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June 18, 2013 / oneworld82

American Airlines once more: DFW-ORD-LHR and back on Business Class (MD80/B772)

My itinerary

My itinerary

On my way to South Africa (look out for my upcoming trip report on the subject), I had decided to fly oneworld to get some valuable miles while my precious Platinum status still lasts. Thanks to a friend, I was able to use a SWU to upgrade both Trans-Atlantic halves on my itinerary. As I had never tried AA’s business class on the 772, I was mildly excited about these flights (nevermind the ensuing 12-hour flight on BA World Traveler to JNB…). I tried to book a nonstop DFW-LHR (instead of going through ORD), but that would have cost me $300 more, which I wasn’t willing to pay in this case. So I set up for a not-too-bad route via ORD. I think this idea was a definitive winner, for a simple reason: I got to to experience American Airlines’ “airport of the future” at DFW’s Terminal A… and I get more miles! For those of you who don’t know, AA is rethinking the way US airports work. The new design, materials used, layouts remind of open spaces so well used by Qantas in Australia (and of which self bag-tagging is another reminder). The new idea is being tested in half of Terminal A at DFW; the check in area has been reconverted, and the new design includes a secluded check-in area for premium customers. It looks much better than the old layout, with no conveyor belt nor ugly metallic frames (substituted by warm wood panels). Here are some shots.

IMG_0920 The new self check-in counters are sleek . IMG_0921 IMG_0922

As you can see, the main check-in area looks room and airy; the new logo is clearly displayed. IMG_0923 IMG_0924

If AA is going to roll out this new concept across the system, it will have a definite winner. Hopefully, airport operators and other airlines will take note and try to follow AA’s lead in improving the shameful condition of US airports. The signage is also new, with directions painted/printed on the walls in a very intuitive way (and much like the ones found at London Heathrow). After security, new gates have been laid out as well. Similar concept, with the addition of well distinct, opposite-side lines for boarding of premium/priority passengers to avoid funneling issues so common in the traditional boarding process. Again, a winner. Now, AA has just started rolling it out and I have already heard complains about the desk size, height, etc. by one of the agents… Hopefully, common sense and a customer-centric focus will prevail. I then headed to the AAdmirals Club at Terminal A, which I had never visited before. I was very impressed by it; it looks newer/better kept than the one in Terminal D… The showers were remarkable – one of the nicest I have seen so far – and the lounge eve features a small fitness room equipped with cardio machines. I just had the time to grab a Johnnie Walker Black Label that it was time to board…

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Spacious shower room

Spacious shower room

Ample, rain-shower and Dermatologica products

Ample, rain-shower and Dermatologica products

Living la vida loca...

Living la vida loca…

Flight AA2370, MD80 May 31st, 2013 6:10p – 8:30p First Class, Seat 4B The flight was pretty much uneventful. I got some orange juice before departure…

Pre-Departure OJ

Pre-Departure OJ

…then I got my usual gin & tonic to accompany the good-as-always warm nuts (a change in pre-dinner snack would be good, though!)…

Working on my blog

Working on my blog

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Standard seat and standard blanket

Legroom and everything else is typical domestic First Class. A picture for the ones unfamiliar with it… IMG_0934 For dinner, I had pre-selected online the chicken dish to be offered on this flight. The flight attendant had my pre-selection noted, and the dish tasted good.

Dinner tray

Dinner tray

Chicken dish

Chicken dish. Actually pretty tasty

Salad with vinaigrette - such a nice change from ranch sauce!

Salad with vinaigrette – such a nice change from ranch sauce!

Cheesecake

Cheesecake

We landed in Chicago about 20 minutes late, which meant that I had to walk straight to my departure gate with only a short stop on the way to buy some necessities  I had forgotten to pack. Boarding was already halfway-through when I got there, and it wasn’t long before  Iwas sitting into my comfortable business class seat.

ORD-LHR, Flight AA50

9:30p – 11:25a+1

B772, Seat 10H, Business Class

A lady asked me to switch seats with her husband, which I of course agreed to. Unfortunately for me, that meant I had to give up an aisle seat for a window one. Oh well, not too bad.

This was my first time aboard AA’s 772’s business class. While I do not like the 2-3-2 configuration, the cabin looked alright. It was pretty packed, and at the very last second a guy took the seat next to me, panting from a run from another gate where his flight arrived late. Too bad, as for a moment I had thought I would seat by myself!

