Flying Main Cabin Extra One Way and First Class the Other on an American A321 (Trip Report)

About a month ago, Salesforce.com asked if I’d be willing to come speak at an event they were holding for a small group of folks at American. The topic? Anything about the customer experience. I’m picky even when it comes to paid speaking opportunities, but this one sounded like fun, so I was in. Even better, they let me book my own flights. That meant I could have flown a regional flight on United or Delta, but this was an event for American. I wasn’t going to fly anyone else.

The tickets were cheap (thank you Southwest, Spirit, and Virgin America). The total was a mere $194.20, but Salesforce was kind enough to let me add on Main Cabin Extra both ways for $74.97. Then a couple days before travel, someone at American upgraded my return into First Class. This was a good opportunity for me to try out American’s new domestic First Class, something I had yet to experience. Little did I realize that the upgrade from American came with some VIP treatment in regards to food service. Regular readers know I don’t like getting any special treatment, but all I can do is continue to write an honest review and disclose everything. So to be completely clear:

[Disclosure: American upgraded my return flight to First Class and arranged for ice cream sundaes onboard even though the flight time wouldn’t normally have dictated it.]

Now, let’s get back to the trip.

I headed to the airport far too early for a 7am flight, but I wanted to check out the new connector between American’s Terminal 4 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal (written up here). I parked at Quikpark, took the shuttle, and was through security with more than an hour to spare. After checking out the connector, I headed to my gate where boarding had begun.

Boarding American LAX


March 3, 2016
American 2453 Lv Los Angeles 705a Arr Dallas/Ft Worth 1206p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 49A, Runway 25R, Depart 6m Early
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate C11, Runway 36L, Arrive 5m Early
N119AN, Airbus A321-231, Ugly flag colors, ~90% Full
Seat 10A, Main Cabin Extra
Flight Time 2h30m

I don’t think I’ve been in Main Cabin Extra before, though I assumed it was just like every other extra legroom section on any other airline. I had looked on the seat map and chose seat 10A since that is the last row before an exit door. It reclines fully, and I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone behind me. That wasn’t a good plan.

Weird Row 10 Gap American A321

Once I sat down, I realized something was a little off. It took some exploring, but I figured it out. Because of the position of the exit door, row 10 is shifted over into the aisle by a couple inches. That means you’re just far enough away to make resting on the window uncomfortable. (And the only window is forward, it’s just a wall right next to your head.)

Window Ahead A321

Further, that meant the TV screens were offset, so I found myself leaning to the left. I wouldn’t recommend that row.

We pushed back early and headed to the runway. It was a nice morning to fly.

High Clouds

There was a consistent thin cloud layer that we sat in the entire way until we hit the Texas border. I hate when I don’t have a good view.

I played around with the new free entertainment options. Most of the free stuff was older, but I settled on an unlikely suspect. My wife found out just a few days ago that I had never seen The Sound of Music, and she couldn’t believe it. Sure enough, it was on the system so I went for it. That is one long movie, and I couldn’t finish it. I figured I’d pick up the rest on the way home.

We had some light turbulence much of the way, but kudos to the crew for never turning the seatbelt sign on. It was never really bumpy, but most crews in the US would flip that switch the second there was a ripple.

Toward the end I went to use the restroom and realized that even having more legroom with American’s slimline seats isn’t enough to squeeze out of the window seat without bothering anyone. Because the seats are much bulkier up at the top, you just can’t squeeze by. (Or, uh, I couldn’t squeeze by.) The guys next to me didn’t seem too happy about that.

DFW Airport

Once back at my seat it was time to descend. Winds were howling in Dallas, so it was a bumpy ride in, but it was beautifully clear and you could see forever. We landed pretty early so we had to sit in the penalty box for a few minutes. American puts A321s (along with 757s and 737s) at Terminal A for the most part, but they must have been out of gates. They parked us in Terminal C this time surrounded by MD-80s. I love that sight. So sad they’ll be gone from the fleet within a couple years.

