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As I posted the other day, I spent my Tuesday night flying from JFK to Sao Paulo in Brazil aboard one of American Airline’s new 777-300ER’s so that I could experience the airline’s new first class product. I posted in real-time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with live updates from the trip. But I also wanted to share my experience aboard the new service with pictures and my own impressions. I ended up using 125,000 American AAdvantage miles and $2.50 for the ~$4,000 flight, which was the only option since SAAver availability (62,500 miles) never opened up. American Airlines ordered 10 of the new 777-300’s and started flying them in January on the Dallas-Sao Paulo (GRU) route and the JFK-London route before starting the JFK-GRU and DFW-LHR services.
Customers in First Class get access to the separate Flagship First Lounge at JFK, which a lounge attendant will open up. The lounge is small, but there is a well stocked top-shelf bar and an assortment of food – including herb chicken, artichoke salad and a veggie mac n’ cheese that was all pretty good. I didn’t spend too much time in the lounge because AA arranged for me to get a sneak peek at the plane before everyone boarded so I went aboard at 9:00 pm and stayed on the plane until our on-time 10:20pm departure.
The New Flagship First Class Seat
First class is comprised of just two rows of four seats each (down from 16 seats in the old cabin), configured in a reverse herringbone layout with the two middle seats angled toward each other and the wall seats angled outward.
The new amenity kits are designed by Eames Office (like the old one) with a toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, a pen, tissues, a towelette, a wipe for your sunglasses or phone, eye mask, socks, ear plugs and a comb, but the Burt’s Bees products have been replaced by Dermalogica products including lip balm, Active Moist Lotion and Multivitamin Hand and Nail Treatment. Flight attendants also hand out slippers on departure and offer pajamas, the same ones they launched last year. I find the pajama pants to be extremely tight (vs. British Airways that are loose) and very thin, but still better than sleeping in my jeans, in my opinion.
Before dinner service, I checked out the in-flight entertainment system. Every seat on this plane has its own personal video monitor, and the ones in first class stack up really well against the industry overall at 17 inches. The system was loaded with over 200 movies and nearly as many television options.
The technological innovation I was most excited about, however, was the international WiFi capability, which is free through April 17, 2013 for all passengers. I wish I could say it worked well, but service was actually really spotty and cut off several times within the first hour, so I’m not sure I would pay for it, but it was fun to iMessage with a friend who was in LA who had a friend sitting on the flight who I arranged to meet for a drink in the premium cabin communal bar/snack area during the flight – how’s that for a small world? If the WiFi wasn’t free, the pricing on my flight was $10 for a 2-hour pass, $17 for 4 hours and $19 for the duration of the flight.
The bathrooms were certainly the nicest I’ve seen in an American Airlines plane, though not very spacious compared to international carriers’ first class bathrooms. I liked the no-touch sink since bathrooms are the germiest places on planes.
Over the course of the night, the flight attendants put out an impressive snack display in the premium cabin galley area (shared between first and business), though I was too stuffed from dinner service to even test it out. I most liked the fully stocked water bottles – sure beats the single bottle of water (after that they had to refill it from a container) I was given on my Buenos Aires- JFK flight in January 2011!
For those of you, like me, who (mildly) obsess over what airlines are serving in their premium cabins, here are the menus.
I wasn’t impressed by either the spirits or the wine list, especially since I could pick up a bottle of any of these vinos for under $20 at the nearest supermarket, but they tasted fine- nothing exceptional. This is definitely an area where AA can up their game, especially if they do have people paying top dollar to ride in this cabin.
Although I was offered (and gladly accepted) a pre-departure glass of champagne, again it wasn’t an impressive selection. A simple mid/upper tier champagne would be a nice touch – I’d recommend Perrier-Jouet or Pommery. Their Gosset Brut left a lot to be desired. Come on American, splurge a little bit! I’ll even settle for some newer vintage Dom Perignon 😉
Here are the other menus of what was being served on board for dinner during my flight and the breakfast menu, which you select what you want, like a hotel breakfast card, and when you want to be woken up – if at all.
To begin the dinner meal service there was an amuse bouche of bacon wrapped fig. It was served cold, which I thought would have been better heated, but I really can’t complain about anything as long as it has bacon in it.
For starters I got the shrimp escabeche with Peruvian purple potato salad, which was spiced well and the purple potatos were much tastier than they looked.
Then came the sweet potato red curry soup, which was sweet and spicy and packed a punch- I actually started sweating a little bit!
There were 3 bread basket options: marble, cheese and pretzel.
Then I got the salad with creamy poppy seed dressing. This was a bit boring/bland, but I find most airline salads are.
And I continued with the beef filet with a Boursin cheese crust, wilted spinach and whipped potatoes. I like my meat medium rare and this was cooked to my liking, though I imagine it would scare off anyone who doesn’t like their meat red. They didn’t ask for a temperature, but I’m sure they could have stuck it back in the oven on request. The spinach was tasty with lots of garlic and the potatoes were well flavored too. Overall, it was an enjoyable meal – not one I choked down for investigative purposes! I did notice that the same entree is served in the business class cabin, so don’t expect a much different dining experience in first. The main difference would be service levels – I had two flight attendants constantly refilling water/wine and making sure I was taken care of throughout my meal. Four of the 8 first class passengers fell asleep right after takeoff, so the attention I got was probably above average (and for full disclosure they did know I was a blogger because they saw me take the pre-tour of the aircraft).