Pre-departure drinks and menus were offered, and before taking off  I took some pictures of the cabin.

Last row of business class cabin

Last row of business class cabin

Screen. Small, but at least it's on demand!

Screen. Small, but at least it’s on demand!

My seat

My seat

OJ before leaving.

OJ before leaving.

We took off more or less on time, and the captain announced a short 7h10m (if  Iremember correctly) flight time. How can I fit dinner AND breakfast AND some sleep in such a short time? First World problems…

AA old business class seat is comfortable enough, but not having 180 degree lie-flat on all its routes might become a drag in the long run for AA’s competitiveness. Retrofitting couldn’t come faster! I took a look at the amenity kit, which had all the basics you need for a trip like this. In particular, I like Dermatologica products (which are offered in the lounge shower as well in the form of body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion.

photo (24)

Then, I took a look at the menu, as the flight attendant was coming by taking dinner orders:

photo (23)

It read as follow.

DINING SERVICE

Starter

Cured salmon with poached pear and avocado creme

Salad

Seasonal greens with fresh vegetables, sweet and spicy pecans and blue cheese

Pepper cream dressing

or

Premium extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Entrees

Grilled Fillet of beef

Accented by roasted shallot butter, vegetable risotto with mushrooms and sauteed spinach

Sauteed Chicken

Accompanied by ratatouille sauce, bacon mashed potatoes and baby vegetables

Pan-seared Halibut

With truffled corn salsa, truffled sweet potato puree, haricots verts, tomato and red onion

Brie and Leek Ravioli Pasta

With San Marzano tomato sauce and vegetable medley

Dessert

Traditional Ice Cream Sundae

Vanilla ice cream with your choice of hot fudge, butterscotch or seasonal berry toppingsm whipped cream and pecans

Gourmet Cheese Plate

An assortment offine cheeses with garnishes

BREAKFAST

Breakfast breads

Fresh seasonal fruit

Entrees

Scrambled Eggs

Served over a buttermilk biscuit with creamy poblano sauce, potatoes au gratin and New Mexico turkey sausage

Cereal

Kellogg’s cereal with fuit yogurt

(Express breakfast was also offered)

I would just note the tackiness of stating the cereal’s brand on the menu…

The wine list featured Gosset Champagne (nothing really special, Andre’ quality to give you an idea), white and red wines, Port and Sherry wines.

The salmon came out after I had my gin and tonic with nuts. It was tasty, and AA definitely seems to have mastered salmon appetizers. Not that difficult, but still a good thing.

Tray presentation...

Tray presentation…

...and salmon appetizer...

…and salmon appetizer…

...with salad

…with salad

The appetizer was good, and I had fairly high expectations for my entree (I had selected the beef). Unfortunately, the main dish failed on almost all fronts.

DSC_0120 DSC_0121

The meat itself was alright albeit too cooked and not too flavorful. What was really bad was the moist, tasteless rice and the watery mushrooms, which created a lot of juice and made the beef float. Unfortunately, it left me sorely disappointed.

I skipped the always-wonderful sundae as by now I was full after two dinners. I started watching a corny movie called “Jack the Giant Slayer“, which was uninspiring enough to make me fall asleep for good 3/4 hours. Next thing I know we were approaching Ireland.

DSC_0122

I had just the time to go to the restroom and freshen up a bit, finish watching the movie, and read some book, that breakfast service started. I opted for the biscuits, and I was positively surprised this time. The dish was very good, as biscuits were as they should be, the gravy was not too heavy/thick/buttery, the eggs were good and the potatoes were restaurant-worthy.

Breakfast tray

Breakfast tray

And my selection of biscuits, eggs, and potatoes. Yummy!

And my selection of biscuits, eggs, and potatoes. Yummy!

Some fruit and a muffin that I selected from a bread tray completed breakfast. As I like dunkin’, the muffin went perfectly with my coffee (cream, no sugar only for me!).

We landed shortly after breakfast in a refreshingly chilly London. Heathrow was extremely busy today, and it took me ~2 hours to get to the BA Galleries lounge at Terminal 5. I will not post a review of the lounge here as I have posted one already a few months back on my way to/from Dubai (here). But I will mention that the new catering – of which many people complained about – seems to have got its acts together. The food was slightly better than the previous caterer.

