Ramon is the creator of Travelling Companion. He focuses on flight reviews, hotel reviews, and helping stretch your travel dollars, miles, and points further while traveling in comfort.
In this series of five reviews I focus on the experience flying American Airlines in First Class domestically and Business Class on flights to the Caribbean. The posts compare American Airlines First Class and Business Class across four different aircraft on medium-haul flights between 3-4 hours where meals are served.
American Airlines First and Business Class Reviews
American Airlines CRJ-900 SBA-DFW First Class Review
American Airlines 737-800 DFW-DCA First Class Review
American Airlines E-175 NAS-DCA Business Class Review
American Airlines E-175 DCA-MSY First Class Review
American Airlines A321 SJU-CLT Business Class Review
This was our first experience flying American Airlines mainline (non-regional operated) First Class. The experience came with multi-course hot meals, hot towel service, and very comfortable seats along with the bad service we have come to expect from American Airlines.
Pros-Wide and Well-Padded Seats, Great Legroom, Lots of Power at Every Seat, Good IFE with Remote, Blanket, Multi-Course Hot Meal, Hot Towel Service, and modern Admirals Club
Cons-Apathetic Service, Inconsistent Food Quality, Dated Departure Terminal
We landed about 30 minutes before our scheduled arrival on our flight from Santa Barbara (SBA) but spent about 20 minutes taxing because there was another aircraft at our gate. It was not a surprise that we had to wait for a gate at DFW because it is American Airlines largest hub with over 900 daily departures in summer 2019. While we waited for our gate to clear we at least had the opportunity for some cool plane spotting at DFW. As we rolled by the Qantas A380 I was in awe! Our regional jet looked like an ant compared to the whale of an A380. Christina and I both grew very excited for our upcoming First Class Honeymoon where were we would have an opportunity to fly twice on the A380.
After about 20 minutes of taxing we were finally assigned a new gate. After waiting for our gate checked bags on the jet-bridge we headed towards Terminal C for our connecting flight.
DFW Terminal C Admirals Club
Our flight from SBA arrived at Gate D 8 and our flight to Ronald Regan Washington National (DCA) departed from Terminal C so we took the SkyLink train. Once we exited the train I was surprised just how the dated Terminal C looked. I have flown through DFW several times and this was definitely the worse terminal. Terminal C had ugly flooring, poor lighting, and a dated look. This why I was not surprised when six months after our flight American Airlines and DFW announced an agreement to renovate terminal C in conjunction with building a sixth terminal (Terminal F).
After locating our gate we quickly headed to the Admirals Club located near gates 19/20 in Terminal C. This Admirals Club was a welcomed change from the dated terminal. As we entered the Admirals Club I noticed that it had a modern feel and art work which I enjoyed. We also found the club to be spacious and not crowded.
One interesting amenity of this club was the kids play room which was Universal Studios Orlando themed and was plastered with the minions.
We did not check out the food at the Admirals Club since we ate on our last flight and were about to get another meal on the flight to DCA. Overall, this was one of the nicest Admirals Clubs I had experienced topped only by the Admirals Club at LAX.
As our boarding time approached we headed over to Gate C37 for our flight. The gate area was fairly quiet and only one person was on the gate upgrade list and the flight ended up going out with two empty First Class seats. First Class was so light on this flight that one American Airlines employee cleared into First Class. We boarded first and as we boarded the flight I was stopped by the gate agent who asked that I put my bag into the sizer to make sure it could fit onboard. It ended up fitting into the sizer and were on our way. It annoys me how inconsistently American Airlines enforces their carry-on policy. I am often stopped by agents trying to size my bag and never have had a problem getting it to fit, however, I have seen passengers carrying on bags that obviously were not meant for the overhead bins but were never stopped by the gate agent.
Plane and Seats
On this flight we flew the Boeing 737-800 the most common plane flown by American Airlines. Because of the light load we were actually upgraded to First Class about 26 hours before our flight a full two hours before the Gold Elite upgrade window. Since were upgraded so early we weren't allowed to change seats and were not seated next to each other. However, after the upgrade window passed we changed seats and selected the bulkhead seats 3E and 3F. The 737-800 First Class is arraigned in a 2-2 configuration with about 20 inches of seat width and about 40 inches of pitch.
