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 flight had the worse airline meal I had ever eaten in First, Business, or Economy class and it is embarrassing that American Airlines delivered an experience this bad on a three and a half hour flight.
Pros- Freshly Upholstered and Comfortable Seats
Cons- Barely Edible Food, Bad Drink Service, No USB or AC Power Plugs, No Seat Back Entertainment, Limited Wi-Fi and Streaming Entertainment
Plane and Seats
We left a packed Avianca VIP Lounge, which I have previously reviewed, at San Juan (SJU) airport and headed to Gate C4 for our departure. We were upgraded to Business Class in advance on this flight using our 500 miles upgrades. We boarded quickly with other Business Class passengers and as we boarded I was impressed by the updated upholstery. We were seated in the bulkhead seats 1D and 1F which had 36 inches of pitch and 21 inches of width on this version of the A321.The seats seemed new and had a nice comfortable head rest.
Once we settled into our seats our positive impression quickly faded as we scrambled to look for power plugs for our phones. The search was for naught as we did not find any USB or AC power plugs. I couldn't believe that American Airlines would refurbish the seats on the plane but not add power plugs so I confirmed with the flight attendant serving Business Class. She confirmed that the plane indeed did not have power plugs and said the plane was "not an American Airlines original". She meant that this is a legacy US Airways plane which American Airlines acquired during the 2015 merger with US Airways. These planes did not have in-seat power plugs and by the comment I assumed that this flight attendant was likely a legacy American Airlines flight attendant. The fact that this was a legacy US Airways plane made sense since we were flying to a legacy US Airways hub in Charlotte (CLT) and is a good reason to avoid many legacy US Airways hubs including CLT and Philadelphia (PHL). After resigning to the fact that we were not going to have power for the entire flight I went back into my bag to see if I could pull out my tablet or a book but the overhead bin was stuck. After trying to open the bin several times without success I asked for the flight attendant's help and after she was unsuccessful another flight attendant came over and was finally able to open the bin. After I was seated passengers continued to board and the flight attendants grew nervous that the flight would be delayed because the catering had not yet arrived. Finally, the catering arrived and our flight ended up departing nine minutes early.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
Waiting at our seats upon boarding was a thin blanket which I ended up not using on this flight. It seemed to be the same blanket American Airlines offers in First Class on domestic flights. Unlike the 737-800 I flew from Dallas to Washington D.C. this plane had GoGo ground based Wi-Fi which does not turn on until the plane reaches 10,000 feet. Because the plane also did not have a seat back in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen we needed the Wi-Fi to activate before watching any IFE. However, once the plane reached 10,000 feet I tried to connect and could not connect since the vast majority of Latin America and the Caribbean are outside of GoGo ground based Wi-Fi range. This was the same problem I had on an earlier flight from San Juan. I was again frustrated that American Airlines was using a plane for a three and a half hour flight that was not equipped with seat back entertainment, in-seat power, and that had IFE that did not work for the majority of the flight. The IFE finally functioned with about hour and half remaining in flight. I turned it on briefly to browse the IFE options but I was still frustrated by the lack of in-seat power plugs.
Food and Drinks
The entire food and drink experience on this flight was terrible. It started on the ground when we were not served any pre-departure drinks because of the late arriving catering. I overheard the flight attendants discussing whether they should serve a pre-departure drink, however, they decided not to do so because the ice from the previous flight had melted and they only had juice and water. Once the catering arrived the flight attendants were more focused on departing on time because of American Airlines strategic push. The flight attendants ended up spending all of their time putting away the catering instead of taking care of passengers. About 20 minutes after takeoff the Business Class flight attendant distributed hot towels and took drink orders. After the drink orders the flight attendant brought around our drinks along with warm nuts. We ended up ordering red wine which was okay.
As we waited for the flight attendant to come around for meal order we smelt the scent of burning bread in the galley. The flight attendant didn't return to get meal orders until about 45 minutes after takeoff. This was the longest I could remember waiting for a meal order on any Business or First Class flight. The flight attendant started meal selection from back which meant we ended up picking last. On this flight American Airlines was serving dinner and the options for other passengers were a choice between the beef filet or Southwest lasagna. By the time the flight attendant reached us the only remaining option was the Southwest lasagna. I was very annoyed since I wanted the beef filet, however, Christina and I went ahead and took the Southwest lasagna. About 1 hour into the flight the food was finally served. Despite ordering the same dish Christina and I received different sides. I was served two salads while Christina was served a salad with a side of Indian flavored chicken which did not fit the Southwest lasagna theme at all.
Christina suspected that she was served this chicken dish because she asked if the lasagna had any meat. Also, on the side of our meal was a hard white bread which was unremarkable.
