Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.
Today (November 11, 2015): Trip report: American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER (77W) First Class London (LHR) to New York (JFK).
On October 30th 2015, I flew in a Boeing 777-300ER (B77W) of American Airlines (AA) from London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK). The B77W is currently AA’s largest wide-body plane. As of today, AA owns 27 of these planes and operates them on selected routes to and from the United States. The three daily London to New York AA flights are all flown by the B77W, making this is an excellent route to experience the impressive B77W product.
For this particular flight, I had booked a Business Class ticket and used one of my AAdvantage systemwide upgrades to get a seat into AA’s next generation Flagship First Class suite. AAdvantage is AA’s loyalty program, which I consider to be the best in the world (read here why) since the highest tier comes with 8 free upgrades per calendar year (although it is rumored that big chances are coming to the program in 2016). While AA’s B77W has one of the best longhaul Business Class products in the world (and is your best choice for a transatlantic crossing), I was less impressed by their First Class product. It’s still a comfortable ride of course, but the difference with AA’s excellent Business Class is only very marginal: the suite has more space, the seat can be turned into an office desk, there is turndown service (with duvet and extra pillow), and you get an extra course (soup) with your meal. I could not find any other differences, hence hardly justifying the extra cost from Business to First if you have to pay for it. You can read my detailed trip report of a flight onboard AA’s B77W here (Los Angeles to London).
- Trip: LHR-JFK
- Airline: American Airlines
- Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER (77W)
- Flight Number: 105
- On time departure: no (2.17 pm instead of the planned 1.45 pm because of late arrival of the aircraft)
- On time arrival: yes (5.30 pm)
- Miles: 3450
- Flight time: 7:16
- Seat: 1A
- Class: First (A)
In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- American Airlines Flagship Lounge at London Heathrow
- First Class cabin
- First Class seat (& what seat to choose)
- Highlight of the flight (WOW!)
- Other inflight experiences (crew, bar, lavatory, WiFi, views)
- Comparison with the AA B77W Business Class
- My verdict (score)
1. AMERICAN AIRLINES LOUNGE AT LONDON HEATHROW AIRPORT
AA’s Flagship Lounges are supposed to the represent the best of the AA’s lounges. You can find them in AA’s 4 major airports hubs across the globe: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York JFK, and London Heathrow.
The American Airlines Flagship Lounge at LHR is located after security in Terminal 3 under the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Lounge (Clubhouse), and its design pales in comparison to the sleek interiors of the Business Class lounge of its competitor on the floor above. It’s a unspiring, dull space with one seating area and one restaurant corner, both of them dominated by omnipresent beige, brown and grey colours. To make it worse, the lounge has no view to speak of as it looks out on to another building. Terminal 3, from which all AA flights to the USA leave, is a very old building, hence partly explaining the dated look of the decor. AA really needs to urgently hire a design team to give its tired London lounge a complete overhaul (and make the lounge experience in line with its excellent onboard product).
On a positive note, the AA First Class London Flagship lounge is equipped with everything you need, whether you want to relax or to do business. There’s complimentary WiFi, some workstations with Dell PCs, and private shower suites. The food & beverage options are ok, with a full buffet (featuring soup, sandwiches, salads, snacks, several amuse-bouches, and a light hot lunch) as well as a la carte options, in addition to premium liquor, beer, and wine.
From the lounge, it was a 10 minute walk to the gate where the boarding process was delayed by around 30 minute because of late arrival of the plane. Unfortunately, I could not get a good view of the B77W since the plane was hidden behind the jet bridge.
2. FIRST CLASS CABIN
AA’s B77W has 8 seats in First Class, 52 in Business Class, 30 seats in Main Cabin Extra (that is how AA calls its premium Economy Class), and 220 seats in Economy Class.
After entering the plane through the massive boarding door, I was greeted by a flight attendant who guided me to the First Class cabin. The latter is located in the front of the B77W, behind the cockpit. With just 8 seats, the First Class cabin feels airy, spacious and private. Seats are placed in two rows according to a 1-2-1 layout, all of them having direct aisle access. The 4 First Class seats on the sides are ideal for solo travelers (with a generous 3 windows per seat, offering great views), while the 4 seats in the middle are perfect for those traveling with a companion. But if you are a solo traveler and you end up in one the middle seats, there’s no problem as you can rise a divider for added privacy.
Click here for the seat map of AA’s Boeing 77W.
3. THE FIRST CLASS SEAT
The centerpiece of AA’s next generation Flagship First Class suite is of course the seat, and it’s a very comfortable and spacious one. But remarkably, the First Class suite itself is less private as compared to AA’s Business Class seat since it lacks a shelling compartment.
