American Business Class Dallas To Hong Kong

Last October, American Airlines announced a new nonstop daily flight between Dallas and Hong Kong, which launched this June. This route was incredibly exciting to me on many levels:

  • Hong Kong is possibly my favorite city in the world
  • It’s operated by a Boeing 777-300ER, which features American’s new first and business class products, making it the only route to Asia where that’s the case
  • I love being an Executive Platinum with American since I get eight systemwide upgrades just for achieving the status, and there’s no better use of those than American’s longest route

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I finally flew the new route this past weekend. American had ~$800 fares between San Francisco and Hong Kong (via Dallas) when the route opened up for reservations, and upgrades were immediately confirmable at the time (which is no longer the case). Over 19,000 elite qualifying miles, nearly 40,000 redeemable miles, and confirmed upgrades to fully flat business class for ~$800? DEAL!

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Routing from San Francisco to Hong Kong via Dallas

So while I’ll have a full trip report soon, I figured I’d share my initial thoughts about the flight:

Dallas to Hong Kong is a LONG flight

I almost exclusively fly longhaul, but my gosh, this flight felt LONG to me. It was over 16 hours westbound and over 14 hours eastbound.

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Airshow from Dallas to Hong Kong

I’ve certainly done flights longer than that (like Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles) and have done many flights of a comparable length, but this one felt longer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining at all, but I think what it comes down to is that most of my ultra longhaul flights are in first class. On a 16 hour flight, amazing bedding really makes a huge difference in being able to get “real” sleep vs. airplane sleep. I never quite realized that until I flew on these flights.

That being said, American’s business class hard product is still spectacular, from the seat to the entertainment to the wifi.

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American 777-300ER business class seat

American has Hong Kong style milk tea

While they’re not at risk of winning awards for presentations anytime soon, American does have Hong Kong style milk tea on their Hong Kong flights, which impressed me. Just make sure you ask one of the Chinese flight attendants to make it — it wasn’t quite as good when the others made it (Is that racist? Can I say that? Because it’s true).

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American business class Hong Kong style milk tea

To my surprise it was actually better than the variety that Cathay Pacific serves. American makes it “fresh,” while Cathay Pacific uses powder. Then again, unlike Cathay Pacific they didn’t have delicious egg tarts to accompany it, and it wasn’t served in a pot. šŸ˜‰

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Cathay Pacific Hong Kong style milk tea

It’s all about the new hire flight attendants

Different flight attendant bases have different reputations for service. I find the junior and mid-seniority Dallas flight attendants to be among the best, while I find some of the super senior ones to be among the worst in the system.

The thing that was awesome about this flight is that there was at least one Mandarin/Cantonese speaker in each cabin, and in all cases they were new hires. So they really hustled. The rest of the crews were surprisingly friendly as well — not amazing, but friendlier than I was expecting. And more junior than I was expecting as well. Maybe 16 hours is too long for the super senior ones to do in one go?

American’s business class food is edible

While I’ve provided my fair share of “feedback” (or “beef”, if you will) about American’s new domestic catering, the international catering remained unchanged. The food was perfectly edible in both directions, and there was lots of it too.

There was a standard international lunch service after takeoff, with hot nuts, an appetizer and salad, main course (it had a ramekin of nuts on it, so was right up my alley), and ice cream sundae for dessert.

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American business class — hot nuts

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American business class — Thai chicken appetizer and seasonal greens

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American business class — cashew chicken main course

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American business class — ice cream sundae

Then there was a walk-up bar with all kinds of snacks. Kudos to American for having this. It doesn’t cost much, but it’s a really nice touch.

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American business class snack bar

Then there was a midflight snack.

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American business class — roast beef wrap midflight snack

And then a pre-arrival meal (which I passed on, since I wasn’t hungry at that point).

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American business class — three cheese omelette pre-arrival meal

SO MANY mileage runners

I’m used to running into blog readers and/or mileage runners during my travels, though never in my life have I run into as many of both as on this trip. On the outbound at least a dozen of us were in business class, and for the return it was the same. And that’s just the people that made themselves “known.”

