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Well-stocked IFE, comfortable seat and better service than expected.
Food quality differed across dishes, long security lines in Boston and disorganized boarding.
If you follow TPG closely, you’ll remember that TPG Managing Editor Alberto Riva reviewed American’s A321T business-class product between San Francisco and New York for the 2018 TPG Awards. However, since American recently launched twice-daily service between Boston and Los Angeles, we decided it was time to review the product on this new route.
Here’s my take on American’s A321T business class from BOS to LAX.
Round-trip business-class tickets for transcontinental routes aboard American’s A321T between BOS to LAX usually start around $2,400, so in many cases you’re better off using miles. If you can find MileSAAver award space, you’ll pay 32,500 AAdvantage miles each way in business class — although the route has periodically priced at 25,000 miles.
But there’s a way to book business class for fewer miles: Etihad Guest. Etihad requires fewer miles to fly American-operated flights than AAdvantage charges for most routes. In fact, the Etihad chart for AA flights matches the pre-2016 devaluation numbers AA used to charge, which is just 25,000 miles one-way for A321T transcontinental business class. If you don’t have a stash of Etihad miles, you could transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One, Citi ThankYou and Marriott Bonvoy.
In my case, I booked this flight as the first leg of a one-way AAdvantage MileSAAver award ticket to Papeete, Tahiti (PPT), for 80,000 AAdvantage miles, getting both this A321T business-class flight and business class on Air Tahiti Nui for the 80,000 miles. TPG’s most recent valuations value AAdvantage miles at 1.4 cents each, meaning the miles I used to book this business-class ticket from BOS to PPT were worth about $1,120.
If you’re booking a cash fare, be sure to use a card that provides strong earnings for airfare purchases, like the Platinum Card® from American Express. If you’re booking an award ticket and just paying taxes and fees, you may want to use a card with excellent trip protections, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.
There was no line for the Priority check-in counter in BOS when my husband, JT, and I arrived at 5:05am. We each checked a bag and completed document checks without any issues. In total, we spent less than three minutes at the check-in desk.
Although the TSA PreCheck and normal security lines were combined initially, they eventually split into PreCheck and non-PreCheck lines. The single PreCheck security line wasn’t moving at all, though, so we bailed to a non-PreCheck line — which seemed to use the same screening procedures as PreCheck. In all, it took us 12 minutes from when we left the check-in area to when we cleared security.
Although we didn’t allow much time to visit the lounge due to the 6:30am departure, we did quickly stop by the Admirals Club. Initially the agent at the front desk claimed we didn’t have access, although we should have as transcontinental business class passengers on an eligible route or as AAdvantage Executive Platinum elites flying on an international itinerary. He eventually agreed we had access — but we also could have used our Oneworld Sapphire status through Malaysia Airlines or JT’s Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard to gain entry.
The Admirals Club was by no means crowded, but there was a surprisingly large number of passengers in the lounge for 5:30am on a Tuesday. There wasn’t an avocado-toast station set up, and the bar wasn’t scheduled to open until 8am.
But there was a full breakfast spread of breads, fruits, boiled eggs and oatmeal.
Knowing American often boards flights early, and not sure whether the boarding push notification would be active in my AA app yet, we headed to the gate at 5:45am. Boarding started at 5:57am, just three minutes ahead of the scheduled boarding time of 6am.
Unfortunately for my photography, groups 2 and 3 were called and boarded simultaneously. Even more unfortunately for my photos, a flight attendant greeted the passengers boarding in groups 2 and 3 at the door of the aircraft and said that only first-class passengers were being boarded then because of a maintenance issue. Just after she encouraged passengers to walk back up the jetway, another flight attendant said the maintenance issues were solved and that we could board.
The boarding process felt disorganized, from being temporarily held at the door to a lack of boarding music to arriving at seats with nothing on them except an amenity kit and menu. Bedding was frantically brought on board and distributed to business-class passengers 18 minutes after boarding started, and water bottles weren’t distributed until after the departure meal service.
