To read how I got on this flight, read part one.
January 7th, 2014
American Airlines 181
New York JFK – Los Angeles
Airbus A321T (32B)
Seat 2A, Flagship First Class
We were allowed to board about 30 minutes before scheduled departure, starting with the call for First Class, then Business Class and Executive Platinums, then Platinums. Although First Class went out with 10/10 seats filled, I later learned that at least 1 seat was taken by an AA employee (the passenger behind me was monitoring the GoGo and in-flight entertainment systems for the inaugural day).
Unfortunately, American has decided to use Door 1L for boarding and deboarding at LAX and JFK. The area between Doors 1 and 2 is entirely comprised of First Class, so having boarding at Door 2 would allow First Class passengers a better boarding experience with only 10 passengers coming through that area instead of 102. I have a feeling American is hesitant of driving a jetway to Door 2L because of the nearby engine.
The current set up on the 767-200s has the same effect, since there is only 1 forward boarding door, but with 2 aisles, it’s possible to be shielded from the aisle when people board. With these seats, First Class passengers are right up against the aisles, which are at least pretty wide in the F cabin.
I was the first to board the A321T (yeah, I was a gate louse, no regrets!). We had a great purser on our flight who immediately took coats and offered a pre-departure beverage, suggesting champagne to toast to the new plane’s inaugural day. I was pretty surprised to receive sparkling wine in an actual glass rather than in a plastic cup. I was even more surprised when I got a refill without asking for one!
At my seat was a gift bag from American Airlines – I spotted a better gift bag for all passengers on the jetway for the earlier AA 133 flight, but this one had fewer items and was only for First and Business Class passengers (a few Economy passengers I spoke with later in flight mentioned not getting them). The best gift was a Mophie power pack and a voucher for 500 miles, alongside an laptop mouse and tidbits from Paramount Pictures (who I guess has a large contract with AA).
As I settled in, I took note of the seat surrounding me. This is pretty much the same seat in American’s international business class on the new 777-300ER, though I haven’t flown this seat before so it was new to me. While passengers get direct aisle access and a window seat, I can see why some labeled the seat “cramped.” It can be a bit difficult to actually get into the seat, as there’s not that much room between the armrest and the shell of the seat in front.
In the above photo, the silver panel with the seat number is actually a button that raises and lowers the armrest.
The seat comes with a large 15.4″ touch screen in-flight entertainment monitor that swivels into view with a simple push of a button. This is a big upgrade from the tablet players currently in use on the 767-200s (which become so much of an annoyance, I frequently eschew asking for one, especially with the return an hour before arrival).
Sadly the controller doesn’t have an accelerometer, despite its smartphone feel (it kind of felt like an old BlackBerry Storm, the phone that just felt wrong to use). The cord was on my left but I needed to turn it upside down to use it. I never saw the point of using it when the main screen was touchscreen.
By far the best part of the IFE was the interactive in-flight map (which Gary told me would be very intuitive). There were many custom views available, including a cockpit view that I forgot to engage upon landing. The map was a bit laggy, but I was told by the employee sitting behind me (as well as another who found my Instagram videos) that they’re working on a solution. I love a good inflight map and this was one of my favorites!
As I was playing with the IFE, the purser handed out Bose QC15 noise-cancelling headphones (no more tablets!) and menus. While I prefer my QC20i earbuds, the IFE system has a proprietary 3-pronged outlet.
I’ve written out the menu below:
Marinated Cheese Antipasto
Thai-season Breast of Chicken
With grilled pineapple and watermelon, served with Asian mint dressing
Seasonal greens and fresh vegetables offered with chile cucumber salad and Cajun-style roasted chicken breast
With your choice of classic Caesar dressing or premium extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Upon customer request, the salad may be available without chicken
Assorted gourmet breads will be served with your meal
Grilled Fillet of Beef
Served with sautéed spinach and kale, accompanied by potatoes au gratin
An American Classics item
Pumpkin Seed Crusted Breast of Chicken
With brown butter sauce, served with sugar snap peas and mashed sweet potatoes
Cheese Tortellini and Manicotti Duo
Tortellini with peso Alfredo sauce, accompanied by Florentine Manicotti with Mediterranean tomato sauce
Traditional Ice Cream Sundae
Vanilla ice cream with your choice of hot fudge, butterscotch or seasonal berry toppings, whipped cream and pecans
Grand Marnier Fruit Salad
Offered prior to arrival
Whole Fruit and Snacks
A selection of fresh seasonal fruit and premium snacks
Freshly baked on board
And after that was the wine list, which was pretty disappointing for a flight one passenger in the gatehouse dubbed “The 1%-er Express”:
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Carneros Brut
A lively blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir shows toast and apple flavors with a soft finish.
The Climber Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino
Citrus, honeydew and tropical fruits on the palate. Crisp acidity leads to pineapple on the finish.
Echelon 2010 California Chardonnay
Delicate aromas of pineapple and pear with vanilla segue into balanced flavors of apricot and citrus.
Barbed Wire Meritage, California
This is a rich wine with a Cabernet backbone, smooth fruit Merlot and just a touch of Cabernet Franc.
Echelon California Cabernet
Beautiful aromas of cocoa and black fruit make for a sumptuous wine with blackberry and pepper.
Graham’s Six Grapes Port NV, Douro
Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, Tinita Barroca, Tinita Amareal and Tinta Cão grapes.
And lastly, the beverage list (which didn’t list the espresso/cappuccino maker for First Class passengers).
