American Airlines Boeing 737-800 Economy San Juan (SJU)-Philadelphia (PHL) Review
Ramon is the creator of Travelling Companion. He focuses on flight review, hotel reviews, and helping stretch your travel dollars, miles, and points further.
An inexperienced crew of flight attendants delivered the worse service I had ever experienced in Economy on American Airlines, handled a passenger emergency poorly, and this flight experience showed that American Airlines needs to improve its communication.
Cons-Poor Emergency Communication, Inexperienced Flight Attendants, Poor IFE, Inadequate Wi-Fi, Barely Functional Power Plugs, Poor Plane Maintenance, and Poor Delay Communication
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Avianca VIP Lounge
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Terminal and Boarding
After we left the Avianca VIP lounge we headed to C4 which was a short walk from the lounge. This is where the poor experience on this flight began. This flight ended up being emblematic of American Airlines’ poor communications, inconsistent IFE, and bad service. When we reached the gate the flight was delayed by 15 minutes but they waited until the scheduled boarding time to announce the delay. This is one of the frustrating aspects of flying with American Airlines, the airline does a bad job communicating delays. I have had many flights where the plane is not at the gate at the scheduled boarding time yet American Airlines still shows the same boarding time and departure time. In this case, I had no clue what caused the delay because American Airlines never communicated what caused the delay and never updated the boarding time. If we knew the flight was going to be delayed and the new boarding time we could have waited in the lounge instead of standing at the now crowded gate.
As we boarded the flight attendants called groups 2 and 3 and no passengers boarded. This has been my experience on a leisure routes such as San Juan because not as many elites fly these routes especially on the weekend and because of less competition, they are much more likely to be upgraded to Business Class and therefore board with Group 1. We were the first to board in Group 4 and the gate agent asked my last name which I had never experienced before and I assumed was due to computer issues.
Plane and Seats
The Boeing 737-800 is the most common plane type in American Airlines' fleet and the airlines had 304 of the planes at the end of 2018 so it is likely if you fly domestically you will eventually fly this plane type. The plane has 3-3 seating in economy and in the version we flew had 114 seats in economy (31 inches of pitch) and 30 in main cabin extra (34 inches of pitch). We were seated in row 8 of Main Cabin Extra and lucked out by not having another passenger in our set of three seats.
The interior of the plane was much newer than the 767 we flew over from Philadephia but after getting seated we realized that it still had issues. Each set of three seats shared two plugs located below the seats. While the plugs actually worked, which isn't always the case on American Airlines, they were so loose that they were nearly useless. Every time I plugged in the phone charger it fell out. The only way I could keep my plug in was to hold it in firmly with the hand which I quickly grew tired of doing and I eventually just gave up. If American Airlines insists on passengers bringing on their own in-flight entertainment then it must make sure that all of the power plugs work.
However, the non-functioning power plugs were not the end of issues with the plane. When I went to use the bathroom I noticed that one of the seats in the last row on one side was completely broken and unusable. This demonstrated the extent of American Airlines maintenance issues on this plane and was symbolic of there fleet-wide maintenance issues.
This version of the 737-800 did not have seat back in-flight entertainment (IFE) and instead had overhead screens. However, American Airlines is so opposed to seat-back entertainment on domestic flights that they are taking out screens already installed on Boeing 737-800s. Instead their solution is to offer streaming entertainment. American Airlines typically uses the overhead screens to show the safety video, announcements, and stream entertainment. The IFE system had numerous issues during our flight which began right after departure. The flight attendants attempted to screen the safety video on the IFE and the entire system malfunctioned so they had to do the safety demonstration manually. Eventually the screens started to work and they screen a movie I had no interest in watching.
I could have blocked out the bad movie if the streaming entertainment was working or if I could listen to music on my phone. However, as I mentioned earlier that was a major problem on this flight because the power plugs barely functioned. To compound the problem when I logged onto the streaming IFE it was not working because, just like on our flight to Puerto Rico, American Airlines utilized a plane with GoGo internet, which also provides the streaming IFE, and only works in the continental United States. This was very frustrating and unfortunately is the case on many American Airlines narrow body jets sent to Latin America and the Caribbean.
Service and In-Flight Emergency
Typically, it is difficult to judge service in the economy cabin because of limited interaction during flight but on this flight I experienced the worse service I have experienced in an American Airlines economy cabin. About one hour into the flight, on this four hour flight, the flight attendants still had not begun drink service. Instead the flight attendants were chatting in the forward galley. Finally, when the drink service began the flight attendant did what I thought to be impossible and messed up drink service in economy. First, American Airlines generally offers a choice between cookies and pretzels. Not complicated at all I know but somehow we were not given any choice and the flight attendant just handed us both pretzels despite the fact that he had a lot of cookies left and offered them later. Second, he served Christina the wrong drink and never asked me what I wanted to drink. Christina asked for a Ginger Ale and he asked in response, Sprite? Christina once again said Ginger Ale and since he had completely ignored me I told him I would like apple juice and he asked, instead of the Sprite? I said no and he handed Christina a Sprite anyways. As he walked away I had a puzzled look on my face since this was the first time I have seem a flight attendant mess up an economy drink service. This particular flight attendant was young and seemed very inexperienced and it showed me just how much American Airlines needs to work on its service training. Overall, all of the crew seemed very young and inexperienced and unfortunately this came into play in a much more important way than the meal service.
With about one and a half hours left in flight we began to experience turbulence and a passenger pressed the flight attendant call button. The flight attendant, who was seated because of the turbulence, asked the passenger to press the button again if it was an emergency and the passenger pressed it again. It turned out that a passenger felt light headed and fainted in the middle of the flight. The flight attendants asked if there was anyone with medical training onboard and two passengers responded and went over to help. At one point the flight attendants seemed to be in a state of panic unsure what to do and ran to get blankets and talked to each other in a nervous tone. The panic from the flight attendants made passengers very nervous. At one point the captain even came out to check on the sick passenger. Several passengers asked what was going on and if we would need to divert the flight. However, through this whole incident there was no communication to the passengers from the flight attendants or the captain. None of the passengers knew what was happening and at one point in the middle of this medical emergency, a flight attendant got into a verbal altercation with a passenger. Eventually, the flight attendant went over to apologize to the passenger. The was the American Airlines crew on this flight dealt with the emergency really showed me that American Airlines needs to improve its communication in emergency situations and its training. In the end we landed in Philadelphia 17 minutes late.
American Airlines failed in all phases of this flight and this my first review where I have nothing positive to say. American Airlines failed on multiple fronts including in communications, training, maintenance, service, and in-flight entertainment. This airplane was poorly maintained and it showed with the barely functional power plugs, broken seat and malfunctioning overhead IFE screen. The communicated the delay poorly and failed to keep passengers up-to date during an in-flight medical emergency. Worst of all the airline sent a very inexperienced and inadequately trained crew on this flight. This was my worse flight in economy on American Airlines and the airline really needs to focus on improving its communication and training. This flight began the process of me questioning my loyalty to American Airlines.
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