After months of anticipation and careful planning, American Airlines has been adding an aircraft a week since January to its fleet under the banner “The new American is arriving”. Of the planes delivered thus far, arguably the 777-300 is the most important to its international operations and will be deployed on key routes such as Brazil and London. In adding the 777-300 to its fleet, American has become the first US carrier to operate this type of aircraft giving it a competitive edge against their main rivals United and Delta. Along with the new aircraft, a new Flagship product has also been rolled out to its new planes, with the existing fleet of 777′s having their Flagship suites removed and moving to a new two-class service and expanded Business Class. So with such an important key product rolling out, how does the new Flagship suite compare with the product it replaces? Mundialphoto travelled on the long established London – Los Angeles route on its second day of operation.
The check- in area at LAX is via a private kerb side door with two members of staff meeting and greeting. The concierge took the bags all the way from the car to the check- in and then carried all hand luggage through to the TSA area only handing this over at the X-Ray machines. If you are TSA pre-cleared as many flagship passengers are, then the experience is seamless. The time from kerb, to Flagship lounge was counted at just less than 10 minutes on a busy afternoon at LAX.
The aircraft itself aside from the increased number of seats feels just as stable as the previous 777-200 if not more so especially at take- off. First class is a much-reduced 8 seats from the previous 16 creating a more exclusive feel and shares the forward part of the cabin past door 2L, whilst sharing this space with 8 seats of Business Class. There has been some concern that this would reduce privacy but the bulkhead and screened curtain provide adequate privacy for both cabins.
The seat is arranged in the same configuration as the previous product, although the fabric coverings and soft leather provide a more comfortable seat. The addition of electrics for the seat controls including a swivel position may take a little getting used to as does the tablet style control for all seat positions but comes with more functionality. The seat itself is equipped with standard controls and pre-sets for Movies, Sleep and Landing guiding the passenger through the various steps. However, it does not allow easy transition from one position to another easily, correcting you on screen for instance swiveling seat diagonally for movie position and sleep, then back again for landing. What felt good was how intuitive and responsive The controls are when using them. In terms of space, there is no detectable difference in length or width of the seat, meaning American have not sought to reduce their current seat footprint in the new airplane.
The Menu has recently been upgraded for both products, a fact that has excited the pursers on board on both flights. As part of their upgraded service, this high quality menu now offers a pre boarding selection that allows passengers to reserve their entree (bonus!). I tried this and was approached first to confirm my entree which was appreciated, as a reassuring way of guaranteeing your selection and avoiding disappointment, while providing improved efficiency for American. There are three courses served with an optional soup and salad course, as well as an “Amuse Bouche” which, compares favourably to other first class offerings and it is most importantly on a par with their Oneworld partner British Airways.
This fine dining in the sky is accompanied by a wine selection that has been similarly upgraded with the attendants suggesting wine pairings with each course rather than recommending you stay with one particular wine. The overall effect is one of unhurried enjoyment for passengers who do intend to work or sleep, although these other options are still available. Breakfast orders are collected following dinner, giving passengers a choice of menu and time prior to landing, matching the level of thought that has gone into their new dinner service with the level of convenience offered to their diners. In the past, American have not impressed in this regard, so the notable sea change was an agreeable addition.
Wi-Fi connectivity is provided by T-Mobile, and was available throughout the flight remaining stable and offered a good connection speed. The costs however were difficult to comprehend packaged for 2, 4 or 24 hours. As the new plane will be deployed mostly on international routes which are over 7-8 hours and no more than 11, this makes a 24 hour purchase redundant. The cost may be negligible, but this could still be addressed. Importantly, the Wi-Fi doesn’t appear to support secure connections for Microsoft Outlook although Apple worked without interruption. This is an important point for travellers who intend to complete work or keep in touch via mail during the flight.
As the footprint of the seat has not changed, a table is still available once the chair has been moved through 90 degrees. The table is as sturdy as its predecessor and offers a good alternative to using the dinner table for work. The other major innovation to the cabin is the sky interior, evident on the new aircraft creating a purple ambient light reflecting the stages of the flight. Different colours denote take- off, landing and dinner, allowing passengers to follow the different stages of the flight. It also creates an ambient work light with additional light provided by a small light to the rear left of the seat,which replaces the previous slider light.
The Entertainment screen and the connectivity pod to the rear left of the suite is possibly the biggest change so far. The screen has been upgraded from a 7 inch to a 15-inch high-resolution screen. The screen can be controlled either by touching and scrolling the screen directly or by using a Nintendo style controller set into the wall of the suite. The movie library is extensive and far more than the offerings listed in the American Way magazine, which was a pleasant surprise as the standard selection put me off watching any films on the outbound flight from Heathrow. The connectivity Pod contains power and audiovisual connections for iPods and has fully internationally capable sockets for two devices at a time. This is a real bonus. It also allows for connectivity of an external device to play films or media on the screen. The headphones present a departure from the previous product in that whilst they remain BOSE, they connect using a tri socket arrangement. Presumably this is for left and right audio and power to replace the battery requirement of the previous type. This does mean that you cannot use your own headphones without a two prong adaptor, although given the quality provided this isn’t an issue but does mean two sets of headphones if you want to listen to your own device later in the flight as they aren’t compatible. Finally, the headphones have reverted to the traditional over ear style rather than the style that sit on the ear and which caused noise leakage.
American has taken the step on its new planes to introduce a walk up bar and has done this really well from a space perspective. Unlike BA’s product or even someone like Cathay, the bar runs the full width of the plane meaning that it doesn’t become cluttered or an after thought. It is a centerpiece certainly for Business class passengers and potentially for First Class too. Access would need to be dependent on the crew however as it would mean crossing cabin lines which passengers are asked not to but if it is possible, it is worth a visit. The one comment I would make would be to improve the selection of what is available. The danger of having such a large space for food is that it needs to be filled or it looks empty. This could be down to the infancy of the product, but could be improved upon.
American has created a real buzz around not only their new airplane but also their new onboard products and they don’t disappoint. The product has been introduced without problems, has been well received by passengers and crew alike and there seems to be a sense of pride all round. Ultimately however, the main changes are surrounding the connectivity and entertainment, which have long required an upgrade. The seat itself offers the same features but with some electronics in place of standard buttons and overall really gelling together into a seamless product. The reduction in seats will undoubtedly make this area more exclusive for some and will frustrate others who have been able to upgrade to the cabin, however American has put a lot of effort into this new flight experience and you could argue that the previous product had become downgraded slightly. Ultimately, First Class is just that, the pinnacle of any travel experience and with the experience starting at the kerbside this product has been brought up to a level worthy of its Flagship product of old.
NB: I would like to thank the staff at American Airlines Flagship Lounge and dispatch crew in LAX for allowing me access to the aircraft prior to general boarding to take the enclosed pictures with permission.