American MD-80s Terminal C

The talk went well, and it was great to get a chance to chat with some of you guys after. (At least a few people said they were regular readers, so howdy to you guys.) I may not work for an airline anymore, but I do need my fix every so often.

That night, I had booked myself at the Hyatt Regency at DFW. The newer, way better Grand Hyatt was sold out a couple weeks in advance, so I figured I still couldn’t turn down the chance to stay at the older property. If a hotel is on the airport, I’m usually in. That was a mistake.

When I arrived well after midnight, I asked for a room with a runway view. The agent at the desk said that was no problem and asked if I had a floor preference. I said it didn’t matter as long as I could watch airplanes in the morning. I walked into my room on the 3rd floor and the next morning saw this:

Runway View Hyatt Regency DFW

Yeah, that sucked. I hadn’t paid much attention the night before because I was exhausted after a very long day. But this meant I just didn’t bother sticking around in the morning. Sorry for straying, Starwood.

Path From Hyatt Regency DFW to Terminal C

I walked over to the closest terminal (C) and it is one crazy walk. You go through a couple garages and there are a lot of stairs going up and down and back up. If anyone can’t do stairs, take a shuttle (or stay elsewhere).

I had some time until my flight, so I decided to walk to my gate in the A terminal. This picture on the way could have been taken 30 years ago.

Retro American Terminal C DFW

Terminal C is like the land that time forgot. (And I mean that in a good way.)

The walkway from C to A is strange. There are people movers, but they don’t work. The tracks have been carpeted over to, I guess, make it more comfortable to walk on.

Carpet Covered Moving Walkways DFW

Over at A, I saw the remains of the renovation project in progress (only the Seth Miller Wandering Arameanlast few gates remain). I’m not much of a lounge person, but when I got my US Airways Mastercard last year it came with a lounge pass. It expired the following week, so I figured I’d use it. I went up to the Admirals Club near gate A23 and looked around. I know this was designed long ago, but to me the cardinal sin of any club is not having views of the operation. This club has its back to the action; the windows face the parking garage. I walked around until I saw an almost empty room. I looked at the one person there and did a double take. It was Seth Miller from Wandering Aramean, exhausted after coming in from Southeast Asia and waiting for his last leg home. We sat for a few minutes and caught up. Then he headed off to his flight and I did the same.

When I got to my gate, boarding had begun so I just got in line.


March 4, 2016
American 2241 Lv Dallas/Ft Worth 955a Arr Los Angeles 1117a
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate A14, Runway 18L, Depart 4m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 48B, Runway 25L, Arrive 9m Early
N140AN, Airbus A321-231, Ugly flag colors, ~100% Full
Seat 2F, First
Flight Time 2h48m

I took my seat and within seconds felt that the padding was pretty worn. It wasn’t all that comfortable because of that, and I was surprised. But once beyond that, I looked around and thought it was put together nicely. The tray table is in the armrest and there’s also a little cup tray that folds out for drinks.

Trays American First Class

Further, there’s a little tray that comes off the back of the armrest in front and a little slot for a tablet/phone/laptop under your own armrest, so there are a lot of places to put things.

American Power Console

At the bottom of the center console are a bunch of power options along with the headset jack. (It took me some time to find that one.) But most glorious of all was the giant TV screen sitting in front of me.

American A321 First Class TV

The flight attendant serving our cabin was named Ok (that must be hard with everyone using your name in regular speech all the time), and she was very friendly. Something about her smile and demeanor really just made for a pleasant flight. Once in my seat, I took my suit jacket off. She grabbed it and offered me a drink. I just had water.

We again pushed back early (US Airways management is clearly having an impact) and headed to the runway for departure. We were up into the brilliant sunshine in no time, but soon after we once again found that same high cloud layer as the day before. This time, however, we cruised just below it for the first half of the flight. In the meantime, I flipped The Sound of Music back on and finished it up. It’s really easy with this system to just scroll back to where you left off.

Ok came around and asked if I wanted the Asian chicken salad or a lasagna of some sort. I went with the salad and had more water to drink. The water came out with some warm nuts.

