Review: American Airlines First Class A321 New York To Los Angeles

Introduction
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American has been flying their new Airbus A321s between New York and Los Angeles since last January, and suffice to say it’s a really nice product. American previously operated 767-200s on the route. While widebodies are nice, the planes were old and the hard product was outdated.

It’s interesting that American went for a premium configuration, which includes 10 first class seats, all of which have direct aisle access. This came at the same time that United was eliminating first class from their transcon routes, making American the only carrier to offer three cabin service between New York and Los Angeles.

I reviewed American’s A321 first class shortly after it commenced service on the route last year, so was curious to see how the product was holding up.

American 255
New York (JFK) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Sunday, January 4
Depart: 10:00AM
Arrive: 1:20PM
Duration: 6hr20min
Aircraft: Airbus A321
Seat: 2A (First Class)

Boarding started a bit behind schedule, and was done through the forward door.

American seems to consistently board A321s through the forward door, which I’ve never quite understood, as it means everyone boards through first class. The reactions to the first class product from other passengers is sort of funny, since it’s not often you see a 1-1 configuration on a narrowbody plane.

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American A321 first class cabin

I was assigned 2A (sorry, the below picture is of 1F, as I didn’t take a picture of the actual seat on this flight), which is almost the same reverse herringbone business class seat that American has on the Boeing 777-300ER.

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American A321 first class cabin

For a longhaul flight, a reverse herringbone seat is my favorite type of business class hard product. At the same time, American also has fully flat business class seats on the A321, so on a daytime flight it’s questionable how much better a reverse herringbone seat is.

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American A321 first class seat

Some complain that the area by your feet is a bit tight with reverse herringbone seats, though personally I find it to be quite spacious.

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American A321 first class legrest

To the left of the seat was an exposed storage compartment, where you can place headphones, amenity kits, etc. There’s also a power outlet there. American offers international business class amenity kits in A321 first class.

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American A321 first class storage

Next to the storage area was an area with seat, lighting, and entertainment controls.

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American A321 first class seat/entertainment controls

Waiting at my seat was a pillow and blanket, which are the same ones American offers on longhaul flights.

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American A321 first class pillow & blanket

There were some Bose headphones. I love the fact that American offers these in first & business class on their longhaul flights. Even some top international carriers don’t have high quality headphones, which sort of blows my mind.

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American A321 first class Bose headphones

Once settled in the purser offered us pre-departure beverages of choice. I just ordered some water.

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American A321 first class pre-departure water

We were then offered lunch menus for the flight.

Since the A321 only has 102 seats, boarding was quickly finished, at which point the captain came on the PA to welcome us aboard and inform us of our flight time of 5hr50min.

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American A321 first class cabin view

By the time the door closed the first class cabin was completely full. The most amusing part of the cabin had to be the Greek billionaire and his wife that were a couple of rows behind me. They were traveling with two babies and a dog, so they had their hands full, to say the least.

They were a bit abrasive with the crew at first, but got much better throughout the flight.

We pushed back about 10 minutes after schedule, at which point the safety video began to play.

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View taxiing out at JFK

We taxied out to runway 22R, which took about 15 minutes. Once at the runway it was a 10 minute queue for takeoff. Finally at around 10:35AM we were cleared for takeoff.

Our climb out was pretty choppy due to some not-so-nice weather in the area, though once we climbed above the clouds the ride smoothed out.

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American airshow New York to Los Angeles

Fortunately these planes have Gogo wifi, so I logged onto my computer and got some work done. Usually I find wifi to be excruciatingly slow on these transcons, presumably because you have a lot of people using it (despite the limited number of seats), but on this flight it was the fastest I had ever experienced. Maybe it’s because I was traveling on a Sunday.

About 30 minutes after takeoff the seatbelt sign was turned off and service began. The lunch menu read as follows:

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And the wine/beverage list read as follows:

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Service began with warm nuts and drinks. Since it was early and I had a long day of travel ahead of me, I decided just to have a Diet Coke with lime. For reference, unfortunately American serves Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine in first class (the same they serve in the Flagship Lounge), which isn’t nearly as nice as the champagne they service in international first class.

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American first class hot nuts & drink

After drinks the table was set for lunch. There were two tablecloths. The second one is removed after the main course, so you have a “fresh” table for dessert.

The stater consisted of marinated sesame shrimp with cucumber, and was tasty enough. I was also offered a selection from the bread basket, and chose pretzel bread.

