Review: American Airlines First Class from Tampa to Chicago to New York

Usually I don’t write trip reports about my domestic first class experiences, but I did fly American today from Tampa to Chicago to New York in order to work towards my Exectuive Platinum challenge, so figured I’d report back, since I realize my blog is at times United-centric.

I booked my ticket on fairly short notice and was pleasantly surprised that my upgrade cleared for both segments as a Platinum, from Tampa to Chicago to New York, given that I’m traveling on a Friday. Now, American is the only US airline that still uses a 500 mile upgrade system. While Executive Platinum (top tier) members get unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades, Gold and Platinum members still have to support their upgrades with “stickers.” I’m new to American so didn’t have any to begin with, though Gold and Platinum members usually earn four for every 10,000 miles they fly on American. Since I didn’t have any, I purchased them at check-in via a kiosk for $30 per 500 mile upgrade.

As a result the upgrades cost me $60 per segment, or $120 total. While I wouldn’t usually actually pay for an upgrade, $60 per segment seemed reasonable to me.

My first segment from Tampa to Chicago was a breakfast flight operated by a 737-800. I checked American’s website the night before and noted that my flight from Tampa to Chicago would have wifi, while my flight from Chicago to New York (which was operated by an MD-80) would not.

Boarding started 30 minutes before departure, and I was pleasantly surprised by the 737-800. This plane features the new “slimline” first class seats, which has a few advantages and a few disadvantages.

One of the advantages is that the seats are incredibly well designed in terms of storage space. On the left side of the seat is a “pocket” which can hold magazines, a book, a laptop, etc. The center console is fairly small in terms of width, which means the seats are a bit wider. The drink tray sticks out from the center console, and there’s actually another drink tray in the center console in the seat in front, which means there’s plenty of place to put drinks, nuts, etc.

The other good thing is that the legroom is phenomenal. Because the seats are thin, there’s more legroom without all that much more pitch (technically). The other thing is that when you recline your seat, the seat actually moves forwards to create a shell of sorts, instead of reclining into the person behind you.

That’s both a plus and a minus. On the plus side, your legroom will always be excellent, even if the person in front of you is reclined all the way. Unfortunately that comes at the expense of recline. The recline isn’t good at all, and while the seats are great for daytime flights, I can’t imagine they’d be especially comfortable for a redeye.

 

 


Legroom


Center console tray table

The service on this flight was top notch. For one, the crew to passenger ratio is great in first class. There are 16 seats and two flight attendants, so service is fairly attentive. In this case, though, I had two of the best flight attendants I’ve had at a US airline in a very long time. I realize it’s totally luck of the draw, and hell, might even have something to do with the fact that they were in a good mood because of the Royal Wedding. On the ground pre-departure beverages of choice were offered.


Pre-departure orange juice


First class cabin


Seatbacks


Center console

American uses a FEBO system for taking meal orders, whereby they take meal orders starting in the front of the cabin on even numbered flights and starting in the back of the cabin on odd numbered flights. I was seated in the last row of first class, so shortly after takeoff meal orders were taken starting in my row. The choices were an egg quesadilla or cereal, and I went with the former. It’s worth noting that the flight attendant addressed each passenger by name.

Service started with hot towels, followed by a beverage of choice. I went with OJ.


Hot towel

Shortly thereafter meals were served. My egg quesadilla was served with onions, pineapple, sausage, and a side of fruit. The flight attendant also came around with the bread basket, consisting of biscuits and bagels.


Breakfast

What impressed me most about the flight attendants was the small touches as far as their demeanor goes. They didn’t say “what do ya wanna drink?” but instead “may I offer you a beverage?” Whenever they reached over my laptop they would say “pardon my reach.” Whenever I said “thank you” they said “you’re very welcome.” Again, that’s just luck of the draw, because there are good and bad apples at every airline. I definitely got the “good apples,” though.

