American Airlines Airbus A321T business class – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
It is no secret that true international-style first class service is quickly becoming an endangered species. Airlines like American and United are either eliminating or drastically reducing the number of three-class aircraft they operate, but a few exceptions remain. On American, lie-flat first class can still be found on the flagship Boeing 777-300ER, unrefurbished 777-200ERs, and also the subfleet of Airbus A321T’s operating the premium transcontinental routes.
Occasionally, American will operate a three-class aircraft on different and unexpected routes. When that happens, savvy passengers in the know (that’ll be you in just a few minutes) can fly business class for the price of economy, or maybe even true first class if they’re lucky enough. That’s exactly what happened to me on a flight between Boston and New York’s JFK Airport.
The American A321T at JFK – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
Rather than have the aircraft sit all day (an aircraft on the ground doesn’t make any money), American occasionally schedules the A321T to operate between JFK and Boston or Dallas, and the 777-200ER between various hub cities. When I noticed one of my business trips to Boston happened to coincide with one of these turns, I immediately booked the flight.
When American operates a three-class aircraft on a non-standard route, business class is often available to anyone booked in Economy. The seats are right there on the seat map when booking, but how many people would even think about clicking on a business class seat when booked in Economy? Not many. At some point before the flight, Business Class was locked down to elite status passengers or full fare Y (economy) ticket holders, but I was in before the cut. Oh, I almost forgot to mention. If I wanted a Main Cabin Extra seat instead of my business seat, I would have had to pay extra.
A6-LRE, a 777-237LR, loading up at LAX for the long flight back to Abu Dhabi – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
“That was the bulliest experience I ever had. I envy you your professional conquest of space.”
Thing is, Teddy Roosevelt never flew Etihad. Guy missed out. If a small biplane could impress our only president to ever ride a moose, I think the sheer awesomeness of Etihad would likely have left him a gibbering fool!
AirlineReporter Senior Correspondent Jacob Pfleger flew Etihad’s first class product back in the days when it was still called “Diamond First Class.” It was amazing, but with the introduction of the Facets of Abu Dhabi scheme and removal of the word diamond, Etihad has taken it even further. Out of a sense of curiosity and jealousy, a need to travel to South Africa, and a desire to best Jacob, I found a good fare from Los Angeles to Johannesburg that would let me put Etihad to the test on their longest pair of flights. I flew from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi and back, the route that Etihad purchased their 777-200LR fleet from Air India specifically to launch.
The suite was too long to fit its entirety in my 14mm lens! – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
Now, when these planes came from Air India, they were in legendary Air India style. Missing parts, missing documents, pretty much close to the axe; the aircraft were not taken care of. Worse, Air India had decided to purchase the auxiliary fuel tanks from Boeing that were necessary for their dream routes to the U.S. West Coast that will only materialize this year (maybe). Etihad and Boeing worked for months to bring these aircraft up to scratch.
However, when you get on board, there is not a trace of the old horrors and neglect that these wonderful machines faced. The result is a first class cabin that is better than both Gulfstreams I have flown on.
The extremely wide seat extends into a bed well over six feet in length. Feeling exposed? Yeah, I would be too. Even though you can’t really see any other passengers when seated, that’s not the point – you have the ability to shut your doors and have ultimate privacy. When I fly, I’d rather not see anyone but the cabin crew. Commercial flights are not about socializing for me. Etihad understands.
One day I’ll have the guts to ask for a photo with him, as I may be his biggest fan – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
Look, I love His Excellency Akbar Al Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways. If he’s doing an event and I’m free, I’ll go see him. Thing is, usually someone else is paying when he’s involved. I am not saying that derisively or sarcastically. Most of the time when I see him, Qatar Airways has provided me with the tickets out of their extreme generosity.
One time it was Airbus and Qatar Airways in a joint venture, and it is hard to say no to that. Can’t appreciate it enough, but that said, a sedate press conference across the country isn’t exactly what Qatar Airways gathers people for on their dime. Even more so when most of the press contingent is based in DC anyway.
Alaska Airlines 737-900ER at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – Photo: Alaska
So, being the odd person that I am, I needed to find another reason to go to DC along with the press conference to justify the expense. I didn’t need to qualify for my AAdvantage account, since I already had nearly double-Executive Platinum planned for the year. There are times when all this goes out the window and one doesn’t need to really find an excuse to fly somewhere. But I just felt like I needed a second reason and I found it.
I am a huge fan of celebrity chef and Hannibal menu designer Jos Andreas. I’ve eaten at , multiple Jaleos, Minibar, and, best of all, China Poblano. When I found out that Jos’s next restaurant was China Chilcano in DC…boom — reason established.
In part one of this series I provided an overview of my airline sampler trip (5 airlines over 4 days) and offered my thoughts on my very first flight with Virgin America, from Dallas to San Francisco. Here we pick back up at SFO for a quick journey down to LAX in the first class cabin aboard a United 787-8.
This leg of my airline sampler was actually the catalyst for the entire trip. I happened to stumble upon an announcement that United would be briefly returning the 787 to domestic service for once weekly (Friday) service from SFO-LAX. I didn’t get the opportunity to check out the Dreamliner when United had them on domestic runs when they were first introduced. After a number of friends booked their own 787 experiences only to be disappointed by the wrong plane at the gate, due to operational issues, I decided to hold off. I was skeptic for too long and wound up missing my opportunity. Some time had passed and United now had a number of 787s in service, so I figured that the time was right.
The economy fare was very attractively priced at a meager $72.10 — what a bargain! When United.com solicited me to pay an extra $29 for economy plus I jumped at it.
As a Boeing fan-boy, I was excited, but that joy would soon evaporate like spilled Jet A on a hot day. It pains me to report that problems began before I ever stepped foot on the plane’¦
United Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 at Durango – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter
As a Silver Premier member with United Airlines (their lowest-level elite tier), getting a complementary first class upgrade happens almost as rarely as spotting a unicorn. In a year and a half of being an elite, I’ve gotten two first class upgrades. Recently, upgrade number two came in an unlikely form; on a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400.
That’s right, folks – United is offering a first class cabin on planes with propellers. I caught my upgrade on a quick business trip from Denver (DEN) to Durango (DRO), Colorado.
All of United’s Q400s are actually operated by Republic Airlines, one of many regional carriers for UA. They are configured with 71 seats; seven in first class, 10 in Economy Plus, and 54 in economy. As to be expected on a regional plane, “first class” really only meant a wider seat, more legroom, and a free beer. Well, we got some pretzels too.