Water and Nuts on American

Then the meal followed. The salad was fine.

American Asian Chicken Salad

I wasn’t starving, but it did the trick. Once that was done, it was time for the best part. Mmmm, hot fudge sundae.

But wait, hot fudge sundae? For flights of this length, I’m pretty sure the dessert should have been a warm cookie. Hot fudge sundaes don’t come out until you get to transcon distance. Sure enough when I got back I found out that the person who had upgraded my return had also arranged for catering to board the sundaes. My first thought was… “wow, I can’t believe they have the ability to alter catering like that.” It’s far more flexible than I expected. Then I felt guilt for enjoying that sundae so much. But hey, it is what it is. And it was delicious.

Ice Cream Sundae

Once the movie was done, I pulled out my laptop to work on some posts (including this one). I didn’t bother with internet since I knew I’d be more focused doing it offline. It got a little bumpy and the seatbelt sign came on, but we must have burned off enough fuel to climb over the clouds and it smoothed out.

The cloud layer was thin enough that it parted a few times, including at the perfect spot where I could see the red rocks of Sedona down below.

Sedona From Altitude

Once over California, it wasn’t long before we began our descent. We landed and I was out of the terminal and on my way in no time.

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58 Responses to Flying Main Cabin Extra One Way and First Class the Other on an American A321 (Trip Report)

  1. Ted says:

    > But most glorious of all was the giant TV screen sitting in front of me.

    Amen!

  2. Chris says:

    Salad ? Water ?
    If it were not for the sundae, we’d have thought you were on a detox of some kind !…

    You should try to do a post / series about the inside of catering facilities. I think you did one of Korean’s but I can’t remember reading something from you about that topic…

    • CF says:

      Christophe – Well, I was out late and had a few drinks the night before.
      Plus after I landed, I was hopping in the car and going straight to the desert to go hiking. So I figured I’d take it easy!

  3. A says:

    You didn’t comment too much about Main Cabin Extra and how it compares to the comparable products on DL and UA. Plus? Minus? Same damn thing? While the cup holders and screen size in domestic F is nice to hear about I’m much more interested in what airlines are doing to differentiate themselves in the back of the bus. Aside from avoiding seat 10A I’m not sure how the product really is.

    • Andy says:

      I’ve been in Main Cabin Extra and Delta’s Comfort+ and the only difference is the service. On American, you get the same service as the rest of coach, but on Delta you have free drinks and usually there’s premium snacks. The premium snacks are only guaranteed on flights over 900 miles, but I often see them bring them out on shorter ones.

    • CF says:

      A – There wasn’t anything different other than the legroom from what I could tell.

  4. Ben in DC says:

    Was that door 2L you were sitting by in Main Cabin Extra? Do they not use that for boarding on AA?

    • CF says:

      Ben in DC – Yep. And no. They board through 1L. I seem to remember something about how A321s still can’t board using the second door. Think it’s the position of the wings or engines or something.

      • Bandito says:

        Yeah its the engine. There is not enough room between engine cowl and the L2 door for a jet bridge to safely operate. When US was replacing all the 733s and 734s with A321s there were a couple of A/C damages where field stations tried to pull up to L2 and smashed the top of the engine cowlings.

  5. Andy says:

    American’s phasing out the MD-80s? :(
    At least Delta’s planning on keeping theirs around for a while.

  6. David SF eastbay says:

    In the photo with the power options. what’s that red thing for towards the bottom?

    • ptahcha says:

      Lifevests?

    • CF says:

      David – Good question. I’d probably guess life vests as well, but I don’t really know.

      • Susan says:

        I was a flight attendant for 2 1/2 years…. I don’t pay attention to the safety briefing or video, but I do check for a life vest if an overwater plane, and count the # of rows front & back to an exit. The only part of training that was valuable was the week of safety and emergency training, if you need to evacuate, it’s going to be dark, smokey, or at an angle….. always worth checking!