The seat has several storage locations for your personal items: (1) a bottle holder next to the seat; (2) a shoe storage in a cabinet next to the ottoman; (3) a coat hook on the panel in front of you; and (4) a small storage compartment at the back of the working table, that has a mirror and contains a bottle of water and American’s trademark noise-canceling Bose headphones. The latter cabinet also contains the power port (universal AC power outlet and USB port) and, oddly enough, also the headphone jack, so you need to leave it open when you want to listen to music or watch a movie (a minor inconvenience though). The seats feature a very large tray table in addition to the work surface so you can keep working while eating, which given the nice, extended meal services is a productive and nice touch. There’s also a tray next to the working table with convenient USB charging.
Every part of the seat, including the seat back, head and leg rest, are adjustable using the seat control touch screen device that is present on the working table. The seat itself can also be swiveled to various position: the take-off position, a position which aligns with the ottoman (and which can transform the seat into a lay-flat bed), and a position in which the seat faces the windows, transforming the suite in a very comfortable working office.
As mentioned above, the seat can be reclined 180°, forming – together with the large ottoman – a comfortable bed. A duvet is provided, which increases the sleeping comfort. The ottoman also has a separate seat belt (not sure what this is necessary for: to keep your feet and legs in place when flying through a zone of turbulence?).
AA has an excellent clip on its Youtube channel that explains the First Class seat features. You can watch it here.
What are the best First Class seats on AA’s B77W? Click here for the seat map.
- Solo travelers should go fo the window seats, while companions should choose the middle seats.
What are the worst First Class seats on AA’s B77W? Click here for the seat map
- I suggest to avoid the window seats in row 1 (1A and 1J), since the proximity to the galley may be bothersome, especially during a night flight.
Each seat comes with a nice blanket, an excellent duvet and two thick pillows. After the boarding process was completed (and the airplane doors were closed), the crew handed out a complimentary, black pajama with red slippers, as well as an elegant, grey coloured amenity bag, which contained essentials like an eye mask, earplugs, wash cloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, a pen, socks, and Red Flower body lotion, face cream and lip balm.
In comparison: Business Class passengers only get the blanket with one pillow, no pajamas nor slippers, and a limited-edition heritage amenity kit, which contains the same essentials as in the First Class bag.
This was the shortest meal service ever (and I kind of appreciated it, since I was tired and was in need of some rest). Service started about 10 minutes after takeoff, and the courses were served one after the other with only a few minutes in between.
First, I was served an assortment of warm nuts. I also ordered a soft drink with ice and lime. I don’t know why but I don’t like to drink wine or spirits on a plane. For the starter, I ordered the tomato mozzarella timbale with grilled vegetables, which had a refreshing taste. I then had the tomato soup with crème fraîche, followed by a very simple salad consisting of mixed greens, sundried tomatoes, and pine nuts. While I was not hungry anymore by that time (because I had too much food in the lounge), I was then served an parmesan crusted roasted cod with olive oil mashed potatoes, grilled zucchini, and tomato marinara sauce. I could not finish it but it tasted delicious! But there was still room for a dessert: AA’s signature traditional ice cream sundae with seasonal berry toppings (njam!).
60 minutes prior to landing, a light meal was served. I choose the Waldorf salad with sliced herbed chicken breast, apples, grapes, walnuts, celery, blue cheese, and poppy seed dressing, followed by fresh seasonal fruit and onboard baked cookies.
A 17-inch touchscreen monitor is located in front of the seat, above the ottoman. It can be released by pressing a button located under the working table. The inflight entertainment itself can be controlled using the touch screen or a dedicated control unit. The Panasonic inflight entertainment itself features an impressive catalog of 120 movies, 150 TV shows, and more than 350 audio selections.
7. HIGHLIGHT OF THE FLIGHT
Wow! Nothing could prepare me nor the other passengers for the special treat that awaited us 30 minutes before touchdown. The captain announced that we had started the descend and were heading for JFK in crispy clear weather. He must have been a real New York city lover as he next announced in a most enthusiastic way that the flight path was going to take us directly above Midtown Manhattan, offering spectacular views for those on the left side of the plane. I felt so sorry for those in the middle or right side of the plane, because the views of the Big Apple – with its autumn coloured Central Park and iconic Empire State Building – were stunning beyond words. One of the crew member watched with me the breathtaking spectacle that unfolded in front of the 3 windows in my suite: we felt like children who won first row seats to a Broadway theatre smash hit. We then continued over Brooklyn with amazing views of JFK Airport, before making a sharp turn over the Atlantic Ocean and landing in the beautiful light of the sunset. New York has always been a special place for me since I spend part of my studies over there.
Watch my Youtube clip starting from 11’30” and you will get an impression of how spectacular it was.
8. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES
# CREW: this was an excellent and very charming, New York city based crew. Two stewardesses – Carole and Area – took care of the First Class passengers. I loved the way they talked passionately about AA’s B77W plane and their love for their airline. While there have been recent reports from professional bloggers that could not take photos/clips onboard AA, I did not encounter any problems at all, although I have to state that I asked permission to take photos (in a non-intrusive way of course) and I felt this was highly appreciated by the crew. In the end, they even encouraged me to take photos. AA: if you read this, send the entire crew my kudos.
# BAR: after the main meal service, a walk-up bar stocked with snacks and refreshments was set up in the galley for First Class passengers. It was a very nice spread of a large assortment of snacks that was constantly replenished during the flight. It’s similar to the Business Class set up bar, although the latter has a more sleek look.
# LAVATORY: First Class passengers have access to two lavatories in the front of the plane, which feature porcelain sinks, wood siding, granite floor texture and luxurious toilet products. All lavatories were kept clean during the flight.
# INTERNET: WiFi was available for purchase once on board the aircraft: a 2 hour pass for $12, a 4 hour pass for $17, or a duration of flight pass for $19. I found the WiFi speed to be relatively ok.
9. COMPARISON WITH THE AA B77W BUSINESS CLASS
AA’s Flagship First Class suite is very comfortable, but it did not feel extremely luxurious (as compared to other airlines). In addition, AA’s Business Class is so good that the difference with First Class is only very marginal. Perhaps I overlook something, but this is what First will get you over Business:
- More space (3 windows instead of 2 if you are in a window seat)
- Possibility to turn the suite into an office desk
- Turndown service
- Duvet and extra pillow
- Complimentary pajamas and slippers
- Increased menu selections
- An extra course (soup) with your meal
- A slightly larger entertainment screen
If only AA would team up with celebrity chefs to offer fine cuisine in the air, and transform its First Class seats into real, enclosed suites …
10. MY VERDICT
- First Class seat : 8/10
- Food: 7/10
- Inflight entertainment : 9/10
- Service: 9/10
- First Class cabin: 7/10
- Overall experience: very good : 8/10
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Many thanks again. Informative and interesting.
Comment (not on your video which is fine)on AA.
Compared even to BA – AA First is pretty much second rate.
Compare to Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific or Thai – it looks less good than their Business Class.
Come on AA – buck up.
That looks like a very good hard and soft product, considering it’s an American domestic airline. I really like the options with the seat, including turning it into a mini-office suite. The only negative was that tiny lavatory…looks like you have to practically stand on the loo to wash your hands. As for the private suites thing, in my opinion, it’s over-rated. All the extra panels and doors create a smaller more congested space and make the cabin seem smaller overall. A big comfortable seat out in the open is fine with me.
The lavatory looks nicer than the biz 1, there’s less of a chance for a wait (better ratio), Smaller cabin (more intimate), maybe? they put the best FAs in F, an onboard chef and something like the la Premiere (air france) curtain
Crikey the lounge looks like a Premier Inn. Unfortunately nothing really compares to Emirates First Class A380 – sublime! 🙂
Very nice review and great pictures to go with it.
I recently used SWU’s to upgrade a business class ticket from LAX-SYD (14 hour flight). Here are my impressions of the First Class product on a 777-300ER. By way of background I’m a multi year EP / million-miler with over 200 EQM’s a year.
Overall, I continue to be impressed by the effort put forth by the AA staff both in the air and on the ground. Although the Flagship check-in is very nice, even the regular Priority desk does a fine job. I have flown the First Class cabin in the 3 Class transcon A321T and the overall observation applies to that product too.
Bottom line, in many ways the Business Class seat is better than than the First Class one. I don’t believe it’s worthwhile using an SWU for a Business to First upgrade, let alone actually paying for it. Other than trivial items like free PJ’s, type of Champagne and an extra course in the meal, the experience is governed by the design of the seat itself. This is where the First Class product at AA is poorly thought out. I struggle to think how/why some of the design choices were made for the First Class product (“Class 3 Rest Facility”). Here are my observations in no particular order:
– My biggest gripe is that the seat is locked in a forward position and needs to be unlocked and rotated for any of the seat adjustment functions to work. This is particularly annoying as the forward orientation has the seat back almost upright. In that position the headrest pushes your head and neck forward of the vertical causing a neck and back ache in short order. Looking around the cabin, I could see everyone sitting sideways in their chairs to try and avoid this. In the business class seat, the orientation does change and the takeoff/landing seat position is far more comfortable. On a flight with a period of prolonged hard turbulence, I found that the seat rattled about the rotation hinge the whole time making the experience even more unpleasant.
– When you do reach altitude and can unlock and rotate the seat, the controls are in a smart phone sized screen on the side table. Having to dial into a screen and sub menus every time you want to adjust the seat is tedious. That is more so because the brightness on that screen doesn’t seem to be adjustable and the ‘auto off’ on that screen seems to happen only on the home screen. As a result you get a stunningly bright light in your face that you can’t turn down or off.
– There is no convenient storage on this seat. None! There is a slight depression on the side desk adjacent to the USB outlet where you can fit in a phone. But that won’t hold it in place in even mild turbulence. There is a net sling under the table to hold the free slippers. But there is no place to keep any of your possessions. What is worse is that there is a cavernous space under the side table where items can easily fall and get lost under the seat mechanism. Then there’s the small cave that looks like a cat door near the aisle. There is a mail slot like space under the side table where you can fit you menu. Not sure what purpose either of those spaces serve. There are so many places where closed storage could be provided (like that large curved section up front) but none is provided.
– The TV screen is larger than in business, but it is installed in a way where it is perpendicular to the aisle. As a result, it needs to pop out and rotate a bit to make it perpendicular to the bed. That’s not a big deal until you think of the extra weight of the mechanisms needed to accomplish the pop out. They could have just angled it to suit the bed as that would have worked fine from the offset location for the seat forward position. Interestingly the seat has very poor angular performance. Even the slight downward angle from someone viewing from the bed results in the image looking like blurry ghosts. The screen doesn’t tilt downwards. So you are stuck with a bad picture or having to sit upright.
– The key outlets are in a box behind your shoulder. Yes, the inside of the door is mirrored to make it easier to see what is inside, but it still takes some contorting to access them. This is practically impossible if you have your seatbelt on.
– Even though the seat is very slightly bigger than the business class one, the privacy seems to be less. You feel far more exposed to the aisle than in the business class seat.
– The magazine pocket is at your feet. Yep, if you forgot to take one out before taxi, you are out of luck until you reach altitude.
– When seated, the tray table is arms-length away. This is ridiculous. You can’t slide the table closer to you when the seat is reclined. This results in a big air gap between your plate and mouth. This is one of those ‘what were they thinking!’ items. Furthermore, the dinner tray is hidden under a panel that is controlled by one of three buttons mid seat. Not sure why they couldn’t just have a spring loaded flap rather than the weight and complexity of a switch activated mechanism. It’s not like the switch pops out the table. It just loosens the flap over the receptacle. They do have a 6” wide fold out flap that is supposed to be a table near your shoulder. However when folded out the flap/hinge is feeble and the flap tilts downward. As a result you can’t lay anything on it without it slipping off.
– One of the three mid seat switches turns on what I presume to be a night light. This is a dim glow at the foot level that shows up in the cavern beside the seat and along the foot well. Why? This serves no functional purpose and would be noticeable only if every other light in the cabin were off.
– The reading light has a set of brightness levels. If you turn it on you get a dim setting, if you press the light switch again it gets progressively brighter before turning off again. So if you are trying to read at night, you and your fellow passengers are subject to the brightest setting before getting darkness again. No simple on and off to find your possessions.
– The cushion on the seat is hard and uncomfortable. Not quite a park bench, but not that different either.
– There is a seat belt on the foot rest. Presumably this was for the important two person meetings that they imagine happen all the time in this cabin. The actual result is that you have two uncomfortable chunks of metal banging against your feet all night.
Is anyone from AA listening? Take a look at the First Class seats in the BA A380 or the products in Singapore Airlines or Emirates, there’s much catching up to do.
Thank you for all these details! You should start a blog & write reviews yourself! I am sure AA is reading this as well :). Kind regards
Kind words. Thanks!
I forgot to add that since the magazine pouch is 5′ away at your feet and completely inaccessible when you are belted in, good luck figuring out where to puke when turbulence hits. Maximum bounciness is not the time when you want to be unbuckling your belt and reaching across the length of the cubicle for the bag that is helpfully located in the magazine pouch.
Very interesting and helpful information !
Unforgettable and pleasant impressions !
I appreciate it !