When I sat down I was immediately impressed by the seat which was wide with a ton of legroom, comfortable padding, and the best American Airlines seat I had experienced outside of the A321T. I particularly liked how comfortable the head padding was on this seat something which I find annoying on many other seats. Each seat had AC power and a USB charger which I really appreciated after my three hour CRJ-900 flight without in-seat power.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
When we sat down at our seats they contained a plastic wrapped blanket. I found the cabin temperate to be good on this flight so I did not use the blanket. Even though I didn't end up using the blanket it is a nice option for the times when the plane is chilly or a longer night time flight where I want to doze off. This 737-800 also contained seat-back in-flight entertainment (IFE) since it had not been retrofitted through American Airlines' project oasis which will result in less pitch and no seat back IFE even in First Class. The IFE system had a remote, contained more options than the streaming service I had experienced on my regional flight, and was much smoother since this plane was equipped with satellite internet. I really enjoyed using the remote since at the bulkhead seats the IFE screen is fairly far away. We ended up watching Oceans 8 on this flight which I found to be a fun film to watch with a traveling companion. I really like American Airlines' IFE system on this plane and it is sad that soon it will be removed from all Boeing 737-800s.
When we reached cruising altitude the flight attendant came around asking for our food and drink order. We had a choice between beef short rib and a falafel plate. I ordered the beef short rib and Christina ordered the falafel plate. About 30 minutes into the flight the flight attendant came around with a hot towel which was steaming but refreshing followed by warm mixed nuts and our drink orders. This was my first time having warm mix nuts or hot towel service on American Airlines and I really liked these aspects of the First Class service.
About one hour into the flight our multi-course meal service with real utensils began. The beef short ribs came with mac and cheese topped with green beans and a side salad. The short ribs were really good and the mac and cheese was average.
Christina's falafel plate came with falafel, toasted orzo, and quinoa along with a side salad. Christina found her meal overall unremarkable and the side salad bland. She felt that the falafel plate needed salt and pepper. Next the flight attendant came around with a choice of multigrain, white, or pretzel roll.
We found the bread quality to be average. I liked that the bread was served warm but it was a bit hard and dry. Finally, for desert we had a choice between a chocolate chip and ginger snap cookie. I chose the chocolate chip and Christina chose the ginger snap. They were both served warm and we really enjoyed them.
Overall, I really liked having a substantial multi-course meal on a three hour flight. The quality of our meals was mixed with some highlights such as the short rib and other parts such as the side salad which fell short.
Our service on this flight can best be described as apathetic. The flight attendant just did the minimum required and did not do so with a smile. One of the best examples of the apathetic service was the lack of a pre-departure beverage, something which is standard on all American Airlines First and Business Class flights. Despite having a light load in the First Class cabin and an early departure the flight attendant didn't serve any pre-departure beverages. Instead she decided to finish her dinner and use her iPhone. She was never rude but it seemed like she really didn't want to be on this flight. Unfortunately, I have found this to be the case on far too many American Airlines' fights even in First Class.
This flight delivered on many fronts including wide and comfortable seats, great legroom, multiple power options at each seat, a multi-course hot meal, hot towel service, and seat-back IFE with a remote. It showed American Airlines' domestic First Class potential. However, the food quality was inconsistent, American Airlines plans to remove the seat-back IFE, and American Airlines' apathetic service continued even in First Class. If I am flying in American Airlines in First Class then the 737-800 would be probably be my choice.
Ramon is the creator of Travelling Companion. He focuses on flight reviews, hotel reviews, and helping stretch your travel dollars, miles, and points further while traveling in comfort.
This flight showed American Airlines' ability to deliver a competitive domestic economy product too bad American Airlines is focused on making their economy product worse.
Pros-Relatively Smooth Boarding Process, Good IFE and Power, Well Padded Seats, Complimentary Alcohol in Main Cabin Extra , Early Arrival, Non-stop DCA-LAS service
Cons- Indifferent Service, Uncomfortable Bulkhead seat
Las Vegas Strip Trip Report
Las Vegas Strip Trip Overview
Aria Resort and Casino Deluxe Queen Room Review
Aria Resort and Casino Dining and Activities Review
Exploring the Las Vegas Strip
American Airlines Boeing 737-800 LAS-DCA Review
The Club at LAS
After passing through security at Las Vegas McCarran International (LAS) I took the train to the D Gates in Terminal 1 where all American Airlines flights depart. Terminal 1 has two lounges the American Express Centurion Lounge and The Club at LAS a Priority Pass lounge. Since I did not have access to the American Express Centurion Lounge at the time I headed to the Club at LAS. This was my second visit to this lounge and I left last time very unimpressed but I thought I would give the lounge one more chance and ended up regretting my decision.
Upon entering the lounge, I found a wait at the check-in desk driven by the fact that only one staff person was both checking in guests and working the bar. Once I entered the small space in this lounge I found it to be overcrowded and very hot. On this 101-degree day the lounge was sweltering. The lounge was hot, overcrowded, loud, and the snacks it offered were pathetic. Furthermore, the lounge did not have separate Wi-Fi, or bathrooms, and honestly made American Airlines' Admirals clubs look good. This lounge was by far the worse I have ever visited. It was so bad in fact that I left after about 10 minutes and decided that it was better to wait for my flight in the terminal.
