Disappointing American First Class Experience on the A321 LAX-JFK

I purposely redeemed with American for my return flight from Maui (OGG) to New York so that I could fly in first on one of their new Airbus A321 transcontinental flights from LAX to JFK.  While this flight only cost me $5.60 and 47.5K miles including the Hawaii segment, one-way first class on the A321s typically prices between $2,000-$3,000, while business falls in the $1,000-$1,500 range. For a $1,000-$1,500 premium, I’d expect some clear differences and stellar service. Unfortunately neither was present and this flight was quite the disappointment.

This is part five of a five part trip report from my recent travels to Maui.

Upon boarding, a bottle of champagne was already popped and one of the flight attendants was walking around offering glasses as well as dinner menus. A bottle of Dasani water and an amenity kit were waiting for me at my seat. 

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I received the PSA heritage amenity kit with the standard AA supplies. Business class passengers on the flight received the same kit.

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Unlike the multi-page menus I received on JFK-LAX or LAX-JFK flights in Delta ONE, JetBlue Mint, or even United BusinessFirst (which all price closer to American’s business offering), this first class flight had a simple one-page listing with dinner choices. I’m not even sure if the selections were different than business class as the page itself stated “Business, Late Night Supper” in the bottom left-hand corner.

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Service began with cold mixed nuts and drinks.

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I ordered halibut for my main course, it was dry and tough. The side of “creamy tomato fennel sauce” was congealed in a tin cup. The pretzel bread as well as the pita rounds for the hummus were all cold and hard.

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I’ve flown countless business and first class flights over the last few years on many different carriers, this was by far the worst meal I’ve been served. The fish was not edible at all. I’ve had some very good fish dishes (halibut even) in premium cabins, this was not one of them.

Ice cream came with no bowl or dish, the flight attendant simply handed it to me with a spoon.

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The service itself was sub-par, especially if American is marketing this as a true First Class offering. Delta flight attendants are typically fantastic no matter their age, but when I fly American or United, I sort of hope for crew members as far away from retirement age as possible. Well, I actually had two young flight attendants in first…that coupled with the fact that this was first class on one of American’s marquee routes led me to believe that service might be better than the American standard. It certainly was not.

I saw the flight attendants upon boarding and during meal service, that was it. They did not come around to provide water, do drink refills, offer snacks, etc. I’m also pretty confident that the sauce for the fish should have been in a dish of sorts and the ice cream on a plate. Side note, the ice cream sat in the location you see it in the picture for the entire length of the flight (as did my two empty glasses). My drink and water were never refilled, I instead periodically took small Dasani bottles that were left in the galley.

The seat itself was quite comfortable as was the bed (no turn-down service was offered). I’ve flown business on the same flight and besides the additional privacy and not having to be next to another passenger, I’m not sure that there’s a huge benefit with the seat / bed. A pillow and large duvet were also provided.

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One thing that I really loved was the in-flight entertainment system. It included a 15.4-inch touchscreen monitor that offered a library of 250 movies, 130 TV shows, and 380 albums. The screen was crystal clear and the browsing options were awesome. I liked that I could swipe within the categories and filter by letter, genre, duration, etc. The remote was also modern and allowed for the same scrolling and selections as the main screen.  The interactive map was great too with 7 views distinct views (overhead, cockpit, left side, right side, etc.) as well as the option to select points of interest along the route. Like an Apple product, you can zoom and minimize using your fingers on the screen.

Of course, this same IFE system is available in business (it’s the same 15.4 inch screen as well)!

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How about those Bose QuietComfort Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones that first and business class passengers are supposed to receive? Nope, they too were missing from this flight. The purser informed me that they arrived late and didn’t have time to swap out fresh ones in LAX. What a mess this First Class experience was!

If I’m flying transcontinental with American again, I’d definitely select business over first (unless I’m on a First Class partner award), there’s just no point. The products are so similar and service is certainly not a distinguishing characteristic.  Delta ONE and JetBlue Mint both offer superior service and food with their “business” products.  The bed on JetBlue (equally as comfortable) offers the same privacy as American’s First, but for business class fares. American has everyone beat on IFE (JetBlue is still using looping movies), but that may be a reason to fly them in business, not first.

