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November 19, 2014 / oneworld82

Paris to Dallas on American Airlines First Class (777)

So far, my trip had been blessed by great flights on SWISS, Lufthansa, and Etihad. My last leg was going to be, well, disappointing. While many people state it’s not fair game to compare US carriers with foreign carriers, I beg to disagree. These days, American Airlines offers a very competitive, industry-leading business class product on its 77W jets, and it’s installing refreshed products on all its fleet. Even the first class cabin – while not industry-leading – features a solid hard product. More or less, United and Delta offer similar, competitive products on long-haul flights. Hence, the difference lies in the soft product, and here American Airlines & Co. have to improve. Significantly.

In Paris I had to get my boarding pass to Dallas, which meant dealing with security and a bunch of tedious questions to make sure I was allowed to get back home (basically). I then had to go through the folly of having to show that all my electronic gadgets were actually electronic gadgets, and then there I was inside the terminal at CDG T2.

I did not know that, but in CDG the Admirals Club is actually outside security. When I realized it, I was already roaming duty free stores, and I just decided to window-shop until my flight… which I later discovered had been delayed by about one hour. Oh well, no big deal. After toying with the idea of buying some cheese and/or foie gras – and after deciding not to since everything was severely overpriced at the airport – I went to the gate and waited for my flight.

 

American Airlines Flight #49, CDG-DFW

September 2nd, 2014, 11:30a – 3:40p

First Class, Seat 4A

Boeing 777-200

I boarded with the other first class customers to a full first class cabin. As this was a B777-200, if still featured old cabins and interiors – as well as a 16 seats first class cabin that always feels way too cramped.

I will not comment much on the hard product – American “old” first class has been extensively discussed throughout the years. The cabin looked pretty dated, somewhat worn-out, but not in terrible shape. Considering its age, AA old first class is not a bad product – but an overhaul is long overdue.

My seat today was the last one in the back, by the galley. While this seat gets nowhere near the level of privacy offered by Etihad or even Lufthansa, it is nonetheless a private space to relax or work. I hear that many people like the fact that the seat rotates by 90 degrees, creating essentially a private workstation; I am not entirely sure I like that functionality though, as it somewhat detracts from the overall style and look of the seat.

At my seat, a packed cover and pillow were awaiting me. The fact that the everything was still packed signals cheapness and tackiness to me. If you want to create a premium experience, you would have your guests find a lighter cover at their seat for lounging use, but would replace that (or supplement it with) a better one when turndown service is offered. Point #1 for improvement.

Another aspect that could be greatly improved is the amenity kit. Let’s face it: it looks cheap. Sure, it is an iPad case… but it is a generic, no-brand case Made in China (so the only label found on it says). If it were branded, it would be a much better proposition. Like in business class, the kit featured Dermalogica products – non the best, but not the worst either.

Shortly after taking my seat the flight attendant serving my aisle came by and introduced himself. He offered me a pajama – which quality represented a clear improvement compared to the one I received on my AA First Class flight to Japan in 2013 – and a pre-departure drink; as usual, I opted for some champagne – even though I am not sure whether this was real champagne or just some pre-departure sparkling wine.

The flight attendant, I am afraid to say, was the biggest let-down of my flight. I cannot conceive how an experienced and well-trained flight attendant could be so careless about etiquette and “savoir faire”. He did not have any of the manners and the formality of what a first class customers would expect to find on a premium cabin; he was overly friendly and informal, treating passengers more like peers than like customers. A few of his mishaps during the flight: he did not close the curtains between cabins; he taped a white sheet of paper with food orders to the galley’s wall on plain customers’ sight; he almost threw a tray with food on my table as he was rushing (for whatever reason) the service; and he did not offer a drink to anyone during the second meal service. I am pretty sure that passengers in coach had better luck that I did.

Anyways, after departure we experienced some turbulence, but that cleared promptly and lunch service began.