On the return flight there were roughly 30 people on the upgrade waitlist to business class that didn’t clear, and at least two thirds of them were Executive Platinum members. This might just be the single most popular route for Executive Platinum members looking to upgrade to business class, which I guess shouldn’t come as a surprise.

It was nice to run into so many of you!

No way this route will last in current form

As far as I’m concerned, Dallas to Hong Kong is the most exciting route in the world that American could operate. That being said, I’m willing to bet now that the route won’t last in its current form for more than a year.

On both of my flights economy was maybe half full, so while I realize it’s a new route, I’m kind of surprised they can’t even fill economy seats. Business seemed to mostly be filled with upgrades in both directions.

Why don’t I think this route can last in its current form?

  • Ultra longhaul flying is incredibly difficult to turn a profit on to begin with
  • The plane sits in Hong Kong for nearly 18 hours — Hong Kong is one of the most expensive airports in the world to park a plane, and that doesn’t even account for the lack of utilization of the plane
  • American already codeshares with Cathay Pacific on their well over a dozen flights a day from the US, and most passengers in any given class of service would choose Cathay Pacific over American — the only passengers that would prefer American are those looking to upgrade, and those aren’t exactly the most profitable customers
  • While Dallas to Hong Kong is in many ways strategic since it’s their only hub from which Cathay Pacific doesn’t have service, they’re really isolating west coast flyers, who are forced to backtrack

So how could this route “work” for American?

  • Retime the flight — leave Dallas three hours earlier, arrive in Hong Kong at 3PM, and then turn the plane by 5PM, getting it back to the US by 7PM, in time for connections to Latin American and destinations in the US
  • Perhaps this flight is a good candidate for the 787, once they take delivery of them

I really do hope it survives…

Has anyone else taken the new flight between Dallas and Hong Kong? If so, what was your experience?

Comments

  1. Ben – as you know I flew this route a few months ago a month later the inaugural flight. Many factors came to mind and similar to yours. First thing first, economy class in both directions was empty. As an executive platinum myself – first and business was filled up by upgrades as well with a few platinum flyers paying extra to be upfront in business which could be some revenue for AA. I thought walk up bar was fantastic and well stoked up. The flight is LONG!!!! And I can’t believe I am flying it again in January but business and first class are both outstanding products on the 777-300ER. I agree with you on the flight attendants. On my way back I had a new hire but sadly she was completely lost on what to do most of the time with a few seniors in charge as well (commuters) from different parts of the US. Service on board on the way out was flawless compared to the way back which wasn’t so good. Overall it’s an incredible route but I am afraid that the load is what’s gonna cause AA to terminate the route because it’s barely ever full. Let’s see how my next flight is when I take it again. Thanks for sharing your initial thoughts.

  2. I agree with RDP. A great candidate would be KUL if MH can give its slots to AA. All the CX flights HKG-KUL are mostly full compared to MH’s flights due to recent events.

    Since the 787 is a smaller plane and is more fuel efficient, I agree this route would be a great candidate for it.

  3. Funny about the Hong Kong Milk Tea – on my DFW to HKG last week, the FA recommended against it as it “does not taste like the real thing and is made of powder.” As she was Hong Kong based, I took her advice! Next time you fly Dragonair, try the chilled milk tea (in a can).

    You can count me as one of you readers that bumped in to you. I was in the Wing with you. Didn’t say hi as you were enjoying a meal with your friends, but it was great to see you nonetheless.

    Also – be thankful you left when you did. Typhoon Kalmegi did a number on the flights. Today’s HKG-DFW is canceled (inbound was diverted to Taiwan), but I was able to get put on a Cathay flight tomorrow. Had a confirmed system wide, so was put in business. Another 24 hours in a very windy Hong Kong – certainly could be worse!

  4. I’m taking DFW-HKG in Oct, looking forward to it. That being said, I have access to loads on this flight and my prediction is that it won’t last long term, which is unfortunate. The coach cabin just isn’t getting nearly filled, and several days out the J cabin has many seats open (which subsequently get filled by upgrades). F cabin however is interesting, I consistently see it half full of paid pax, so there’s that… But still, not holding my breath on this one.

