Over Labor Day weekend I had the chance to experience American Airlines’ flagship service from Los Angeles to New York and what an experience it was! Though some minor parts of the trip did not quite live up to our expectations, overall it was a comfortable and throughly enjoyable sampling of what luxury flying is all about.
I pretty much squealed with glee when I originally found international first class saver award seats for the first leg of a planned trip to Greece & France late last year. Since then I had been looking forward to the flight with enough anticipation to fill the Hollywood Bowl. So when our plans changed and we had to drop the international part of our adventure I was elated to learn that we could keep that flight to New York by paying the mileage reinstatement fee of $175 and reticketing it as a domestic first class saver award. We turned our european vacation into a week-long New York field trip instead. And what a send off.
With plans to meet some friends in the city after we landed at JFK, the husband & I drove down to LAX and began our adventure at the dedicated flagship check-in counter in Terminal 4. Maybe it was the harsh 9:00 a.m. daylight that made it look a little claustrophobic inside, but shortly after we walked in an agent appeared from a door and printed up boarding passes for us. He then pointed us to the stairs, told us where to find the Admiral’s Club and wished us on our way. We didn’t get the fabled elevator escort to security because the elevator was broken and for some reason, neither of us had PreCheck on our boarding passes even though we’re both Known Travelers. Even still, security lines on that particular Saturday were light and we were soon sitting in the flagship area of the Admirals Club while we waited to board.
When it came time to find our seats on the plane, Chris & I both immediately began oohing and ahhing over the accommodations. American’s first class seat is soft, cozy, and packed with legroom. There was a bottle of water and a small amenity kit that I noticed right away was not the one we should have been given on this flight. And I won’t lie, I was rather disappointed that the retro livery amenity kits promised on the American web site were nowhere to be found. As a graphic designer & photographer by trade and livery lovers at heart, we had been anxiously waiting to see which ones we would get. Turns out the answer was just a nondescript little grey pouch with gray socks, gray eye mask, lip balm and lotion. How… functional.
Disappointment aside, our purser, Jeanne, was incredibly friendly and hospitable throughout the flight. I’d seen plenty of reports online of people who felt the A321T service didn’t really match the sumptuousness of the new seats, but my experience was anything but that. The entire forward cabin crew made us feel like welcome friends and made a point to check in on us regularly and chat. Maybe it was my wide-eyed kid attitude or the fact that most folk in the cabin we basically ignoring the inflight team, but I really felt a taste of genuine hospitality from them the entire time. One of the guys working the flight fell in love with my wooden bow tie. The experience felt like a fancy dinner with your well-to-do friends, even if I didn’t get a preflight glass of champagne. I had one shortly after takeoff though (along with warm nuts. Warm nuts!), and it was lovely.
I started off the flight with a bit of situationally appropriate reading…
And switched on the 15.4” video monitor when our meal service began. During the flight I managed to catch Inside Out and Tomorrowland, two recent Disney films that had been on my “want to see” list for awhile. And the meal was really top notch. The appetizer course of a salmon cake and couscous salad was a perfect mix of rich and refreshing. The subsequent salad with ginger dressing made for a great palate cleanser. The main course of beef with curry was perfectly cooked to just past medium rare and paired fantastically with the Lyeth 2012 red meritage offered on the flight. It surpassed my expectations in every way, which I suppose is proof that you just can’t trust most accounts of inflight meal service on the internet. This lunch/dinner felt 100% first class.
Plenty of people have groused about American’s policy of reclaiming the shockingly effective Bose noise-canceling headphones about an hour before landing, and while I was sad to see them plucked from my ears it really wasn’t a big deal. Especially since at the time I had just polished off a freshly made ice cream sundae that really served as the lynchpin perk for choosing to fly this class of service. The seats in the front of the A321 are pretty quiet in comparison to other locations on the plane and I had a perfectly serviceable pair of earbuds that I swapped into service so I could finish watching my movie.
When we began our final descent, I was sad to realize we’d soon be asked to leave the plane and be on our way to the big city. Because my mother raised me right, I made sure to thank the flight crew for treating us so well and giving us such a dreamy start to our week in NYC. When they found out it was my first time visiting as a proper tourist, they immediately began telling me all the places I should visit. Little did they know Chris lived there for four years and already had a packed agenda set.
American’s A321T service is well-established now, and for the most part, it’s clear from this experience that they really are Going For Great. Now if they would just give us those heritage amenity kits… But I’m not bitter. If I had the wherewithal, I don’t think I’d fly from coast to coast any other way. If you ever have the opportunity to experience it yourself, don’t hesitate. Book. Fly. Have a fantastic time in the sky.