The first salad which Christina and I were both served came with butter lettuce, cranberries, and arugula. Christina and I agreed the butter lettuce was really bad but she did enjoy the cranberries. My second salad was served with arugula, tomatoes, and parmesan cheese. The second salad was even worse than the first. The ball of parmesan cheese had no flavor and the tomatoes were disgusting. I mostly left both salads untouched and moved on to the main dish the Southwest lasagna. The lasagna had cheese, corn, and was topped with what tasted like sriracha sauce. I usually love lasagna but this was barely edible and I can easily say this was the most disgusting dish I had ever been served on an airplane. Who puts sriracha sauce on lasagna? The meal service ended with a warm chocolate chip cookie which I usually look forward to on American Airlines but thsi time was served a little hard.
Overall, this was the worse meal I have been served in any class on an airplane and it is embarrassing that American Airlines would serve this meal to anyone especially Business Class customers.
The Business Class flight attendant on our flight certainly tried hard but seemed to be in over her head. This started from the minute we walked on the plane where she and the other flight attendant seemed really nervous about departing late and focused more on this issue which was mostly out of their hands instead of serving the passengers. The manner in which she talked about the plane not being an American Airlines original showed her frustration with the airline's product. After take off she was very slow taking food and drink orders and delivering food. Once the meal service was complete she was slow to clear away dishes and empty glasses. At one point we waited an hour for her to clear our empty glasses. When the flight attendant heard us complaining to each other about the meal and saw that our food was barely eaten she apologized and offered us compensation. American Airlines rolled out a compensation program in 2018 which flight attendants can use onboard called iSolve and it was my first experience with this system. As Gold elites Christina and I ended up with 7,500 miles because of our issues with the food which I thought was fair compensation. The flight attendant also sent us home with a bottle of wine as an apology. I really appreciated that the flight attendant tried hard to make up for all of the issues on this flight and I gave her a one of our outstanding service coupons for her effort. We ended up talking and she told me that flight attendants constantly send American Airlines management notes about all of the issues but management doesn't listen to staff. Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of a bigger problem at American Airlines where management doesn't listen to employee or passenger feedback and leaves employees apologizing for the airline. It is clear that American Airlines needs to work on staffing for these flights and service training for flight attendants to improve the passenger experience.
The comfortable and newly upholstered seats were not enough to make up for the many problems on this flight. The lack of any seat-back IFE on this flight was compounded by the lack of any power plugs for the entire flight and streaming IFE for the vast majority of the flight. The food on this flight was disgusting and added to an embarrassing Business Class experience from American Airlines. Furthermore, the staff on this flight were overwhelmed and the Business Class flight attendant was left having to apologize for American Airlines embarrassing experience. My advice is to do your best to avoid lasagna and the legacy US Airways A321 when flying on American Airlines.
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 trans-Atlantic flight to London-Heathrow was one of the worst flights I have taken and showed that American Airlines needs to retire the A330-300s. Pros- Lots of leg room and a quick boarding. Cons-Horrible food, old plane, old and unresponsive in-flight entertainment, and cold service.
Trip Overview: European Adventures 2018
Flight Review: American Airlines A330-300 Economy CLT-LHR
Hotel Review: London Marriott Regent's Park
Food in London
Flight Review: British Airways A319 Economy LGW-BCN
Hotel Review: AC Hotel Irla Barcelona
Train Review: Renfe Clase Turista Barcelona-Valencia
Exploring Life in Valencia
Exploring Life in Barcelona
Flight Review: American Airlines 777-200 Economy BCN-JFK
Flight Review: American Airlines A321T Business Class Seats JFK-DCA
We had a tight connection for our flight to London so we had no time to check out the Admirals Club in Charlotte. Our flight from Washington D.C. was scheduled to arrive at 5:15 pm but ended up arriving about 13 minutes early. However, we still had a tight connection for our flight to London which began boarding at gate D11 while our flight from DCA landed at gate B5 across the airport.
Charlotte does not have an airport train so this meant that we had to sprint through the airport to our gate. Thankfully because of our Gold elite status with American Airlines we were seated in row 8 on our connecting flight and were able to quickly deplane and sprint across the airport to our gate. We arrived at our gate completely out of breath and having dodged numerous passengers in the terminal to find out that boarding hadn't commenced. Four minutes later boarding began and we boarded with Group 4 and were on the plane.
Plane and Seats
We boarded the plane through the second door on the left side of the plane. We were on the plane and in our seats in about two minutes the fastest boarding process I have ever experienced. This was due to the fact that we had the bulkhead seats 8A and 8B on the left side of the plane and immediately to the right of the boarding door.
This flight continued our 100% streak of free main cabin extra seats as American Airlines Gold elites. Typically these seats are half off at booking and free at check-in for Gold elites. I thought that our steak would end on this flight because there are only 16 main cabin extra seats on American Airlines A330-300s and there were no main cabin extra seats available at check-in. However, about a few hours before boarding two main cabin extra seats opened and we upgraded our seats to Main Cabin Extra.
The A330-300 cabin is set up in a 2-4-2 configuration in economy and we were able to score one of the two seats together on the left side of the plane which was great for us as couple. Even better these seats had about 36 inches of pitch compared to the standard 31 inches in economy on the A330-300. This was great for our nearly eight hour flight to London. In fact the legroom was so good that I was able to cross my legs and even get up and stretch during this flight.