  7. scott_holzworth says:

    Glad that you had a newer plane and good service. We flew round-trip coach from CLT to LAS last week on older A321’s with no entertainment system at all. We purchased prepared meals on the flight out (late morning departure) which were tasty and the cabin crew was very forthcoming with multiple opportunity for refreshments. On our return flight (also departing around noon) we sat just behind First Class. They received a similar meal to the one you described but without the special dessert. We in coach, however,

    received no opportunity to purchase a meal and had to be content with twice-offered beverage service. We landed quite hungry at 7pm EST. My recommendation is not to expect the newer plane options on all flights.

    • CF says:

      Scott – The good news is that American differentiates between the two when you book so you can see the difference. If the aircraft type is 321, then it’s an old US Airways aircraft with no entertainment. If it’s a new delivery with what I flew, it’s a 32B. But yeah, out of Charlotte you’re likely to get a lot of the older configuration aircraft.

  8. broadcreek48 says:

    BS: Please stop referring to the “ugly tail colors” of AA. It damages your credibility.. And i really like you and your product. CJT

    • Sean CMH says:

      I love reading the comment “Ugly Flag Colors.” Makes me laugh every time!

    • oldiesfan6479 says:

      Crankster: please do NOT stop referring to AA’s “new” color scheme as “ugly flag colors.” The reference fits the suspect nicely!

    • SAN Greg says:

      “Ugly Flag Colors” is a Cranky original. It’s appropriate and I agree! Fly on!

      • broadcreek48 says:

        It is not a smart business move.

      • broadcreek48 says:

        I’ll wager than any of the guys who advocate your continuing this labeling have never used CF services. It does not say Stanford .. It does not inspire confidence in your business.

        • Charlie H says:

          The only appropriate reply to your comment is: He uses the word “Cranky” in his business name.

          Ok, maybe that’s not the *only* appropriate reply, but Brett named his business Cranky Concierge. The name seems a bit tongue-in-cheek to me, much like the “ugly flag colors” comment.

        • CF says:

          Broadcreek – There are some people who love the new tail. I am not one of those people. Everyone has their own opinion, but I can’t for the life of me understand why this bothers you so much that you think my opinion would fail to inspire confidence in my business. I have never seen anyone care so much about the tail of an airplane that they would repeatedly pressure those who don’t like it to stop saying they don’t like it. Is it because you think people can’t dislike something that (badly) resembles the flag of the US? That’s a fairly extreme viewpoint. I will continue to call that flag-like tail ugly in my trip reports.

          • JB says:

            I noticed there were no photos of any “ugly flag color” aircraft in this report, well done! And don’t stop with the “ugly flag colors,”

          • broadcreek48 says:

            CF: You fail to grasp that my passionate objections are for your own good.
            I know i speak for many readers who have cheered you on in your career as we have watched you grow as a writer. And I have been very pleased in our business transactions. I had hoped that my gentle suggestion might nudge you into seeing some flaws in your “ugly flag colors” habit which reveals a gross ineptitude: you lack appreciation for exceptional design. I can forgive that. Many folks can’t see finesse and sophistication and inspiration in the artistry of the world around us. When you did your critique of the LB airport, I had hopes that your were blossoming with more refined aesthetics, that you would evolve as a critic with talent for reporting on more that the timetable and soft drinks. To persist however in “beating a dead horse” and reminding us that you “just don’t get it”
            undermines the growing confidence we have placed in you. It says you are a sore loser who must remind us that he did not get his way. Stretch a little to understand . You’ll be a better man for it. I hope you’ll be welcoming when i call to book my next trip. Thanks CJT

            • Sean CMH says:

              broadcreek48: Develop a sense of humor or find a new blog. No one likes a troll!

            • Charlie H says:

              My goodness, boradcreek48. Pretentious much? I think I threw up a little reading your post.

              Also, I am sure Brett or one of his helpful employees will happily assist you when you call to book your next trip… because he’s good at what he does.

            • broadcreek48 says:

              Your goodness?

            • JuliaZ says:

              Broadcreek, really? Everyone is entitled to an opinion, including Cranky. :-) “Your own good”? I don’t even say that to my 7-year old, it’s rude and condescending.