Announcements were made at 6:35am and 6:51am to apprise passengers of the maintenance-based delay. We finally pushed back at 6:54am and took off 26 minutes later, at 7:20am.
Cabin and Seat
American’s A321T has three classes of service: economy, business and first. The business-class cabin has five rows of 2-2 seating. TPG has a full tour of American’s A321T aircraft, and Alberto reviewed the product between San Francisco (SFO) and New York-JFK for the 2018 TPG Awards, so I’ll focus on my experience in the cabin and seat for this part of my review.
JT and I sat in 7D and 7F, in the second row of the cabin.
I found it easy enough to get from the window seat to the aisle with JT seated upright in the aisle seat. But if he lay down, it turned into a straddle-or-be-straddled situation, since the window seats didn’t have direct aisle access.
Storage was allowed in the space under the ottoman ahead of each seat during taxi, takeoff and landing. But this space was rather small, especially for the window seats — I was barely able to fit my relatively small day pack into this space. Luckily, there was ample overhead storage for larger items, so it was not an issue if you needed to put both your carry-on and personal item in the overhead bin.
These seats had a surprising amount of space for use during the flight. There was a shelf under the inflight-entertainment screen that could easily hold my 13-inch laptop.
There was also a shared center table between each pair of seats that measured 13 inches by 7.5 inches and had a lip around the edge to prevent items from sliding off.
There was also a small nook next to my shoulder on one side that had a universal outlet, USB outlet and three-prong headphone outlet, as well as a storage ledge and a cup holder. But JT’s power outlet would only charge electronics periodically, and my power outlet wouldn’t charge at all, despite both outlets showing a green light that should have indicated power output. In the window seats, there was also a ledge between the seat and wall that could hold items such as a water bottle.
A tray table extended from the center console. The table was 19.5 inches wide by 11 inches long when opened. Plus, the table could slide forward substantially, which I found important for working on my laptop comfortably. The table was sturdy even when fully extended.
You could also use just half of the table by simply not opening the table after extending it.
Each seat had a headrest that could raise and tilt forward, plus it had two bendable wings for cradling heads.
The seat had three main controls that could be set individually: seat recline, lumbar support and legrest extension. Or you could simply hold down the bed button or the upright button to move the seat to these predefined positions. As someone with a finicky back, I found the seat comfortable — especially since I could adjust the lumbar support.
As noted, the seat could fully recline into a lie-flat bed. I only briefly used the bed during this flight but found it to be comfortable. As a side sleeper, I could sleep comfortably facing the window with my knees bent — but not the other way, due to the center console. For a wider sleeping surface, especially in window seats, consider lowering the armrest.
The bed was about 81 inches long when fully lowered.
There was one lavatory at the front left of the business-class cabin designated for business-class passengers. So avoid the first row if you don’t want to be near the restroom.
The lavatory had an updated design consistent with American’s international business-class lavatories, but the soap dispenser on this flight was either nonfunctional or simply not stocked with soap. The flight attendants noticed and made a makeshift soap dispenser.
Amenities and IFE
The IFE screen ahead of each seat displayed content in slightly more than 15 inches of screen space when measured along the diagonal.
Along the bottom of the IFE screen were various buttons for lights, calling the flight attendant, power, volume and more. The IFE screen was a touchscreen, but there was a remote next to the seat. This remote was awkwardly placed, though, so it was easy to accidentally touch the remote’s screen — which could cause your IFE to fast-forward unintentionally.
When I selected my language from the home screen, I was treated to two 30-second ads: one for the AAdvantage Aviator Red Card and the other for Marriott Bonvoy. Then, when I selected a TV show to watch, I was shown 90 seconds more of ads — which seemed like a lot to watch before a short TV show.
Although this flight did offer live TV, it was only available through streaming to your own device. So you couldn’t watch live TV through the IFE system, but you could watch 190 movies (65 of which were new releases) and 125 different TV shows (most of which had multiple episodes), as well as listen to 100 albums and play 20 games. The IFE system also featured interesting content like Oscar-winning short films and calming relaxation videos.
