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Flight Review: American Airlines Transcontinental A321 First Class LAX-JFK

by on January 30, 2014 · 23 comments

in American Airlines, Trip Reports

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As I wrote about on Monday, I was able to book a first class award on American Airlines’ new A321 from LAX-JFK last week as part of a larger award itinerary that will eventually take me to Oman later this spring. Ordinarily, the flight would have cost me 32,500 miles one-way in first class for just the LAX-JFK leg (65,000 if no MileSAAver space is available).

American launched A321 service on January 7.

American launched A321 service on January 7.

American launched the new plane on its main transcontinental route on January 7, 2014, and by the end of the month, six of the nine daily transcon flights from JFK-LAX will be operated by the new aircraft with the aim of 13 daily flights between JFK and LAX by May 8.

Starting March 6, two of the four daily flights from JFK-San Francisco will be operated on the new aircraft, and by June 11, all five daily flights between the two cities in either direction will be on the new aircraft.

I was personally looking forward to flying in first class aboard the new plane because these 10 seats are like AA’s new international flagship business class aboard the 777-300 that I got to fly from Sao Paulo to New York last spring. They resemble the reverse herringbone seats of Cathay Pacific business class and EVA Royal Laurel business class.

Flagship Check-In

My transcon first class ticket entitled me to American’s Flagship Check-In at LAX. I’d experienced this at Miami, and previously at LAX, and the airline opened a new one at JFK in May. Basically you get to go to this little room off the First Class check-in counters where there are a few more counters staffed by special representatives. No one else was there while we were checking in, so it took a matter of moments and then another airline agent took us upstairs to the front of the TSA PreCheck line and even put our bags on the X-ray machine for us. I thought it was a nice touch, and we were into the airport in minutes so we could go straight to the lounge.

The Flagship lounge at LAX.

The Flagship lounge at LAX.

First Class Lounge

The First Class lounge is part of the whole Admirals club on the second floor of Terminal 4 – it’s basically a smaller, separate lounge within the main lounge, and to my eyes, there wasn’t much of a difference.

Cold cuts in the lounge.

Cold cuts in the lounge.

There were cold cuts sitting out and then a modest little self-serve bar, none of which was appetizing, so my friend and I waited to eat on the plane…which ended up being a mistake. But I’ll get to that below.

The small self-serve bar.

The small self-serve bar.

Onboard

The new A321T’s have been throwing people off it seems because AA’s transcon flyers are used to the twin-aisle 767′s, and this plane has just a single aisle, making it feel a bit more cramped on those long transcon flights.

My window seat.

My window seat.

In First Class, it has 10 fully lie-flat seats in a 1 x 1 configuration in five rows. Business Class also has five rows of four seats each for a total of 20 lie-flat seats in a 2 x 2 configuration. The Main Cabin is laid out in 10 rows of a 3 x 3 configuration with 36 Main Cabin Extra seats up front. This seems to be the cabin that is bothering most people about the plane since it seems small for such a long cross-country haul- especially those who have been used to flying wide-body 767s for years. Even though the new planes have nicer amenities, I’ve still heard from numerous people (including flight attendants) that the planes feel cramped. I didn’t venture past first class on this flight since I was a little late to board, but I didn’t feel particularly cramped, though I do prefer a wide-body jet in general.

Travelers in First and Business classes have access to free entertainment on 15.4-inch screens, and are given Bose noise-canceling headsets.  Back in the Main Cabin, seats have 8.9-inch touchscreens with the same entertainment options, and a big plus – there are AC outlets at every seat. The entertainment systems on these aircraft also has seat-to-seat chat, live text news and weather updates, 3-D moving maps, airport maps and connecting gate information.

An overhead shot of the seat.

An overhead shot of the seat.

In first class, every seat is an aisle and window seat, and it looked just like my business class seat on the 777-300 from last spring. Each seat has 32 inches of pitch and reclines to over 82 inches. They are just 21 inches wide, so even though the bed is long, it still was a bit cramped for me because when the seat reclines to lie-flat, your feet go in this little cubby-shelf compartment, and I’m just too big apparently.

Cramped on sideThe airline is rolling out new food and beverage options on all its transcontinental routes in First and Business Class cabins aboard the A321T’s, 757 and 767-200 aircraft with a selection of new appetizers, salads, entrées, desserts, and selections for brunch, dinner and overnight travel. But as I found out, they were less than appetizing.

Meal Service

The beef starter was not very tasty.

The beef starter was not very tasty.

First and Business Class customers traveling domestically also now have the choice to reserve an entrée in advance of their flight – which my friend and I should have done because meal service was pretty much atrocious! It started with a choice of marinated cheese antipasto or sliced sirloin with corn salsa – the beef was decent and possibly the highlight of the meal.