  5. ā€Just make sure you ask one of the Chinese flight attendants to make it ā€” it wasnā€™t quite as good when the others made it (Is that racist? Can I say that? Because itā€™s true).ā€œ

    congrats for saying something most people are afraid of saying involving racial identity and nail it on the head – “Because it is true”. In this hypocritical politically correct place even the morally wrong can not be called out.

  6. @ Miles — Yes, it’s what I’ve heard as well, though the DFW-HKG route is brand new. It’s only made worse by all the EXPs booking on cheap fares. So while LAX-LHR has a lot of paid business class demand and lots of people requesting upgrades, so far it seems that DFW-HKG doesn’t have much paid business class but a LOT of people requesting upgrades.

  7. I crossed Ben in the sky flying DFW-HKG, which ended up getting diverted to Kaohsiung, Taiwan, where I currently am at the hotel they put us up at. Pretty messy diversion, really too bad we couldn’t have gone to TPE. I probably would have just ditched the AA stuff and booked a Cathay F redemption to HKG myself.

    As my first time flying the AA 77W J product, I was very impressed. The seat is almost as good as EVA, which is kind of the gold standard as far as I’m concerned.

    What you say about the upgrade list has me worried, as I’m flying this again on a legitimate trip in November with a friend. We’re both confirmed outbound, but SWU waitlisted on the return. Sounds like our chances don’t look very good…

  8. I’m doing a MR in November ORD-DFW-HKG and praying my SWUs clear.

    Your last couple of posts have worked me up even more about the the flight and seeing Hong Kong for the first time!

  9. Any reason AA couldn’t do HKG-BKK-HKG instead of just parking the plane in HKG? Now that UA doesn’t fly to BKK anymore, AA could pick up some pax restricted to flying US-based carriers… Even if HKG-BKK is too saturated, 18 hours is long enough to fly just about anywhere in Asia and come back…

  10. How can AA make money on this route with so little paid business class passengers while so many SWU? Soon or later AA will have to convert to revenue based which will be end of the game.

  11. @ Shannon — To be clear, at the end of the day the systemwide upgrades aren’t really cannibalizing premium demand, in my opinion. Those people on systemwide upgrades probably wouldn’t have paid for business class, and the cost of a space available upgrade is virtually nothing.

  12. Ben,

    I hope they’re not going to can this sector before January 2015. I’ll be flying it then on an SWU!

    We really need AA to fly to Asia (including South East Asia) so that ex-AU pax can get a more cost competitive premium product out to the States. Qantas charges ridiculous fares!

  13. I don’t understand why so many seem to have a tough time understanding why AA can’t give away the seats in Y on this route…

    1) Terribly uncomfortable hard product in Y- with tight seat pitch and 10 across
    2) Tiny MCE cabin
    3) Terrible service

    If I have to fly Y to HKG, I would fly CX or SQ for marginally more where Y is a much better experience.

    As lomng as Y experience on AA is poor, nobody in their right mind will fly AA voluntarily.

  14. Lucky, I agree on some of your arguments why this flight may not be profitable, but I would add some colors.

    1. Most people (from Texas and southeast US) flying economy class to Hong Kong / SE Asia may end up with this flight due to the price. Although AA has many codeshare transpacific flights operated by Cathay Pacific, they are generally much more expensive (e.g. couple hundred dollars more) compared to the ones on AA metal.

    2. People from west coast would end up with Cathay Pacific anyways due to better product, shorter flight time and competitive pricing. This route is not appealing to them at all.

    3. I agree with you that the 18 hours layover in HK is kind of a waste, and re-timing the flight is actually a good thing for everyone. The current inbound flight times (e.g. HKG to DFW) is actually good for connections to US destinations and Latin America. However, it may be better to change the departure time of the outbound flight to around midnight or 1am, so the flight can get to Hong Kong in the early morning. In this case, the aircraft would only sit in HKG for 4-5 hours instead, and it will make the connections easier in HKG.

