On my recent status run with American Airlines, I flew from Honolulu to San Juan and back on a relatively cheap business class fare in order to earn 50% bonus Elite Qualifying Points. Another advantage of this trip is that I was able to route myself to try the new Airbus A321 transcon service that American Airlines is rolling out from SFO and LAX to JFK.
I was able to try the business class product in both directions, with a morning flight to JFK and an afternoon flight to LAX. I did not need the lie flat seat, but it was still an excellent hard product and matched with good service and in-flight entertainment.
Amol already reviewed the First Class product and had many good things to say. But I expect many of us are going to find ourselves in business class since flying first class on a three-cabin plane means booking it in the first place (either lots of cash or lots of miles) or upgrading from an already expensive business class fare.
And if you’re going to be stuck in economy class, that didn’t look too bad. Each cabin takes up about one third of the plane, with business class situated over the wings. Half of the economy class has extra legroom as part of American’s Main Cabin Extra, compared to roughly a third of United’s p.s. economy class in Economy Plus. There are also many fewer economy class seats on the A321T, which appeared (from my fortunate vantage point) to give it a less crowded feel.
I didn’t fly United’s p.s. service back when they still offered a first class cabin, so this trip on American Airlines was my first time seeing three cabins on a single-aisle jet. It was not nearly as cramped as I imagined, with galleys between sections making each feel like a separate room.
After making my way past first class, which almost reminded me of a private jet with one large seat on either side of the aisle, I found that business class looked almost as spacious. I know some people prefer direct aisle access, which you can get with the 1-1 configuration in first class. But the 2-2 configuration in business class was not a problem for me whether I had the window seat (outbound) or aisle seat (return). I could easily walk past my neighbor as long as the seat was not fully reclined.
American does not provide a full predeparture beverage menu, so we were welcomed with a glass of water or orange juice as well as a printed menu (prosecco was also offered on the return flight, leaving later in the day). I actually prefer sparkling wine to a cocktail, so if it’s easier for the flight attendants, great! Bose noise canceling headsets were passed out, which I declined as usual. But I did play around with the IFE while still on the ground, both using the touchscreen display and the handheld remote.
The touchscreen worked great. It was fairly intuitive and responded quickly when I tried to pause, rewind, and play without skipping over more content than I intended. I could also zoom and swipe to navigate the map almost as easily as on my iPhone. The remote, however, was finicky. I found myself frustrated more than once when it would do the opposite of what I intended, and on the second flight it got stuck in a loop that required restarting my unit. I quickly learned not to use the remote for anything.
Once in the air, the flight attendant returned to take orders. After hearing disappointing things about the breakfast waffle, I went for the omelet instead. American Airlines offers the chance to reserve your meal in advance on these and some other flights, but I got my first choice anyway despite passing up the opportunity.
You have no idea how glad I am not to see some processed potato mush on my plate. Solid potatoes, salsa, and a warm, buttery biscuit made this meal one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in a long time on a domestic flight. Some people say my priorities are strange, but at least I know what they are. I was thrilled to get a glass of milk with my cookie as we began the descent toward JFK.
On the return lunchtime flight, I ordered the grilled salmon since I’d already tried the chicken pot pie in summer of 2012. (It was good, too, and I’m sure I’ll have another chance to eat it on a future upgraded flight.) The salad was merely average. Megan has me eating a lot of spinach and arugula these days — I draw the line at kale — and I seem to have lost my taste for romaine lettuce. The wines, at least, were pretty good. My parents have been trying to expand my horizons, and I recognized several of the names from Sonoma and Napa Counties.
I’ll also mention that my arriving and departing flights seemed to be conveniently located near Admirals Club locations at both airports. I don’t know that this was intentional, but it seemed a nice touch to improve the seamless integration between the in-flight and ground experiences.
Comparing the A321T to its competitors, I can only say that it is a vast improvement over United’s p.s. service on the same routes. The seats are similar, but American’s in-flight entertainment is better, the food is better, and the customer service is better.
Whereas yesterday I said I would not go out of my way to fly BusinessFirst on United’s p.s. service to JFK, I would make a reasonable effort if I knew I could fly Business Class on American’s A321T. For example, I might choose to connect in LAX over SFO until the new SFO-JFK service ramps up, or I might choose either airport over ORD even though ORD gets me there faster. In any case, it’s a product I hope to try again, and I will be happy enough even if I’m not traveling in the front of the cabin.