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  1. […] While there’s certainly a huge lack of consistency across the fleet (and even within the fleet types), American’s new planes and in-flight product are quite solid…and I wouldn’t call them embarrassing (though service on some of the new planes very much is – Disappointing American First Class Experience on the A321 LAX-JFK). […]

Comments

  1. I flew recently with my wife from SFO-JFK on American F. Unlike your crew, my flight crew was fantastic, but I do agree with you that if I had to book again I would just book in J. For one, the business class product on American’s A321T is a lie-flat seat and if you are travelling with someone, you actually get to sit with them as opposed to across the aisle. The difference between F and J really isn’t worthwhile at all. I think American just operates an F cabin on these flights because of their Hollywood and business contracts. Otherwise, it strikes me they would make more money to just drop the 10 first class seats and put in another 20 business class ones.

  2. this sounds like/looks like the night/redeye flight where they do a pretty quick but substantial “snack” service so that people can go to bed ASAP. They always have the single page card with the cheese plate and a more hearty meal, the hummus and the ice cream are also always part of that night menu.

    The day time flights have the multi-page menus, the night flights try to maximum your sleep time, which since it’s only a 5 hr flight, is totally understandable.

  3. And Anderson/Parker wonder why the GSC’s are being flown so much by Americans ! It’s funny for years there was pretty FC/Biz service across the board ( being fair) but in the past few years it’s like they forgot ? And the sad thing is the FA’s are getting worse not better.

  4. I had a very similar experience. My glass remained empty for over two hours. It got to the point where I even held it near the aisle hoping to get their attention. That doesn’t help if they never leave the galley or make a pass down the aisle aside from meal service. I ended up carrying up my dessert dishes and empty glass up to the galley.

  5. I have not flown this route but during the last 12 months I have flown F on the 777-300. I have done LAX to LHR, 2* Mia-GRU and today I did LHR to MIA. On all 4 times I used systemwide upgrades from Business to First. I regret having upgraded since I was then closer to the galley and for some reason on each flight the FA thought its OK to congregate at the galley and make all sort of noises. Horribly experience all 4 times. Next time I will stay in business.

  6. On the relatively few international routes where U.S. carriers still offer first class, they don’t typically do a good job of distinguishing between business and first. And that seems even more true on this transcon route. If you’re not going to offer a real first class level of service, don’t half-ass it, just drop it and offer business class.

  7. How dare you attempt to interfere with the FAs chit chat time to refill your drink or remove your items! And the chit chat gets louder if you are trying to sleep.

  8. What time did your flight depart? We flew this route last weekend leaving around 3:00 in the afternoon and returning around 10:00 in the morning in business. We received the multi page menu options and full ice cream sundae options in glasses. The flight attendants walked the aisles regularly and refilled drinks. The crews were great on both flights and the experience was much better than what you encountered. It sounds like you may have experienced the reduced night service. The amenity kits in business are smaller than the heritage kit you received. Good to know for future flights that other than the seats, the service is not much different (as long as you have a good crew).

  9. Not sure why anyone in their right mind would pay for AA transcon first. The flight length just doesn’t justify it. The service, as shown above, is pitiful, and certainly not worth the almost $3K they charge per RT.

    AA needs to give it up and get rid of transcon first entirely (and international F, TBH).

  10. I find the same thing with all there first class products. Its hit or miss depending on the flight attendant. Unfortunately there are way way too many misses. NO uniform service at all.

  11. In all honesty I know that AA F will never be close to anything offered by other international carriers, I only fly them internationally because of the systemwide certificates as an EXP, however, why fly them when you can’t get a restful sleep with all the chatter and noise from the flight attendants from the entire flight congregating in the F galley. I much rather fly Delta business class and get a seat in the middle of the cabin where there is no noise and I can sleep

    HORRIBLE AA First class

  12. Their first class service was terrible when I took that flight also. My jetblue mint experience to Aruba from Jfk was hands down better than their First class

  13. Flew F a couple of times on this route and didn’t experience the service issues posted, but these were daytime flights. Assuming this was a Red Eye, the objective of the crew is to keep traffic to a minimum so people can sleep. If one wants things cleared, there’s always the call button. And if one is going to the galley, bring your own items back if it irks you. Flew the SFO-JFK Red Eye in J and service was fine, most people slept, the galley had snack items and water for those awake and hungry/thirsty. I liked F for the privacy, but understand J would be better if traveling with a companion. There’d be little difference in that case. One buys F for the privacy. Also, the J amenity kit is not the same as the F one. The F is a slightly enhanced version of the international J kits with a few more items and a red closer. The transcon J just contains socks, eyeshade and ear plugs.

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