Our seats featured USB power plugs in the armrest and on the setback screen which has to be stowed during takeoff and landing in the bulkhead seats. Despite the extra legroom there were two big downsides to our seats. First, the armrests were immovable and this ended up being very uncomfortable for sleeping. Second, the proximity to the galley meant more light and noise.
The cabin also featured a flight map in middle bulkhead of row 8. This map displayed information on the flight including the plane's location, remaining flight time, along with departure and arrival city time. As you can see in the photo below the A330-300 definitely is showing its age. The seats and the bulkhead had marks all over.
I had significant issues sleeping on this flight and only managed about 30 minutes of sleep on the nearly eight hour flight. I typically cannot sleep on planes but this plane made the flight experience even worse. As a disclaimer Christina managed to sleep nearly six hours on this flight. The plane made a loud hum throughout the flight and the warm temperate of the cabin made it more difficult to go to sleep. I tried to use my noise cancelling headphones to block out the plane noise and my eye mask to filter the light coming from the galley but for the vast majority of the flight was unsuccessful. The departure time for the flight, about 6 pm, also did not help my sleep and in the future I will try to schedule a later departure time in an attempt to improve my sleep. Unfortunately, the issues with the plane were not just cosmetic and extended to the in-flight entertainment system.
The in-flight entertainment had a selection of movies, tv shows, live television, music, and video games. American utilizes the same system on many of it's trans-continental flights and I thought that this selection was even more comprehensive than those flights. However, at times the system was completely unresponsive and during the flight I couldn't load any of the video games. The system functioned so poorly that a one point the flight attendants shut down and restarted the entire system. The touchscreen was old and very difficult to use. I found it cumbersome to scroll through the selection and the content loading very slowly. Despite the comprehensive selection this was one of the worse in-flight entertainment systems I have seen on a plane and it made my lack of sleep even more difficult to bear.
Dinner service began about 30 minutes after takeoff and the flight attendants started at the front of the cabin which meant we were served first. Separate food and drink carts went down both aisles. For dinner we were offered a choice between chicken and pasta. To drink we were offered a choice of soft drinks and a selection of complementary beer and a choice between red and white wine. On flights to Europe and select international destinations American offers free wine and beer in the main cabin.
I chose the pasta dish and a glass of red wine. The pasta was served with a salad, olive oil and vinegar dressing, bread, a cheese wedge, crackers, and a caramel brownie. I must say that this was one of the worse meals I have ever had and by far the worst on an airplane. The salad was extremely bland with lettuce, shredded carrots, and no cheese. The wine was the worst red wine I have ever had. Christina described it as sharp and terrible. The pasta was a bland and flavorless excuse for pasta. The brownie was thick and dry. The only thing which was decent was the gruyere cheese with bread. I appreciate that American Airlines still offers complementary meals on transatlantic flight, however, I wish I has skipped this one.
I appreciated that dinner service started quickly after takeoff since this allows passengers to maximize sleep on this relatively short night time transatlantic flight. However, this is about the only positive thing I can say about the service on the flight. The flight attendants were cold.
One example of this was my interaction with the lead flight attendant when I attempted to go to use the business class bathroom during the meal service. Because of the poor design of the A330 the nearest economy bathroom on the plane was about 16 rows away from behind row 24. I have seen passengers on domestic American Airlines flights utilize the First Class restroom on numerous occasions without any issue if the aisle was blocked with the service cart. However, on this flight as I stepped into the business class lavatory I was strongly reprimanded and told to use the lavatory in the back of the cabin by the lead flight attendant. When she realized the dinner service was underway and the aisle blocked she offered to have the flight attendants stop service and bring the cart back to the front of the aisle to let me use the economy restroom. I said no thank you and proceeded back to my seat.
I was absolutely in the wrong here for not using the economy lavatory and it is her job to enforce the rules, however, the sharp rebuke that I received from her that really disappointed me and was unnecessary. There is no need to be rude to someone just trying to use the lavatory. Also, I did wonder would she really prefer to stop the entire meal service and further delay passenger's sleep to stop my from using the business class lavatory which had no special amenities?
On approach to London we circled the airport several times likely due to the significant amount of traffic generated by the early arrivals to London Heathrow. We landed in London at 6:45 am 30 minutes ahead of our scheduled arrival.
This flight showed American Airlines equipment at its worse. As a part of the merger with U.S. Airways American Airlines inherited many subpar planes, including the A330-300s, which primarily fly out of former U.S. Airways hubs. The A330-300s have an average age of about 18 years and definitely are showing their age. The poor equipment coupled with the cold service on this flight led to one of the worse flights I have ever had. Thankfully American Airlines plans to retire these planes by the end of 2020. Until this time I would recommend that you avoid flying an American Airlines A330-300 on a long haul route.