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American first class starter — marinated sesame shrimp

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American first class starter — marinated sesame shrimp

The main course consisted of a tiny side salad with corn and black beans. The amazing thing is that up until a couple of years ago American had a salad cart they’d roll through the aisle where you could pick what you wanted, and it consistently had protein. Now they serve the same tiny side salad in their “Flagship first class” that you’d get on a domestic first class midcon flight.

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American first class salad — seasonal greens with black bean and corn relish

For the main course I ordered the horseradish encrusted salmon. While the salmon as such wasn’t great, the horseradish crust was quite nice. The rice and spinach was tasteless, though. It definitely seemed to be the best of the three options.

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American first class main course — horseradish encrusted salmon

One of my friends had the lasagna, which looked the same as what they serve in domestic first class.

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American first class main course — Italian lasagna

And then the third option was a salad and soup.

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American first class main course — poblano soup and southwest salad

For dessert I had a sundae with the strawberry topping and nuts.

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American first class dessert — ice cream sundae

The purser working the aisle was awesome. He was friendly and attentive, so I can only say good things about him. That being said, it’s really quite sad to see how far the service on American’s transcon flights has slipped.

The crazy thing is that American invested so much in this new product and in keeping three cabin first class, yet they do nothing to differentiate the service. The food is more or less identical to what they serve in business class, and that’s more or less identical to what they serve in domestic first class, minus the custom made sundae.

The meal service was done within about 90 minutes, and I was offered bottled water.

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American A321 first class bottled water

I watched Frozen for the first time on my flight from London to New York the night before, so while going through the music selection I was so excited when I saw there was a “Let It Go” remix, which I listened to about 12894384o82x times on replay.

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American A321 first class entertainment

Here it is, for anyone that’s interested (though I still prefer the original):

I worked for the next several hours. It’s worth noting that there’s a snack basket in front of row one if you’re hungry, which has some decent options as far as packaged junk goes. Then about an hour before landing freshly baked chocolate chip cookies were offered, though I passed.

About 30 minutes before landing the captain came on the PA with updated arrival information, informing us of our anticipated on-time arrival.

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American airshow New York to Los Angeles

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American airshow New York to Los Angeles

After spending a while in Europe I was thrilled to see the sunny and warm weather in SoCal.

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View on approach into LAX

We touched down on runway 25L at 1:15PM, though it took us about 20 minutes to get to the gate. First we had to wait to cross runway 25R, and then there was congestion on the ramp, so we had to wait for a few planes to push back first. At least we had a nice view of Tom Bradley International Terminal while waiting.

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View upon landing at LAX

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View upon landing at LAX

We bid farewell to the crew, and headed outside a bit before the connection to Honolulu.

American A321 First Class bottom line

American’s A321 first class hard product is great. I do love reverse herringbone seats, and for a narrowbody plane it’s an extremely impressive product. That being said, it’s sort of sad how bad the soft product has become.

There’s a huge opportunity cost to having reverse herringbone seats on a narrowbody plane, given how you could fit more business class seats in the same space. So it really does puzzle me that American has no problem taking up all that space with those seats, but at the same time the service is more or less the same as in business class, not to mention that it’s only marginally better than what you’d usually get in domestic first class.

If you’ve flown American’s A321 first class, what was your experience?

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Comments

  1. You’ve noticed jetways almost never get attached to 2L on the A321, right? Air stairs are another matter, I know EI and LH do it often. 2L is considered too close to the engine nacelle so isn’t typically used for general boarding.

  2. Could the number of first class seat have to do with max range of the a321?

    Would putting in more biz instead of first mean that the plane becomes overweight? Maybe they are planning to run the route without first when the a321NEO comes along hence not investing in extra soft product for now?

  3. Do you actually think they could fit more business class seats in the same space? I’ve given it a close look and I think they would only be able to put three rows of four seats and therefore would still have only 12 seats in that space.

    That being said, I wish they would put business class seats there instead of first to make upgrades from coach easier. A bit difficult with only 16 business seats.

  4. @Ryan

    Sure you are not think of the Jetblue A321 Luckey linked to?

    Seatguru list AA A321 as having 20 J and 10 F seats?

    @Lucky
    Guess I should learn to check Seatguru before commenting.

    That said the AA config for the A321 Transcon seems like it might be configured for carrying airfreight?