  15. @ Patrick — As far as the first point goes, if they’re charging hundreds of dollars less than Cathay Pacific, can’t fill the seats, and are operating a longer flight than any of Cathay Pacific’s to the US (meaning operating costs are higher), then I don’t exactly see that as a supporting argument for why the route makes sense.

  16. Nice post – yay Lucky is back! These are the posts that make you a star – good report. I have not been able to secure award seats on this flight for C using AA, but good thing is CX has always become available….. but kudos to AA for providing a nice hard product for this long, but favorite route!

  17. I haven’t had a single SWU clear on AA this year, and that includes the aforementioned LAX-LHR route. I’d been hoping that my DFW-HKG next month would break the pattern, but it sounds like I’ll be outta luck there too. Sheesh.

  18. I’m booked in First outbound and Business return next June on this route with Dividend Miles. I hope this route survives that long. One of the reviews I’ve read is how bad the economy seating is. Maybe people are avoiding it due to the length of the flight.

  19. I travel for work from LAX 10 times per year, 3 x Hong Kong, 4 x Europe, 2 x Latin America and 1 x Middle East (Dubai or Doha), my company would only pay for Y.
    I have Gold Status on CX (Sapphire One World) and Silver status on Star Alliance and seldom get upgraded, if ever. I have corporate cc with visa British Airways and Amex with Starwood and Amex Gold Delta… Should I switch my mileage program to AA instead of CX and UA and get the Amex Platinum ( even if I have to pay annual fees myself) to gain access to more lounges and get upgrades? I love CX and its lounges but almost never get upgraded any more and can’t fly CX out of LAX to other destinations aside from HKG? Thanks for yr input

  20. I think I’ve read comments by AA management acknowledging that they’re operating the route at a loss right now, saying it’s a longer term investment to get a foothold in HK/grow their TPAC presence, even if it’s losing money for a while.

  21. I think American Airlines possibly has to work around its scheduling. The reasons why CX is filling all its transpacific flights is its connection to regional network, as well as links to secondary Chinese cities, like Fuzhou, Xiamen, Haikou, Nanking, and Zhengzhou. I think AA possibly uses the long layover at HKG to carry out some maintenance works on its 77Ws. AA actually sends its 767s and 777s for regular maintenance work and converting the cabin into the new generation of lie flat seats. The current time is possibly designed to allow some connections from various East Coast cities.

    Hong Kong people are pretty social media literate and AA can’t hide the fact that it is using a ten abreast seating on its 77Ws. Unlike AA other relatively shorter flights to South American and Europe, these DFW to HKG flights are really long and ten abreast Y is torturous. Not to mention there are plenty of reasonable one-stop options on excellent Asian airlines like BR, JL, NH, OZ, and KE! AA is really competing with some of the top Asian airlines. Plus most US airlines have already gotten reputation as not customer focused and AA really needs to step up its effort in promoting its flight and product. Work with local TV stations or popular travel magazines… At least gets the name out, and in order to make HKG work, AA may have to work on its Y product. If it does not want to bring back 9 abreast and adds back some legroom, it has to heavily discount its Y product so people don’t care about the produce, as the price is ridiculous. Delta tries DTW-HKG once and it is a pretty tough market to break into, considered Delta is well known in HKG.

    Most importantly, American Airlines really fails to introduce any discounted first and business class fares to the HKG market. When Continental launched its service to Newark, it made an effort to discount its business class product, especially it was relatively unknown. I bought a number of HKG-USA RT J tickets for $18,000-20,000HKD and you need to introduce people to your airline and to tell people that you offer a competitive J product. Doug Parker possibly thinks it can sell these F and J seats like Cathay Pacific, but I am sorry that even if AA can match CX hardware, its software is lacking – poor lounge, less than impressive catering, and inconsistent F/A service. American Airlines is not Cathay Pacific and does not have that home court advantage. Instead of filling the cabin up with upgrades, AA needs to offer some discounted J fares on the HKG to USA market – at least to gain some forms of revenues and to introduce Hong Kong people to American Airlines. Don’t price like CX because let’s be honest, you can never match that product. But at least if you have an attractive J price, you can attract a loyal crowd, who does not mind the lower cabin standard if the price is right. DFW can be a nice hub not only to Latin or South America, but to other Midwest and Northeastern cities. Following CX footsteps, AA can also offer some ex-TPE/KHH/BKK/SIN/CGK/KUL/CMB discounted F/J tickets too to fill out the premium cabin.

