Flying from east to west in the United States is American Airlines' Airbus A321T business class, complete with fully-flat beds in a cosy 20-seat cabin and sure to keep you comfortable on those relatively short five-hour cross country journeys.
With a boarding pass from New York JFK to Los Angeles, Australian Business Traveller takes to the skies in the USA to bring you this review.
- Frequent flyer program: American Airlines AAdvantage, Oneworld. Qantas Frequent Flyer members can also earn both points and status credits when travelling with AA.
- Priority check-in, security and boarding: Yes, via clearly-signed Priority AAccess queues.
- Checked baggage allowance: 3x32kg bags.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 1x115cm bag with no defined weight limit plus a briefcase, laptop bag or purse and other personal items such as duty-free purchases, books or umbrellas.
While not all domestic journeys include lounge access in the United States, American Airlines makes an exception for travellers on its A321T flights between New York JFK and both Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Business class passengers on these flights have access to the Admirals Club lounge which offers tarmac views, complimentary alcohol and buffet dining plus an a la carte menu with extra dishes available for purchase... ... while Qantas Platinum, Platinum One and Chairman's Lounge members can stop by the neighbouring Flagship Lounge, as can other Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers prior to American Airlines flights with the exception of AA's own Executive Platinum members.
AA's Airbus A321T business class cabin sits directly behind first class with a total of 20 seats spread across five rows in a 2-2 arrangement... ... all of which convert into fully-flat beds with the leg rest linking to the fixed footrest for a total bed length of between 190.5cm and 198cm, depending on which seat you choose. Even on daytime flights a pillow and blanket are provided with the latter wide enough to fold in half, so you can easily wrap it around and use it as a quasi-mattress underneath and to keep warm on top. It's easy to get comfortable with pre-sets for the common upright and fully-flat positions and buttons for little tweaks for that perfect spot. Aside the seat is a shelf space for your goodies and water bottle... ... with AC and USB outlets plus connections for both noise-cancelling and 'regular' headphones as you'd otherwise connect straight to your iPod or laptop. However, as the space sits at shoulder height you'll often need to twist around to line up your headphones or connect your gadgets, which isn't ideal – but if you're charging your smartphone it certainly does keep the cable out of the way.
Before take-off we're offered a choice of water, orange juice or sparkling wine – in this case the Ca' Bolani Prosecco NV (Italy) – all of which are served in plastic cups rather than glassware... ... although admittedly more stylishly than the same on United between the same two cities: The plastic fortunately disappears after wheels-up where we settle in with a glass of Whale Cove Chardonnay from the Western Cape region in South Africa, plus warmed nuts – no foil packets here: With today's flight a lunchtime service the meal begins with a main salad of roasted beets, candied pecans and lettuce, joined by a smaller and almost redundant side salad of arugula and watermelon radish with either orange dressing or traditional balsamic vinaigrette: Then it's a choice between three mains – a four cheese prawn quesadilla, a vegetarian pappardelle pasta or the Thai beef red curry with stir-fried vegetables and coconut rice which was really quite tasty, if not a little over-garnished with more greens. Dessert offers an assorted cheese plate or more excitingly, AA's signature Ben & Jerry's ice cream sundae which can be customised with hot fudge, butterscotch, berries, whipped cream and chopped nuts as desired. ... and to cap the flight off, a yummy warmed cookie closer to arrival. The meal service is admittedly very similar to what you'd get further forward in AA first class, but with a few subtle differences.
For example, in first class you'll get proper Champagne (Lanson Black Label Brut on our flight) while in business class it's an Italian Prosecco. Similarly, espresso coffee is offered up the very front, while in business class it's a more traditional java.
Entertainment & Service
Also in similarity to first class are the Bose noise-cancelling headphones and inflight entertainment screens, measuring at the same 15.4 inches from corner to corner... ... serving up hundreds of movies and TV shows – many in high definition – joined also by inflight Internet which was functional and can be had for just US$16 when pre-purchased on the ground.
Annoyingly though, the Bose headphones are collected before landing rather than being left in the seat, leaving you to use a supplied pair of relatively average in-ear buds for the last 45 minutes or so of the flight.
Cabin crew also deliver an amenity kit – earlier in the flight, of course – containing an eye mask, socks, ear plugs, lip balm and moisturiser... ... and were otherwise attentive without being intrusive, topping up wine glasses during meal times before they were near-empty but leaving us uninterrupted when working on our laptop or sneaking in a quick nap.
Headphones aside, when the flight caters to both US domestic travellers and also Australians returning home and relaxing after their productive business trip, that's a good approach to take: allowing passengers to make the most of their journey in their own way.
Heading to New York? Also read:
- American Airlines A321T first class review: Los Angeles-New York
- 'Delta One' B767 business class review: Los Angeles-New York
- Five easy ways to reach Manhattan from JFK airport
- Review: United p.s. B757 'BusinessFirst': Los Angeles-Newark
- United B737 first class review: New York/Newark-Los Angeles
- Review: Grand Hyatt New York hotel in Midtown Manhattan
- Snap up half-price tickets to Broadway shows at TKTS
Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of American Airlines.
Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT