Adequate across America: A review of American Airlines in economy on the A321T from JFK to LAX
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Excellent IFE system, better-than-average food.
Even in Main Cabin Extra, with more legroom, the cabin felt cramped.
When you fly between New York City and Los Angeles, you have a lot of options. American, Delta, United, JetBlue and Alaska are all trying to lure passengers to spend five-plus hours with them. It is, after all, one of the busiest routes in the world.
American Airlines is the only one among those airlines offering both first class and business with lie-flat seats between NY and LA.
But this isn’t a review of those fancy seats.
The only plane in the AA fleet connecting the two cities is the Airbus A321. Those Airbuses have 102 seats, and 72 of them are in coach. Of those 72, half are standard American Airlines Main Cabin seats and half of the Main Cabin Extra variety, which have — you guessed it — extra legroom.
Here’s what you can expect if you’re flying American Airlines in coach between New York and Los Angeles.
We booked my flight from New York – JFK to Los Angeles (LAX) a whole two days before takeoff. We travel a lot on short notice here at The Points Guy, and this trip was no exception.
My round-trip economy flight cost $638.81 in cash. If you’re not going to use points to book a flight, we always recommend using a card that earns you bonus points on airfare. Our top picks are the Platinum Card® from American Express (5x points on airfare) and Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x).
American Airlines flies out of Terminal 8 at JFK. It’s a large terminal, and you’re greeted by a ton of self-service kiosks when you walk in. You’ll only have to wait in line if you need to drop your bag.
My ground experience was off to a rocky start, but it wasn’t the fault of the airline. I pulled up my boarding pass on my way to the airport and realized my TSA PreCheck symbol was missing. As it turns out, my birthday was entered incorrectly, so my boarding pass didn’t populate properly. I spoke with a friendly and helpful agent who entered my correct birthday and printed out the right boarding pass.
Which reminds me: Always check for PreCheck. Even if you did it right — unlike me — you’re not guaranteed to get it every time. It pays to take a quick look at your boarding pass.
One important thing of note here: Clear isn’t available in this terminal. This could be a huge downside if you frequently fly this route and are loyal to American. It is, though, available in Terminals 4 and 5 at LAX, which AA uses for its domestic flights.
I was flying in economy and don’t have status with American Airlines (yes, even after my crazy mileage run), so I would not be getting into American’s Admirals Clubs, much less the Flagship lounge. I could have accessed the Admirals Club if I’d had the Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, which grants entry into the lounges when you’re flying AA, in any class.
I did have a lounge option of sorts, though: the Bobby Van’s restaurant, via my Priority Pass membership. I didn’t have enough time to check it out. It was also fairly far from the gates. If you’re planning on grabbing a bite there using the $28 Priority Pass credit, give yourself at least another 10 minutes to get to your gate.
Boarding started promptly, and proceeded according to American’s nine-group (you read that right!) boarding system.
I couldn’t snap a good image of the A321 from the gate — American calls this version the A321T, from “transcontinental” — but here’s one just like it shot while docked at JFK’s Terminal 8. (If you like A321s, my AvGeek coworkers tell me American has more of them than any other airline.)
Cabin and Seat
After having the extremely cool and glamorous experience of flying seven flights in four days in coach, you could say I’m familiar with American Airlines’ economy product.
(OK, maybe not as much as my coworker JT Genter, but still).
American’s A321T in economy is arranged in a 3-3 configuration: three seats, the aisle and another row of three seats. Translation: Don’t skip looking at the seat map on the airline’s site, since there’s a solid chance you’ll end up in the middle. There are 12 rows of coach, giving 24 middle seats. Make sure you’re not in one of them.
Virtually every seat on my flight was taken. All 72 of them. Things were on the cozy side, to say the least. But at least a fleece blanket was waiting for me at my seat.
