Recently American Airlines sent me an offer to obtain AAdvantage Platinum status for a few months (fly enough in a three month period you can re-qualify for 2014). I have always flown United and Delta (Northwest and Continental too, before their mergers) and have not flown American in years. So I thought I would take advantage of this opportunity to try out the “new” American. I flew United to Honolulu (review to follow) and American had a great fare on the return.
Since I am not an Admiral’s Club member I used the Delta Sky Club in HNL. I arrived at Gate 18 forty minutes before departure and after a fifteen minute wait, boarding started. American boards by zone’s and when flying First Class you board with Zone 1 (along with Elite members and active military). The First Class cabin quickly filled up, but there was plenty of overhead space for both my suitcase and briefcase. This Boeing 757 had the new configuration in First Class and the new seats. Seating was 2×2 with 6 rows. The original seat map for this flight was 2×2 with six rows on one side and five on the other (capacity of 22). What immediately struck me was the nice larger TV over the aisle and the two large TV’s on the wall in front of the cabin. I have never seen this on a 757 before. But more impressive, was the bottle of water at each seat along with a large pillow and blanket wrapped together. The same size and quality you would receive on an international flight. In addition, there was also ear-plug headphones at the seat. As excited as I was with this, I was equally disappointed with my seat. I was seated in 1E (aisle seat on right side) and I know this seat on some 757’s have no leg room. However, I flew American from DFW to SAN the week prior (review to follow) and was very impressed with the seat pitch (was a 737-800). I mistakenly thought all of American’s First Class seats had that much leg room. Not the case. There is very little leg room in the bulkhead on the 757. I enjoy the bulkhead because there is not a seat in front of you reclining into your space. However, I would have gladly switched to a non-bulkhead seat to get a little more leg room. Oddly enough 2E was not occupied and I could have switched, but decided not to, as I realized this 30 minutes after take-off.
During boarding, soothing music was playing overhead and the television screens displayed photo’s of nice flowers. Providing a pleasant mood in the cabin. However, it would have been more appropriate to play Hawaiian music. There were two flight attendants assigned to First Class. Both seasoned veterans. I was warmly greeted and given a menu (nice touch). They also came by offering a pre-departure drink of either orange juice or Champagne (actually Gloria Ferrer Sonoma sparkling wine). Boarding was quick and we pushed on-time. Only to have a frantic passenger run to the front of the plane and tell the flight attendant she forgot her iPad at the gate. I was impressed that even though we just had pushed they were able to retrieve her iPad (only took a few minutes). Even with that small delay we had a short taxi to the reef runway and were in the air in no time.
The flight attendants remained seated for a while as there was the typical light chop leaving Honolulu. Once they started their service they came by with the cart offering drinks and a tropical nut mix. It has the same cashews and almonds that American typically serves before the meal in First, but the Hawaii version also includes dried pineapple. I was surprised to see that both Coke and Pepsi was offered. I was also impressed that one of the flight attendants came back by to ask if you wanted a refill on your drink and nuts. As she did that the other flight attendant was taking the meal orders. Since I have not flown American for a while I did some research on their meal service. I discovered that on even flight #’s they take the orders starting from the front of the cabin and on odd flight #’s they start from the back (FEBO – Front even back odd). As I was sitting in the first row and this flight had an even number I would be given the first choice of meals. But I also read that American now has a great new program where you can pre-order your first class meal. You can choose your entree from the menu at least 24 hours prior to departure (up to 30 days prior). The choices are the same as what is catered for the flight, however, this way you will not be left without a choice of meals. For someone who may not like meal options this is a great way not to be disappointed. What wasn’t great was the selections for this flight. Either Sam Choy’s Wasabi Salmon or Stuffed Shells in a Pomodoro Sauce. I am sure the salmon was very good, but, unfortunately, I do not like seafood. Luckily I do love pasta, but, outside of Alitalia, I have never really enjoyed a pasta dish in the air. So I was not overly excited about the stuffed shells. The flight attendant did confirm that I had ordered the pasta (actually was not sure if it was me or my seat mate). After the nuts and prior to the meal service starting, hot towels were distributed (ok quality). This was followed by a salad served separately with a choice of Italian Herb Vinaigrette or Miso Cilantro Dressing. It was served in a generous bowl along with a choice of a white roll or a King’s Hawaiian roll. The King’s Hawaiian rolls were the one item that made you feel you were on a flight to or from Hawaii as opposed to flying within the Continental US. The smell of the rolls permeated throughout the First Class Cabin. Both white and red wine were offered as the meals were served.
The salmon dish with asparagus and orzo pasta looked more like a meal you would be served on a five hour flight as opposed to the shells, which is something you would expect to receive flying from say – DFW to SFO. However, I guess it is hard making a pasta dish look as appealing, and all three major airlines serve pasta as a vegetarian option. That said, I was happy with the pasta entree. The shells were better than I thought they would be. The sauce was decent and the three shells had plenty of ricotta cheese inside (actually I would prefer more shells and less cheese).
Unlike most domestic flights there was actually two desserts to choose from. Either a cheese plate or an Ice Cream Sundae with a choice of hot fudge, strawberry, or mango toppings. I am always up for ice cream and enjoyed my sundae very much. I am not sure if there was any other service (snack basket) after dessert as I fell asleep for an hour. I think the flight attendants did come thru the cabin asking if anyone wanted anything to drink, but I did not see them ask after I woke (about an hour and a half remaining in the flight).
As I said, this 757 had the newer First Class seats. They are not leather nor as plush as their old seats, but they do have a nice headrest and not only does the back recline but the seat also comes forward a little. Despite the lack of legroom, I found them to be very comfortable and had a good one hour nap (the blanket and pillow helped). I looked at the seat pitch for rows 2 thru 6 and I guess they have around 38 inches of pitch. Much less than their 737-800’s. The seat back pocket in the bulkhead is a little sparse and you need to share that space with your neighbor. But one of the interesting features with American’s new First Class seats is under the outer armrest is a space to store newspapers or magazines. Not sure if this is designed for storage (I think there may even be a sign “no stowage”), but it is a great way to eliminate clutter in the seat back pocket. In the center armrest is a tray for drinks as well as a power port.
Unfortunately the movie (After Earth) was the same one I watched on my flight to Honolulu. It was tough to watch the first time so I decided not to watch again. Plus, like most airplane TV screens, it is very hard seeing what is going on when the background of the scene is dark. Besides the two screens on the walls in front of the bulkhead seats there is also a screen over the aisle in front of row 4. After the movie, NBC shorts and programs aired. The entertainment stopped an hour before landing, only to come back on when the automated announcement was made that there was 15 minutes left in the flight and we would be landing shortly. In addition to the video, there are eleven channels of audio to listen to. A big enough selection to satisfy almost every genre of music. I am sorry but I do not remember if there was wifi on this flight. I assume there wasn’t (or it doesn’t work over the water), otherwise I would have remembered it.
Our flight time was 4hrs. & 55 min. and we arrived into LAX right on-time. After a short taxi we were at our gate. Despite not having much leg room, nor being overly thrilled with the entree, I was still very happy with American Airlines First Class service from Honolulu. It may be because I usually fly United to Hawaii and American’s service was a just a change from what I am used to, or the simple niceties like the menu, bottle of water, and big pillow and blanket, but I enjoyed American’s service on the HNL route (and I am sure their other Hawaiian routes). From the moment I boarded the plane (first impressions are important) I felt American’s Hawaiian product is elevated. Not just from other airlines (haven’t flown Delta to Hawaii in a long time), but even from their regular Domestic service. It shows how small details make a difference.