If you thought true first class was limited to international flights, think again: American Airlines breaks the mould by offering both business class and first class on its flagship Airbus A321T transcontinental flights, including between Los Angeles and New York's JFK Airport.
With kerbside check-in at LAX, private lounges and fully-flat beds with direct aisle access for every passenger, Australian Business Traveller puts American Airlines' A321T first class seats and service to the test.
- Frequent flyer program: American Airlines AAdvantage, Oneworld. Aussie travellers can also choose to earn points and status credits in their Qantas Frequent Flyer account.
- Priority check-in: First class passengers on these flights can use AA's private Flagship Check-in room with direct entry from the drop-off road at LAX: look for Flagship signage as you arrive.
- Checked baggage allowance: 3x32kg bags.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 1x115cm bag with no set weight limit, plus a laptop bag, briefcase or purse and other personal items such as duty-free purchases, umbrellas or books.
- Priority security screening: Highest priority: you'll be personally escorted from Flagship Check-in to the very front of the TSA queue.
- Priority boarding privileges: Highest priority: first class is called first along with uniformed US military members with a dedicated and clearly-signed priority lane at the gate.
First class passengers on these transcontinental flights can access American Airlines' Flagship Lounges: also the domain of international first class passengers and Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers.
At LAX, clear security and follow the Admirals Club signage, or walk towards Gate 40. Approach the Admirals Club reception desk to get your swipe card into the Flagship Lounge, located inside the Admirals Club.
There you'll find a relatively quiet lounge with free WiFi, comfy chairs, plenty of power points and a dedicated dining area: Private shower suites are also available, along with Taittinger NV Champagne and a variety of hot and cold dishes at the buffet. All food and beverage in this lounge is complimentary.
Read our full review: American Airlines Flagship Lounge at LAX
Configured over five rows in a 1-1 layout, American Airlines' Airbus A321T first class seats provide every passenger with both a window seat and direct aisle access, offering fully-flat beds which stretch to an impressive 210cm:
If you're the type to avoid being spotted, we'd suggest boarding last, rather than first.
Departing at 9am local time and as the perfect connection from Sydney on QF11 (and AA72 from December), Melbourne on QF93 or Brisbane on QF15, breakfast is served.
Following pre-departure drinks (served in glassware), a second round is offered in the air and joined by biscotti. We opted for the Lanson Black Label Brut – a true Champagne with accents of ripe fruit, flowers and honey... ... but which is unfortunately served in the same tumbler you'd get on ordering a Diet Coke.
For serious wine drinkers, that has two major drawbacks: the larger surface area at the top means the drink goes flat much faster than in a traditional narrow flute, and means you'll need to grasp the actual glass, rather than a stem, which warms the wine and can slightly affect the taste.
That's followed by a linen restaurant-style service sans the traditional tray, with two starters – a seasonal fruit plate which came fresh if not plain to the eye... ... and a yummy and visually-pleasing Greek yoghurt parfait that you can customise with granola, fresh berries, or in our case, both: Next up: a tomato, leek and turkey bacon strata with seasoned potatoes and chicken apple sausage, which was delicious... ... and a selection of breads including scrumptious warmed scones with jam and cream on the side.
Barista-style coffee is also available in first class including both a simple espresso shot and an Italian-style cappuccino – that's without chocolate on top or akin to a latte as commonly known in Australia: After the main meal service, passengers can help themselves to a variety of snacks such as potato chips from the front of the cabin, while the flight attendants later bring around sweet treats... ... and before landing, warmed cookies with milk on the side which makes you feel a little like Santa Claus: You can also choose from two Californian whites, one Californian and one French red, a variety of spirits, beers, soft drinks, juices and tea.
Entertainment & Service
Every passenger has a personal 15.4-inch touch-screen monitor with a solid selection of movies, TV shows, audio tracks and games... ... which folds away for take-off and landing. It's still possible to view your show during this time, albeit on an angle... ... with the system also operated by a touchscreen controller: Bose over-ear noise-cancelling headphones are also supplied for use during the flight, but are collected around 45 minutes before landing – after which time you'll need to use a smaller in-ear pair (supplied or BYO with a standard 3.5mm plug) to continue watching your movie.
Collecting headphones early always feels odd in that it implies you can't be trusted to return them, but when the crew also mark off a 'headphones returned' checklist while standing next to your seat, first class does lose its 'premium' touch.
Also distributed but yours to keep are amenity kits designed to serve as your new mini tablet case after the flight... ... while cabin crew are polite, address passengers by name and were quick to respond to call bells and beverage orders throughout the flight.
All in all, we'd peg American Airlines' A321T first class as the best way to get between Los Angeles and New York, and indeed as the best seat flying in US domestic skies.
For starters, AA first class passengers can await their flight in peace in the separate Flagship Lounges, rather than making use of a single shared lounge as is the case with Delta and United wherever you happen to sit on board.
Added to that: real (French) Champagne, nice espresso coffee and customisable meals to enjoy in a bed that's on-par – if not longer – than in first class on most international flights and which guarantees both direct aisle access and a window view from every seat.
Rounding out the deal is inflight Internet to remain connected to your office or loved ones and which worked flawlessly on our trip, priced at just US$16 for unlimited access when purchased on the ground.
All that's needed are flutes for the Champagne, a better-presented fruit plate and an improved system for the Bose headphones and American Airlines' A321T first class would take out all five stars in our book.
Heading to New York? Also read:
- 'Delta One' B767 business class review: Los Angeles-New York
- United B737 first class review: New York/Newark-Los Angeles
- Five easy ways to reach Manhattan from JFK airport
- Delta Air Lines' flagship Sky Club review: New York JFK Terminal 4
- Snap up half-price tickets to Broadway shows at TKTS
- 'Delta One' B757 business class review: New York-Los Angeles
Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of American Airlines.
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