          • Andy says:

            I love the new tails, but I respect your opinion and can’t see how it “damages your credibility” in any way.

  9. Randy Handt says:

    That connector from A to C is the one that I told you about when I asked you to do an article on the nickel and dimeing that is starting to go on there. There actually is another sidewalk to the right of that one where the temporary wall is put up. Those had one long rubber belt that you stood on. They haven’t been working the last few years. I asked the Ambassador a few years ago and he said that it was going to cost $1M to fix and they weren’t going to spend that (even though they are renovating the whole airport for $4B). That, along with removing the moving sidewalks in Terminal D, that had only been operational for a few years for the sole purpose to increase the traffic in the shops (MCO doesn’t seem to have that issue) and having the on-airport gas station charging 25 cents a gallon more than down the street really upsets me.

  10. JE says:

    Great stuff!

  11. MIllion Miler says:

    “American puts A321s (along with 757s and 737s) at Terminal A for the most part, but they must have been out of gates. They parked us in Terminal C this time.”

    I have ended up on A321s 4 times in the past few weeks. 3 out of 4 were from DFW Terminal C, all 3 used the far end – gates C 30+. (the really ugly part of terminal C) The three were all ex USAir planes and crews, so I am wondering if operationally they are still more separate in practice. I feels like they just picked up the ex-USAir ops at far end of terminal D and moved them to the far end of C?

    • CF says:

      Million Miler – Well when I spoke with them after they segregated out Terminal C and A into different aircraft types, they said they’d probably have too many flights on A319/A321/737 so some would have to operate out of C. They had made sure they had enough equipment to handle the bigger aircraft at the gates at the far end. But I don’t know about them isolating US Airways aircraft vs American aircraft. Mine was an American delivery that went into Terminal C. The operations are definitely separate, but I’m not sure that ground handling would care.

      By the way, they had pulled out of E but now things are busy enough that they’re putting some Eagle flights back into those E gates.

    • Tom Martin says:

      “gates C 30+. (the really ugly part of terminal C)”…LOL! From about C33-C39 (where the floor is like a ramp going to those gates since the section was added much later after the original terminal and the building is several feet lower than the original part of the terminal) we call that ‘SKID ROW!’

  12. Eric Morris says:

    Even though you got a few extra perks (I am more than fine with that, especially since you fully disclose), what you described is why I’d never fly them and pay for their extras. Thank goodness for Southwest because I’d never voluntarily fly.

    • Noah says:

      truthfully not trying to be a troll…If you would “never voluntarily fly” then out of curiosity, why are you reading a trip report on CF?

      • Eric Morris says:

        I fly Southwest happily and regularly. (Involuntarily meaning being for business or some kind of personal tragedy/funeral to a place WN doesn’t serve.) The other airlines, whether mainline or ULCC, make you think too much to attempt to get from Point A to B with some semblance of convenience, value and comfort. I read them because I like his writing and generally confirms my Southwest bias.

        • Astra says:

          Thts funny, cuz I would never voluntarily fly WN. I guess each airline caters to different kinds of travellers.

      • Andy says:

        I think that he meant he’d never voluntarily fly on an airline other than WN.

  13. Trent880 says:

    I booked MCE on DFWSEA recently on a new 321 and good gahd those seats were uncomfortable. Maybe they soften with wear and tear but I would not look forward to another MCE ride, let alone Y.

  14. dft says:

    Brett–I am a regular reader of your blog and have been for a number of years. My son and I just completed a trip to China on American, flying to Beijing and back from Shanghai. In both cases, we were on 787s–I was excited about being on them, since this was my first time, but now that I have been, I am of the opinion that is a pretty cramped airplane, at least in American’s configuration. What amazed me the most is that there are only four lavatories for the entire coach section–talk about a traffic jam the entire flight. I have seen very little online about the customer experience on that plane–I can’t remember if you have ever written anything about it. Are you aware of anything? I am actually planning to write Doug Parker to tell him he needs to add 3 or 4 more lavs to his 787s!

    Thanks and I greatly enjoy your reports.

