The last time I flew American in Business Class, it was on a tired old 767 with inadequate seats. So when American invited me to take a ride on the new 777-300ER with fully flat beds, I couldn’t wait to see the contrast. It was like night and day. American has put together a really nice product on that airplane, but some of the smaller details need to be refined for this to be a truly superior offering.
[Disclaimer: American provided my flights without charge]
Only a couple weeks earlier, American put the 777-300ER on the LA-London route, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to try it out. American arranged for the trip, sent someone along with me, and packed in a couple meetings on each end (as you saw in my recent post on the oneworld Global Support Centers).
I was told my name was on the list for Flagship Check-in even though it’s usually only for First Class, super duper Concierge Key elites, and people who pay for Five Star service. I’ve written about Flagship before so I’ll skip the details here except to say that I was escorted to security by the awesome gentleman in the hat above and was told to cut ahead of everyone else in the premium cabin line. Pretty swanky, but as more of a do-it-yourself person, this doesn’t appeal to me that much.
After seeing the oneworld Global Support Center, I was taken up to the Admirals Club and saw both the regular club (where food and drink cost money) and the Flagship side which has free food and drink for First Class passengers only. American does have nice lounges at LAX.
Soon after, it was time to get on the airplane. I was told to get on before everyone else so I could walk around the airplane to see the various cabins. My escort was given the all-clear saying that the cabin crew was onboard and ready for me, so we headed to the airplane.
This airplane was brand-spanking new. It was delivered less than a month earlier and had only been flying for two weeks. Nothing quite like that new airplane smell. But I stepped onboard to find a harried crew running around trying to get ready for the flight. They didn’t look all that happy that someone was being brought onboard before boarding and for good reason. As they described it to me later, there’s 20 minutes of prep work on that airplane and they get 10 minutes to do it. According to these flight attendants, they call the 777-300ER “the Beast” because of how difficult it is to work.
How so? Well the crew was told about me in advance. I don’t like when that happens, but it did mean that the crew decided to start unloading all the problems on me. It didn’t seem like it was done out of spite for the airline but more as a desperate plea for help to get things fixed.
For example, the Business Class galley is right next to the stand-up bar and the lavs. But the lavs are right in the way of the flight attendants and there seems to be a constant tight squeeze as passengers and flight attendants try to get around each other. The doors in the galley are also built strangely with some being on the wrong side of where they should be. These doors are also spring-loaded and when they close, they auto-latch the carts into position. So if you need to go in and out, it can take a lot of skill to balance everything. The flight attendants even went so far as to demonstrate to me the balancing act. Not well-planned at all. Somebody needs to fix these things.
June 24, 2013
American 136 Lv Los Angeles 750p Arr London/Heathrow 215p (on June 25)
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 41, Runway 25R, Depart 1m Early
London/Heathrow (LHR): Gate 340, Runway 27R, Arrive 14m Early
N723AN, Boeing 777-323ER, Gray American Flag, ~99% Full
Flight Time 9h53m
But let’s get back to the customer experience. The First Class cabin is small with only 8 seats, but it looks pretty nice. I didn’t spend much time there before we went back to coach. The Main Cabin Extra section has the standard 9 seats across while the regular coach section has a tighter 10. I was told by my escort that the seats in Main Cabin Extra are the same width as in Main Cabin, but it certainly didn’t look that way.
The width wasn’t a problem for me in either area, and the seat pitch in coach seemed average if not a little snug. But with a big screen and a power outlet, there wasn’t much to complain about.
Then it was time for me to get to Business Class where I’d sit for both flights. This seat, similar to what US Airways has on its fleet already, is excellent.
The seats on the sides are angled toward the window. The screen is big and swings out from the right side of the suite (though it doesn’t tilt up and down, unfortunately). On the left, there’s a little cubby where you can put things right beneath a ledge. Immediately on the left, there is a remote for the TV, a light, seat controls, and a variety of outlets and media connectors. Oddly enough, however, the place to connect the noise-canceling headset is inside a cabinet. I have no idea why anyone would ever do that. I actually had to ask where it was, because I couldn’t find it. And you either need to get up to plug it in or use the mirror that’s inside the compartment.
By the time I got oriented, boarding was just about finished. We buttoned up and pushed back. Soon, we were in the air on our way to London and I took at look at the menu. Inside, there is an insert telling people to use the Arrivals Lounge upon arrival. One problem. It closes at 2p, before the LA flight arrives. Why the heck would they hand this out to everyone on this airplane when nobody would be able to use it? Strange.
But back to the seat. Being angled toward the window provided a fantastic view of the setting sun for hours. I don’t believe that it ever got completely dark on our flight but it was close. The peak of darkness was probably over Wyoming or Montana before the sun started unsetting on us.
I was pretty tired, but I decided to have a full dinner service. That didn’t really work out well. They brought out the first course, and the salad looked disgusting. The mood lighting made the leaves look brown. When I turned on my personal light, it fixed the problem quickly, but I was so tired that I just ended up drifting off.
When I woke up, my main course was sitting on the tray. I tasted it and it was good, but I really wasn’t hungry enough, so I faded back into sleep. The next time I woke up, it was gone.