For dessert, I chose the specialty salted caramel sundae with vanilla ice cream, caramel and pretzel shorties. I asked the flight attendant to add “a little bit of everything” onto it and the result was one monster sundae. If my trainer is reading this, I didn’t eat it all. I promise!
Then to cap it off, the flight attendants handed out Lily O’Briends chocolate boxes, which I did not eat because I was absolutely stuffed.
The new Flagship Suites are 29 inches wide and have 80 inches in pitch, just enough for my entire 6’7″ frame to sleep without having to curl up, like I have to do in many premium seats. The flight attendants do a turn-down service that includes a white mattress pad and comforter plus a light blanket. I found that it got extremely hot during the night and I had the air nozzles at full blast to cool down. One way American, and many other premium carriers like Cathay, can improve is by following Delta’s lead and getting substantial full-size pillows. AA put two smaller pillows, but they still weren’t very supportive. Delta is really ahead of the pack here and with their comforters- though not the end of the world, it does amaze me that airlines make tons of in-flight improvements, but then skimp on pillows!
The one drawback, though, is that these are “open” suites unlike those of other carriers like Singapore, so you don’t have much privacy when sleeping, or from the ambient noise or light in the cabin. I personally didn’t have an issue because I used the eye mask and ear plugs and fell into a comfortable deep sleep for about 6 hours, but more sensitive sleepers may not enjoy the open aspect of the cabin.
Before sleeping, though, I wanted to play with the cool touchpad controls and I basically adjusted the seat to every conceivable position. Seats also have USB and AC power adapters to charge up during your flight.
When I filled out my breakfast card pre-dinner I noted that I wanted to eat 90 minutes before landing. Luckily I woke up around that time so they didn’t have to wake me up, but the flight attendants came through with my breakfast of asparagus and prosciutto omelette with fire roasted peppers and potato cakes. There was also a sweet fruit compote. Alongside it I got a southern-style biscuit and strawberry yogurt. The breakfast card only gave the choice of coffee, but when I took the tour I noticed an espresso machine, so I had Illy espresso and milk as my morning coffee, which was one of the best caffeinated beverages I’ve had in the sky.
After breakfast I sat back and enjoyed the sunny/partly cloudy views of Sao Paulo as we made our final approach for an early landing.
The Grand Tour
Although I redeemed miles for my first class ticket, I did contact American to ask if I could get a pre-flight tour of the plane and they graciously obliged, so I wanted to post my photos from the rest of the plane, including cool pilot rest areas and even the cockpit!
Main Cabin seats were in a 3 x 4 x 3 configuration while Main Cabin Extra was in its own little fore cabin in a 3 x 3 x 3 configuration with just 30 seats. Each had 1 extra inch in width and I’d say about 4 inches extra legroom. Probably not enough to make a huge difference for most, and I’d probably rather go for one of the bulkhead seats that are rows of just two, though that might get busy during mealtimes. Still, the extra room to stretch my legs would be worth it.
Here are a couple videos of the cabin with some viewpoints of the seat pitch in Main Cabin and Main Cabin Extra.
Tomfoolery with a fun AA flight attendant who was just as excited (if not more) than me to be on the new plane
Business, Main Cabin Extra and Main Cabin shots
As part of my pre-boarding tour, I got to check out the crew rest area, which is above the economy cabin in the back of the plane. They even have an emergency exit chute that goes into a fake overhead bin in the economy cabin in case of an emergency!
Then I got a look at the pilot rest area, which is up a similar set of stairs right behind the cockpit. There are two huge recliners and two beds – sure beats coming back into the passenger cabin and trying to sleep in a curtained off seat, like many pilots have to do.
Overall Summary With some great bonus categories and an annual fee that’s waived for the first year, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card has a lot going for it. If you don’t have PRG, now’s as good a time as any to add it to your wallet, as Amex added some great new benefits several months back.
This new plane is a huge improvement over American’s former 777-200 flagship, and though I still wouldn’t rank it as high as my experiences in Cathay Pacific First Class or Lufthansa’s latest first class product, I definitely would look forward to experiencing it again and it’s a good option to have on the routes American flies. I am hoping for an upgrade to business class on the return so I can compare, though I have to initially state that First Class was really nice and if you’re deciding whether to splurge 12,500 more miles to experience First over Business on a saver award to London or Sao Paulo, I recommend trying it out, though don’t experience a much different experience- just a more spacious seat, quicker service and an amenity kit that can be reused as an iPad holder! To be honest, the business class cabin looks great and my friend who flew in it really enjoyed it (and so have most of the travel writers/bloggers who have tested it out so far) so I look forward to trying that out. While Main Cabin Extra wouldn’t be the worst thing, I’m a big guy and the seat is very narrow – hoping that EVIP happens sooner than later!
With some great bonus categories and an annual fee that’s waived for the first year, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card has a lot going for it. If you don’t have PRG, now’s as good a time as any to add it to your wallet, as Amex added some great new benefits several months back.