The salad cart.

The salad cart.

The salad was actually nice and made-to-order by a flight attendant with a cart in the aisle, though that also blocked off the aisle for quite a while – no getting up to use the restroom before your meal! – because of the single-aisle plane.

My made-to-order salad.

My made-to-order salad, not healthy exeactly, but pretty tasty!

I actually thought it turned out quite well wit seasonal greens, tomatoes, Cajun roasted chicken and herb sour cream dressing.

For my meal I had ordered the shrimp scami, but when it came time for entrees the flight attendant apologized that they had miscounted and they no longer had that meal for me. I had a choice of the grilled beef fillet with haricots verts  or a butternut squash gnocchi. I went with the latter, which was a mistake because the pasta was sweet, but then it was covered in cheese. Not my favorite combination.

No no on the gnocchi!

No no on the gnocchi!

I only ate a couple bites before giving up. Instead I ordered some wine off the all-California list, which included Sauvignon Blanc from Mendocino County and Echelon Cabernet. Having lost my appetite, I decided to sleep instead of having a made-to-order ice cream sundae for dessert, but they looked good (though it is hard to really mess up a sundae!).

The wine list was all from California.

The wine list was all from California.

After that, it was time for a quick nap once the cabin was dimmed, and then we were landing in New York.

They dimmed the cabin after meal service.

They dimmed the cabin after meal service.

The bed was comfortable enough, though a little tight for me, as I mentioned and there isn’t a whole lot of storage space for computers/electronics.

The seat fully reclined into a bed.

The seat fully reclined into a bed.

For Comparison’s Sake

Although I was really looking forward to this flight, and I’d say it was a decent experience overall, I have to say that I’m not wowed. The seat feels more like a business class seat than a first class seat – probably because it is the business class seat on several airlines including American! I do like that you don’t have to sit next to anyone else, but I can’t get over the fact that American is branding this as first class when it’s pretty much equivalent to most business class products.

I prefer Delta's BusinessElite seat.

Delta’s BuinessElite lie-flat 767 bed is not far behind the AA first class product- and the food is arguably better

Mileage Bonuses

Just a reminder if you plan to fly this route,  American Airlines is offering up to 15,000 bonus miles for roundtrip travel between New York and Los Angeles from January 7-March 31, 2014 aboard the new planes. To get the bonus miles to your AAdvantage account, click here to register and use the code: TR15K. You can now book a seat for travel beginning January 7, 2014, just look for “32B” listed as the aircraft type. Read our post on this bonus to see all the terms, conditions and details.

I’ve also found there to be a lot of last-minute award and upgrade availability – I even ran into some TPG readers who had been upgraded! – and after the elite ranks are thinned at the end of February and those EVIP systemwide upgrades that Executive Platinums get have expired from last year, I suspect there will be even more, which means you stand a pretty good chance of being able to book one of these seats yourself if you want to.

I’ll have to fly the new Business class next time for a true comparison, but in general I enjoyed the new first class product, but wasn’t really wowed at any point.

Check out these posts to see how the transcontinental competition stacks up:

A New Age of Transcontinental Travel Begins – My First Lie-Flat Flight From JFK-LAX on United p.s.

The Transcontinental Route Competition Heats Up

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Stripy

    On the basis that all domestic airlines brand their front cabin as 1st class (and they’re all pretty much worse than this cabin) why are you surprised it’s branded 1st? The bigger question should be why is any domestic cabin other than perhaps the occasional wide body 3 class flight) called 1st?

  • thepointsguy

    I’m not surprised- I’m surprised that there seems to be such little differentiation between busienss and first on this plane (same “issue” AA has with their intl 773 products as well). If you have a really good biz product, why bother with a marginally better first?

  • Bob

    How did you get a free LAX->NYC leg in first class for a free stopover on a itenarary to Oman, as AA doesnt fly there. I thought the stopover is only allowed if the US Gateway to international destination is purely on AA metal, not a one world partner airline.

  • Robertplafker

    I’m pretty sure that EVA Air’s royal laurel is the same as global first (hard product, the soft product is much better, of course), and not the same as AA and CX

  • jason

    so they can claim to be the only carrier that has 3 classes on the lucrative trans con flights?

  • MRuby

    Because you can provide about the same service, but charge more for those seats if they’re called “first”…

  • thepointsguy

    Works on AA and oneworld partner awards as well

  • bedfordavegutter

    I’ve been on the A321 business class leg from JFK to LAX and back and I can honestly say I completely prefer Delta’s Business Elite.

