Review: American Airlines First Class 777-200 Chicago To Beijing

Introduction
American Airlines Flagship Lounge Chicago O’Hare Airport
American Airlines First Class 777-200 Chicago To Beijing
W Hotel Beijing Chang’an
Cathay Pacific & Dragonair Lounge Beijing Airport
American Airlines First Class 777-200 Beijing To Chicago


I was quite excited to fly American’s old first class again. While I flew American’s new first class earlier this year from London to New York and Los Angeles to London, it has been several years since I’ve flown American’s old international first class. I last flew it between Tokyo Narita and Los Angeles in 2012, so was curious to give it another shot and see how things have changed.

Keep in mind that American is actually in the process of removing first class from their Boeing 777-200s, as they’re instead installing their new business class product on these planes, at the expense of a first class cabin. All things considered, I’d say that will be a huge upgrade.

American 187
Chicago (ORD) – Beijing (PEK)
Wednesday, May 6
Depart: 5:20PM
Arrive: 8:10PM (+1 day)
Duration: 13hr50min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 1D (First Class)

We boarded through door 2L, at which point we were pointed left towards the first class cabin. First class on the 777-200 is quite large, as it takes up the entire space between doors one and two.

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American 777-200 first class cabin

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American 777-200 first class cabin

There are 16 seats, spread across four rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. Our upgrades cleared fairly late for this flight, so the only seats together were 1D & 1G, which are the bulkhead center seats.

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American 777-200 first class, seats 1D & 1G

The seats themselves are fairly comfortable, though not very private. They each have an ottoman, and the seat itself swivels 90 degrees, so that it can face forward or you can even face your seatmate.

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American 777-200 first class, seat 1D

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American 777-200 first class, seat 1D

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American 777-200 first class, seat 1D

The entertainment screen is super old school, as it’s quite small and just pops out of the center console. The seat controls are on the left side of the seat, while the ancient entertainment controller is on the right side of the seat.

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American 777 first class seat controls

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American 777 first class entertainment controls

For what it’s worth, American pilots use first class seats as crew rests on the 777-200, so since this was an ultra longhaul flight and there were four pilots, both 1A & 2A were blocked for pilot use.

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American 777-200 first class, seat 1A

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American 777-200 first class, seat 2A

Once settled in the purser, Scott, came by. Holy crap, this guy was awesome and old school. On US airlines we’re not used to having “authoritative” pursers, since they don’t really have much of a “management” role, other than doing the paperwork and making announcements for a couple of extra dollars per hour.

Scott was an old school purser, and the cutest part of the flight had to be that his wife was actually working the first class galley, so they were flying together.

They were both dressed immaculately, which is tough to pull off with American’s less-than-stellar uniforms. It was clear they took pride in what they did.

Literally less than a minute after settling in Scott came by to say “Mr. Schlappig, my name is Scott, and I’m the purser on our flight to Beijing. Assisting me in the cabin will be Eliot. For now I’d like to familiarize you with the menu. We’ve prepared a wonderful service for you today. There will be three meal services for your enjoyment. Please let me know if you require anything at all.”

His effort was awesome, and I almost had to laugh, sadly. He clearly took such pride in what he did, and must be embarrassed by the product they’re offering. I think half of the reason many flight attendants don’t “care” about service anymore is because it must be so frustrating to try and pass off a garbage product as anything other than that.

Anyway, after Scott introduced himself, Eliot came by, who was totally different yet equally awesome. He was more junior than Scott but was a language speaker. He was much more informal, but equally professional, and quite sassy as well (I like me some sass!).

Eliot quickly offered me a pre-departure beverage. The choices were between orange juice, cranberry juice, and champagne. American only serves the business class champagne pre-departure, so I passed. I was then offered a landing form for China, as well as a hot towel.

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American first class hot towel

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China immigration card

Already waiting at my seat upon boarding were a pillow, blanket, slippers, and an amenity kit.

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American first class amenity kit, slippers, pajamas, and blanket

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American first class slippers

I was also offered a set of pajamas, which were a new style compared to the striped ones I’m used to.

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American first class pajamas

I was kind of sad that I didn’t get one of the heritage amenity kits, since I figured these Beijing flights would be a great way to collect some.

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American first class amenity kit

That being said, while not luxurious, the amenity kit is extremely well stocked. I know I’m weird, but the two things I appreciate most in amenity kits are mouthwash and pens.