    Most importantly, AA may want to send its lobbying team to try to grant HK SAR residents visa-exemption status and that will definitely increase the demand for HKG-USA traffic.

  22. After I saw this post I went and checked and availability was not good on DFW/HKG. I guess I was surprised, given the number of empty seats you discribe.

  23. So, maybe certain days the flights were half empty in coach?
    Certainly was not the case on this flight Sept 9th, (I was in 3J). Same on the return a few days later.

    When I arrived in Dallas on Sept 9th, they were looking for the following volunteers;

    Oversold coach by 5 seats, looking for volunteers, don’t remember the voucher amounts.

    Oversold Business class and were asking for someone to take $1000 voucher and move to a later flight via NRT then into HKG.

    2 FC seats were apparently unusable, they were looking for someone to give up their FC seat for a $1200 voucher and move into Business class. Not sure if anyone bit on that…

    The snack bar was right behind the mini J cabin was almost completely empty about 5 hours from landing both directions. I had Pre-ordered the meals – Fish dish on the way out was decent, “beef” on the way back, not so much.

    The 300 year old FA told me that AA decided to keep the warm nuts (yay!). I didn’t find the seats very comfortable – 3J in the lie flat position was not really flat. I too hope this route survives – I have another business trip to HKG in November, and while I do prefer CX, I’ll take AA metal anytime for the ability to use my SWU’s.

  24. Lucky,

    I think seasonality of the DFW-HKG route can be partly offset by cargo operation and winter weather. So this specific AA flight probably will stay.

    1. Summer (June-Aug) demand for DFW-HKG is very strong. Y and J class are pretty much sold out.

    2. Off-season (Sept-Nov, Jan-April) demand is lower, but stronger winds in the winter limits the load of 77w on this ultra-long route anyway. As long as AA is selling most of the J seats, they are okay.

    Due to the weight restriction, a 77w on a DFW-HKG flight can only carry ~ 4T of cargo, while the same plane on DFW-LHR can carry 24T of cargo. Hopefully AA is making up the light passenger load with bigger cargo load.

    see detailed discussion here: http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/tech_ops/read.main/348479/

    3. AA 137/138 is doing as well as other major players. If you compare AA: DFW-HKG with CA IAH-PEK, CA SFO-PEK/PVG, UA SFO-PEK, you find the load of 137/138 comparable or better than others. The only flight that consistently beats AA137/138 is the UA 787 flight between LAX and PVG.

  25. I took the J class on 138 in late August. The seat is very nice, However, in the full flat mode, you can definitely feels the ups and downs (peaks and toughs), since the seat is made of three movable plates and they are not perfectly parallel even at the full flat mode. I think having an extra blanket as a “mattress topping” will help.

  26. In the 18 hrs, do a 5th freedom turnaround to SIN. They can capture another big city hub, and it brings AA to SIN.

    SQ does not fly to Dallas as well. And they will capture a crowd based in SIN (and it can be a big crowd), and I am sure lots of traffic between HKG & SIN if they price it correctly as well.

  27. @ Flyingfish — SQ has really interesting strategy for their routes from SIN to the US and manages to hit San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and New York City on one-stop routes. Given that SQ Y is actually pretty nice, would be interesting to see if AA could make any money on SIN-HKG-DFW.

    @ Lucky — ExPlats excluded, I think many would prefer CX flying to DFW instead of AA šŸ™‚

  28. While DFW-HKG may not be full in Y, HKG-DFW was certainly oversold in Y when I flew it about 2 weeks ago. Surprisingly felt very short on the way back because it was only about a 12 hour flight rather than the advertised 14 or 15 hour flight.