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Light lunch at the lounge

My flights to/from Johannesburg were on BA economy (when, WHEN will SWU valid on BA as well??), so I won’t report on them. The seat was as comfortable as ever on BA Y (better than AA’s, in my opinion), and the in-flight entertainment system was good, with fairly new blockbusters on the list. I will post some pictures of the food offered, though. One thing I will say though: I asked for a paid upgrade in London and was offered the chance to fly Premium Economy for 209 pounds or Club World for 609 pounds. On the way back, I was told that such upgrades were not available.

Mushroom pasta. Good

Mushroom pasta. Good

English breakfast - not bad, actually!

English breakfast – not bad, actually!

++++++++++++++

Coming Back Home

After 8 amazing days in South Africa and Swaziland, it was time to come back home. Please refer to my post on South Africa and Swaziland to read more about these two incredible countries. Here  I will focus on my journey back home.

British Airways has its own Galleries Lounge at JNB airport. It’s actually a small First and a small Club lounge next to each other. It features showers, a nice buffet, and drinks aplenty.

My home away from home

My home away from home

As my flight was 3+ hrs away the lounge was quiet when I got there. Here are some pictures:

Hot buffet

Hot buffet

Salad buffet

Salad buffet

Usual BA hot beverages machine

Usual BA hot beverages machine

Decent selection of drinks

Decent selection of drinks

Bar area

Bar area

I had a small lunch and I used the lavatories to refresh myself before heading out to explore the airport more.

Chicken curry, bean salad, et alia

Chicken curry, bean salad, et alia

JNB airport is not bad at all. I wish US Terminals all resembled JNB’s Terminal A! Anyways, my Y class flight to LHR was uneventful. Here are some pictures of the food on offer.

Chicken dinner

Chicken dinner

English breakfast

English breakfast

I managed to sleep for a good portion of it, and we got into London at around 5.20a local time. As you can imagine, that was early enough to quickly transfer between Terminal 5 and Terminal 3 with no hassle. I quickly headed to the BA lounge there, and I had myself a nice little breakfast.

IMG_1067

I have to say that the bacon sandwich is as good as always, although I liked the former presentation better, when you had tomatoes and mushrooms on a small tray and could just “make your own sandwich”.

I then headed to the BA Elemis SPA to take shower but was told that – as I was holding an AA ticket – I had to use the AAdmirals Club for that. No big deal, since AA’s lounge is just down the aisle from BA’s. The AAdmirals Club here in London is way better than any Club I have visited in the US. It even has free food! Like, real food! Showers were big and looked new. A good surprise.

IMG_1068 IMG_1069 IMG_1070

Real breakfast food!

Real breakfast food!

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A lot of booze! No barman to tip here!

A lot of booze! No barman to tip here!

Some sections of the lounge enjoy a nice view of the tarmac as well (the BA lounge has no view at all).

oneworld!

oneworld!

About 30 minutes before my flight I moved to the gate. 3/4 of the people had already boarded, so that it didn’t take me long to get on board.

Flight AA99, LHR-ORD

7:45a – 10:30a

B772, Business Class, Seat 10B

I took my seat and shortly thereafter a middle-aged gentleman took his, next to mine. He didn’t speak a single word the entire flight. I will not digress on the seat itself, as it was the same as the one on the outbound flight. The cabin was only 2/3 full, a first for an American carrier, as non-revs tend to fill up these cabins.

Now, airlines can adopt whichever policy suits them the most, but I wish they put some limitations to the number of employees that travel on premium cabins for non-business purposes. After all, if I am a paying customer in business or first class that means I (or someone else on my behalf) is spending a lot of money to make me seat there (or that I am using a lot of miles). If the airline cannot fill the cabin with enough paying customers, all the better for those people seated in the premium cabin who will receive – hopefully – a more attentive, more personalized service. But this is merely my opinion of course.

Not a full cabin today!

Not a full cabin today!

Old TV

Old TV

Good legroom

Good legroom

The flight attendant distributed pre-departure drinks (I got some water), and then distributed menus.

