American Airlines London – New York, Business class
From new livery to new aircraft, American Airlines has changed a lot – going so far to call itself “the new American” – since it went into, and came out of, Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. When it comes to inflight products, it has made huge progress in implementing upgrades that take it from old and dated to very competitive on certain routes. There is still a ways to go, but two aircraft that stand out are the Airbus A321T that the airline uses for its transcontinental service between New York and Los Angeles / San Francisco and the Boeing 777-300ER that flies a number of long-haul routes. I had a chance to try both in the space of a few months, and left impressed with the “new” American. My flight on the Boeing 777 was between London Heathrow and New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport, the flagship route for the partnership between AA and British Airways with near hourly departures. Flight AA101 left London Heathrow at 10.05 in the morning, with scheduled arrival at 12.45 in the afternoon.
At the Airport
I usually take the tube from central London to get to Heathrow airport, and it worked fine again this time, getting me there in about an hour. American Airlines departures are from Terminal 3, with a dedicated Flagship check-in area for first and business class. With only carryon and a printed boarding pass, I went directly up the escalator to fast track security. Like much of Heathrow at times, it was taken over completely by Accenture advertising, but I was surprised to see that even the “First, Business, By Invitation Only” was in the company’s font. The fast track area is now completely separate, and was relatively quiet – it took me less than ten minutes to get through. I drew some US dollars from the ATM and headed to the BA Galleries lounge complex. Having a BA Gold Card gave me access to their Galleries First lounge. The small dining room at the back has always been one of my favourite spaces in usually hectic Terminal 3. It has nice booths and table service, a leftover from the time BA flights to Singapore, Bangkok, and Sydney departed from here. With those now departing from Terminal 5, along with the general squeeze you feel in the quality and quantity of the food served in BA lounges, it’s safe to say it isn’t what it once was. I had the most anaemic-looking Egg (singular) Benedict, which tasted poor. Note that there is also no longer an Elemis Spa. If you do not have a BA Gold Card (or Oneworld Emerald equivalent), an AA business class ticket entitles you to use the Galleries Club lounge next door (there is a Cathay Pacific lounge nearby). At the time I visited, Emirates was refurbishing its own T3 lounge, with all business and first passengers and status holders also joining the Galleries Club lounge, making it incredibly busy at times. The First lounge in contrast was very, very quiet. There are no announcements in the lounge, so having finished breakfast I wandered over to gate 27, which was busy. I had to answer a few questions about my trip with a security person, and then joined the fast track boarding lane. There was no active management of the lanes at boarding pass and passport check, so it was a little awkward to walk up to the front of two long economy queues and somewhat jump in.
Boarding and First Impressions
Boarding on the other hand was done much better. First and business class were called and only those with the right boarding pass were let through. I was one of the first ten passengers to board because I wanted to see if I could take some pictures of the empty cabin. The AA Boeing 777 comes in a three-class configuration with First, Business and Economy (called Main Cabin). Both first and business are configured 1-2-1 across, while economy is 3-4-3. The first section of the main cabin is “Main Cabin Extra” and 3-3-3- across with additional leg room, but AA still does not offer a separate Premium Economy cabin. I specifically booked a window seat in the small business cabin between first class and the galley. With only two rows and a total of eight seats, it’s the same size as the first cabin just in front of it. It’s very intimate and much quieter than the 11 rows further down, so I’d highly recommend getting a seat here if you can. My first impression was very positive; I love the Cirrus seats and find them very comfortable and private. The overall décor is very masculine, with dark greys, metals, and wood. If travelling alone, take a window seat. When travelling together, the centre pair is best if you’d like to be able to chat during the flight without having to get up.
The Cirrus reversed herringbone seat is one of the most solid business class products out there. It’s spacious, private to the point where when seated you don’t see any other passengers, and reclines to a fully flat bed. There are various places to store your belongings, plenty of room for magazines or a drink next to the seat, and a large table folds out to have a meal.
A large personal video screen folds out of the wall in front of the seat, which has more content than you could possibly watch on one flight: from movies to TV series to music to games. I watched “Woman in Gold”, a fascinating movie with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds based on a true story. Bose noise-cancelling headsets are provided.
I was positively surprised by the food served as well. The starter was prosciutto and mozzarella with a spinach, strawberry, walnuts, and blue cheese salad. As a main, I opted for the marinated chicken breast with Indian butter sauce, rice, and vegetables. The chicken was tender and very tasty with the sauce. I skipped the ice cream sundae or cheese plate for dessert. Just before landing, I had a Croque Monsieur with Greek salad, which was ok if a bit bland and heavy.
Service was very pleasant and friendly; I ended up chatting with one of the flight attendants for a bit in the walk-up bar area between the two business class cabins, where you can help yourself to various food and drink options during the flight.
We landed ahead of schedule, with some great views of the coast as we neared New York’s JFK airport. After a fifteen-minute taxi, we pulled up to the gate, but came to a stop as we turned right to park. An issue with the parking system meant we had to wait a few minutes and be pulled into the stand, but the captain did well in explaining what happened and keeping us updated on timing. I was off the plane quickly and after a short walk came to the immigration hall. Travelling on an ESTA, I could use the self-service kiosks, but I still had to see an immigration officer afterwards. All in all, it did save me from a much longer regular queue, so I was grateful to get through relatively quickly. There was a long queue after baggage reclaim for customs, so this took another twenty minutes or so. I then exited the terminal and ordered an Uber to get to Manhattan.
A great flight all around. Having flown AA’s new transcontinental service on the Airbus A321T a few months earlier, I was really impressed by the 777 product and the service onboard. Unless seated upstairs on a Boeing 747, which I still have a soft spot for, the business class product beats what British Airways offers right now on the same route (their joint advertisement talks about the two carriers offering 1,000+ full-flat beds between the two cities every day). For the same price, I’d be inclined to pick the AA 777.