Following the recent debut of American Airlines' Boeing 777-300ER flights between Sydney and Los Angeles, passengers now have more choice than ever up the very front when crossing the Pacific.
Fitted with first class ahead of business class and also economy, Australian Business Traveller takes a trip to the home of Hollywood to bring you this exclusive 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: Dedicated first class check-in lane in row B. We arrived before the desks opened but were able to obtain our boarding pass from an adjacent kiosk for extra lounge time.
- 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.
- Express Path access (Australia departures): Yes, with assistance from check-in to lounge from AA's concierge service for first class passengers.
- Fast track access (USA arrivals): No, unless with a short connection to an onward flight. Concierge staff simply escort you from the aircraft to passport control where the standard lines await.
Thanks to AA's partnership with Qantas, American Airlines' first class passengers can relax in Sydney's Qantas First Lounge...
... and can enjoy a scrumptious breakfast at its Rockpool-inspired restaurant before stepping aboard.
Arrive early and a 20-minute Aurora spa appointment may also be yours for the taking, but unlike when flying in Qantas first class where treatment times are secured by phone the day prior, bookings for AA passengers are only handled on the day of travel.
First class spans just two rows on AA's Boeing 777s with eight seats arranged in a 1-2-1 layout... ... with the 'A' and 'J' suites lining the windows and the 'D' and 'G' suites in the centre with a movable privacy divider between them. You'll notice some particularly modern features built into AA's first class, starting with this side tray: the perfect size for a smartphone and with a handy USB port for easy charging... ... a compartment with a mirror and even more power options including two multi-country AC outlets, audio/video inputs for connecting your own device to the inflight entertainment system, another USB port and your headphone jack... ... and with space enough to close the door yet leave things connected, as there's room for the cables to pass below the door itself.
A separate touchscreen takes care of the seat position and the in-built massage features... ... while storage nooks are plentiful, if not each a little small. A literature pocket stands ready for magazines and tablets... ... another pocket suits your water bottle or slippers... ... while your shoes have a cubby of their own near the floor: Setting it apart from most other first class suites, the chair can swivel to face a fold-out desk at the side: No, that's not simply the dining table: it's a distinct workspace of its own, complete with views sure to rival your corner office on the ground. If an inflight meeting or chat is on your agenda, the suite also boasts a 'companion seat' as you'd find in Qantas first class... ... and when it's time to turn in, you'll swivel back and transform the seat into a 198cm fully-flat bed, complete with a soft mattress to extend over the seat, plus a blanket, two pillows, pyjamas and slippers: Disappointingly though, the crew don't make the bed for you as you'd expect in first class on practically any other airline: the goodies are simply dumped on your seat before boarding commences and it's up to you to sort it all out. There's also very little privacy when sleeping as the suite opens to the aisle, sans the closing doors found on Emirates, Etihad and Singapore Airlines... ... although in a move we appreciate, the usually-transparent mesh curtain between business class and first class features an opaque panel at eye level, deployed when passengers in First are sleeping and removed during waking hours.
Without it, travellers seated in the front row of business class can gawk straight into the first class suites, so we're glad AA could find a workable compromise between inflight security and passenger comfort and privacy.
Following pre-departure drinks, appetisers of sweet potato crisps and petite olives are served shortly after take-off, plus another drink of your choosing.We'd hoped to see a wine list at this point – expected of first class and increasingly so in business class too – yet were disappointed to find one unavailable.
What's more, the crew didn't know the wines well, or indeed at all. Our query on the Champagne was met with "it's one with a strange name", before a bottle of Deutz 2006 Brut Millésimé appeared from the galley to answer the question.
Moving on, lunch is served beginning with heirloom tomato gazpacho and a Malossol Osetra caviar tartlet, which was tasty, well-balanced against the garnishes and a nice surprise to find on-board. Already having eaten a hearty breakfast in the Qantas First Lounge, we opted out of the next course – a smoked celeriac soup with leaves – and went straight for the Western Australian rock lobster with summer citrus, mango salsa and a yuzu and raspberry vinaigrette: The lobster tasted fresh and is a definite class above American's more homely lobster mac and cheese dish that also appears on inflight menus from time to time.
