This review has been a long time in the making and honestly, will be similar to my review of American’s B737-800 First Class http://patstravelreviews.com/american-airlines-737-first-class-review/ American has three versions of their A321. This review will concentrate on the typical First Class products in the US. American also uses the A321 on their JFK to SFO & LAX routes (LAX to BOS too). These aircraft have three classes of service with International Business and First Class seats. This aircraft is noted as “32B-Airbus A321 (Sharklets)”. The two versions in this review are used on all other domestic routes as well as to/from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. There is a big difference between the interiors and seats. American placed a large order with Airbus before their merger with US Airways. These aircraft, like the 3-class variant are also noted as “32B-Airbus A321 (Sharklets)” while the A321’s American inherited from US Airways are noted as “321-Airbus A321”. This also holds true with their A319’s. There are two versions, one American ordered and the others they also inherited from USAir. Only this time, they are all noted as “319-Airbus A319”. This review also applies to the A319.
I have flown several routes on these aircraft and a good percentage will follow the two different airlines hubs. So you will find the USAir version (321) on flights to and from PHX, PHL, and CLT while the 32B on flights to and from DFW, ORD, and MIA. They also fly the 32B (2-class) from LAX to their Hawaiian destinations (HNL, LIH, OGG, and KOA). Both versions only have 16 seats in First in a 2×2 layout (A319 has 8 seats) which means it is much harder getting upgraded on the A321’s (and A319’s) than the B737’s (and Super-80’s). For some reason the row numbers are different on the A321’s then the B737’s. First Class on the A321 is rows 1 – 4 while 3 – 6 on the B737’s.
Most, if not all of the USAir 321’s have now been renovated with American’s interiors and seats. So aesthetically they look the same, but unfortunately, they kept the same seats USAir had. Meaning the recline, tray table, pitch, seatback pocket, and center armrest are all the same as they were with USAir. Just the color scheme and leather has changed. So some of the 321’s are a little older and starting to show their age despite being reupholstered. The 32B’s are a few years old at the most. In addition, the seats on the 32B’s are all the same, while the seats on the A321’s can vary from aircraft to aircraft. Some have a lot of room in the bulkhead while others not as much. Some have adjustable headrests, others don’t. Some tray tables are one piece while others fold in two. But the biggest difference between the two is the 32B’s have seat back entertainment and in-seat power ports (both plug & USB) while the 321’s only have Personal Device Entertainment and as far as I have seen, no power plug. Some other differences; like American’s B737’s, the 32B’s seats have small drink trays that come up from the center armrests and in rows 2 through 4 another small tray that comes down from the seat in front of you. Also, the outer armrest raises for an additional storage area. The recline on the 32B’s comes a little forward on the bottom, thus not infringing as much on the passenger behind you. The 321’s have a more traditional recline that can greatly decrease the space for the person behind. To me the leg room is almost the same on all aircraft, but that could be because the 32B has less leg room than AA’s B737’s (except for new B737 Max). In truth, the 32B’s do have a bit more leg room, but only by an inch or two. The bulkhead on the 32B has enough room to almost fully stretch your legs (someone of average height) and allows the window seat passengers (1A&F) to get by the aisle passenger without them having to get up. Seats 1 D&F have a small angled footrest against the wall. Interestingly, according to AA, the 32B’s have 39 inches of pitch while the 321’s have 36″, but SeatGuru has the 32B’s at 38″ and 36 again for the 321’s (the B737’s are 40-42″). Some of the 321’s have more room in the bulkhead than the 32B’s and again, some don’t. I feel SeatGuru is more accurate. American’s B737’s have the most leg room of the Big Three’s First Class, while the 32B may have an inch or two more. At 36″ the 321 would be considered the lower end of pitch for US Carriers. The only plus any of the USAir seats I flew on was a few had a storage area under the center armrest (I did fly on an A319 last week that had a power plug in this storage area). The overhead bin, lights, and vents are basically the same on all aircraft. Like most newer jets, the bins have enough room to easily place a standard roller-board suitcase.
As much as there is a difference in the travel experience in First between the 32B & the 321’s there is even more traveling in Economy Class. Outside the bulkhead and exit row, the 321’s do not have American’s Main Cabin Extra, whereas, the 32B’s do have MCE. This is a big deal because not only are there more MCE seats on the 32B’s, but the exit row and bulkhead seats in Coach armrest’s do not raise. Creating a very narrow seat and therefore not as comfortable as the MCE seats. The 321’s seats and interiors have also been updated so I am not sure why American decided not to make these aircrafts and their products equal.
