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TPG Contributor Sarah Silbert had quite the experience on a recent American flight in the airline’s new 777-300ER business-class cabin. Read on for the details! (All photos by Zach Honig.)
Last week, I flew American Airlines business class from New York-JFK to London Heathrow along with TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig. We were originally slated to fly nonstop from JFK to Paris, where Zach was attending the Paris Air Show, but due to a last-minute aircraft swap that entailed angled-flat beds rather than the new 767 flat-bed seats we had been expecting, we switched to a connecting route so we could try AA’s 777-300ER business class. We both wanted to try out the airline’s newer premium product, and we hoped it would give us a better opportunity to get some sleep on the red-eye so we could hit the ground running in Paris. Boy, were we wrong.
Aircraft Swap and Itinerary Change
It took some patience, but American’s agents were ultimately very accommodating in switching our itinerary on account of the aircraft change. For some reason, the check-in agent said our second leg (from Heathrow to Paris-Charles de Gaulle) had to be in economy, but when we stopped by the desk at the Admirals Club, the friendly agent was happy to move us to business on the British Airways flight from LHR to CDG. We were flying on cheap business-class tickets booked back in April — in total, we paid less than $1,300 round-trip for AA on the outbound and Open Skies on the return.
I usually fly United, so this was one of my few times in an Admirals Club lounge. Much like the United Club at Newark, American’s lounge at JFK isn’t going to win any awards. The food spread isn’t particularly impressive, but we did get two drink tickets each (since we were flying business class), and found a comfortable spot in the corner to catch up on work before takeoff. I did like the people-watching at the Admirals Club, though — Julia Stiles stopped by during our stay, for example.
American’s 777-300ER Business-Class Cabin
In order to get some passenger-free photos of the business-class cabin, Zach requested to board early, after explaining that he was shooting for a review for this site. The gate agent politely helped arranged this after communicating with the on-board crew and, after a 45-minute or so flight delay, we were able to board early (that’s me in the background — we were the only passengers in business for a few minutes, though the cabin ended up being completely full).
American’s 777-300ER feels shiny and new, and my first impression was that this would be a nice change-up from the usual United experience across the Atlantic. American’s seats looked just as comfortable, and I appreciated the plentiful storage areas for keeping odds and ends close at hand. All 52 business-class seats offer direct aisle access, which is always nice, especially on a red-eye flight when other passengers are likely sleeping.
If you’re traveling with a companion, the 1-2-1 business-class seating configuration could make talking a bit awkward. The configuration prioritizes privacy; you’ll need to lean forward to see your companion. For a red-eye where our main goal was to sleep, though, this wasn’t an issue. And if you’re traveling solo and end up in one of the two center seats, you’ll likely be thankful for this setup.
The single window seats look pretty nice, too; I’d likely choose one of these if I were traveling solo. Note that some seats have two windows (like 14J pictured here), though some only have one window (like 15J just behind). That doesn’t matter much for a nighttime flight, but all seats are not created equal. Also note that the lavatories are located just behind business, so I’d avoid booking a seat in row 15.
American definitely wins points for putting thought into the amenities that are already waiting for you at your seat. In a compartment that opens to reveal a mirror and some storage space, you’ll find comfy Bose noise-canceling headphones, an amenity kit and a bottle of water. As someone who’s perpetually thirsty when flying, I especially appreciate the latter item (I could probably down a half dozen of these bad boys on a long-haul flight).
If you’ve flown in Cathay Pacific’s premium cabins, the seat and its control panels will likely look familiar. There’s a handheld remote for navigating in-flight entertainment options, a reading light, power and media ports and controls for adjusting the seat.
Speaking of media ports, the selection is pretty generous, from a universal AC power port to USB and AV input — AA’s 777-300ERs fly to Europe and Hong Kong, and this universal power port can accept plugs from both regions, in addition to the US.
Currently, premium-cabin passengers on American receive themed amenity kits, with a variety of designs that reflect all the carriers the airline has acquired throughout the years. Both Zach and I received the America West version, which pays homage to the Tempe, Arizona-based airline that became part of US Airways in 2005.
The amenities themselves are pretty standard; you get a sleep mask, toothbrush and toothpaste, mouthwash, tissues, a selection of toiletries and socks.
Due to delays involving catering (a popular scapegoat, at least with my past United flights), our flight pushed back about an hour behind schedule. We didn’t mind so much, as we were grateful to be able to switch our route last-minute, but several passengers with tight connections were worried, asking the gate agents what to do in the event that they missed their flights from Heathrow.
American’s in-flight entertainment system includes a wide variety of movies and TV shows. I watched one of my favorite Cary Grant flicks, His Girl Friday, while Zach caught Jupiter Ascending.