    My gripes:
    1) The service in Delta Biz Elite is far and beyond what AA offers. I asked for a glass of water while we were being de-iced and was denied because we were “about to take off.” An hour later, we finally took off. On Delta, they allow you to have a drink in hand (in a real glass!) while preparing for takeoff.

    2) The amenities on Delta are much better. I like receiving a bag of comfort items (toothbrush, mints, socks, eyemask, etc). No such items on AA, but the noise cancelling headphones are nice.

    3) The screens on the AA flights are much nicer than Delta’s, but I found their entertainment software to be completely buggy and almost unusable. They seem to be running an old version of Android on a very low-powered CPU. The touch screen is completely unresponsive and I found myself completely frustrated trying to scroll to a particular title. I plugged my phone into the USB outlet and my entertainment center rebooted which lost my place in the movie I was watching. When I typed the name of the movie I was watching into the search box, it couldn’t be found. I had to scroll through the movie titles manually again to find it. Very very frustrating. I just wanted to watch a movie without frustration and I will take a smaller screen if it means more comfort.

    4) Finally, the big difference, and ultimate comfort item: food. The meal I had on AA was simply horrible. A salad was served with ceasar dressing poured by the attendants. One word: “drenched.” I had to scrape off the majority of the dressing. A first course of chicken on top of pineapple sounds delicious- after my first bite I was confused and thought that I had gotten a bad piece. The second bite confirmed that the chicken had somehow obtained the consistency of playdough left out of its container for a couple days. My main course of two pastas had every ounce of flavor removed from it. Good thing they provided salt and pepper, which I used copious amounts of. On my return redeye, I ordered the cheese plate and was served what appeared to be a block of white cheddar and a block of yellow cheddar with some fruit. While I’m a big fan of cheddar, the foreign cheeses on Delta provide a feeling of luxury while being more enjoyable to eat with a glass of wine.

    The one big positive is the flatbed seats. I’m a smaller guy so I was able to fit into the bed comfortably. The entertainment center screen size is a huge improvement over the past and competing offerings, but the buggy software makes it more frustrating than the tablets that AA used to provide. Hopefully they can work out the service, food, and entertainment center software bugs. If the only advantage they have are flat seats, I don’t see the majority of business travelers switching from Delta Business Elite to the A321 flights.

  • Bob

    Back in November, I had a business class booking for JFK -> HND (Tokyo) -> JFK -> Honolulu with the NY to Hawaii flight being 8 months later, using the free stopover. The Tokyo to JFK flight was discontinued as of Dec 1 and was rebooked to fly on Japan Airlines for the way back. The AA rep forced me to drop the JFK to Honolulu flight saying that it can no longer be a free leg because the flight isnt on AA. Maybe I shouldve insisted more or tried to speak to other agents there.

  • ADPage

    I’ve flow transcon on this plane a few times now and found it nearly impossible to get an upgrade. I always get it on the old 762 product but maybe that’s just because there are more seats and more paying biz class customer opt for the new product.

  • tyo_flyer

    It seems like a bummer, since this change was involuntary, but technically, the AAgent may have been correct. When the HND-JFK flight changed, this made JL rather than AA the “overwater carrier.” With AAwards, the routing permitted for a given award is governed by the routing that would be permitted by the overwater carrier. Your award was booked as an AA award from HND-HNL (with a stopover in JFK), so presumably, HND-JFK-HNL is a valid routing for an AA HND-HNL ticket. Going to JFK seems crazy out of the way, but it is likely to be permitted since AA doesn’t have a nonstop HND-HNL flight, so at a minimum, if flying AA, it requires going through LAX, if not ORD, DFW or JFK. Since JL has a non-stop TYO-HNL flight, however, JL most likely does not allow routing through JFK in a HND-HNL ticket.

    Fore more details, see http://www.flyerguide.com/wiki/index.php/Award_Rules_%28AA%29

  • Carl Cheng

    I haven’t tried the Delta Business Elite but I’ve flown the A321 business twice now, with my first being one of the inaugural flights and I’m just happy to have a nicer option for my transcontinental flights now.

    I had a light snack for a redeye flight and a breakfast entree. I actually thought both my meals were quite tasty (chicken and strawberry salad, and a breakfast strata) but agree that the dressing on my salad was a bit heavy-handed.

    Lieflat for me as 5’8″ felt a bit snug so I can’t imagine anyone taller than me.

    Both services for me was really good. But I’m not that picky, I just want my glass to never be empty.

    And the entertainment was extremely buggy for me but after some testing, it definitely was like you mentioned – due to plugging in my phone to charge in the USB. It would either not charge my phone or constantly reboot the entertainment system. Or maybe cause that was an Android system and my phone is an iPhone.. lol.

