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April 3, 2013 / oneworld82

American Airlines (old) First Class DFW-NRT. In desperate need of a rehaul.

I generally don’t fly US carriers long haul. I strongly believe I can get better bang for my bucks (and miles) by flying certain European, Middle Eastern, or Asian carriers. Yet, I was eager to fly AA (soon-to-be) old First class to eventually compare it with the company’s new product. As the report will show you, overhauling of the First Class cabin was long overdue and the rollout of the new product (and the removal of the first class on the 772’s) couldn’t come fast enough. I was going to compare AA and ANA… but that would be too unfair. AA First Class is likely inferior to even ANA’s new Business Class. It’s not a bad product. It’s just old. And here I will tell you why…

AA Flight 175, Boeing 777-200

First Class, Seat 2G

10:40a-2:05p+1

I arrived at the airport about 15 minutes prior to the forecasted boarding time, afraid of being late and still damning myself for having woken up so early on a Friday morning off! To add injury to insult, the plane was having technical problems (oh no, October 2012 all over!) and the equipment was being substituted. One hour would be the announced delay. Mind you: this wasn’t trivial, as I was planning to go (almost) straight away to central Tokyo to do some hinami as soon as I landed. I opted to indulge in some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee – one of the things I miss the most of the North-East – while reading my chosen book of this trip, “In Spite of the Gods”, an enlightening book by British journalist and writer Edward Luce that casts some shadows away on India’s raise as the next global superpower. I highly recommend this reading to anyone even remotely interested in understanding how the World’s biggest democracy works and where it is headed.

At around 11am, boarding started and I took my assigned seat (2G). This was my very first time on AA First class and my impression was, well, not great. Really, those “suites” look old! Really old! And not private at all. Good ol’ Bob Crandall must have been pretty ill-advised when he decided to equip AA brand new 772s with 16 (!) First Class seats. The result was a cramped, over-crowded cabin that took off that exclusivity you came to expect at this level.

"Old" First Class indeed

“Old” First Class indeed

As Lucky of One Mile at a Time pointed out, while the new Business Class on the 773s isn’t World Class (contrarily to the superb new business class) it’s at least a big improvement on today’s cabin and it puts AA up there, if not at the top at least in the middle of the pack (I agree with his assessment on the new business class: it’s simply the best product you can find while flying across the Atlantic, together with BA’s Club World). I was well aware of the shortcomings of AA’s hard product though: I was definitely more interested to try the company’s “Flagship” service (after the mostly good impression I had on AA’s 767 to/from Santiago de Chile in January).

Seat as seen from the ottoman

Seat as seen from the ottoman

Shortly after taking my seat, a member of the crew came by offering pajamas and a pre-departure drink. Now, as you might recall, I was underwhelmed by the service on my flight to/from SCL: it was efficient but very cold. I think that a Scandinavian would have seemed very warm compared to the flight attendant that was taking care of my aisle on those flights). On this flight, instead, the crew was a winner (with some caveats). Seasoned indeed, but smiling, attentive, and efficient. Right like it should be. The crew was ever present yet unobtrusive, and they addressed me by name most of the time. Things like these makes for a great experience.

I appreciated AA’s new First Class amenity kit: while the content is the same (Dermatologica products), everything comes now inside a new bag which doubles as an AA-branded iPad case! Brilliant.

The new AA First Class amenity kit

The new AA First Class amenity kit

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Right after taking off, the crew started preparing meals and beverages. The purser came by to introduce herself and asked me whether I wanted some warm nuts, water and anything else to drink. I got some champagne (Gosset Brut Excelence, a $40 wine that while is not Krug does the job just fine). Meal orders were taken while still on the tarmac.

As I noted on my SCL trip report, AA has upgraded its meal service: new chinas, new menus, upgraded food. I was pretty excited to try the First Class food. I liked the selection (even though I think that – to a Japan-bound flight – more Japanese options are a must if the company is to win Japanese customers), and the food I tried was definitely good – although there is not that much of a difference between Business and First Class in my opinion. Being for the homeland of Michelangelo I definitely appreciated the new “make your own pasta” option:  as always, selection is a key differentiator for the well-traveled.

While I was eating my nuts (no pun intended) I started watching Ang Lee’s latest masterpiece, “Life of Pi”. I hadn’t realized how; let me put it right here – AWESOME this movie was! The story itself is ingeniously crafted, and the underlying insights into God and religion are simply brilliant. Kudos to this great, often under-rated (at least in the West) director.

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Gosset Brut Excellence and warm nuts

About one hour into the flight, the meal service started. Here’s the menu for the day:

Starters

Smoked salmon with spring pea blinis and cream cheese

or

Thai chicken with grilled five-spice pineapple, watermelon and Asian-style mint dressing

Soup

Corn chowder

Salad

Seasonal greens with fresh vegetables, feta cheese and pepperoncini

Creamy pickled ginger dressing

or

Premium extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Entrees

Grilled Fillet of Beef

Char Siu Pork

Crisp Crusted Halibut

Brie and Leek Ravioli Pasta

Take note fellas: AA serves now an amuse bouche in First Class!! Mine was a sort of potato-frittata with a shrimp on top. Absolutely brilliant. Here a photo.