Pre Departure water

Pre Departure water

The menu read like this:

BRUNCH

Starter

Smoked salmon with warm bagel and fresh fruit

A selection of breakfast breads

Entrees

Smoked Cheddar Omelette

With balsamic caramelized onions, asparagus and a bacon and potato stuffed tomato

Blueberry Pancakes

Served with cherry maple sauce

Grilled Chicken Risotto

With sauteed mushrooms and red bell peppers

LIGHT MEAL

Entrees

Chateaubriand

Served chilled with caramelized onions and a green salad with asparagus, Parmesan cheese and Greek vinaigrette

Cocunut Coriander Shrimp

With mango chutney and potato salad

Dessert

Sticky Toffee Cake

Take off happened on time, and the captain announced an earlier arrival at around 10:15a. Flights from London to the East Coast/Chicago are pretty short in terms of long hauls, and they give you just about enough time to enjoy the food, the IFE, and the service. Next thing you know, you are at your destination. And that works for me.

Before brunch I entertained myself with some readings…

DSC_0366

Alan Paton’s books on South Africa’s apartheid period have been an inspiring source of information on this tragic time of the Rainbow Nation. I will talk a little about more about it in my related post on South Africa, but here it suffices to say that I strongly recommend this author and especially is masterpiece novel “Cry, the Beloved Country” to anyone visiting South Africa.

About half hour into the flight, the flight attendant came by with drinks. I asked for a mimosa and the gracious lady working my aisle had no problems preparing me one. I must point out that – in both directions – I had a good crew. Not necessarily all smiles, but polite and efficient. That always help!

Cheers!

Cheers!

Shortly after, brunch service started.

Brunch presentation

Brunch presentation

Breakfast “breads” were offered, and they included muffins, cinnamon rolls (which I chose), and croissants (if I remember correctly). I liked the “make-your-own” salmon lox deal. The bagel was too hard though, and I couldn’t help but making lots of crumbs when I opened it. Regardless, the salmon tasted fresh, the cream cheese was fluffy to the right point, and capers made the lox just right. Also, the cinnamon roll wasn’t sticky, which made it easier to eat and to dunk into my coffee (if only AA served espresso/cappuccino in its premium cabins…!).

Lox

Lox

Cinnamon roll

Cinnamon roll

The main dish ensued. I decided to try the pancakes, which looked like this:

Pancakes with chicken sausage

Pancakes with chicken sausage

Maple syrup

Maple syrup

The pancakes were not bad (which doesn’t mean they were great), and the chicken sausage was a good complement. Overall  it was a decent and filling breakfast that left me satisfied and in good mood to watch some classic movie, “Thuderball” – one of Sean Connery’s great 007 stories.

Halfway through the flight, cheese and fruit was offered. Also, near the galley a tray with packaged snacks was set up for business class passengers to “enjoy”. Sarcasm intended, as I think that offering cheap and highly-caloric packaged snacks to premium cabin customers is – well – cheap (compare it with sandwiches made on the onboard kitchen on British Airways, for instance).

In any case, 90 minutes before landing the light meal service started, preceded by a drink and nuts.

Gosset Champagne and warm nuts

Gosset Champagne and warm nuts

I opted for the shrimps with potato salad, which were tasty albeit not much better than what in the US we call popcorn shrimps (and which is bar food).

Light meal tray

Light meal tray

Main dish

Main dish – Shrimps

My neighbor’s Chateaubriand looked good as well (better than my dish), but after 5 consecutive steak dinner in Southern Africa I didn’t feel like having much beef anymore! As dessert, a sticky toffee cake was offered on the tray, which wasn’t anything particularly memorable.

We landed a bit ahead of time and I quickly proceeded to immigration. I love entering the US through JFK/ORD as agents are quick and friendly (which is not always the case in DFW).  I collected my bag, rechecked them, taken the train to the AA terminal and made my way to the AAdmirals Club for a refreshing shower. After that and a glass of orange juice I made my way to my gate for my 2hrs flight to DFW. Nothing to talk about here, but  Iwill just post a picture of the snack offered, which was a rather good beef salad.

Beef salad

Beef salad

We landed at DFW 20 minutes ahead of schedule and so my South African adventure came to an end. My AA flights to/from London weren’t particularly bad nor memorable, but after 11 hours in economy I really appreciated the extra comfort of a business class seat.

Thanks for reading. Next trip? Australia and New Zealand in August. Stay tuned!

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