    Only reason for such a low number of passenger compared to Jetblue? Except for first Jetblue seems to have the same or better pitch for all seats aswell?

  5. I flew this config several times last year but it’s been about six months since my last leg. The food does look way downhill from what was previously served but TBH all airplane food outside of JL and CX does little for me. For me it’s all about the hard product. When I take the redeye back to JFK I’m able to sleep like a log from takeoff to initial descent, so I don’t even experience the soft product. That and a shower at the Flagship First lounge on arrival make a world of difference, which is why I’m reluctant to try Mint.

  6. Just flew LAX-JFK in business on a Delta 767. After reading this review, I can safely say that Delta has the better product. Paying double for first on a 5-6 hour flight seems like a waste to me, especially when every Delta wide body business class seat has direct isle access. The food on Delta seems to be better, as is the service.

  7. I know they don’t serve nearly as many destinations nor do they have as comprable loyalty program, but am i crazy to think that Jetblue is the best J/F option JFK->LAX?

  8. I think the reason they have F on these aircraft (particularly to LAX) is because of studio and investment bank contracts. There are still enough people flying between NYC and LAX/SFO who are *entitled* to fly F that AA can justify the added expense of the hard product. The soft product, different story.

    That said, UA did the same thing with PS and subsequently disappeared the F product as the number of people entitled to travel in F declined.

    I suspect we’ll see the same thing eventually on AA.

    Greg

  9. Lucky,

    You’ve reviewed a number of F products on domestic airlines that you have deemed lackluster, uncompetitive, etc.

    Should these carriers simply eliminate these products are have only domestic first class and international business class (basically the Delta policy)?

  10. I was just in F a couple weeks ago SFO-JFK and got a Reno Air amenity kit. Looks like you got the old Eames kit.

  11. I’ve now flown this plane in all three classes. I think Flagship First is very similar to business, but I’ve always had exceptional service and first class was amazing. The purser was fabulous. I think the first class cabin is more private, and almost feels like you’re in a private jet, but when i flew the 1st class cabin was nearly empty. The seats are very similar to business class. I’ve had only good experiences in both the JFK > SFO legs and JFK > LAX. I will give a big shout-out to the MCE seats in bulkhead. The extra legroom is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. The seats are somewhat narrow, but you can’t beat the legroom.

  12. While the loss of the salad cart is a shame (and, before that, the loss of the smoked salmon cart and the lobster as the protien for the salad), there have been soft product improvements from the way the meal was served on the 762s. First, there are no trays anymore (the 762 service used trays for the meals); second, they now give you butter in a ramekin instead just a square of pre-wrapped butter. The snack basket, while junk food, is nice to have if you do get hungry at the end of the flight. So, all in all, I still think it is strong soft product.

  13. @ Anthony — Well even Delta has “premium” transcon routes. At the end of the day I can only share my thoughts as a passenger, and obviously the airlines have a much better understanding of whether it makes financial sense or not. Given how big the bean counting departments are at airlines, I assume they’re making money on the product or else they would eliminate it.

  14. @ Ryan — There are 10 first class seats and 20 business class seats. They could definitely fit more business class seats in that area.

  15. @Anthony

    As a miles and points junkie, should airlines get rid of F? Hell no. As a paying passenger, should they? As a paying passenger, I don’t care what they do. But if they expect me to pay for it, they have to deliver *value*. And TBH, since flat-bed J has become the standard, I don’t find the value of F worth what the increased premium.

    Only the bean counters know if it’s worthwhile. In general, you’re finding aircraft equipped with F cabins getting reduced, and having the cabin left in only a few key markets.

  16. Would you fly JFK-YVR-LAX using CX F over AA’s nonstop? That is the issue I always wrestle with.

    The arrival time into YVR sucks and forces an overnight. And if using Avios, the options to LAX are rough.

  17. @Louis. AA will not let you route between two U.S. cities via an international city on the same award. You would need to book it as two separate awards. This is to comply with U.S. law. Not sure if BA would allow the routing.

  18. Delta’s JFK-LAX/SFO business class catering looks better than AA’s first class offerings. And on flights operated with 767s, Delta offers direct aisle access. I don’t see much incremental value in transcon F over J.

  19. @Ryan, yes…I know that. But as mentioned, I’m using Avios. As Ben has flown both a few times, was looking for his answer with regard to getting to LAX.

