on these routes. My flight went out half full in First – yet American offered nada in the way of Saver availability.
Anyway, I enjoyed the flight, but if you need to fly transcontinental and want a premium cabin, I’d just save the money and fly Business Class.