Shortly before landing one of the flight attendants came around with mints for all first class passengers, thanking everyone individually for flying with American.


Mint

I had a two hour layover at O’Hare, and it really made me miss United. American’s terminal at O’Hare isn’t even nearly as nice as United’s (and United’s isn’t nice by any stretch). I visited the Admirals Club for about an hour, which was fine, though not as nice as the United Red Carpet Clubs, in my opinion.

The Admirals Club was crowded and seemed a bit like an airport bar in terms of the amount of stuff that was for sale. Even bagged chips have to be purchased. The only thing that’s free is stale cookies and an awful snack mix. In that sense, United is much better, in my opinion. The other frustrating thing is that internet isn’t free. It’s my understanding that Admirals Clubs only provide free internet to members and those with day passes. Those accessing with the American Express Platinum card, elites traveling internationally, or even international business class passengers, have to pay for wifi… at least that’s my understanding. Now, they do have free PCs, but this is just ridiculous. Compare that to United, where wifi is now free for everyone. Hopefully American follows suit. The one other thing worth mentioning about Admirals Clubs is that the agents are just top notch. They address each person by name, are actually friendly, and seem to generally be eager to help. Of course that only goes so far if you don’t have free wifi in your lounge.


Admirals Club


Admirals Club


“Super” 80

The flight from Chicago to New York was operated by an MD-80, and I was in the bulkhead. Despite a seatmate in desperate need of an airplane etiquette class (see my Twitter for more on the rants about that), the flight was pretty good.

On the ground we were offered OJ or water, and shortly after takeoff meal and drink orders were taken. The purser, Wade, introduced himself to each passenger and addressed everyone by name, offering a shrimp salad or chicken parmesan. I’ve had the chicken parmesan before and it was good, though I wasn’t all that hungry, so went with the shrimp salad.


Pre-departure beverages


Bulkhead

Once meal orders were taken drinks were served. I went with a Diet Coke with lime, which was served with hot nuts. The nice thing about American is that they almost always offer nut refills. They have a huge aluminum dish with extras, so each passenger was proactively offered a refill.


Diet Coke with lime and hot nuts

The lunch itself was quite good. It was a shrimp salad with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. It was served with a side of pita chips and hummus. The chicken parmesan is a much larger meal, with the main dish, a side salad, and also the pita chips and hummus. While United serves soup with lunch, it’s probably a tradeoff, given that American offers a warm entree option for lunch.


Shrimp salad

Once the main course was finished, cranberry walnut oatmeal cookies were offered, served on separate plates.


Cookie

Once again before landing, mints were offered.


Mint

I know this is incredibly detailed for a simple domestic trip, which, frankly, wasn’t all that interesting. However, as someone that has almost exclusively flown United domestically for the past six years, it’s interesting to observe how other airlines do things, hence all the details.

Overall the two flights exceeded my expectations. The food was good on both flights, but more importantly, the flight attendants were exceptional. I realize it’s luck of the draw, but both of my crews were truly exceptional.

I feel like American has the little touches down very well, while United is a more “big picture” airline, missing some of the more minor touches. For example, the fact that American serves mints before landing is a nice touch, and it’s great that the Admirals Club agents are so friendly. However, the fact that there’s no free internet at the same time is mystifying to me (I can kind of see where they’re coming from – they probably want people to purchase memberships – but still, it renders them uncompetitive in that respect).

Lastly, I’m leaving out what I like most about American, what really makes them stand out among the competition: they have liquid soap that turns into foam when you pump it in the lavs!

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Comments

  1. FWIW, elites flying internationally and intl passengers in premium cabins get free wifi at the Admiral’s Clubs – you just have to ask at the desk. But I agree, it’s a shame that they don’t offer it to Amex Plat cardholders.

  2. Just ask the AAngel for a wifi code when you’re checking in with your Amex. They’ve never denied me.

  3. The other huge Admirals Club benefit is almost all of their lounges have showers. It doesn’t matter what class of service you’re flying. If you can access the lounge, you can get a free shower.

