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After my recent round of applications in which I scored approval for the Citi Executive AAdvantage World Mastercard for a second time (this time around it comes with a 100,000-mile bonus when you spend $10,000 in 3 months) and a flight on British Airways in their Club World business class, it got me thinking – if I wanted to use my new 100,000 bonus AA miles on a roundtrip to London, would I rather fly American on their new 777-300 or British Airways business class? For years British Airways was the sure winner with a fully lie-flat bed vs. AA’s old angled lie flat, but now that most of American’s flights to London are on their new shiny jets, I thought I’d do a quick comparison of each carrier’s current products, looking at the following criteria:
- Seat dimensions and storage
- In-flight entertainment
- WiFi accessibility
- Planes and cabin configuration
- Meal service
- Amenity kits
- Lounges at JFK and LHR
To my (lessening) surprise, American Airlines came out the clear winner – and here’s why.
Seat Dimensions and Storage
British Airways: PITCH: 72 inches. WIDTH: 20 inches. RECLINE: 180 degrees. LENGTH: 6 feet.
Club World seats (with the exception of Club World London City service) are generally arranged in a yin-yang formation with two seats facing each other, separated by a partition that remains up except during meal service. Each individual Club World seat has a memory foam headrest, a quilted blanket, and window seats have an extra storage bin between the seat and the window.
American Airlines: PITCH: 43-59 inches. WIDTH: 21 inches upright, 26 inches reclined. RECLINE: 180 degrees. LENGTH: 6.5 feet.
American has recently unveiled new 26-inch-wide, horizontal lie-flat business class seats in a reverse herringbone pattern that offers all-aisle access to each seat. In addition to a personal pillow, duvet and slippers, each fully-adjustable seat comes with two personal storage compartments, one to the side of the seat with a door, mirror and hook, and the other on the floor, large enough to hold a purse or laptop.
WINNER: American Airlines. AA’s new lie-flat seats offer a much wider cushion, far more room in the recline position, privacy, and a lot more storage.
Planes and Cabin Configuration
British Airways: BA has a lot more kinds of aircraft operating its routes than American does, so the configurations and cabins are much more varied. Here’s a quick snapshot of each.
BA 747-400. This double-decker comes in two versions: either a 299-seat version with 52 Club World seats (32 main in a 2 x 4 x 2 and 20 upper in a 2 x 2) or a 345-seat version with 70 Club World seats (50 main in a 2 x 4 x 2 and 20 upper in a 2 x 2). Its routes from North America to LHR include those operating out of Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York’s JFK, San Francisco, Seattle, D.C.’s Dulles, and Phoenix.
BA A380-800. Also a double-decker, this plane offers 48 Club World seats on its main deck in a 2 x 4 x 2, and 56 on its upper deck in a 2 x 3 x 2, and is slowly replacing the outdated 747-400 on high-demand routes like LHR-LAX.
BA 777-200. With 48 Club World seats in a 2 x 4 x 2, this plane flies LHR routes from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Miami, New York’s JFK, Philadelphia, Newark, and Seattle.
BA 787-8. Better known as the Dreamliner, this modern plane features 35 Club World seats in a 2 x 3 x 2, and flies to LHR from Toronto, Newark and Austin; later in the year routes will expand to include Philadelphia, Calgary and several destinations in Asia.
BA A318-100. Known as Club World London City service, this single-aisle plane’s 32 seats (all Club World) are arranged in a 2 x 2 pattern. The all-business-class plane flies roundtrip from New York’s JFK to London City airport (LCY), where there is no Galleries Club lounge.
AA 777-200. Formerly the main workhorse of AA’s long-haul fleet, this soon-to-be revamped aircraft offers 37 business class seats in a 2 x 3 x 2, and flights to LHR from Chicago, Dallas, and Miami.
AA 777-300ER. The flagship of AA’s new fleet, this gleaming plane features 52 totally lie-flat seats in a reverse herringbone pattern of all-aisle-access 1 x 2 x 1. American’s new business class service flies to LHR from Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and New York’s JFK.
Winner: American Airlines. But only if you can snag a seat on aboard the 777-300ER, to experience American’s new all-aisle access configuration. If your option is a flight on AA’s 777-200 (one out of two Miami-LHR flights is on the old 777), you’d probably be better off booking on British Airways.
British Airways. Club World seats each have a 10.4-inch flatscreen with a wide array of on-demand audio and video and noise cancelling headphones. On Club World London City, each seat features personal iPads.
American Airlines. American’s new business class seats have a 15.4-inch personal flatscreen with an on-demand system of 250 movies, 180+ TV shows and more, as well as Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones and the option of using a Samsung tablet.
WINNER: American Airlines. A bigger flatscreen, a larger selection of entertainment offerings and superior quality headphones win the day here.
British Airways. Only BA’s Club World London City-JFK presently has WiFi service, which is complimentary and enables web surfing and texting, but voice calls and VOIP aren’t allowed. There are universal power outlets at every seat.
American Airlines. American’s 777-200 doesn’t offer WiFi service at present, but aboard its 777-300ER, American’s business class seats come with international WiFi (for purchase), universal outlets and USB ports. WiFi prices range from $12 for two hours to $19 for the duration of the flight.
WINNER: American Airlines. Though Club World London City offers WiFi for free, BA is still waffling about offering WiFi on more of its fleet. For offering WiFi on several key North America-LHR routes (see below) in a class that’s named “business,” American wins this race hands down.