The slimline seats are covered in fabric and don’t have memory foam. In Main Cabin, they measure 31 inches of pitch; in Main Cabin Extra, which is the first six rows of coach, they have an extra four inches. All of the seats measure 18 inches across.
We splurged for Main Cabin Extra, since those extra four inches really make a big difference on a cross-country route. That’s the only difference with regular coach — you just get a bit more knee room but in the exact same seats.
If the upgrade to MCE isn’t substantial, I would definitely recommend grabbing it, especially if you don’t want to pay up or redeem points for business or first.
The legroom in MCE on the A321T was definitely bearable for a medium-haul flight, save for the fact that I was sitting next to a tall guy who made himself, er, a little too comfortable. While I definitely feel for him — those seats aren’t exactly forgiving for people over 6 feet — he was totally encroaching on what little personal space I had. This is why we have bulkhead and exit-row seats, people.
The headrest was adjustable, but the seat didn’t recline much.
I thought the mood lighting was nice, though.
The tray table was extendable but didn’t swivel for easy access. It snugly fit my 15-inch MacBook Pro and it was difficult to get any work done on when the person in front of me reclined. It was interesting trying to fit my laptop and a drink on the table at the same time.
The bathrooms were kept pristine.
There are two lavatories for economy passengers, and seeing as how every seat was taken, it was good to see how clean they remained.
Amenities and IFE
The biggest positive for me here was the inflight entertainment (IFE) system. Which is good, because on this plane, the boxes driving the IFE displays take up so much room under your seat, at least the window and aisle ones.
You win some, you lose some, right?
I counted a whopping 193 movies on board, plus 12 live streaming channels. American also featured almost 100 TV shows, including the popular series “Succession” (although it was only the second season).
The touchscreen measures about 9 inches wide. There was a little bit of lag while scrolling, but overall, it was a good IFE screen. You could also stream Apple Music for free.
Each seat has a power outlet and a USB powered port. If you don’t want to watch the IFE, there’s Wi-Fi with excellent speed to watch what you want on your own devices, which is when those charging ports come in handy. I paid $16 for a flight pass.
Food and Beverage
American served one meal on this flight, and it was complimentary to all coach passengers, since it was a transcon route.
Flight attendants started the meal service about 25 minutes after takeoff. I ordered a chicken Caesar wrap. It was better than I was expecting. The vegetarian option was a cheese plate with veggies.
My meal also came with a bag of potato chips and a brownie.
I drank a Diet Coke, but in Main Cabin Extra I was entitled to one free alcoholic drink as well, unlike in Main Cabin right behind me.
When we were deplaning, flight attendants gave out the famous AA chocolate chip cookies.
I also mention this in my review of business class on the A321T, but American could really stand to improve its healthy choices. I understand that this isn’t a nutritionist’s office, but really, do we need a wrap, chips, a brownie and a chocolate chip cookie?
It got the job done.
The flight attendants were accommodating. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were outright friendly, but they certainly weren’t rude or anything. They came through the cabin a few times asking if anyone wanted water, which I really appreciated. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I hate when you have to hunt down flight attendants to get more water. They know better than anyone how dehydrating planes can be, and it really boggles my mind why they’re typically so stingy about giving out water to passengers.
As I mentioned earlier, I also thought the flight attendants handing out chocolate chip cookies at the end of the flight was pretty sweet. Healthy or not, it definitely put a good taste in my mouth.
You’re on a routine economy flight from JFK to LAX. This isn’t Japan Airlines in first class. The extra-legroom seat was moderately comfortable, the flight attendants made sure I was hydrated, and there were plenty of inflight entertainment options to keep me occupied. I particularly liked how you could stream Apple Music for free. Wi-Fi was fast.
The food was surprisingly decent, but could definitely use nutritional upgrades. The service was efficient, although not the warmest.
So if the price is right, I’d fly American Airlines transcon Main Cabin Extra again, even if the experience didn’t especially stand out for me.
All photos by the author except where indicated.
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