  4. Sounds like you had a great experience on the dAArkside. Maybe you’ll fly them more in the future?

  5. I have been using a tether.com app on my android smartphone for “free” wifi access. So far I have been very happy with it. That might be another option to explore, if you have a smartphone.

  6. @Jumpcut You’ve been very lucky with the AAngels. I’m usually not so fortunate. It seems like they have to keep a detailed log of who they’re giving them to, and why they qualify but perhaps I’m off base here.

  7. i know for sure that if you are flying internationally, and you are either a) flying business/first, b) platinum/EXP, or c) both of the above, you will get free wifi at the ord lounge.

    i always check in with my amex plat when flying domestic, but due to months of coming to the lounge and seeing the same AAngel over and over again, we have a rapport going on now, and she always hands me a wifi card with a wink. GO AANGELS!!

  8. I’m a United Prem Exec/CO Gold and have been for years – but was a AA Plat for a time I lived in Wichita, KS. AA aalways struck me as ‘old school’ – not that UA is particularly progressive – but there was something about the service aspect, and the flight attendants in particular, in that AA always seemed truly professional.

    On the other hand, the company – as the business is run – always seemed cheap as hell. Cutting corners on amenities, no free wi-fi in lounges as mentioned above, for example, seems to be the way they do business. Always seemed to be pushed kicking and screaming and playing catch-up when it came to freebies – weren’t they one of the last lounges to go forward with free drinks (not sure they even do now, have’t been in an AA lounge in at least 5 years).

    But who am I to judge – AA never filed for bankruptcy, either.

  9. I have flown AA almost exclusively with periodic flights on other domestic airlines. Overall, I think AA’s biggest asset is the professionalism of the people who work for them. They have the best attitude and professionalism of anyone in the business. Yes, they do have an excellent pension plan which might eventually cripple AA. However, they do invest in people relations and make you feel like a guest instead of a burden. On some days that is enough to put me in a good mood.

  10. Seriously people, chill with the whole putting “AA” in the middle of words that have the letter “a” in them when talking about American. It’s not clever, it’s not funny, it’s just really annoying.

  11. @AAndrew – AAgreed it’s AAnoying 🙂 Seriously, as a United guy looking to jump ship, the timing of you sampling AA couldnt have been better.

  12. Excellent trip report, Lucky. I’m a fan of those slimline first class seats. I find them to be more comfortable than any other standard domestic F seat….though I’ve admittedly not flown VX.

    I’ve found most of the Admirals Clubs facilities to exceed those of United’s Red Carpet Clubs, but the snack choices are definitely limited vs UA. On the other hand, I like the fact that I can at least purchase a decent sandwich in an Admirals Club if I choose to. I’ve seen this option at some, but not all RCC’s I’ve visited, though that’s an admittedly limited universe.

  13. Two things. First, Delta has the foaming soap! Second, I have never figured out how Delta runs the meal choices. You said AA uses FEBO. Is there any logic to Delta?

  14. First off, was a real pleasure to hear you speak Saturday.

    Regarding the AA FAs, especially in first; I find them of a much better lot in the past year or so. The luck of the draw is happening more and more often.

  15. Flying UA nearly exclusively for domestic trips, the thing that stood out to me is the photos of the center console. So clean! The button are not worn, there is material on the console covering, and there are not 10 years of crumbs and other ‘passenger matter’ in the nooks and crannies.

  16. I trust you charged the stickers to your AX Plat, and have AA selected as your airline of choice? Then I’d be interested to know if you get the sticker fee back as part of the $200 rebate.

  17. I agree that AA first class is good. The only thing they could do better is offer everyone meals. Currently Jews like me cannot eat the free meals because they are not kosher, and American is the only airline other than US Airways that doesn’t serve special meals in first class on these shorter flights.

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