    • CF says:

      Dft – I haven’t flown on American’s 787s but it’s probably pretty similar to what other airlines have in coach. The seats are narrow, though I’m not sure of lav placements on other carriers.

  15. Brian says:

    So glad to see history is still alive there in Terminal C. Great shot plus the MD80s. Loved those red white and blue stripes in the terminal!!

  16. art says:

    Glad to see some airlines still provide some sort of entertainment systems, I see you like the inflight entertainment. It’s a shame that United Airlines feels that they have to rip-off their customers with their new NO entertainment systems (including NO MUSIC), and expect people to burn up the batteries on their iphone ipad and laptop as their source of entertainment.
    When I called to ask about this they told me that they did extensive surveys showing people didn’t want the inflight systems and wanted to use their own devices. They should sit on their planes and listen to the comments people are making about the lack of inflight entertainment systems, it does not appear that they talked to anyone except the airline executives who are counting the bonuses they are collecting by improving their profits from eliminating these services.

    Then they have the nerve to run TV commercials showing their new planes with all the new exciting inflight systems they are adding for their customers, they told me that those flights were for their international flights where they still provide entertainment systems, but they are not needed on domestic flights any more.

    I wonder where they are getting all the Kool Aid they are drinking!

  17. Joey Jaidee says:

    I wasnt going to post but Arts post about changed my mind. Yeah the giant TV screen is a huge plus. You watched a movie on the way to DFW in coach so thats a huge plus as well.

    For the life of me, I cannot figure out why management doesnt put on any entertainment. Some of these A/C are brand new like the 737 where there is no entertainment at all. I mean you cannot even access the library on some of the new 737s United are flying. Thats a total disgrace.

    I guess some bean counter did a survey and showed the 71% of people flew with the own PEDs. Oh but the company saves $6 million in fuel without that extra weight. Yeah but what I am certain you have more than $ 6 million in pissed off people!!!

    Oh and the same geniuses who made THAT decision, decide NOT to put in power outlets-even in first class!!! But, wait for it, its coming!!!!!!!

    I couldnt agree with Art more!!!!

  18. Farhan says:

    Boeing must not be happy about Foreign invasion in its backyard. Looks like days of MD-80/90 are going to be over

  19. Tom Martin says:

    The new AA Airbus (319 and 321) are horrible in the standard main cabin. The huge box supporting the PTV takes up all the leg up! Really! Is today’s society so A.D.D. that we can sit on a plane for a few hours without all this stuff. Frankly, I fly Spirit all the time – without PTV. Read a book, bring your own ipad or laptop.

    Coming back from HNL-DFW on AA’s 767-300, the PTV box underneath was so big, I couldn’t fit my small carry-on under the seat. I despise any type of in-seat TV system as unnecessary and unwanted by most people.

  20. JuliaZ says:

    Brett,
    I’m really bummed out that Hyatt Regency DFW didn’t take good care of you. I go to a conference there every year and always get a room on the 12th floor, where the runway views are fantastic (1267 or 1269 are my favorites). Glenn Holt is the reservations manager; if you go back to DFW, ask for Glenn and he will hook you up. Or just ask for 12th or 13th floor for pure unobstructed viewing.

    Also, that hotel nearly always has flight crews staying there. Rooms 325 and 1025 around the corner from the elevators are set aside as flight crew lounges. I bet that you might enjoy visiting.

    • CF says:

      JuliaZ – Oh man, now I know how to get taken care of at that place! It is a bummer, because I was really excited to do some spotting from my room.
      But oh well. There’s always next time.

  21. Ibsunni2 says:

    FYI seat belts are controlled in cockpit only pilots turn them on or off not the crew!!

  22. PiedmontFH227 says:

    The DFW airport between terminals A B C and D when walking, is a joke. One night the SkyLink was down due to electrical storms, which is understandable, but all the walkways had moving sidewalks that did not work, ceiling panels falling down, narrow areas through which do navigate with hundreds of other people, and no signage. I don’t blame AA, I blame the airport. Very stressful

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