Today’s menu read as follows:

Amuse-Bouche

Mushroom Risotto with Parmesan, chives and pesto sauce

Starters

Smoked Trout Timbale with Avocado and saffron sauce

or

Prosciutto and Mozzarella with Melon

Soup

Sweet Corn and Butternut Squash

Salad

Seasonal greens with balsamic pears, beets, almonds and blue cheese

Entrees

Blue Cheese Crusted Beef Filet with Rosemary jus, broccoli mashed potatoes and sauteed carrots

Jalapeno Chicken with Cream Sauce. Served with sesame potato wedges and sauteed green beans

Tomato and Olive Crusted Tilapia. With lemon and herb couscous and sauteed spinach

Vegetable Korma with cumin-scented basmati rice

Dessert

Specialty Sundae. Banana foster sundae with vanilla ice cream and banana caramel topping

Traditional Ice Cream Sundae. Vanilla ice cream with your choice of hot fudge, butterscotch or seasonal berry toppings, whipped cream and pecans

Gourmet Cheese Plate. An assortment of fine cheeses with garnishes

Grand Marnier Fruit Salad with lemon sorbet

 

Light Meal

Entrees

Grilled Vegetable Flatbread. Topped with grilled red pepper, artichoke and black olives, accompanied by a side salad with passion fruit dressing

Charcuterie Plate. An assortment of fine cold cuts and cheese served with a side of grilled vegetables and breadsticks

Dessert

Fresh Seasonal Fruit

Cookies. Freshly baked on board

On the drink side, Champagne Moutard was served – not a great choice and only marginally better than Gosset Brut served in Business Class. Overall, the only highlight on AA’s drink menu was Amaretto DiSaronno.

After taking my order, the FA started preparing drinks. Within a few minutes, my bloody mary with wamed nuts was delivered. I haven’t tried BM’s on other airlines, but AA’s is nothing special. The nuts were good as usual.

Pass 15 more minutes during which I started watching a movie (“3 Days to Kill”), and my table was set and the amuse bouche was served.

I liked the concept, but the ensemble was decidedly too chill – which detracted from the overall flavor of the dish. Cold and risotto are two words I would never want to see together.

After a few minutes, my starter was brought in. I went for prosciutto and mozzarella – a simple yet always satisfying (and hard to ruin!) dish. The prosciutto and the mozzarella were both fresh and very tasty – as was the melon. We had a winner here!

Since I wasn’t too hungry after the previous night’s feast, I skipped the soup and went straight to the salad.

While it was a perfectly-fresh serving of greens, I think we can all agree that presentation could be better.

Beef was my main dish of choice.

While the meat was overcooked, the blue cheese added zest and taste to the steak – and the sauce wasn’t bad either. It was a decent dish – would have been great if the meat had been cooked medium instead of well-done. I had my dish with a glass of less-than-memorable Mercy Pinot Noir.

At this point I was feeling really full, so I passed on the sundae to have the Grand Marnier fruit salad + lemon sorbet. While the sorbet was perfectly fine, the fruit was minced too finely with the end result of having colored dots floating on a sea of Grand Marnier. Overall it was ok, but nothing memorable.

I think the lunch service took around 1 hour and half. It was well-paced, but the meal was ok only for a business class product, not for a first class one.

After lunch I put my seat in bed mode and caught three solid hours of sleep. I have to note that the flight attendants did not offer to make the bed to a single customer. On a Transatlantici flght I would have expected better, even from AA. The seat in bed mode is still very comfortable, but some mattress-like padding would make it even better.

Once I woke up I watched some TV and blogged a bit. The flight went by smoothly, and we were even able to make up some of the lost time due to our late departure. After handing out a bootle of water after the main meal, the flight attendant was nowhere to be found for approximately 4 hours.

About 1h30m before landing, the second meal was served. I opted for the charcuterie dish, which was great. You can’t mess around with great ingredients…! Too bad that the flight attendant did not even offer anything to drink with it. Like, really? Unfortunately, it was not a surprise.

The fruit coming with the tray was fresh, and the cookie as yummy as always.

After the meal service I went to the washroom to freshen up and change back into my clothes, and in no time we were in Dallas – back home after 2 amazing weeks in Central Asia.

So, how was this flight? Mediocre, at best. A tired (albeit very functional) product, decent (but not great) food and drinks, sub-par service, and mediocre IFE made this a so-so first class experience. While American Airlines generally does Business Class well, I feel like it’s waaaaay behind competition in its attempt to offer a First Class cabin that lives up to its name. Hopefully, once the fleet will have fully transitioned to a smaller (and newer) F cabin on the 777-300s things will improve. For now, I’ll try to stick with business; and I will keep my fingers crossed for a bright(er) future.

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