Note: scores are based on the best possible experience found on any airline, for which the best airline would get a 100 in that category.
I really wish I’d eaten at Cafe Nero, and I hate Cafe Nero…
I’m going to “go there” right from the beginning. This flight was the business class equivalent of the Fyre festival. It was a total shambles masquerading as something much better, and of course, charging accordingly. Some flights are perfectly unremarkable, others flight simply mediocre, but this flight was remarkable for being such a complete and utter failure. Let me offer an amuse bouche into this gathering of the ages, which was actually just a nicer chair…
8 hours later no hello, welcome on board, or my name. But I was told the korma was the only meal which wasn’t sold out, and condescendingly called “camera man” when i took a pic
of sunset. They did manage an Inquisition over who hadn’t returned headphones, 1 hr before landing.
— Gilbert Ott, God Save The Points
(@godsavethepoint) March 17, 2019
To begin this post mortem, it’s probably good to start with expectation. I make a point of flying constantly on new and different airlines to get a feel for service levels out there, and of all the flights I’ve ever taken in any cabin, this was the least friendly service.
Yes, I really cannot remember an economy flight left so entirely ignored and condescended to a point where I was verbally laughing. This is clearly a culture, not an exception. Let’s go through American’s marketing materials and square it with my actual experience.
American lists the following on their website for international flagship business class…
“Your Flagship® Business ticket gives you access to elevated amenities and services on international flights between the U.S. and Asia, Australia, Europe, New Zealand and South America.”
On an 8 hour flight, I was never once greeted with a “hello sir, welcome on board”, by name, or by anything other than “camera man” for taking a picture of the sunset on approach into New York around the 7 hour mark.
I was never offered a pre departure beverage, but managed to snag a lovely glass of water after an Office Space style “mmm, mmm excuse me, may I please have some water please”. There was no “sure, sir – here you go” either.
This may all seem unlikely but it’s true. The lukewarm hand towel service was offered with a grunt, and no reply at all when I thanked the crew member for actually leaving their seat. I left the “for actually leaving your seat” part out in real life. At that point, I still had hope.
I’ve never been in business class on any airline when a purser or member of the crew didn’t come through to welcome each person by name, or at least flash a big smile with a facetious “welcome”.
It usually happens when handing out a dining menu, but American has perfected the art of simply dumping one on your seat before you board so as to avoid ever being accused of creating a warm and welcoming environment. That’s what got me: this all just seemed so premeditated and normal for them.
When it came to meal service there was no “hello sir welcome on board, will you be joining us for a lovely meal today”. Instead, I was headed off with the preamble of “we don’t have this, that or this” and then an “and to drink?” I asked for a pinot noir and got a pinot grigio, and I never had enough eye contact to get that changed. I didn’t finish it.
To the best of my knowledge, the only meaningful service encounter was 7 hours in, after the third time the crew came over the loud speaker claiming that someone hadn’t returned their Bose headset. American charmingly collects all business class headsets 1 hour before landing, clearly when the best part of your movie or show is on.
Who, and I really mean this – who thinks that’s ok? What am I supposed to do, twiddle my thumbs for the last hour? Oh no, am I going to steal your AA branded headphones three generation old wired buds, and replace my immaculate Bose QC35’s which are wireless? I think not, Clouseau.
By this account and many others I’ve heard, passengers are searched and aisles are frantically patrolled. Some might draw comparisons to unpleasant dictatorships and that’s a rabbit hole we’ll avoid today now that we’ve planted the seed.
Perhaps, that’s actually the best thing about an inquisition being launched, it meant there were actually crew members to be found! They were there all along – who knew?! The funny thing: I can’t imagine anyone sitting in economy is ever effectively accused of theft, as the crew march up and down the aisle looking for clues. It was the only time I’ve wished to trade seats.
Onto the food, American claims the following on their website.
