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The AA Flagship First experience is the equivalent of a strong business-class product but comes nowhere near its Asian competitors. The Pros: decent upgrade availability, a spacious seat and elevated in-flight beverages like wine and Champagne. The Cons: a lack of privacy and a terrible lounge experience.

I’ve been a little hard on American Airlines lately, complaining about its subpar US Airways planes on social media and almost denouncing my American elite status outright. So when I went to Asia a few weeks ago, I figured I’d try out the carrier’s best option, the AA 777-300ER Flagship First product. While I’ve flown it in the past to Brazil and London in business class, it’s been a couple of years. But I thought, let’s test it out on a top-notch route from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG), which also gets AA’s top catering, food and beverage selections.

 

In This Post

Booking

It was a crazy amount of miles to redeem, with peak mileage redemptions going for 210,000 AAdvantage miles one-way, so I ended up purchasing my business-class ticket for $3,454 (from Las Vegas to Los Angeles in coach and then on to Hong Kong in Business Class after a four-hour layover in LA) and used a System Wide Upgrade (EVIP) to bump myself up to first class. And I used The Platinum Card from American Express, which gave me 5x points since I booked directly with the airline.

The funny thing about this route is that American charges the same exact amount as Cathay Pacific for its first-class flights, and in business class, the two airlines appear to have the same exact seat. AA’s are arguably newer and I don’t think Cathay Pacific’s business class is all that great — it’s nothing spectacular food-wise either, although definitely a step up from American’s. But what I think is absolutely ludicrous is that AA runs one flight a day on this route yet sells its seats at the same exact price for first class, so basically it’s a $9,000 ticket. So while technically on paper, the EVIP got me a value of $6,000, as you’ll see in this review, the differences between business and first class are nominal. While I don’t regret using an EVIP for this trip, I feel like the business-class seat is more private and otherwise, it’s a nearly identical experience flying in Flagship First.

The Lounges

Before we get to the flight, let’s compare the two lounge options you’ll have at LAX. My flight left at 1:40am and I got in from Las Vegas with about four hours to kill, so I was really looking forward to going to the Qantas International First Lounge, which Oneworld Emeralds and AA first-class passengers can use.

When I went to walk through the terminal (so I didn’t have to go through security again to get to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, or TBIT) there was an angry TSA woman screaming at everyone, saying that we couldn’t pass through. There was mass confusion and people were going to miss their flights. We were not given any information and to say she was surly would be an understatement, but she was clearly just enforcing an order. I asked another AA representative what was going on but he said he didn’t know, then mentioned that if I wanted to go to the international terminal, I would have to go outside the security area and come back through again.

The problem was there’s no TSA Precheck at TBIT and at 10:00pm, security is jam-packed so it would probably have taken 45-minutes to get through security, and then I would have to leave security and come back through again if the connector wasn’t open. I was really upset because the AA terminal is lackluster at best — the Flagship Lounge is under construction, and as you’ll see, it’s horrible.

I had my heart set on seeing the Qantas International First Lounge and decided to make another go for it. There was a group of riled up passengers who were traveling on an Air Tahiti Nui flight and were not going to miss it — they argued with the TSA, who eventually let us all through to the connector. Apparently there had been some sort of security breach earlier but in the end, we were able to get through.

The Qantas International First Lounge

First off, I have to say, this lounge was 1,000 times better then the American Airlines International First Class Lounge I’d visited earlier.

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There was a large bar which offered plenty of drink options. 

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It’s got an amazing menu and you’ve got to try the Hamchi Tartare with peppers.

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I ordered a class of Taittinger rosé Champagne, which usually runs more than $65 per bottle.

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The fried squid was divine.

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I also tasted the Vegetarian Bibimbap, which was on point.

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While the lounge is supposedly only open until 11:30pm, it’s actually kept open until 12:15am because there’s a Cathay Pacific flight that leaves at 12:55am.

The American Airlines International First Class Lounge

After experiencing the Qantas International First Lounge, I decided to go over to the AA lounge to see how it stacked up. Walking into the AA lounge, I had to use the stairs because the elevator was still under construction — in fact, there was a lot of work going on while I was there.

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There were plenty of seating areas available.

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As you can see, there was a flagship buffet, it’s all self-serve.

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The food is basically served in a conference room where there’s a buffet featuring BBQ chicken, tofu, veggies and teriyaki pork.

AA food

The food was pretty disgusting — there was a really heavy, creamy pasta that had probably been sitting out for hours. American Airlines is basically in the process of redoing the dining in the Flagship First Lounge and the food is supposed to be a heck of a lot better then what I experienced here. And, you know, having a bartender in an international lounge would be nice.

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I think it really just needs to be blown up and built from scratch — the food was just of such poor quality — and the overall lounge experience was just bad. American Airlines needs to start by innovating and getting some new furniture. I’m hoping when they actually renovate the lounge, there will be healthier food options, especially ones that are a little bit more refined.

Boarding

Before boarding, I got a look at the outside of our beautiful 777-300ER aircraft.

There were several seats open for sale up until departure and there was even EVIP upgrade space available so anyone who wanted to use miles or an EVIP could fill the first class cabin. So that led me to believe that most of the people that filled the first class cabin were non revenue passengers. Because the flight wasn’t oversold they wouldn’t have bumped business class passengers up to first. For the first time, and I’m surprised it took this long, someone was using a selfie stick in the cabin to take pictures which was kind of comical and also kind of set the tone for the first class experience to follow.

