Ramon is the creator of Travelling Companion. He focuses on flight review, hotel reviews, and helping stretch your travel dollars, miles, and points further.
My first flight in American's First Class was short but impressive while the chaotic ground experience at PHL showed why you should avoid this aging airport for domestic flights.
Pros-Comfortable and Spacious Recliner Seats, Quick Boarding and Deplaning, Complimentary Drinks, Friendly Service, In-Seat Power, Two Windows, and Real Glasses
Cons-Chaotic Ground Experience, Long Wait on Arrival at DCA
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San Juan Condado Trip Overview
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American Airlines Boeing 737-800 Economy SJU-PHL Review
American Airlines A319 First Class PHL-DCA Review
PHL Terminal and Boarding
Our flight from San Juan landed about 20 minutes late in terminal A and as we made our way through Philadephia International Airport (PHL) to gate C22 the airport was a chaotic mess. There were a ton of people in the terminal and people seemed really angry. At first Christina and I were really confused and thought we landed in PHL during a really busy time. However, as we entered the B/C terminals we saw signs saying that the water was back on. It turns out that prior to us landing all of Philadelphia International Airport had been without water. The signs of irate flyers were everywhere. To try and avoid the choas we attempted to retreat to our usual airport hideaway on domestic flights the Admirals Club. However, we arrived at the Admirals Club and were told by the manger that it was closed due to unsanitary conditions. He said that it was unsafe to serve food and that the restrooms were in bad shape. When I went to the restrooms in the terminal there was a horrible stench as the toilets had not been flushed in what seemed to be hours. Christina reported that conditions were even worse in the women's restroom as women were forced to used restrooms that resembled porta pottys at a music festival. I have seen many things in our travels but this was certainly one of the worse ground experiences. As I said in my last review of the ground experience in PHL is an airport you should avoid if possible and this experience further reinforced that this aging airport is one to avoid.
Because of this chaotic experience I was ready to get on the plane and enjoy my first experience in American's First Class. We proceeded to the gate and boarded exactly on time at 8:45 pm for our 9:15 pm departure. We headed down stairs to board the plane and boarded with Group 1. It was the first time ever that I was the first person on the plane! This is definitely a nice feature of domestic First Class. It allows you to get your things stored in the overhead bin and settle in while other passengers board. We were greeted by a friendly check-in agent who didn't realize that boarding had begun and made a joke about us boarding early.
A319 and First Class Seats
Originally we were booked in economy but we were upgraded to First Class about 29 hours before the flight. As American Gold Elites we are entitled to upgrades based on availability on all flights less than 500 miles long, starting 24 hours before the flight. However, I have noticed that on two occasions when First Class was clearly not going to be full that we were in fact upgraded for a connecting flight in First Class more than 24 hours in advance. Since you are competing with all elites you would think that our chances of upgrades are low on these flights, however, Christina and I have had success as low level Gold elites on these short flights something I believe is due to the fact that we travel on off peak times, these are flights are so short that passengers are less likely to pay for an upgrade, and that there are multiple flights a day between hubs such as DCA and PHL. In fact we were upgraded so early that the system showed us in First Class but would not let us choose seats. This flight is short and American has a travel time of 1 hour 15 minutes to account for delays on the ground, take off, and landing, but the actual flight time can be less than 30 minutes.
American Airlines generally calls domestic business class flights within the United States First Class and these flights typically feature recliner seat. That was the case on this on this flight where the A319 featured eight recliner seats arranged in a 2-2 configuration. Christina and I chose the bulkhead seats on the right hand side of the plane 1D and 1F which have the benefit of being the first off of the plane. Like all of the First Class seats on the A319 these seats had 38 inches of pitch and 21 inches of width.
As I walked onto the plane I was honestly impressed by the First Class seats. The seats looked new without many signs of the wear and tear. I was also impressed by how comfortable the leather recliner seats were. I could easily sit in these on a transcontinental flight and feel comfortable. There was a blanket and in the middle armrest of each First Class seat, and there were AC power plugs and storage. During the flight Christina used this space to store and charge our electronics including phones and tablets. The power and storage were major pluses even on this short flight and it left me wondering how I was going to be able to adjust back to fighting for a working plug and overhead bin space in economy.
One final feature of the First Class that I appreciated was the presence of not only one but two windows in our row. I didn't spend anytime on this short flight watching the in-flight entertainment and instead talked with Christina and looked at the view outside the windows.
Drinks, Snacks, and Service
As I mentioned we were the first to board the plane and we were greeted by a friendly flight attendant who joked with us that they weren't ready for boarding. He asked us if he could get anything for us to drink as a pre-departure beverage and I ordered the "champagne" and Christina ordered the red wine. I thought the champagne, which was really sparkling wine, was okay and Christina enjoyed the red wine which is a complement coming from a Californian. The wine was served in plastic cups which looks cheap but is the normal American procedure for pre-departure beverages. It was really nice to be already settled in an enjoying a drink while other passengers were still scrambling to get settled and fighting for overhead bin space. Once we got up in the air the flight attendant gave us refills in real glasses with the American Airlines logo without us asking.
On flights shorter than 900 miles American Airlines with limited exceptions typically does not serve a meal. Our flight was only 119 miles, but we were offered choices from the snack basket by the flight attendant. Since this was our first time every picking, Christina asked for suggestions and he recommended that we try the stroopwaffel. So I chose the stroopwaffel and Christina chose the Chocolate Chip Granola Minis. We really enjoyed our snacks. I was honestly very surprised by how good the service was even on this short flight. If this was the standard service on American Airlines in domestic First Class, I understood why people were willing to pay for it. Sadly that impression would quickly be corrected on future American Airlines flights because of American Airlines inconsistent service and in-flight experience.
We landed at DCA 38 minutes early but ended up sitting on the runway for about 25 minutes which is a common experience when landing at DCA on American Airlines. Since there is limited gate space there is rarely an open gate upon landing early.
I have to give credit where credit is due and American Airlines impressed in First Class on this very short flight. We boarded the plane first and were first off of the plane. Moreover, we were served pre-departure drinks, onboard drinks in real glasses, good snacks, had friendly service, two windows, and in-seat power. On a short flight there isn't much more we could have wanted. While the ground experience at PHL was terrible, it ended up not overshadowing the great in flight experience. Unfortunately, this is flight was more of the exception than the rule in American Airline's domestic First Class as you will see in my forthcoming reviews.