This flight was stocked with the new Bang & Olufsen H9i headphones, which were comfortable and had a noise-canceling function that worked surprisingly well. But, strangely, the headphones wouldn’t play IFE sounds when the noise-canceling function wasn’t turned on. The headphones weren’t passed out until 35 minutes after boarding started. And, as is normal for American Airlines flights, they were collected about 45 minutes before landing.
APL-branded amenity kits were also stocked on this flight. These kits felt durable, so I expect passengers will be able to reuse these kits for other purposes for longer than the previous Cole Haan kits. The APL-branded kits contained:
- Eye mask
- Dental kit with a toothbrush and toothpaste
- Nourishing lip balm
- Hydrating hand and body balm
- 3M earplugs
- FlyFit cranberry mixture to add vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to water
One full-size Casper pillow and comforter were provided in plastic packaging during boarding. I found the pillow plush without being too big, and the comforter warm but breathable.
This flight had gate-to-gate ViaSat satellite-based Wi-Fi, which you could use for $12 a hour, $16 for the entire flight or with a subscription.
Once in the air, a speed test showed 614 ms ping, 51.86 Mbps download and 1.07 Mbps upload. This was fast enough for me to comfortably work, and JT was even able to listen in (using headphones, of course) to a conference call midflight.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Predeparture drinks — prosecco, orange juice or water — were distributed 13 minutes after boarding started.
A flight attendant came by 46 minutes after boarding started to confirm our preordered meals and take our drink orders for after departure.
Hot towels were distributed 25 minutes after takeoff. Departure drinks and biscotti were served 10 minutes later.
About 20 minutes after the departure drinks and biscuits, food service began with flight attendants rolling a service cart down the aisle. This cart contained cold trays with fruit plates underneath, as well as hot croissants, biscuits and bagels. The strawberries on the fruit plate were overripe, but the other fruits — pineapple, mango, blueberries and blackberries — were perfectly ripe and the biscuit fluffy.
Fruit plates were replaced with main courses as passengers finished their fruit. For me, this meant my main course was served about 15 minutes after the fruit plate. I’d preordered the coconut-chia oatmeal and was not at all disappointed. The oatmeal was topped with dried and fresh fruit, including coconut flakes. This is one of the better breakfast dishes I’ve received on an American flight, including international business-class flights. My only notes would be that the oatmeal was served slightly too warm to eat when served, and the meal tasted a slightly too sweet due to the fruit toppings.
JT ordered the traditional American breakfast and was less pleased with his meal. The tomato was overly juicy, which made the bacon that was sitting in the juice soggy. He said the potatoes were overcooked, while the eggs had a strange texture and were clearly reheated.
After the meal service, about two hours into the flight, fruit-and-cheese plates were offered for dessert. I wasn’t particularly hungry, so I snacked on mine over the course of the flight.
A second service, which was really just a snack, consisted of a snack basket, cookies and another round of drinks. This miniservice occurred almost four hours into the flight, which was approximately two hours before landing.
Despite it being a morning flight, a full menu of drinks was available. Here’s the full wine list:
And here’s the rest of the beverage menu:
The flight attendants working in business class were generally friendly and proactive. When we pressed the call button, a flight attendant appeared in less than 15 seconds. Although the plane wasn’t stocked with soap in the business-class cabin, the flight attendants came up with a reasonable solution. Overall, the service on this flight was better than I generally expect when flying on American. I had no issues with the service, but it also wasn’t impressive enough to earn a higher score.
American Airlines’ A321T is a pleasant way to travel cross-country in business class. The seat is comfortable, and the amenities are certainly enough for transcontinental service. However, especially if you’re traveling alone, you may find the lack of direct aisle access for the window seats frustrating. The food and service will vary from flight to flight, but both were good on my flight. My biggest issues on this flight were with disorganized boarding in BOS, moderate maintenance delays and nonfunctional power outlets at my seat.
Except where noted, all photos are by the author.
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