The Bose noise-canceling headphones, already placed at business and first-class seats prior to boarding, are convenient. It was nice to not haul along my own bulky pair of noise-canceling headphones for once — if my carry-on could speak, it would definitely agree! Flight attendants collect the headphones about an hour prior to landing — rather aggressively, I might add (if you’re asleep, you definitely won’t be once the headphone collection ceremony commences).
I pre-ordered a vegetarian meal for our American flight from JFK to CDG, but since we changed flights, the request didn’t carry over. Luckily, there was a vegetarian option on the main menu: spinach ravioli with cheese. After explaining the flight swap to a flight attendant, she was happy to reserve one for me. (As we were seating toward the rear of the business-class cabin, I wasn’t sure there’d be one left for me otherwise.) It was edible, though definitely nothing to write home about. The salad and cheese courses weren’t anything special, either.
It’s also worth noting that the meal, including the salad, entree and cheese course, was served all at once on a single tray. This didn’t bother me, but those who want a more formal, drawn-out experience might be less thrilled.
Zach had the roasted duck breast, which was reportedly rather chewy. Suffice it to say, neither of us would be overly eager to have the same in-flight meal again. Especially compared to the meal on our Open Skies flight back to JFK from Paris, this one was pretty underwhelming.
That said, it’s hard to go wrong with Ben & Jerry’s Toffee Bar Crunch ice cream, which was offered as one of the dessert options. This was hands-down the highlight of the meal.
In-flight connectivity, courtesy of T-Mobile, is available throughout all three cabins of the American 777-300ER. A two-hour pass will set you back $12, a four-hour pass costs $17 and a pass for the duration of the flight goes for $19. Zach bought a flight pass and we shared the connection on and off throughout the flight.
The Wi-Fi worked well. Of course, you can’t match connectivity on the ground, but considering we were 35,000 feet above the Atlantic, I had no complaints. The rates were reasonable, as well — high enough to discourage leisure travelers to sign on, especially on the red-eye, but low enough for me to avoid feeling guilty about buying a pass.
We were seated just in front of the Main Cabin Extra cabin. Seats there are in a 3-3-3 configuration, compared to 3-4-3 in coach behind. These seats are available for an additional fee, though AAdvantage Executive Platinum and Platinum members, along with Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members can reserve them for free, as can full-fare coach passengers. AAdvantage Gold and Oneworld Ruby members may purchase Main Cabin Extra seats for 50% off or can select them for free at check-in.
Miles posted quickly — we both earned nearly 20,000 AAdvantage miles for the one-way flight, thanks to AA’s current transatlantic and premium-cabin bonuses. (Don’t forget to register!) If you’re redeeming miles, you can fly this product to Europe or lower South America for 50,000 AAdvantage miles each way. Flights to Hong Kong, meanwhile, will run you 55,000 miles each way, although you might prefer to redeem for Cathay Pacific instead, which offers the same seat but with better food and service.
Our In-Flight … Event
As many TPG readers have already read, Zach and I encountered a bit of an … issue … about two hours after take-off, shortly after the meal service concluded. While I was watching a movie, a flight attendant came over to me and starting asking me about why Zach and I were taking photos. (I didn’t even have a camera on me.) She said that the captain had been informed of our activity and was contacting dispatch about us. I repeatedly told her that she should talk to Zach, who had arranged taking photos on board with the AA gate agent. Still, she didn’t leave to speak with Zach until she’d issued a rather scary threat: “This could be trouble for the both of you.”
This was more than a little jarring. Once she started speaking with Zach, we learned she was the purser (lead flight attendant). Ultimately, the situation was resolved — with Zach clarifying that he didn’t take any photos of crew, passengers or anything else that could be considered a security risk. Unsurprisingly, neither of us managed to get any sleep after this happened — from what the purser said, we were under the impression police could be waiting for us at Heathrow, after all!
Overall, AA’s 777-300ER business-class seat is fantastic. It’s very comfortable and private, and the in-flight entertainment is current and diverse. The food leaves much to be desired, and if you’re trying to maximize sleep, you’ll probably want to eat in the airport instead. AA currently operates this aircraft on flights from Dallas (DFW) and New York (JFK) to Sao Paulo (GRU); Los Angeles (LAX) and New York (JFK) to London (LHR); and Dallas (DFW) to Hong Kong (HKG). It’s also available on select flights from Dallas and Miami to London.
Ultimately, we got to our destination in one piece, but our run-in with the purser definitely made the flight not very enjoyable. To read about the ordeal in depth, check out Zach’s post, and check out what three flight attendants thought about the situation as well.
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