  20. I appreciate all the responses, but am looking for Ben’s thoughts. As for how to book the ticket and what rules apply, I am well aware of what can and cannot be done. Everything would be done via Avios and, therefore, point-to-point as two separate tickets.

  21. IMO, AA’s soft product has been going downhill ever since the US crew took over. While Horton was bent on making AA a world class airline, team US is, as predicted, trying to maximize profits through cuts in service. They’ve backtracked a little here and there because of all the backlash they’ve received, but soft product continues its overall downward trend. I wouldn’t be surprised if FC is eliminated on all 3 class aircraft in the future.

  22. I was sitting on 2A, ordered the same dishes as you did in this post about 2 weeks ago. crazy! 🙂
    I do agree the hard product was great while the food was a bit let down. The service for the first cabin was a middle aged man with glasses. He was nice though.

  23. Louis: Maybe you should email Lucky directly, or call up BA and ask them directly. I find it peculiar to ask multiple times in a public comments section, and yet get defensive when others respond with helpful advice.

  24. @ Louis — It would be nice in theory, but you can’t book it as one ticket, since you can’t route via a second country when flying domestically within the US. You’d have to book separate tickets, so I don’t think it’s worth it, unfortunately. And given that the flights are basically redeyes in both directions, it’s even less worthwhile.

  25. I’ve been eyeing this segment for a while but according to expert flyer AA seems to really only release 1 seat on the dates I’m checking. Unfortunately I need 2, anyone have any experience with AA opening up an extra seat for couples to fly? Thanks.

  26. @ kjb they will open up 2 seats closer in, usually within a week of departure. For example, I was lookign for 2 Z seats on the evening JFK-SFO flights this Sunday. The seats I wanted finally opened up yesterday morning.

  27. Thanks, Ben, for replying to my question of whether you personally would fly JFK-YVR-LAX over JFK-LAX utilizing Avios, which most people who have large mileage balances know book point-to-point and have nothing to do with routing rules. Guess the KJs from FT have sadly made it over here — criticizing others after giving advice that is not relevant to the question posed.

  28. I was very pleased with the hard product, I love american’s new fleet, I’ve flown all the new hard products in first and business, I guess my philosophy with american is if you can eat before you leave, you’ll get a good amount of rest. The crews I’ve had on the transcon have been great, but the food bad. I guess I try not to complain about the transcon service, as although you are paying a premium, the bed is unbeatable along with the direct aisle access.

  29. Hilarious, I just knew it would be them!! I love reading your blog and following you on IG, you’re the funniest with just the right amount of sass!

  30. Hi Lucky,

    I’m flying Business Class on American’s new A321 Transcon, Lax to JFK in September. Is it true there are no amenity kits handed out in BC?

    Thanks.

  31. I’ve just booked this flight in late December (using points) and am quite excited after seeing photographs, etc. Seatguru is still showing the old configuration (shows 2 x 2 First) so was very happy when the AA reservation gent asked me what seat and wanted and confirmed it is the reverse herringbone layout. As an aside, I was originally flying Alaska Air and it was going to take all day to get from NYC to LA (only points flight available when I booked ages ago). The reservation fellow I spoke with the change the flight was incredibly helpful (I’m in AUS, not USA) – I could not have asked for better service over the phone.

  32. hey lucky !

    i totally love your reviews i read them a lot, i just have a request: do you mind reviewing Virgin America’s first class ? I’m really curious to know how its like and i think you’d be awesome at reviewing it thanks 🙂

  33. I just flew from Philadelphia to San Juan round trip on a American Airlines A321 business class.
    No entertainment, noisy, uncomfortable seats, old, to sum it up “No Class”. Previously I flew to Miami and Punta Cana from Philly on US Air A330 business class, what a difference. AA NEVER AGAIN.

  34. Hi, Lucky and friends!
    I see Pete’s Oct 20 comment above about PHL-San Juan.
    I’m wondering about the experinece PHL-LAX on the A321. Is it worth going out of my way (coming from DCA) to take this ex-PHL flight in F? Is the experience more akin to Lucky’s JFK-LAX experience or more like Pete’s to San Juan?
    Thanks.

  35. I flew F from JFK to LAX this past weekend and the meal was served on one tray even the desert ice cream was a very small ice cream cup..Wondering if this was because this was the red-eye to LAX but it seems the service has been cut back..

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