Despite my terrible experience there is good news for Priority Pass holders flying through LAS. Since I visited the Club at LAS in 2018 it's Terminal 1 facility underwent a major renovation which tripled the size of the space. Looking at the pictures and description the space now features separate restrooms with showers, complimentary cocktails, and selection of hot and cold food.
As boarding approached I headed to gate D7 for my flight to Ronald Regan Washington National Airport (DCA). American Airlines operates the only non-stop flight between LAS and home airport DCA. When I arrived at the gate it was very crowded and it was clear that this was going to be a full flight.
I liked the gate agents working this flight. The gate agents had numerous requests including changing seat assignments so that passengers could sit together and they tried hard to accommodate these requests. Moreover, despite a crowded gate area and a five minute late start to boarding the gate agents actually enforced the boarding groups and, on several occasions, stopped passengers from boarding in the wrong groups. As an elite member I appreciated this and it really made the boarding process a lot smoother. I boarded the plane in Group 4 and was one of the first passengers on board in economy.
Plane and Seats
Thanks to my American Airlines Gold elite status I was able to choose a Main Cabin Extra seat at check-in and I chose seat 8D. However, shortly after boarding I switched to 7D a bulkhead seat with more legroom than the standard 34 inches in Main Cabin Extra to allow a passenger to sit with his wife. While I appreciated having more legroom I did not like the bulkhead seat on this plane because the tray table is inside the armrest reducing the seat width by about 1 inch. In addition, the bulk head seats on this plane had airbag seats belts which felt uncomfortable and restricted my movement. I would recommend anyone flying in Main Cabin Extra on this plane choose a seat in row 8.
This plane had large overhead bins, shared AC power between seats, and USB power at each seat below the in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen. I also was flying on a relatively new 737-800 that had not yet been retrofitted by American's Project Oasis. This meant that had several advantages over other American 737-800s including: 1) an additional inch of seat pitch in Main Cabin (31 vs. 30) and Main Cabin extra (~34 vs. ~33), 2) seat-back IFE, 3) comfortable and more padded seats, and 4) larger bathrooms in economy. I really appreciated American's non-oasis 737-800 cabin and think it is quite competitive for domestic flights. It is sad that as the Project Oasis retrofits continue, American Airline's 737-800s will become less comfortable and less competitive.
The IFE system on this plane was very responsive and featured an array of options including movies, tv shows, and music. On this flight I watched both The Darkest Hour and Game Night which were both entertaining. I really like American Airlines IFE and usually find it more than sufficient for a domestic flight. However, this was my tenth American Airlines flight in the span of less than two months so I was running out of movie options.
Main Cabin Extra Beverage and Snack Service
As a competitive response to Delta's Comfort Plus American Airline's announced a few new benefits for Main Cabin Extra passengers in June 2018. These benefits included Group 5 boarding, dedicated main cabin extra overhead bins, and complimentary beer, wine, and spirits. I experienced the complementary alcohol benefit since I flew shortly after the implementation of these new benefits. When the beverage and snack service started, about 1 hour into my flight, I was served a Biscoff cookie and I ordered a Sam Adams Boston Lager, which would have been $7 dollars and now is $8 in the Main Cabin. The flight attendant never asked for a credit card and instead just looked at the label above my seat to confirm I was sitting in main cabin extra. The beer was served very cold which I appreciated. I really enjoyed this benefit and think it is positive for American Airlines elites. As a Gold elite the vast majority of the time I am able to select a Main Cabin Extra seat at check-in allowing me to take advantage of these additional benefits.
The flight attendants passed through the cabin again later in the flight for a second beverage and snack service. They served pretzels and offered water to passengers. During this four-and-a-half hour domestic flight I had a few opportunities to interact with the flight attendants and thought they provided indifferent service. The flight landed 2 minutes early into DCA and I really appreciated the ability to have a non-stop flight to DCA from LAS.
I liked my flight on American Airline's non-oasis 737-800. On this relatively long domestic route I was able to have a non-stop flight to my home airport, a smooth boarding process, AC and USB power, large overhead bins, well-padded extra legroom seats, complimentary alcohol in Main Cabin Extra, and an early arrival. Despite the indifferent service and uncomfortable bulkhead seat American Airlines offered a solid and competitive domestic economy product on this flight. However, it is sad that as American Airlines progresses with Project Oasis the airline will make economy on the 737-800 worse and lose some of the competitive advantages it had with its domestic economy product.
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
San Juan Condado Trip Report
San Juan Condado Trip Overview
American Airlines Boeing 767-300 Economy PHL-SJU Review
AC Hotel San Juan Condado
Avianca VIP Lounge
American Airlines Boeing 737-800 Economy SJU-PHL Review
American Airlines A319 First Class PHL-DCA Review
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.