Following is a choice of four main plates: an Australian surf and turf, a roasted spatchcocked chicken scallion, a Tasmanian salmon dish and a Thai yellow curry, from which we chose the traditional land-and-sea option with nice prawns and a green peppercorn sauce for the beef... ... which proved succulent if not a little too rare for my taste as no cooking preference was taken and it arrived medium rare.
Dessert marks the next course with options of an Australian pavlova, a warmed sticky date pudding or American's traditional ice cream sundae with your choice of toppings.
AA's sundaes always go down a treat, and when we couldn't decide on our customisations the crew helpfully offered to prepare one with everything (ice cream, chocolate fudge, butterscotch, whipped cream, sprinkled nuts and maraschino cherries). Trust us: this is the way to go! If you're stll hungry after all of that or cravings arise mid-flight, head to the galley for fresh fruits, chips, caramel popcorn, chocolates or a cheese plate... ... or look for the asterisk next to items on the menu – such as the mezze plate and the Riverine steak sandwich – which indicates what you can order at any time during the flight.
After sneaking in some much-needed shut-eye, we woke around three hours before arriving in LA when the crew offered to prepare breakfast early, but were happy to hold off until an hour before landing.
A refreshing mango smoothie gets the morning meal started with two 'typically airplane' dishes to choose from – a traditional American breakfast or a lighter continental breakfast – or, more impressive corn fritters with avocado, smoked salmon and crème fraîche:While very similar to our breakfast the previous morning, we just couldn't turn down the chance to have something other than the typical omelettes, sausages and cereals that stake their claim to practically every other airline menu.
Joined by Greek-style yoghurt, a latte (ordered as a 'cappuccino'), a small fruit salad and a choice of breads, we'd not want anything else after so many other courses in a relatively short space of time.However, breakfast is delivered on a tray which makes the experience feel very 'business class' rather than 'Flagship First', and both meals saw only half the table draped with linen and cutlery left wrapped up for you to set.
With first class ideally replicating a fine restaurant in the sky, you wouldn't expect a waiter on the ground to pass you cutlery instead of setting the table for the coming meal, and realistically, nor should you in first class.
Entertainment & Service
Roughly 250 movies, 180 TV shows and 350 audio tracks can be browsed and enjoyed via AA's inflight entertainment system... ... served up via a 17-inch widescreen monitor and Bose QuietComfort headphones, but which are collected by the crew about 45 minutes before landing – hinting that first class passengers can't be trusted to return them at the end of the flight.
Unlike AA's domestic A321T first class service, there isn't a standard 3.5mm plug to connect your own headphones either, which gives you nothing to watch for the better part of an hour and isn't the best way to conclude a 14-hour flight.
The content selections catered to a wide range of interests with Spectre our pick of the bunch, which was still showing in Australian cinemas at the time of our flight: and unlike many other airlines you won't need to watch (or fast-forward through) several minutes of ads before each movie and TV show: just click and your programme starts straight away.
What's missing is a brightness control for the screen with many movies hard to see unless the shutters on the nearby aircraft windows were closed:Service on today's flight was genuinely friendly with the crew always keeping our drinks topped up before the glass was emptied, allowing us to work without interruption when the laptop was open and delivering a well-stocked amenity kit before take-off:
On the downside, however, it took the crew 15 minutes to respond to the call bell the one time it was pressed and jackets were forgotten about at the end of the flight, so we retrieved our own from the closet before leaving the aircraft.
Combined with the lack of a wine list and the 'do it yourself' approach to setting the table and arranging the bedding, it leaves a lot of little things that could be easily improved to enhance the overall passenger experience.
Until that happens, American Airlines first class remains a very pleasant way to fly across the Pacific, if not a step or two below what you'd expect of Qantas on the same route or indeed the first class of other major airlines flying to Australia.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of American Airlines.
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