    I think the route will do fine.

  29. I will be flying to HK this Dec from NYC. have option on UA/CX/AA via DFW and finally go to AA. humm….reasons
    1) don’t think UA J class is attractive apart from full lien flat bed. however AA and CX also have flat bed
    2) as a BA Gold, taking AA will award me DOUBLE the miles than CX…haha a huge advantage isn’t it?
    3) try AA 77W in person to evaluate how good it is.

    well..AA really should discount its J class for better occupancy. just a few hundred USD cheaper than CX can never justify travelers to move to AA from CX.

  30. The only word I can think of to define the whole experience, compared to other business class products (like the Emirates one, for instance) is “primitive”.

    A few brief comments (I just landed in hk) about the flight.

    First, aircraft was generally not clean. Carpet was dirty, stained, crumbles around…

    Amenities bag provided was so so. It looked like a thing you buy at CVS for 5 dollars apiece on sale, not an elegant, purposefully designed set. The same set was provided to men and women (Cathay Pacific or Emirates, for instance, provide two different set of toiletries, women have a different/more extensive set of moisturisers, while men have razor and shaving cream, for instance..
    There was no bag provided to put your shoes in.

    Welcome drink (champagne) was served in plastic cups, not glass champagne flutes.
    Champagne quality was actually so so (I’m being lenient here).

    Flight attendants, although polite, were…rushing? Can’t think of a better word to describe their behaviour, but on a 17hrs flight you don’t need to rush, for instance to prepare for a meal, as you have all the time of the world.
    On a side note, they set the tablecloth and then did not bring anything, not even cutlery or drinks or peanuts, for 20 minutes. Not exactly the serving experience you expect.
    Also,they came around the galley with a trolley drink. I don’t recall them doing that on emirates, for instance: they instead ask what you would like (like when you are at a restaurant and the server takes your order) and bring it to you,one person at a time. Less efficient, you would say? Maybe, but I think it’s the personal touch of a premium experience.

    And they don’t serve bitter lemon!!! šŸ™‚

    Also, I know it’s all appearance, but. I counted four cabin crew and they were all wearing different outfits. One a skirt with jacket, one a white shirt and vest with trousers, one a striped shirt with trousers and no vest, one a black collarless shirt with jacket. Everyone was wearing different shoes, ranging from flats to some sort of working boots.
    Most Asian and middle eastern airlines have one outfit only (with variation for male and females of course), often one outfit for the service and one for takeoff/landing. But I’ve never seen flight attendants dressing pretty much whatever they want/like while on duty.
    Again, I think it’s not essential, if everything else is good. But in today’s experience, it was just another sign that the whole experience was a bit run-down.

    Talking about food. They have salad dressings. Now, I understand the whole world uses salad dressings and I’m not going to argue with that. But they provide salt and pepper separately. Providing also the choice of plain olive oil would have been nice.
    Besides that, my meal was just an average economy class meal, served on a real plate instead of a plastic one.
    I never had a chance to try food on a US based airline (I’m European and I live in Asia), but this first experience have been surely depressing: over spiced, almost cold, and with very little attention to plating and presentation.

    Going back for a moment to service: isn’t the crew supposed to *finish* service before having their own meal? At one point there were three seats calling attendants, nobody coming, so I went to the galley and found two crew eating and chatting… I understand they have to have lunch as well, but they’re supposedly working! It’s like in a restaurant, the waiter brings you appetisers but not the main course because he’s too busy eating his own dinner.

    The pro? Flat seats, I slept for most of the flight..

  31. So after a few months, I think this flight is working. I took the flight back in October and it was empty both ways and SWUs cleared days before.

    This time, in February, both SWUs cleared (thankfully) but only 30 hours before the flight. My outbound flight was 3/4 full in coach and my return flight was actually oversold in coach…. In the middle of the week.. And we’re still over a week before Chinese New Year. All in all, this is one of my fav AA flights and while it is long, even in business, I have much more confidence now that it’s going to last.

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