This review has been a long time coming. I have taken several flights the last few months in First Class on AA’s 737-800’s . So this review will encompass many of those flights. All but one of the flights are under 2000 miles and most between the 1000 mile to 1750 mile range. Some of the routes I flew were ORD to MCO & TPA. DFW to San Juan (2200 miles), JFK, LGA & MCO. SJU to MIA, and several flights between SAN and ORD & DFW. So any flight that falls within that range will have the same service (this also applies to other aircraft on AA) and product.
The service was for the most part the same on all of the flights. Like any US carrier the flight attendant service can be a bit inconsistent, but more times than not the service in First was positive and professional. The one area American lags behind Delta and United is pre-departure drinks. I would say less than half of the time one was offered, and if it was, it was either just a cup of water on a tray or occasionally orange juice and water. Only once or twice did the flight attendant offer anything beyond that. American does a very good job of boarding First Class passengers first (after passengers in need of assistance and uniformed military personnel), so boarding was always a breeze with plenty of overhead space. A packaged blanket (no pillow) was always on the seat or in the seat-back pocket on your arrival. The 737-800 has good overhead space and on a few flights the newer 737-800’s with Boeing Sky Interior even provide a little more space. Despite looking smaller the new bins not only have more space, but are also easier to place your bag inside the overhead as the bin pivots down.
The cabin and seats are the same with four rows in a 2×2 layout. The bulkhead starts at row 3 and the last row is 6. The only difference was on a couple of the flights between SAN & ORD I was lucky enough to be on an aircraft with Boeing’s new Sky Interior which featured American’s new In-flight Entertainment (IFE) system and seats (not all planes with Sky Interior have the new seats & IFE). These seats are leather as opposed to the cloth seats with leather headrests on the more common and older layout. The new seats also have a headrest and outside the color (the leather seats are gray, while cloth are blue with grey headrest) they are essentially the same. I had seats in every row and both aisle and window. My favorite is the bulkhead. There is enough leg room that the window seat passenger can easily leave their seat without disturbing their seat mate. In fact, the very first thing I noticed on the first flight I took on one of American’s 737-800 was the increased leg room. American has a very generous 40″ pitch compared to 36″-38″ on Delta and United. The bulkhead may even have a few more inches of knee room (maybe not leg room, as you can put your feet under the seat in front in non-bulkhead seats) compared to Rows 4-6. All seats have power port outlets (plug doesn’t always work) on the front of the center armrest, while the new seats have both a power outlet and a USB port in the same spot. The seat recline on American is a little different with the seat back only reclining a little, however, the bottom of the seat glides forward a little. This is good because it lessens (along with the 40″ pitch) the forward seat intruding into your space and it still provides basically the same recline as standard US airline first class seats. Some other unique features on American’s First Class seats is the aisle and widow armrest raises. This not only allows for a little more room (seat width is already a comfortable 21″) but there is also a storage space in this armrest. It may say “no storage”, but it is a great place to store newspapers 🙂 The seat-back pockets are smaller than the plusher first class seats of old, but there are two pockets that make up for that. One downside of the bulkhead is the seat-back pockets are much smaller (but bigger than other airlines First Class bulkhead seats). All seats have a small drink tray that comes out from the center armrest, but rows 4-6 have an additional drink tray that comes down from the back of the center armrest on the seat in front, providing more space if needed (actually a little far away to keep a drink there).
All the flights I flew offered WiFi and some form of in-flight entertainment (IFE). Most had overhead video screens (over seats) and audio. A single prong plug is located in front of the center armrest for headphones. Basic ear-buds where either at your seat as you boarded or a flight attendant would pass them out. The number of audio channels fluctuated from 10 to 12 channels and had a nice selection of music (boarding music is nice as well), with surprisingly clear sound. I used my headphones to access the IFE on every flight and only had an issue with the sound once. What was shown overhead depended on the length of the flight. On flights less than 2.5 hrs (actual flight time) NBC Universal programming was aired and on longer flights a movie was shown along with the NBC shows if time permitted. The one downside to this is there seemed to be no variety in the NBC programming package. The same programs are on regardless of which direction you are flying, whereas the movies do change with the direction and in some cases destination. Hawaii has separate titles as does MCO (Orlando). I must have seen the same episode of “Mysteries of Laura” and a Jimmy Fallon skit 7 times last month (I only watched once).
Now, the new seats have individual in-seat entertainment which is on-demand (AVOD) and located on the seat back. The screen is touchscreen and a decent 12.1 inches. There is a generous selection of movies, TV shows, and audio (both radio and CD selection), plus a few games and a nice 3D moving map. The hand-set is in the outer armrest (one that raises) and is relatively easy to use (none of these are ever easy for me), however, I found it easier using the touchscreen to maneuver thru the library. Two other features with the in-seat entertainment that I really enjoy is that the programming can be accessed before take-off and thru landing, plus most movies were un-cut. On the JFK to SAN flight a tablet with similar pre-programmed content is handed out along with Bose noise canceling headphones.