British Airways. Club World food service provides a full English breakfast with warm breads and pastries, hot meal at lunch and dinner (including salad and dessert), bar service, a simple afternoon tea with a sandwich and warm scones, and Club Kitchen snack offerings of fruit, chocolate and baked goods to which you can just go help yourself. The onboard Champagne offering is Taittinger Brut Reserve, and BA’s new in-flight menus have been influenced by London chef Heston Blumenthal.
American. On American, business class passengers receive warm nuts or fresh-baked cookies and have access to a sparse walk-up snack bar throughout the flight. Three-course hot meals (including a choice of soup, salad or both) are decent if not exciting, designed by Darren McGrady, the former chef to Diana, Princess of Wales. Winemaker Ken Chase picked out the uninspired, mostly-Californian selection of wine pairings that accompany each course.
WINNER: British Airways. Offering more food and more choices, BA won’t leave you hungry in business class.
British Airwyas. BA started using new amenity kits in December 2013, drawstring bags full of British-made Elemis products in men’s and women’s editions, and both versions include moisturizer and lip balm, as well as a razor, socks, toothbrush, toothpaste and a pen for filling out arrivals forms.
American Airlines. American also rolled out a new business class amenity kit last December, featuring American-made, citrus-scented Ahkassa skin care products, which use botanical products indigenous to Asia. The new kits are packaged in Eames-designed canvas zipper toiletry bags and include body lotion, facial moisturizer and lip balm, as well as a non-Akhassa moist towelette, eyeshades, socks, a toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs, a packet of tissues and a pen.
WINNER: American Airlines. Despite high-quality Elemis products, American’s well stocked kit, with more usable stuff in a highly re-usable toiletry bag, is the clear winner.
Lounges at JFK
British Airways. British Airways’ open, airy Terraces lounge is airside at Terminal 7. Its sprawl of lounging areas features a large, soothing fountain and a mix of modern leather seating and cloth-upholstered club chairs. In addition to several showers, a business center and complimentary WiFi, an on-site Elemis spa offers 15-minute complimentary treatments and full menu of treatments for purchase. There is a large self-service bar and a wine fridge, an automatic espresso/cappuccino machine and an assortment of teas, a hot breakfast and dinner buffet, and a wide array of snacks.
American Airlines. American’s Admirals International Lounge is at Terminal 8’s Concourse B, beyond security. Showers are shared with the adjoining first-class Flagship lounge, and this huge lounge with mostly cloth-upholstered seating includes a view of the tarmac, a kids’ play area, a small business area with a few PCs and complimentary WiFi, and tons of electrical outlets. A small selection of beer, wine and cocktails are self-service, and food offerings are largely for purchase, including a full menu of salads and sandwiches.
WINNER: British Airways. A far more elegant space with a greater selection of complimentary booze and food, the Terraces Lounge at JFK is a superior place to hang out before a long business class flight.
Lounges at Heathrow
British Airways. Club World passengers get access to the Galleries Club World lounges at Heathrow’s Terminal 1, 3 and 5, while AA business class has access to the Arrivals lounge at Terminal 3. Those with America’s Executive Platinum AAdvantage and/or Oneworld Emerald status have access to the Arrivals lounge and all Galleries Club World lounges.
Galleries Club World lounges also have showers, separate work, dining and entertainment areas, complimentary WiFi and lots of magazines on hand, but are a bit more elegant and extensive than Arrivals. There’s a large array of wines and alcohol available, and in addition to kids’ play areas and small theaters, each lounge has an ice cream fridge where you can just help yourself. These lounges don’t have hot food selections, but there are lots of snacks and baked goods for the taking. Some itineraries allow Sleeper Service to maximize onboard sleeping time, which involves a meal served in the lounge, an onboard night cap, and a hot breakfast onboard (or to take away) in the morning.
The Arrivals lounge is relatively spare and rarely crowded, with small, separate areas for dining, lounging and working. It has an impressive 29 showers, however, as well as an efficient clothes-pressing system and a hot buffet breakfast/brunch, as well as fresh juices and pastries, meats and cheeses, bottled water that you can take with you, and touch-button coffee machines. A small selection of beer, wine and cocktails are complimentary, as is WiFi. The business area has a few computers, desks and power outlets, the lounging chairs are leather-upholstered, and there’s plenty of reading material to be found.
WINNER: British Airways. With more showers and a wider selection of hot food available, BA’s lounges simply offer more. Not only are there more than one to choose from, but each has a kids’ area and a larger selection of booze – and both a roomy theater and a well-stocked ice cream fridge are fun perks before a flight.
So the votes are in, and I can now declare an:
OVERALL WINNER: American Airlines. This was definitely a close race, but American’s wins are all in the realm of the in-flight experience, while BA’s success is found mostly in its sheer volume of flights and superior lounge experience. Meals aside, American wins this comparison because its new business class seats, layout and various amenities are already elevating the experience of flying across the Pond. That’s a big reversal of the longtime state of affairs where British Airways was the clear hands-down winner on pretty much everything. Just goes to show how much of an improvement AA’s new business class really is - and hopefully an indication of things to come as the airline continues to improve (let’s hope the merger with US Airways doesn’t derail it!).
Now if only American would elevate its meal service, lounge amenities and general service levels to those of British Airways, we’d be talking a real world-class experience! As it is, it’s still become my top preference for flying to London (and Sao Paulo for that matter) – and I can only hope that BA starts to feel the squeeze and updates its own business class product soon.