Whether on a B757, B737, A320, A319, A321, or even the S-80, the service is the same on all American mainline domestic flights (outside LAX & SFO to JFK). One inconsistency is the pre-departure drink. Usually just Orange Juice or Water is offered, sometimes a drink of your choice (including alcohol – usually former USAir crew) and occasionally there is no pre-departure drink at all. This is more dependent on the crew than the plane. There is always a blanket on the seat and a hot towel after take-off on flights with a meal service. I have flown from SAN to DFW several times the past few months and breakfast consisted of two choices. Usually American’s Steel-cut Oatmeal or an Omelet with Sausage and Potatoes. I have had the same choice to ORD and CLT as well. But, that being said, I am on a SAN to DFW flight next week and the option’s are a Continental Fruit Plate or a Breakfast Sandwich. All Breakfast flights come with a choice of breads; either a biscuit, bagel, cinnamon roll, or croissant. Flights designated as Lunch are almost the same as Dinner flights. A small bowl of hot cashews & almonds is served with the beverage before the meal. Like breakfast, there are two entrées. Usually a meat or pasta although the last flight I was on the choice was either Chow Mein or Tex-Mex Salad with Chicken (cold plate). I have had the same Chicken with Green Beans on a few flights from ORD to the West Coast and the same Short Ribs with twice Baked Potatoes from DFW to LAX & SAN. Meals tend to change after three months or so. The meal comes with a salad and on longer flights, an appetizer or starter (always served with meal). A Bread Basket with a few choices of rolls is passed out shortly after your meal has been served. On shorter flights and lunch flights, dessert consists of a warm cookie (either Snickerdoodle or Chocolate Chip) while on longer flights Ice Cream in a glass (no toppings) or a Slice of Cake is served. On longer flights outside the Dinner time-slot (usually after 8pm), red-eye’s, and flights between 2 – 2.5 hours a small snack is served. The two most popular being a Fruit & Cheese plate or a Hummus & Pita Plate. To American’s credit, they also serve the same warm nut dishes on these flights as well. On flights that are under two hours a premium snack basket is passed around. Occasionally American changes the selection, but there is usually 5 or 6 items to choose from. Popcorn, Chips, Nuts, Pretzels, Cookies, Fig Bar, Granola Bar, Whole Fruit just to name a few. Typically they are from smaller companies and for the most part high quality products. The Hawaii flights have different choices and slightly better catering. One of the best things about flying First Class on American is you can pre-order your meal 24 hours to 30 days before departure. This is a more equitable system and eliminates someone who purchased a First Class seat not getting their meal choice while someone who was upgraded at the last minute did. Also, it enables them to pick their preferred seat without them worrying where the flight attendants will take the orders from. American used to take orders from the front on even flight #’s and from the back on odd (febo). I don’t see much of this anymore and I think the ability to pre-order your meal made it obsolete. For the most part AA’s First Class meals are more than edible. Some I like more than others, but what I like the most is they are always served hot (something United has a hard time with). Like most Airlines in the US the flight attendants are inconsistent. The majority are friendly, professional and accommodating, but more than a few are less than. One nice touch is prior to landing a flight attendant passes around a small tray of mints.
All of American’s A321’s have access to Wi-Fi, but much like the seats, there is now some difference between the 321’s and 32B’s. In the past the Wi-Fi was through Gogo Inflight, but since three months ago on the 32B’s the Wi-Fi has been through ViaSat. I am not sure if it was a coincidence that the ViaSat was on the 32B’s and not the 321’s. The Wi-Fi price varies from flight to flight, but is about the same with both providers. Typically the fee ranges from $10 to $12 for 1 hour, with a more reasonable price for the entire flight (typically $12 for shorter flights (2 hrs.) and $16 for longer flights (over 3hrs.)). The Viasat definitely has a faster connection, however, I prefer Gogo as it gives T-Mobile customer’s 1 hour free internet and unlimited free texting on your phone. Both have American’s Personal Device entertainment. In the past, on aircraft that had seatback entertainment, gogo only provided Wi-Fi, while on planes that did not have in-seat IFE then own device entertainment was available. Now, with ViaSat, entertainment is always available. I personally prefer watching programming on a seatback monitor than my tablet (dinner and a movie is much easier this way than finding a place for your tablet/laptop). The own device entertainment is free as is the seat back in all classes. The content is similar, but not 100% the same. The seatback IFE is touchscreen (there is also hand-set on armrest) and usually has more movie and TV choices and has games, music, and a very nice moving map. I have not had any issues connecting to AA’s Personal Device Entertainment and my only complaint is that they are slow to change content. But that said, it has taken me some time to write this review and last week I flew on an A319 (USAir) from IAH to LAX that had 12 channels of Live TV in addition to the regular content on American’s Personal Device Entertainment. However, this was through Gogo inflight and not Viasat. The Wi-Fi speed was much better than prior experiences with gogo. I thought I had read American was switching to Viasat, but maybe they changed their mind. Either way, just like with the seats, the experience may be different from aircraft to aircraft.
In a nutshell, I think American’s Domestic First Class is the best of the three legacy carriers and their new A321’s are a big reason I feel this way (although I like the FC on their B737’s more). However, the fact they kept the same seats on the A321’s they inherited from USAir, makes it almost like flying on two separate airlines. For the most part I try to avoid flying on the 321’s and not just because the First Class experience is better on the 32B’s. More because if I do not purchase a First Class ticket and don’t get upgraded, it is one of the only aircraft that does not have a Premium – Economy, Plus, Extra or Comfort seat with the extra legroom (outside bulkhead and exit row).