Review: American Airlines Flagship Service First Class New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO)

American Airlines 179
New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO)
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
Depart: 10:30am
Arrive: 1:45pm
Duration: 6h 15m
Aircraft: Boeing 767-200
Seat: 3D

American currently has their first class cabin on the flagship transcontinental routes (such as LAX-JFK or SFO-JFK) arranged in a 2-1-2 fashion. This means that the best seats for solo travelers are the middle D seats. I was debating between 2D and 3D, but a very friendly and knowledgable lounge attendant recommended that I go with 3D as it’s not the bulkhead and usually has less cross traffic (people sometimes use the space in front of the middle seats to get between aisles).

My seat, 3D

My seat, 3D

Seats 3A and 3B for comparison

Seats 3A and 3B for comparison

Plenty of leg room

Plenty of leg room

Seat controls

Seat controls

This lounge attendant also explained to me something I was curious about: my flight was selling only 1 first class seat, but the seat map showed only two assigned seats. She told me that the flight was pretty heavily oversold in both economy and in business, but the first class cabin on these routes is never oversold, so in a sense, the first class seats were used as a buffer for overselling business. And when I boarded the plane, they did need to ask for volunteers, and the first class cabin was filled with only 2 passengers who had paid for first–myself included–and 8 op-ups (there are no complimentary upgrades on this route). (Perhaps a note for people looking for oversold flights: my check-in agent also remarked that the early morning flights from JFK to SFO were constantly oversold, and she didn’t know why revenue management kept on doing it.)

This meant that instead of a nearly empty first class cabin, it was completely full. What was also kinda interesting was that both the other paid first class passenger and myself pre-ordered special meals, but only mine was actually boarded onto our flight. I’d be super angry if I were him, considering that they catered 8 first class meals for people who weren’t even in first, but they couldn’t manage to cater his kosher meal request…

Onto the flight itself: At each seat was a very large pillow and a nice blanket, which was more a genuine duvet than the staticky “blankets” that I’m used to on other domestic carriers like US Airways. The flight attendants served pre-departure beverages, and in general, I’d describe the service as adequate. They seemed to do what was required of them, and they were decently friendly, but I honestly felt like I received better service in coach on Lufthansa than I did in first class on this flight. It was quite similar to the service I received on United Business flying from SFO to ICN (although thankfully there were no noticeable body odor problems from the flight attendants).

Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants distributed the in-flight entertainment systems, which were Galaxy Tabs and noise-cancelling headphones. I appreciated that the headphones were truly noise-cancelling, but one problem I had with the entertainment system was that it was supposed to remain plugged in while in use, but the plug got extremely hot. So hot that I almost burned myself when removing it.

In-flight entertainment system

In-flight entertainment system

While I ordered a special meal, I did take pictures of the normal menu.

DSC02909DSC02910DSC02911

My VGML special meal was okay, but it was simply a business class vegetarian meal served in first. I would have preferred the normal salad from the first class menu served without the chicken, as opposed to the kinda gross salad I was served as a starter. Seriously, who puts such contentious ingredients in an airplane meal? Capers, olives, artichokes, and mushrooms?

VGML first course

VGML first course. Can you spot the non-vegan items?

VGML main

VGML main

The main was edible but dry for an attempt at chana masala. And the carrots were actually inedible. Somehow, they managed to make the carrots mushy yet unchewable. That’s scientific innovation right there.

/startveganrant
My biggest problem with the meal, though, was that not everything in the meal was actually vegan. The vegetarian meal for American is coded as VGML, which is a vegan meal on pretty much every single airline (VLML is often used for vegan lacto-ovo meal, or what people normally consider vegetarian). But the margarine, while not butter, contained whey, which is an animal by-product, and I’m also pretty darn sure that the ranch dressing was not vegan either. Also, why did the cookie have to be wheat-free as well? Vegan baked goods are hard enough to get right as is, but adding gluten-free to the mix makes everything taste like cardboard.
/endveganrant

I tried to get some sleep on the plane and was mostly unsuccessful, but that wasn’t due to lack of seat comfort. Although it’s technically a recliner seat, the seats recline very far back, and you have plenty of room to stretch your legs. I’d probably prefer a seat like this to some of the angle-flat seats I’ve flown.

Seat in reclined position

Seat in reclined position

Is first class worth the premium over business class on these routes? Maybe if you’re taking the red eye. But based on the flight product alone, I don’t think the in-flight experience is significantly better to justify the premium. Considering the Flagship Check-In Experience and access to the Flagship Lounge, it’s perhaps more worth it. And of course, I’m more than happy to fly in first as a free one-way 😀

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