There are two rows of first-class seats, which were empty when I booked. By the time I boarded, there were some non-rev passengers, including this guy who kept taking pictures with his selfie stick (see below).

As you’ll see, the thing that really annoyed me about the Flagship First seats was how they swivel. I don’t know who decided a swivel effect would be great but basically the seats are at 90 degrees until you take off — and while you land — and then you have the ability to swivel and recline. So, in my opinion, it’s a very uncomfortable position to be in for takeoff and landing.

Cabin and Seat

This first-class seat is wider than the one you’ll see in business class, but not by much. American’s 777-300ER includes eight first-class flat-bed seats that measure six feet in length and are 30 inches wide — the seat in business class is 26 inches wide — with 64 inches of pitch (78 inches when reclined). I’m 6’7″ (or 79 inches) and I fit comfortably. I don’t know who made this suite, but it seems like they tried to make it with the least amount of privacy as possible. You’re extremely exposed and I really don’t recommend sitting in 2A or 2J because the seat actually touches the curtain.

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I also felt like the I was flying in the business-class cabin when I was in the reclining position. There’s a curtain there and whenever the flight attendants would barge through, it would hit me in the face, which happened several times. I recommend choosing 1A or 1J if you’re flying solo and if you’re traveling as a couple, I’d pick the two middle seats. Note that I could see everything the person in front of me was doing because my seat was staggered behind him.

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When it comes time to sleep, AA doesn’t really give you a mattress pad, rather two comforters and a blanket, but it was fine, comfortable and I slept a lot, although that was mostly because I was exhausted and on a 1:40am flight.

AA does give you pajamas, which I’d say were perfectly fine.

Where I really think AA is dowdy is in regard to its bathroom amenities, which consisted of just a small bottle of 3LAB hand cream, which was interesting since Delta and United have been upping the game recently with nicer cosmetics and amenities in their respective airplane bathrooms.

Food and Beverage

I was shocked because about a year ago, American Airlines started serving Laurent-Perrier Champagne, which is usually more than $65 a bottle. AA really enhanced its beverage options, with many wines ranging from $15-$65.

The mid-flight snacks basically consisted of a snack basket and a cheese tray — not exactly first-class quality.

The blini with a nearly microscopic serving of caviar was kind of nice.

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And the Caesar salad I got with spicy Asian vinaigrette was good, even though it might not look like it.

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I thought the carrot soup was pretty good, too.

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I ordered the duck which was a little too rubbery and rare, but not outright horrible. 

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The kicker was the sundae, which I ate about eight hours into the flight — it seems AA doesn’t refrigerate the ice cream so it was more of an ice cream sundae soup. It still tasted good but this was definitely not the nicest way to prepare and present it.

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For breakfast, I started with a smoothie. I actually thought this was one of the nicest airline breakfasts I’ve had in a while and I feasted on noodles, a big cinnamon bun, fresh fruit and yogurt.

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In-Flight Entertainment and Amenities

There are a ton of entertainment and movie options, but I usually watch random things on airplanes that I might not normally watch on the ground. And on this flight I passed the time by watching some episodes of Sydney Harbor Patrol.

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The amenity kit included 3LAB moisturizer, lip balm and hand cream (products that retail from $45 to more than $100).

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We also received coupons to Cole Haan and 3LAB — you can claim these ones pictured below if you act fast!

Arrival

When we landed, it was really hazy in Hong Kong and we nearly touched down — but then had to take off again.

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There was an aborted landing — and apparently a wind shear — so we were about 15 feet off the ground when we had to take off all over again. This was the fifth time something like this has happened to me — in New York at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and in Vienna (VIE) — and it shakes you up a little bit but, thankfully, the pilots handled it well. Even though we were pretty close to the ground, they gunned it so we’d have a smooth climb back into the sky. We circled for another 15 minutes after that and landed safely the second time. It’s amazing how quickly a 777 can ascend when it’s not loaded down with fuel!

Service

The service was pretty good — one of the flight attendants was really friendly and a TPG reader. It’s usually senior flight attendants who operate on longer routes like this. The only weird thing about the service was that one of them actually used plastic gloves to do her service and take my plates, which I had never seen before — I’ve seen flight attendants use plastic gloves in the galley, but to conduct cabin service in an international first-class cabin while wearing surgical latex gloves was a new one for me. I guess some airlines have white glove service, but American has rubber latex glove service! Obviously it’s a one-off, but it was still interesting to see.

Bottom Line

American Airlines Flagship First is really good as a business-class product, but it’s not even in the same universe as Cathay Pacific’s first classWarning: Never book this AA first flight if you have the option of choosing Cathay Pacific’s first, especially if you’re paying cash for it. Even when using awards, Cathay’s don’t show up on AA.com so you need to search for them on British Airways’ website and then call AA to book. It’ll cost you 110,000 miles each way for first and American usually charges more, even in business class. I can’t imagine how many people probably fly in American’s business class at a higher price than for flying Cathay first. So always do your homework before you book.

The bed is comfortable but the business-class seats actually offer you more privacy. The food is nearly identical between the two classes so unless you really value that Laurent-Perrier Champagne or the extra course or being able to choose your side with your entree, American Airlines’ business class is basically the same experience I had in first. Is it worth using an EVIP? It depends on your preferences. I don’t find AA’s business-class product aboard the 767 or 777-200 fleet to be all that compelling so I burn my EVIPs on things like this and I don’t regret it for a minute.

Have you flown in first class on American Airlines’ 777-300ER? Tell us about your experience, below.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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