As I said, on all flights WiFi was available thru gogo inflight. The prices for internet access varies greatly. Usually depending on flight time. This doesn’t make much sense as you are paying for a set time. 30 minutes was as little as $2.50 for a mobile device and as much as $5 (usually $4), and for a laptop/tablet it varied from $3.50 to $7.50. For 90 minutes the prices doubled (so you get 30 minutes free – sort of). There are also yearly, monthly and daily plans available. The internet speed is ok, but certainly not great (or even good). The one nice feature is you can access AA.com for free (I booked an award ticket on my last flight :)). In addition to the internet access, entertainment was also available through gogo on most flights (the exception being on shorter routes and planes with the in-seat entertainment). There is a fee for all passengers (yes, First Class too) to watch both television programs and movies through their computer. TV programs are either $.99 or $1.99 per episode and movies ranged from $3.99 to $5.99. Unfortunately, none of the devises I have are compatible with gogo, so I never was able to watch a single program or movie (and I paid for 2 sitcoms). I tried four devices; my laptop, phone and 2 tablets. None worked. I tried several times as I was able to download the gogo player, but each time I was unable to view the program I purchased. I was able to speak (write) to the help line and was told my devices were not compatible yet, but will be soon (last week my Samsung Galaxy Tab did work on a Delta flight thru gogo. ** It has been 2 weeks since I wrote this and I flew a few flights on American this week. My Samsung tablet did work and American now has a couple movies and television programs for free thru gogo. Just click the complimentary icon on right of the home entertainment page). I do think all Apple products are compatible. *** Further update – American has finally fallen in line with United and Delta and now all entertainment is free thru gogo. The rates for the Wi-Fi still fluctuates. It is now based on entire flight or just 30 min (which can vary from $3 to $8). Additionally, I have flown on dozens of flights on American’s 737’s since this review and the vast majority were with the old seat and overhead IFE (in addition to gogo). It is my guess as AA slowly updates their 737’s they will have the same leather seats as I mentioned above, however they will be without the seatback personal screens. I have flown on a few of the USAir A319’s and A321’s recently that had the new seats and they were without any entertainment other than gogo through your own personal device -. For a further update on Wi-Fi and AA’s Personal Device Entertainment you can read my review of American’s A321 First Class http://patstravelreviews.com/american-airlines-a321-first-class-review/
The service is very consistent in First on American (outside how meal was served). On most occasions, shortly after take-off, the flight attendant would take drink orders and return with your drink and a small, but nice size bowl of warm cashews and almonds. This was almost always done from the galley. Directly before or after the beverage service a scented hot towel was passed-out (not the greatest quality). Two flight attendants worked First Class on the 737-800 for the meal service (afterwards one or both would help in Economy). American has two very unique programs regarding meals in First Class. You can reserve your entrée 24 hrs to 30 days before your flight. This is great because if you purchase a First Class ticket you should always get your meal choice. If you do not reserve the entree, then American takes meal orders by a method called “FEBO” (front even/back odd). On even numbered flights, meal orders are taken from the front, and on odd, from the rear. On the occasions when I reserved my meal, with one or two exceptions, the flight attendant confirmed my choice. There was always two choices for the meal. On dinner and lunch flights one was a meat, while the other was a pasta (vegetarian option). I would guess on all the flights I have flown in First (including aircraft other than the 737-800) there was about eight different lunch/dinner entree choices and maybe six breakfast choices. I could not tell much difference between the lunch service and dinner service other than what the dessert option was and if an appetizer was included, and this was based on flight time, not time of day. On flights between 2.5 hrs. and 3.5 hrs (900-1298 miles) a three course meal was served with a chocolate chip cookie for dessert and on flights over 3.5 hrs. (1299 miles) an appetizer was included on the tray and the dessert was either cake (lunch time) or ice cream (dinner time). I read on flights over 4.5 hrs you have a choice for dessert of either a sundae or cheese & fruit plate . The only other difference was how the meals were served (including breakfast). On half the flights, the flight attendant took the meal order in advance and brought the meal from the galley. The other half it was served directly from the cart and that is when you selected your meal choice. Only one or two meals stood out as being memorable. In fact, I can not say that American has the best tasting domestic first class meals. But, what I am always very pleased with, is the temperature of the meals. Always served hot. This is a pet peeve of mine and it increases my enjoyment of the meal. Of the breakfast entree’s I had, the french toast was quite good. Other breakfast meals I ate were; egg strata, cheese omelette with peppers, cold cereal (only time I saw cold meal choice), and steel-cut oatmeal. Breakfast is always served with a small bowl of fruit, and on some dishes a meat and a potato. Either croissants or biscuits accompanied breakfast. For lunch/dinner the teriyaki beef with rice or beef with macaroni & cheese were my favorite meals. Other meals I ate were; tortellini pomodoro, beef in a mustard sauce, and a couple of different chicken dishes just to name a few (some of these meals may have been other aircraft, but the meal service is the same). Two choices of bread was always offered with the meal. Sourdough, cheese-bread, whole grain, and my favorite, the pretzel roll were some of the choices. Because most of these flights were between 2.5 to 3.5 hrs the main meal was the only service. I do not remember any other additional snack/basket service after the meal on the longer flights, including the DFW to San Juan flight (although, I may have slept through it). I did fly on a few short-haul routes (DFW to IAH and OKC) and a nice snack basket was distributed with Snyder pretzels, small package of premium nuts, banana’s, Kettle brand potato chips, Pepperidge Farm cookies, plus a few others (as an update, while American still has this basket service these products are no longer offered. There have been three variations since I wrote this). One nice touch was, before touch-down, mints were offered to the passengers in First Class. and the flight attendant usually thanked them for flying American.
I must say, for the most part I am very pleased with American Airlines 737-800’s First Class. The leg room is the most generous of any of the legacy carriers and because of the recline it also feels the roomiest. Most of the flights were on-time and storing my luggage was never an issue. While the food didn’t wow me with it’s taste, it was always served hot, and I like that there is a variety of entrees offered between flights. With the addition of the new 737-800’s with Boeing’s Sky Interior (American has a very large order with Boeing to replace their aging MD-80’s) and the updating of seats on older 737-800’s, the First Class (as well as Economy) experience will only improve. It will be interesting to see what happens to the service once American and US Air are completely integrated, but since US Air does not have any 737’s it certainly will not effect this aircraft.