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TPG Contributor Katie Genter completed a mileage run in late January from Texas to Johannesburg (JNB) and back. For the first long-haul leg, she flew American Airlines’ flagship 777-300ER from Los Angeles (LAX) to London Heathrow (LHR). Here’s her experience in Main Cabin Extra (MCE) on this American Airlines flight. (All photos are by the author.)
I was looking to get a head start on my American Airlines AAdvantage status requalification early in 2016, so when I ran across a flight deal from Houston (IAH) to Johannesburg (JNB) on British Airways for ~$780 round-trip, I was curious about how I could make the most out of it. Using the techniques covered in this article, I was able to stretch this deal even further, routing through LA on the outbound and Miami on the return, an itinerary that cost just a little more but provided many more miles.
I booked this trip using my British Airways Visa Signature Card, so I also earned 3 British Airways Avios per dollar spent. In total, I earned 2,415 Avios on this purchase, which according TPG’s current valuation of 1.5 cents per point, is valued at $36.
A few weeks after booking, I was notified of a flight change for my initial Houston (IAH) to Los Angeles (LAX) leg. My original Houston (IAH) departure was scheduled for 12:45pm so I had planned to drive from my hometown of Austin (AUS) to IAH the morning of my departure. However, when my initial flight was canceled, British Airways automatically rebooked me on a 7am departure from IAH. This new flight would require a very early morning drive — or an overnight the night before — so I called the airline to see if there were any other options available.
The British Airways agent could find no other suitable IAH to LAX options, so I casually mentioned that I could depart from AUS instead. The agent said this was indeed possible and she was able to confirm me on a 10:37am AUS departure at no additional charge. Although a flight from AUS to LAX was available, I chose to fly via Dallas (DFW) for “scheduling reasons” (i.e. to get more miles).
This rebooking stretched my run to 23,820 elite-qualifying miles and 49,640 redeemable miles — after including my 100% bonus for having AAdvantage Platinum status and 2,000 bonus miles from flying a transatlantic round-trip in economy. At TPG’s current valuation of 1.7 cents per AAdvantage mile, these redeemable miles are valued at $844. Even before factoring in the value of the 500-mile upgrades and elite-qualifying miles, this booking was going to pay for itself!
Connecting in LAX
Upon arrival at LAX Terminal 4, I was happy to find I didn’t need to transfer to another terminal. I did need a boarding pass though, since American Airlines agents in AUS were unable to print subsequent boarding passes — despite all flights being on the same reservation. I was easily able to obtain my boarding pass in the uncrowded glass-walled American Airlines Customer Service room on my way to the lounge.
I had Admirals Club access on this international trip thanks to my AAdvantage Platinum status, but you can also get in with a Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard (even if you’re an authorized user).
The three agents working the check-in desk at the American Airlines Admirals Club lounge in Terminal 4 were chatting with each other when I arrived. The woman checking me in decided to reprint my boarding pass because it was printed off-center. Well, alright then.
The lounge was much larger than it seemed at first. There were many different sections — the bar, a dining area, a quiet cell-free area and work stations, as well as many traditional lounge areas.
During my visit, the lounge wasn’t crowded once you continued farther inside than seating areas closest to the entrance. The food selection consisted of normal domestic Admirals Club options — veggies, trail mix, cookies and cheeses. The dried fruit pretzel mix is usually my favorite, but on this visit the pretzels were so stale that the entire mix was inedible.
Besides the stale trail mix, my only complaint about the lounge was the women’s bathroom, which seemed to be undergoing renovation — one of stalls had a hook for hanging items and it seemed that something had been ripped from the wall in each stall.
Although the scheduled boarding time had come and gone, no boarding announcements had been made, so everyone was understandably excited when a large group of about 15 people were led on board. Unfortunately, this also led to the masses crowding around the gate hoping to board as well.
Once the gate staff cleared the boarding lanes, boarding officially began. First class, business class and Oneworld elites were sequentially called to board.
Seats and Cabin
My Main Cabin Extra (MCE) seat was located in a small 30-seat cabin with just MCE seats. This mini-cabin was arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration — as opposed to the 3-4-3 configuration throughout the rest of economy — and was located between business class and regular economy.