Bombay Sapphire Gin
Tito’s Handmade Vodka
Canadian Club Reserve Blended Whisky
Dewar’s White Label Scotch Whisky
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
Jim Beam Devil’s Cut
Select U.S. beers
Brandy and Liqueurs
Baileys Irish Cream
Courvoisier V.S.O.P Fine Champagne Cognac
Still and sparkling water
Java City 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee
Java City decaffeinated coffee
Push back was delayed as the ground crew had retreated indoors to warm up (and frankly, I don’t blame them, it was downright cold outside). In the meantime, the purser came by and took orders, following FEBO by taking row 5’s orders first. I had pre-ordered ahead of time so my row 2 seating wasn’t a disadvantage.
I selected the Thai-seasoned chicken starter (though got the antipasto with the pre-meal nuts), the salad with chicken on the side, and the pumpkin seed crusted chicken (that’s a lot of chicken!). I also selected which drink I’d like after takeoff.
Interestingly, the purser told every passenger to dine on our own schedule and asked when during the flight we wanted to eat, offering to heat up food as late as 4 hours in. I first selected to eat an hour after takeoff but later pushed it back another 20 minutes.
We pushed back and began the requisite “ground taxi tour of JFK before you can take off” until we hit a cruising altitude of 32,000 feet.
Shortly after takeoff, drinks, hot nuts, and cheese antipasto were served.
I delayed my meal for a while and began watching “The Internship,” which was a lot better than I thought it would be! About an hour in, I began my meal.
The purser offered dessert but said it was okay if I wanted to wait, so I held off for the time-being and headed toward the rear of the aircraft to take photos.
Of note in the main economy class cabin was row 11, the bulkhead Main Cabin Extra row with almost unlimited legroom (but no windows). Row 12 in MCE seemed to have 2 windows, as did Row 17 in non-MCE. I can see myself doing a transcon in Row 11, but please keep me out of Rows 17-22. Yikes.
As I made my way to the rear galley of the aircraft, I became engrossed in a conversation amongst a number of us #AvGeeks who had all gone out of our way to fly this plane, as well as a flight attendant who was amazed himself at how much each of us flew. Champagne was served in economy for an inaugural flight and the group at the back asked the flight attendant if they could finish off the bottle. In fact, they finished it off before my cup was filled, so I walked back to First Class, asked the purser for a glass, and brought it back to some chuckles from the others :P.
I returned back to First Class and asked for my sundae – everything except nuts. I also remembered to order a cappuccino, since the A321T has an espresso/cappuccino maker solely for First Class passengers. It’s not listed on the menu – it should be, even if it means writing “exclusively on the A321T” while the 767-200s are still flying.
I was also offered anything from a snack basket, which included fruits (apples and bananas) to other options like chips or chocolates.
Given the heavy head winds, we still had about 2 hours left in flight by the time I was finished with my sundae, so I tried to test out the flat bed. I mentioned earlier that my cushion was out of alignment when I boarded, and this was really evident when I put the bed in flat-bed mode.
I notified the purser in the front galley and she immediately brought out a seat manual to go over how to fix the seat and readjust the cushion.
At the same time, my IFE stopped working. I mentioned this to the passenger behind me while the flight attendants fixed my seat, and he introduced himself as an AA employee who was in charge of monitoring the wifi and IFE. The quick fix was to hold down the power button on the face of the IFE and allow the Android software to reboot. This took only about 3 minutes and my IFE began working again, without the need for a hard reset of the entire plane’s systems.
Speaking of GoGo, I had a pretty decent connection throughout the flight and was able to upload scores of photos and videos to my Instagram account. While it wasn’t the fastest connection, I think it was faster than normal because only 102 passengers can fly this aircraft. Also, since every seat has an IFE monitor, fewer people will pass the time with wifi if they can watch a movie or TV show easily.
As we began to approach LAX, flight attendants came around with baked on board cookies and an option for milk or sparkling water. I took a cookie and kept with the bottle of water that had been passed out earlier while I was away from my seat.
We landed a bit behind schedule, given the delay at JFK and head winds on the way to LAX, and parked at Gate 40. The jetway attached to Door 1L. As I deboarded, I handed 3 AApplause certificates from my elite status package to the purser for her, the other flight attendant in First, and the coach flight attendant I had spoken with in the rear galley. Another passenger in First did the same.
I stopped in the LAX Flagship Lounge to grab a water bottle and ran into SFO777, who had flown the earlier JFK departure. We compared our experiences, and his crew didn’t seem to have the A321T down, as his experience wasn’t as great as mine. It just shows that no matter how great the hard product is, a good crew can still make a big difference.
This is a big improvement for people who fly transcontinental. If you are spending miles, it is well worth the nominal increase to go from business to first class. You get a lie-flat bed in business, but you don’t get direct aisle access. You also get access to better check-in and lounges in both LAX and JFK. The seat is extremely private and whilst I was seated, I couldn’t really tell if there were other passengers in the cabin. While not exactly a private jet, it’s much less open than the 2-1-2 seating on the 767 aircraft.
There are a few things that can be improved still, like which boarding door is used as well as the selection of meals and wines. I’ve heard of amenity kits for First Class passengers but there were none to be found on this flight. Still, I’ll gladly take an A321T over a 767-200 any day.
American is slowly ramping up frequencies on the A321T. By the end of January, there will be 6 LAX-JFK flights per day on the new plane, and all flights (as many as 13 daily during the summer) will be A321T by the first week of May. 13 flights x 10 First Class seats is 130 per day, and even though the economy is doing better, I have a feeling more First Class seats will be available for saver awards.
As for SFO, the first flights there will be in March, and all 5 flights will be flown on the A321T by mid-June.
If you want to use miles, it would cost 32,500 AA miles one-way, 37,500 Avios one-way, or 50,000 US Airways miles roundtrip for a seat in First Class. If you book an international award, remember that American Airlines allows you to have a stopover at your North American gateway; if your North American gateway is LAX, SFO, or JFK, you can try to add a transcon to the beginning or end of your international award (I briefly explained this in a post here).