I live in the Dallas area, and don’t often fly transcon flights. However, I recently needed to go to both LA and New York close to the same time, and I thought it would be fun to try American’s new Airbus A321”T” they are flying between JFK and both LAX and San Francisco.
I am an Executive Platinum AAdvantage member (American’s top-tier elite for the unitiated) so I can often, but not always, upgrade on a regular coach fare. I looked for the flight with the most available seats in business class, reasonably figuring that this would give me the best chance of upgrading. It was a midweek flight leaving LAX at 1 PM, arriving at JFK at around 10 PM local time.
If it’s not obvious, I am a typical top-tier elite member – very spoiled. Sitting in the back of the bus is for the great unwashed, not I. Seriously, no, I am not above sitting back there, and as I make lots of last-minute changes, I often wind up squashed in with everybody else. Plus since I own my business, travel costs come out of my pocket. No high-end business class fares for me.
So when you have the opportunity to take “AAdvantage” of the few perks you get with business travel these days, you grab it. Considering this was a five-hour flight and I was already very tired, I was REALLY hoping for the upgrade, to say the least.
When I got to LAX, the upgrade still wasn’t there, and I was pouting. To make things worse, the flight was listed an hour late due to weather in JFK. But about 45 minutes before the flight left the gate, the clouds parted, the sun shone, and the upgrade gods smiled on me. Business class it was, Seat 8F on the new A321.
American flies two different configurations of the 321 on AA flights (US Airways’ 321s are still separate). The “321T” is a three-class airplane that is used only for JFK to LAX or San Francisco, and they recently announced a two-class 321 for LAX to Miami and a few other transcon routes. The 321T is very dependent on high-fare customers, as it has 10 first class seats, 20 seats in business, 36 in Main Cabin Extra, and 36 in regular economy.
This is in contrast to the regular A321 that AA is starting to fly out of LAX, with 16 seats total in first, no business, and 36/136 in Main Cabin Extra and Coach, respectively. The regular A321 has 80 more seats on it than the 321T.
The business class configuration is a standard 2×2. According to SeatGuru, the width is 19” and the pitch is 75” to 78”. It was reasonably comfortable, and I was excited for the trip. I didn’t even mind what became a 90-minute ATC delay. We only spent about 25 minutes of that on the tarmac, as we delayed boarding.
Before boarding, the flight attendants came by with water, orange juice, or champagne. No offer of snacks or other drinks, but the delay wasn’t all that long. No amenity package in business; I’m not sure if there was one in first. Finally, it was our turn to go, and off we went.
After we settled into cruise, the flight attendants (two; I’m not sure if they were only for the business class cabin), came around with drinks and a menu. Pictures of the menu are shown below.
The food service consisted of a bowl of warm mixed nuts, a starter course, a choice of three entrees, and a dessert. There was also a light snack of fruits, packaged snacks, or a fresh-baked cookie at the end of the flight.
The warm nuts are one of my favorite things about AA’s premium class, and I really hope they keep them at the end of the merger. After the nuts, they brought the starter course, which was a slice of cold beef sirloin topped with a corn chowder. Tasty!
Next was a salad, with spinach and romaine lettuce and hearts of palm, strawberries, and pecans. I have taken a strict vow against eating green leafy vegetables and other healthy items, so I passed on it, but it looked good.
Next up, the main course. I chose the crusted chicken breast with mashed sweet potatoes. I must say the colors don’t really make your mouth water, all bland earth tones, but the chicken was quite tasty. The topping was crisp but not hard, and the chicken itself was tender enough to be cut with a fork.
The sweet potatoes were bland, but they were sweet potatoes, so it kind of goes with the territory. And the portion size was nice for an airplane. Plenty there to eat, even for a growing boy like me.
After they cleared away the main course, the flight attendants brought out a cart with desert – vanilla ice cream sundaes with choice of toppings plus whipped cream and nuts. I’m a classic kind of guy, and I had a chocolate sundae with the works. Really yummy.
During the meal, I took the opportunity to play with American’s in-seat video system. The good news? In business, they bring you a set of very nice noise cancelling Bose headphones. The bad news? The access to plug the damned things in is behind your head. You literally have to stand up, turn around, and fish around in the dark to find a way to put the three-prong plug in the slot — kind of a pain.
It works off a touch screen and there is also a handheld controller. There was a good selection of movies and videos, and some games. Plenty of entertainment for anybody. Seeing as I am a high-end business traveler with distinguishing tastes, I enjoyed watching the movie Wreck-it-Ralph as I had my dinner (if you don’t have kids you may not recognize the title, but it’s safe to say the producers didn’t bother going to Cannes).
I worked on some reports for a while after dinner, but I also wanted to try out the bed. All kidding aside, I may not be that picky about eating or entertainment, but I truly cannot sleep unless I am flat, and on my side. An overnight flight in coach is a nightmare for me. But on this flight I put the bed down with a little less than two hours left in the flight, and yes it is in fact fully flat.
A bit hard and rubbery, and the pillow is small, but for all that I drifted off, and would up sleeping for over an hour. And if I can sleep on this thing, anyone can.
In fact, I was sleeping so well that I never noticed if they came by with the promised snack and/or cookie service. I only woke up when they announced to prepare for landing.
All in all, a very nice experience. I enjoyed the flight obviously much more than I would have in coach. The only real downside is if you are on the window, and the person next to you lies down, you literally can’t get up and get out without waking them up.
- Fully flat bed that even I could sleep in
- Upgraded meals and selections over standard domestic first class
- Very nice entertainment system
- Steady flow of food….you could eat various courses and have that take much of the flight if you so chose
- Very awkward design to reach some of the controls and the headphone jack
- Only one tray table, and it’s not very large
- No access to seatback or other pockets to stow things like a laptop, cell phone, or iPad during takeoff and landing
- No access to aisle from the window without disturbing your seatmate
All in all, I enjoyed the heck out of the flight. But let’s face facts here – American did not equip this plane this way just to give free upgrades to whiny elite members. They did it to make money. The question is, can they do that with this plane, in this configuration?
Part 2 of this post will delve into the financial and economic aspects of the 321 on this route, and especially the three-class configuration with far fewer seats that American is using on LA and SF to JFK.
This story written by Peter Williams who is an AvGeek based in Dallas, Texas. Peter caught the airplane bug as young boy living in Lubbock, Texas, where on afternoons when the kids were fighting, his mother would drive them to the airport to watch the planes take off. 4 million miles later, Peter still likes going to the airport and watching the planes.