I’d purposefully chosen 18A, which is a window seat in the last row of the MCE cabin. Being situated in front of a bulkhead, I was able to get away with storing some items under my seat, leaving me more legroom. I could also recline my seat without annoying anyone behind me.
Each seat contained a plastic-wrapped pillow and blanket. No headphones were initially provided, but earbuds were later distributed.
My seat wasn’t inherently uncomfortable, however, the seatback didn’t lock in place and, as a result, could wiggle about an inch. Additionally, the armrests were about an inch too low for me, which made sitting and sleeping without slouching difficult.
Legroom in MCE was a relatively spacious 36 inches. There were no entertainment boxes or other items impeding the legroom space. There were also USB outlets at each seat and two universal power outlets for every three seats.
Once we reached initial cruising altitude, the lights in the cabin were dimmed. Dimming the lights soon after takeoff seemed strange since drinks and dinner were served shortly thereafter. The lights weren’t returned to a normal hue until the next morning right before meal service.
Although the flight was close to capacity in economy, the cabin was extremely quiet overnight. Almost everyone opted to sleep, and those who didn’t sleep seemed engrossed in their entertainment options.
Although I’m normally a fan of rows with two seats, I can’t recommend the two-seat rows — especially row 31 — in the middle of the economy cabin. These seats, exposed to the galley and bathroom, just seemed to be in the way — the passengers in row 31 seemed miserable the few times I walked by. If you want a two-seat row, consider the calmer ones located at the back of economy, pictured above.
The plane featured on-demand entertainment systems at each seat. The screen didn’t tilt — which was problematic when the seat in front of you reclined — but it was certainly bright enough. The selection of movies, television shows and games was extensive, however the e-reader and music had fewer options than I expected.
I found the touchscreen to be very responsive, so I felt no need to use the seatback handset. It was easy to skip to any point in movies by sliding the progress bar, which was great for picking up a movie where I’d left off on a previous flight!
The provided earbuds weren’t high quality, but they provided acceptable sound quality and managed to muffle cabin noise as well.
While the in-flight entertainment system had a hospitality menu item — which was even represented by a knife and fork — I was disappointed to find that it didn’t list dinner choices, but only soda, juice and hot drink options.
Although an announcement was made regarding meal schedules shortly after takeoff, no information was provided about meal options until the food cart rolled down the aisle. Dinner ended up being a choice of chicken or pasta.
The chicken consisted of tough blocks of processed chicken meat in garlic sauce and was served with soggy, bland fried rice. Both main dishes came with a sad salad made mostly of the center of a head of iceberg lettuce. Additionally, everyone also received a cold plastic-wrapped roll with soft butter spread, crisp crackers with soft swiss cheese and a prepackaged caramel brownie. Dinner satisfied my hunger, but that’s all that can be said in its favor. This was one of the most disappointing meals I’ve ever had on a flight.
The arrival meal was a light breakfast consisting of strawberry fat-free yogurt and granola, dried fruit and a “flat top” muffin. Everything was commercially packaged and cold, but the fruit and the yogurt were both appetizing breakfast items. The muffin, on the other hand, tasted like it was 200 calories of pure sugar.
The crew on this flight were rather unremarkable. They did efficiently serve meals and frequently offer drinks throughout the flight, but they also tended be terse and rude to passengers. On multiple occasions, I observed flight attendants resort to speaking very loudly — instead of very slowly — when non-English speaking and elderly passengers didn’t understand a question. Additionally, the departure meal was served with curt service — nothing more than “Drink?” and “Chicken or pasta?”
The crew also seemed to have issues communicating with one another. In many cases, concerning both service items and exit-row briefings, multiple flight attendants attempted to perform the same duties. They didn’t seem to work well together or even be happy working together, but hey, at least they didn’t yell at me for taking photos on the plane.
Service was certainly lacking, but the Main Cabin Extra product itself was good. The 30-seat MCE cabin was comfortable and quiet, and I particularly enjoyed sitting in the last row.
Considering the high-quality and extensive entertainment system, in-seat power and the possibility of MCE seating, I’d happily fly American’s 777-300ER long-haul again, even knowing service may very well be lackluster.
Have you flown an American Airlines 777-300ER recently? Share your experience in the comments below.
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