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

That was followed by my choice of appetizer. I opted for the Thai Chicken, as I believe I tried the salmon on my way from SCL already. I would say it was mediocre – the combination of flavors was present but the fact that it was served chilled put me off.

Chilled chicken

Chilled chicken

The corn chowder followed and let me tell you this: it was delicious! Really, it was! Thick, creamy but not overpowering, rightly spiced… Oh man, what’s happening?! AA is getting its catering right!

Corn chowder. Tasty indeed

Corn chowder. Tasty indeed

For the entrée, I went for the crusted halibut with caper sauce and haricot verts. To be honest, I was expecting something very creamy and buttery… Red Lobster style (for those of you unfamiliar with Red Lobster, it’s a seafood chain owned by Orlando, Florida-based Darden Restaurants; its food is famous for being buttery, creamy and – overall – not so good). Instead, I was handed a nice piece of baked fish that wasn’t neither dry nor buttery, with nicely-steamed vegetables. I am not sure if it was because I had set my expectations low, but this meal exceeded my expectations, albeit – like I have already mentioned – I feel that there is not too much difference between the offerings of Business and First Class.

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Crusted halibut

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After the plates were cleared, I was handed a dessert meanu, featuring dessert wines, umeshu and sake. Wow! I was feeling really full at this point, so I opted for some fruit salad with lemon sorbet, accompanied by some Port wine. Again, a good dessert that, while it won’t win any accolade for creativity, did its job nicely.

One of the features of American Airlines’ First Class is its “rotating” seat. It means that the seat literally rotates 90 degrees; the side table can be extended; at voila’, you have your personal desk in the sky. I had always thought this feature was ugly and unnecessary… Yet – as I am using it right now to write this trip report – I can say it’s a pretty sweet feature. I still think it’s aesthetically ugly, but it is very functional indeed.

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The negatives of this cabin rest mostly – seat aside – on the worn-out look, the small, low definition TV, and the uninspiring restrooms.

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Is this really First Class??

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How classy…

I believe there is no difference between AA First and Business Class lavatories and Economy ones. The new premium cabin, indeed, features an ample restroom that feels premium. At least the company learnt something from the competition!

I settled in my seat to watch some movies – I went for a Japanese movie, “Beautiful World”, a yakuza-centered story that didn’t fail to move me. Unfortunately, the flight attendant didn’t offered any turndown service (neither to me nor to the other customers). As this is a highly publicized service on American Airlines First Class, it was a bit disappointing. Also, during the meal I wasn’t offered any wine tasting, even though this is supposedly one of the new features of AA’s menu.

Relax mode

Relax mode

Coffee and cookies to help me relax

Coffee and cookies to help me relax

The seat is more comfortable than I thought, thanks in part to the nice, big pillow AA hands out. I fell asleep at some point for a hour or two. Fellow passengers seemed to be fairly relaxed as well.

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Around 7 hours into the flight, the FA came about asking me whether I wanted a snack. Choices included an Edo-style Mini Bento Box, Sesame-Chicken, Dessert, and Fresh Fruit. I opted for the Bento Box, which was surprisingly elegantly presented. The food was good as well.

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I started watching “Argo“, which I didn’t particularly enjoy. About 2 hours out of Tokyo, the light meal service started. It consisted of a salad with “Asian” sesame dressing (why even bother specifying that it was Asian? What does it even mean?!), a choice of Tahitian Crabmeat Soup or Uno’s Spinach and Garlic Pizza (again, how classy naming the brand of the pizza served…), Dessert, and cookies. I opted for the pizza, which was satisfying.

Light pre-arrival meal

Light pre-arrival meal

Right before landing, the FA came thanking me for my business and offering me a couple of delicious chocolate candies. A nice touch indeed.

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We landed about 90 minutes late due to the late departure and rather strong headwinds, but I was able to clear immigration and customs pretty quickly and to start my short Japanese adventure in no time.

So, how was AA First? Well, hard to say. It’s hard to judge AA on its long-haul Pre-Historic product. It’s just so old looking, old feeling… I know AA has a new premium product, but before it will be rolled out fleet wide other airlines might have come up with even more innovative products…

The service was very good – I like that I was addressed by name all the flight long. Still, the wine flight/tasting wasn’t offered and turndown service was completely absent. How AA thinks of competing with BA, LH, JL, NH, CX etc. is beyond my comprehension.

Overall, though, it was a good flight. I am just not sure that the rather minimal difference between J and F justifies the extra cost/miles needed (angle-flat seat in business aside, of course). While I would likely fly AA old product again if a good bargain comes out, it certainly wouldn’t be my first choice. I am sure that 95% of flyers out there think the same.

3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. anon / Aug 23 2013 9:27 pm

    I remember taking this flight 8 years ago, Looks like the food service has stepped up quite a bit!
    Nice to see a fellow DFWer enthusiast!

  2. Joel / Nov 25 2013 8:38 pm

    The 12,500 miles for J->F just for the lay flat bed alone is worth it IMO!

Trackbacks

  1. Battle of First(s): AA (old) F vs ANA (new) F, hinami (sakura watching) in Tokyo, and Easter lunch in NYC | Airways and Travels

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