The flight had a little chop much of the way, but in a rare moment of smooth air, I put the bed flat, grabbed an eyeshade, put on the noise-canceling headset, and fell asleep for a few hours. That’s two flights in a row that I got some meaningful sleep, but in this case, the seat really made the difference.
When I woke up over the Atlantic a few hours out of London, I watched a movie and then had a good omelette for breakfast. We had the obligatory 15 minutes of circling before being allowed into Heathrow. I particularly enjoyed the awesome view of the BA 747 in the holding pattern.
After landing, I met up with a friend and did a mini-pub crawl. The next morning, it was time to head back home. I haven’t been to Heathrow’s Terminal 3 in awhile, but I like the relatively new courtyard area for drop off. American has its Flagship Check-in in a little office off the courtyard. I have a complaint about this.
Apparently this was American’s first effort to do a Flagship-style check-in, and it is open to Business Class and Executive Platinum unlike the ones in the US. American says changing that in London would have angered too many people, but then it seems to me it should have a different name. It’s just confusing, especially since most people who depart from London will end up departing from a US airport to come back anyway.
Once checked in, I met with a PR and a sales person from American based in the UK and they told me more about their business. I asked them about the merger and they seemed fairly excited, though of course a little nervous. If I’m them, I’m feeling great about all the new flights that are coming into Europe. It should make the airline much more competitive.
After that, it was time to head through security. My bag was mostly empty since I was gone for one day, but they still found something to require searching and re-scanning again. It probably took me 10 minutes after I had gone through the metal detector before I was on my way.
I went and checked out both the Admirals Club and the Flagship Lounge. The Admirals Club (above) actually seemed like a nicer space even though the Flagship Lounge is more exclusive. I sat in the Club until I realized it was only 25 minutes before my flight. Oh crap. I said goodbye to my escort, who was taking a different flight back to Dallas, and raced down the long concourse to the gate. I wasn’t the last one onboard, but it was getting toward the end. I was just glad to have made it.
June 26, 2013
American 137 Lv London/Heathrow 2p Arr Los Angeles 520p
London/Heathrow (LHR): Gate 34, Runway 27R, Depart 22m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 41, Runway 25L, Arrive 2m Early
N719AN, Boeing 777-323ER, Gray American Flag, ~99% Full in Business
Flight Time 10h26m
I got on the airplane and realized it was the same crew working our flight as on the day before. They recognized me from the last flight and welcomed me onboard. We didn’t push back for 20+ minutes, and I assume that was just a Heathrow delay, but no announcement was made to tell us one way or the other. Once we did push back, we were airborne quickly.
Since the day was just beginning in the US, my plan was to log on to the internet and work straight through. That didn’t happen. I got on ok for a few minutes, but by the time we hit the Irish Sea, it was down. Maybe 30 minutes or more later, it came back up but only with spotty and excruciatingly slow service. It didn’t return to a more normal, functional speed until we were more than halfway to Iceland.
Food was served and the options were the same as when I flew back from Ireland a couple months ago. I opted for the salmon, and it was fine, if not a little dry. And of course, the ice cream sundae was excellent. But I ate quickly and kept working.
Wifi held up over Greenland and one of the flight attendants came back and asked if I had been able to get online. I told him yes, so he asked if I could help another passenger who was struggling. I went up and realized just how convoluted the T-Mobile sign up process is. This is T-Mobile Germany (so when you go to website, it thinks you’re in Germany and sometimes shows websites in German). To sign up, you have to create an account with T-Mobile. And the account has to be turned into a t-mobile.net email address. You don’t need to know that, but they say it anyway. So this passenger thought you just put your email address in. If you do that, it just errors you out. Let’s hope T-Mobile can fix that.
But more importantly, Panasonic needs to fix the connectivity problems. When we got to Canada, it went down again. I think it was down for about an hour to an hour and a half, but I didn’t track it exactly.
In the meantime, I decided to flip through the entertainment system and find something good to watch. There was plenty of content on there and it kept me busy until internet came back online. I decided to stop by the lav to freshen up a bit. American has put a lot into the premium cabin lavs with porcelain sinks and wood siding. But coach lavs aren’t like this, so if you’re at the back of the business class cabin, you may want to head forward if you want something nicer.
I got back to my seat, and war broke out.
The person across the aisle had lowered my window shade much of the way down while I was gone. Oh hell no. If you want your window shade down, get a window seat. But I was feeling friendly, so I left it partially down. My neighbor decided to build a blanket wall across his seat in protest. In the end, this was more of a cold war, and we continue on our merry way.
For the rest of the flight, I worked online and enjoyed the view. I can’t overstate the awesomeness of the seat angling toward the window. You just look ahead and get a panorama of the world passing by. What was strange was that I barely reclined my seat the entire flight. It was like sitting at a desk in my office, getting work done. The flight really was great.
After landing, I hopped off the plane and was redirected down, over, outside, up, down, and over again into the Bradley Terminal customs area. After that, I was ready to go home.
This will be my last trip report for awhile. I haven’t mentioned it here, but my wife is due with Cranky Baby #2 a mere two weeks from today. So I won’t be back in the air for a couple more months. (And now we’ll see how many of you actually read this entire, looooong report.)