  • Bob

    Thanks tyo_flyer! I’m planning to book for later in year a flight from Kolkata, India to JFK on Cathay Pacific business class through AA for 67.5 points and would like to try to add a JFK -> HNL leg with a several montn stopover after returning from India without requiring more points. Hopefully will work out.

  • R E Ality-Check

    I could not disagree more with this review, utterly bad and grumpy is how it come across. I’m not surprised you don’t like the food when you don’t even know something like the difference between pasta which is durum wheat and gnocchi which is potato flour. You sound like some child that’s been given a top notch seat on a brand new aircraft and yet you go on about it having one aisle. Picky pick pick!

    The A321 is what is needed on these routes, once the service issues on board are ironed out and the crews more experienced in their operation these small issues will go away.

    As to the feet in a cubby hole – well that’s not unusual on many airlines, you have to design a seat/bed around an average size plus a margin for fat overweight Americans and hope you get it as close to being right as possible.

    People who fly business and first all the time strike me as being generally, but not always – the most nit picking over priviliged nightmare customers any airline could ever want to face. Nothing is ever right is it? It’s ok here it’s ok there, but “my little toe wasn’t as comfortable on American as it was on Delta and the nasty cabin attendant didn’t give me water on take off”.

    Your review and many comments sound like overpaid over priviliged moans of people who don’t know how lucky they are to get the chance to even fly this way. Have a nice day.

  • Sean Hall

    Well, it’s good to know you are tolerant of others opinions.

  • Jason

    I just did a roundtrip biz class JFK LAX on the new a321 and loved it. Lunch service on the way out was great, breakfast service on the way back was even better (3 choices, one smoked salmon, yum) then snacks along the way. I was upgraded both ways, the departing upgrade from JFK cleared 4 days ahead, and I just squeaked in at the last moment on the way back from LAX. I was #1 of 10. The 763 that was departing an hour after had 30+ people on the upgrade list so I wonder what the ratio is to upgrades.

    Regarding this being a 1 aisle plane, in first or business you can always use a lavatory behind or in front of you–flight attendants on both flights said this. So you are never really trapped in your seat if there is a cart, unless you are in coach. Mind you that means biz class passengers have to go into coach, but still, it’s not a big deal. And the first class aisle is huge so you can probably walk around the cart anyway.

    The seats in biz are fabulous, comfortable, with lots of space.

    Also, there is GOBS of overhead compartment space. The flight attendants are thrilled about this as it makes things much smoother. If you are ever in coach and amongst the last to board, simply put your suitcase in first or biz as you enter to be safe.

    The entertainment is great as instead of having to wait for tablets you can start watching immediately. They still hand out the premium headphones after take off, I’m not sure why as there is usually time before take off to do this, so have your own headphone ready or as for the regular ones.

    Overall the a321 feels like a private jet. It’s a terrific product.

  • Jason

    I meant 762, not 763 above sorry.

  • Jason

    Also regarding why have biz and first, the first cabin is so private that if I were famous and in need of rest or privacy, or both, I’d feel very comfortable sitting up there, not knowing what is going on behind me. With only 10 people, likely few of them up graders from biz, it will be a quiet, relaxing place for most. The point of first, for many, will simply be the larger seat, and one that you can easily sleep in.

  • Bobby

    @R E Ality-Check

    I have to agree 100%. If the normal sized seats are too small, either lose weight or drive.

  • http://www.flightcourtier.com.au/ Monica – Flightcourtier.com.au

    The first class cabin is rich with professional features. The secret why an airline is designing this place as luxurious as possible because it’s current life style and many people bet for it. All what you need is available – It’s very exclusive.

  • EYang

    And this is the reason why domestic flight experiences lag behind Asia and Europe. posters like this who accept a mediocre offering. people read this blog precisely for this level of information. Don’t like it, don’t read it.

  • Steve Smith

    As the only saying goes, this is the only way to fly transcon domestically. Its as good a many first class international products. Yes, your experience can depend in part on the mood of the FA, but the seats, entertainment, etc is really top notch for a domestic flight. True flat seat. A little strange as people board since you do get some looks as the coach passengers trudge on by in he single aisle cabin. Can’t imagine getting upgraded very often if your are not a top level elite. As a mere Plat, probably will not happen. Best bet is to use miles and book in advance if possible. I don’t like the guessing game at the airport. Friendship Lounge not bad either–not super special but much better then the usual AA lounge. I am looking for excuses to takes this route.

  • Tony

    lag behind europe? in europe, inter-europe “domestic” business class is an economy seat with the middle seat blocked out. You don’t even get recliners!

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