“Chef-inspired dining. Enjoy a multi-course meal, and pair it with our award-winning wines. Menus are inspired by big names in food like Sean Connolly and Maneet Chauhan on select flights.”
From my experience… the dogs at the Battersea kennel may have turned their nose up.
The starter was tiny cooked strips of salmon. Full stop. That’s it, there was no accompaniment, relish, sauce, or seasoning. If I had cats, it’s what I’d expect to feed them out of a can, if I fell on hard times. I’d try to at least mix in some real veggies, seasoning or something if times were ok. Carry on. My only guess was that someone read the instructions wrong, and cooked some already smoked salmon.
I was seated in 5J, the first row of the main business class cabin but was left to order last. I was told the fish was gone, the chicken was too, and I opted for the vegetable korma. It could arguably be called food, if a legal battle over whether or not it was food ever arose, but I’m not sure anyone could conclusively prove that it was food. I ate it, because what else are you going to do on an 8 hour flight?
This really is a great business class experience for people who are entirely anti social and do not eat. The seat is almost perfect, and up there with what’s on offer in the middle top tier of business class on other carriers.
American Airlines uses a Zodiac (Safran) Cirrus reverse herringbone seat on the 777-300ER (thanks for clarifying Gary Leff), which is similar to what’s offered by Cathay Pacific, with the American seat just a bit less refined. It’s very comfortable and spacious and provides excellent privacy in any seat, but windows offer particularly good space and angle away from the rest of the plane.
Power ports are well located at eye level and there’s great space to store stuff, near you, below you and elsewhere. Do note, you can’t have anything below your seat during take off. There’s both USB and US electric adaptors on American Airlines 777-300ER business class seat.
If there’s one flaw with this seat, it’s the headphone jack. It’s hidden away from view, which leaves most passengers wondering what they’re doing wrong. It’s about eye level, in the area where the crew inevitably stashed your amenity kit before flight, so as not to have to actually talk to you. Basically, see where the controls are, and then look around the corner in the cubby, to a place which you wouldn’t see with your eyes. Makes sense, right?
American uses Casper bedding which is perfectly nice and definitely also somewhere in the mid to upper tier of business class sleep amenities. Here’s what the best look like, by the way. I got solid rest on this flight, which was a relief because it was the only thing! If you’re in it for sleep alone, American shines on the 777-300ER with this seat quality.
The entertainment system on the 777-300ER is extremely good, but extremely frustrating. It’s good in the sense that American has it stocked to the max with great quality content. TV box sets, current big time blockbuster movie hits, classics and everything in between. I’d say it was one of the best in flight selections I’ve seen. Thank goodness for that, because entertainment wasn’t coming from anything else on this flight.
It’s frustrating in the sense that whoever designed this IFE system is an idiot, or at least someone who doesn’t test things they build. You’ll find yourself constantly tapping the wrong thing, only to need to go back, because the system uses an odd “up”, “down” method. It’s impossible to describe, but you’ll go “aaaah, this is what he meant” when you try it.
Shortly after boarding a lady boarded the plane appearing distraught. From the conversation she had with a crew member, she’d missed a flight, was tired and overwhelmed. She stated she was in row 35 and seemed to be angling for an upgrade and the crew member in my section was extremely kind and understanding, offering a hug and a glass of business class prosecco to calm down.
I thought to myself wow, this could be an A-list crew. But then as my tweet above will tell you, 45 minutes passed and I was left alone at my seat. That passenger received better service in the first 5 minutes than I did on the entire flight!
The lone benefit of sitting in 5J, the first row of the main business class cabin, was that I could hear the disgraceful AA crew member who most frequented my section talking **it about passengers the entire time. Apparently someone wanted to switch seats because there’s was wet, and the guy was being a real nuisance. The disdain for every request and level of “above it all” was outstanding, in the least outstanding way.
I was promised luxury meals, fine wines and enhanced service. In the end, I got one greasy landing, a nicer chair and an inquisition. Points for originality, I guess?