Here’s one for the regular people: a review of the economy cabin on one of American Airline’s most important transcontinental routes, New York to Los Angeles. Flying Airbus hardware, its an efficient if not somewhat unremarkable experience. Featured image by Kevin Song.
Flight Review: American Airlines AA0247 in Economy: New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) (September 2019)
Highs: Efficient boarding and flying time; we beat the clock and arrived an hour early, despite flying into the wind. “Dinner” was complimentary.
Lows: Cabin was toasty and a touch too humid, even though there are individual air controls. The “dinner”.
Verdict: Flying almost hourly, American Airlines has this one figured out; but don’t overpay for it.
Backstory: American Airlines Review
As part of my journalism work, I cover the UNGA each year. If the United Nations is anything, it’s always off schedule, and always late with information. This goes into overdrive with the United Nations General Assembly taking place- knowing where heads of state will be is a bit of a game of wait and see (the UN doesn’t even release media schedules until the day of), so making definitive flight plans becomes a challenge- important person speech moved a day? Better move the flight! But I had to bite, because I needed to be back in LA by Friday morning. So I paid $636.00 for American Airlines JFK-LAX, departing at 8:35pm from Terminal 8 two days before departure. UNGA be damned! As my week fell apart, I moved the flight twice and managed to cancel the first two attempts without penalty. The first attempt was canceled within 24 hours of booking, entitling me to a full refund. The second (the rescheduling of the first attempt) was canceled just outside of the 24 hour period, but the American Airlines representative was able to pull some strings and get me on a new flight with a refund. So, here’s an American Airlines economy class review.
Ticket price: $636.00, paid with Citi®/ AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™Mastercard®
Points accrual: Miles (EQMs): 2,475; Segments (EQSs): 1; Dollars (EQDs): 279, Award Miles: 1,395
Security, Preflight, and Boarding at JFK Terminal 8
Upon arriving at Terminal 8 at JFK, I checked one luggage ($0 when the flight is paid for with Citi®/ AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™Mastercard®; $40 normally) and was through to security and in the Duty Free area in just under 15 minutes. The dark and cavernous Terminal 8 (used almost exclusively by oneWorld partners) felt decidedly empty in a nice way- it really is a far cry from LGA or even LAX. A good number of passengers were from the UN. I wandered through the terminal and used a digital kiosk to find a spot to grab a snack and drink before departure (I had about an hour).
Terminal 8 is a very modern terminal and enormous with top of the line duty free shops (Bulgari, Boss, etc)- I expected large crowds given the time (both European and Asia departures take place around this time), but found acres of unoccupied space.
If you are running a bit late, be mindful of the distances. The concourse C with the gates 31-47 is a bit of a hike- so much so that they have a moving walkway between there and concourse B.
I reached concourse C and settle into Vino Volo, a wine bar that seemed to be the only part of the terminal with any signs of life. They were out of basically everything, but I enjoyed a brie sandwich and a glass of Spanish Cava while Macaulay Caulken was at a table not far away. Airport lounges? Over!
I finished some work and made my way to Gate 45 as final boarding was being called… a whole 10 minutes before the 10-minute-door-closing notice. I was among the absolute last to board, and assumed my seat (20F, window) without issue.
The staff on this flight were not particularly warm, but they did direct me to a closet to hang my suit. I wasn’t even to my seat before they announced the doors were closing. They began the safety video as I finally sat down. I can’t fault their desire to get us out on time.
The Interior: Airbus A321T
This is American’s most comfortable plane, for all classes. A relatively new one, this Airbus A321T came online around 2015. It has been well maintained, and looks fresh. There is minimal American Airlines branding on this aircraft. My seat was a window seat, 20F, in the Main Cabin. This aircraft has the newest American Airlines hard product, including 10 lie-flat seats in a 1-1 configuration of five rows for the Flagship First Class. Business class has 20 seats in 2-2 configuration of five rows. Finally, all the way in the back (yes, you must walk through the other classes to reach Main Cabin), you will find 72 slimline seats — 36 premium-economy Main Cabin Extra and 36 standard-economy Main Cabin, 3-3 arrangement. If you are of average height, you’ll find Main Cabin reasonably suitable. Each seat is provided with an IFE, a universal plug (not the one at the feet, but on the IFE unit! Rejoice!), a blanket, personal air control, and reading light.
For the entire flight, it was way too hot. The plane never cooled down, was too humid to get any reasonable sleep, and the air control pushed out lukewarm air.
The airplane lavatory never had a line and is not particularly remarkable. It was clean for the duration of the flight.
The cabin lighting was dimmed and was left in a cool blue tone. I appreciated how the crew kept lighting changes to a minimum- at time of descent, they still only left the darker lights on (not the full-brightness boarding lights).
The flight was conducive to getting sleep if that was what you were after, however, with an 11pm arrival, most people seemed to watch TV or get work done.
The flight was completely full.
Cabin Crew Experience and Meals
As mentioned earlier, the cabin crew seemed rushed and not so interested in protocol. With so much of the mainline experience now automated (safely video, announcements about credit cards, etc), the crew really just needs to keep people safe and offer the meal service. I’m sure that will be automated in due time too. But, the reality is, the crew on this flight didn’t seem so concerned about… anything. The person in my row on the aisle used her computer all the way to takeoff. I never even secured my seatbelt, and no one noticed. The crew did distribute complimentary earphones just after takeoff.
The pilot only spoke a few times, both to update on the status of the flight time arrival (which kept getting shorter).
Given the time of departure and length of the flight, a complimentary dinner (no- a light meal) was served. However, for a domestic flight, this is unusual! I learned American Airlines only offers Main Cabin complimentary meals on two routes: LAX-JFK and SFO-JFK, either direction. Other domestic American Airlines flights offer Zoe’s Kitchen meals for a fee (here’s the menu).
No menu was distributed. The light meals on offer included a hummus wrap, a cheese plate, and something else (but I never found out!) along with a drink. I learned you can get more than one drink; just ask. There is no policy about this, we just cage ourselves for no reason. Just kidding.
The cheese plate was indeed a light meal, and in weird proportion- there was way too much cheese, not enough crackers, and no utensils to cut and spread. The grapes were yummy and fresh, and the chocolate was a nice touch.
Tech, WiFi and IFE
The IFE has a separate USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack. The IFE comes in a range of languages, but not German. However, some movies are dubbed in German. The American Airlines lineup of content ranges from dog shows to the entire Harry Potter series. It also has a flight tracker and map, music, games, and more. The touchscreen is reasonable responsive- there is no remote control.
The wifi is $16.50 (September 2019) for the duration of the flight. It worked reasonably well. I was able to connect to a Remote Desktop and communication was consistent with no lag. It is an intuitive IFE. The only problem is that any crew announcement interrupts your viewing- which visibly infuriated my row neighbor, who would throw her head into her hands in exasperation every time it happened.
Landing and Conclusion
There was absolutely no turbulence on this flight. We departed on time (even with JFK traffic), and arrived about 52 minutes early. The luggage arrived at the belt within 20 minutes.
American Airlines knows what it has with this flight, and its not going to mess with something that is… just fine. But going for great? Upgrade to Flagship First or fly Jetblue.