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American first class amenity kit contents

I was also offered a set of Bose headphones. I love that American offers these in both first and business class on longhaul flights.

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American first class Bose headphones

American’s first & business class seats on the 777-200 don’t even have 110v power outlets, but rather have those cigarette adapters. Fortunately nowadays they stock converters, so you can plug something into them to charge.

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American first class power outlet

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American first class adapter

Unfortunately they vibrate. Like, really vibrate. Scott optimistically said “yeah, they do tend to hum.” Though I’d give that about as much credibility as him saying they had prepared three “delicious” meals for us. 😉

As boarding finished up I headed to the lavatory to change into pajamas. The first class cabin has two lavatories (one on each side of the cabin), and they’re small, with no additional amenities.

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American 777-200 first class lavatory

At around 5:20PM the captain came on the PA to welcome everyone aboard, informing us of our flight time of 12hr45min. About 10 minutes after that we pushed back, and then 15 minutes after that we were airborne on runway 10L.

The one thing that’s especially awkward about being in seats 1D & 1G is that you almost feel like you’re seated in the galley. I was more or less face to face with the purser for the entire taxi/takeoff.

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View from seat 1D in American 777 first class

About 30 minutes after takeoff the dinner service began. The menu read as follows:

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And the wine/beverage list read as follows:

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Service began with drinks and hot nuts. On the plus side, American serves drinkable champagne in international first class, which can’t be said in business class. Gosset isn’t my favorite, but it’ll certainly do. It gets better with every glass. 😉

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American first class warm nuts and champagne

Shortly thereafter the table was set. There was a large white tablecloth, and then on top of it was a smaller beige “table setting” of sorts, which is cleared after the completion of the main course.

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American first class table setting

I was offered some bread from the bread basket, and selected pretzel bread.

For the starter I selected the cilantro cured salmon, which was tough and tasted very “wet,” if that makes any sense.

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American first class dinner starter — cilantro cured salmon

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American first class dinner starter — cilantro cured salmon

The highlight of the meal was the sweet potato soup. It was spicy and flavorful. Nothing you couldn’t get at Trader Joe’s, but…

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American first class dinner soup — sweet potato

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American first class dinner soup — sweet potato

The salad was also quite good, as it consisted of spinach lettuce and strawberries.

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American first class dinner salad — spinach and frisee with strawberries and blue cheese

For the main course I ordered the ginger poached halibut. I don’t think the dish could have sounded any tastier, though unfortunately it wasn’t. The halibut was chewy and flavorless, and there wasn’t enough sauce to make it decent (admittedly good fish shouldn’t need any sort of sauce, but when it’s not good…).

I ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc with the main course, which was vile.

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American first class dinner main course — ginger poached halibut

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American first class dinner main course — ginger poached halibut

Generally speaking the ice cream sundae dessert is the way to go, as it’s one aspect of American’s meal service which never disappoints. That’s what Tiffany ordered.

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American first class dinner dessert — ice cream sundae

Meanwhile I decided to mix things up, and had the warm pineapple upside-down cake, which was decent.

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American first class dinner dessert — pineapple upside-down cake

All-in-all I can’t say enough good things about the crew. Despite a completely full cabin they were on top of things. The meal service was done 90 minutes after takeoff, and they couldn’t have been friendlier and more attentive. If only what was being served matched the service…

After the meal service was complete we were offered bottles of water, as well as turndown service.

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American first class bottled water post-dinner

We had about 11 hours to go to Beijing, so I figured I’d try to get some shut eye.

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Airshow enroute to Beijing

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Airshow enroute to Beijing

American’s entertainment selection on the 777 is abysmal, though I actually don’t mind that, since I always bring my own entertainment. I had caught up on a couple of Bravo TV shows during the meal service, so figured I’d try to get some shut eye.

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American 777-200 first class entertainment selection

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American 777-200 first class entertainment selection

I quickly had my bed made. American does offer “turndown service,” which consists of them placing a comforter on the seat itself. In terms of thickness I’d say it’s more like a sheet than a comforter, though. Then they have an additional pillow, which I really appreciate.

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American first class turndown service

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American first class turndown service

The seat itself is quite comfortable for sleeping. It’s not a Cathay Pacific or Qantas first class bed, but it’s nice.

But there’s a catch. 1D & 1G are at the very front of the cabin (even more so than the window seats in row one), so you really feel like you’re sitting in the galley. There’s not a curtain between row one and the galley on the left side of the plane, and the bathroom is immediately there on the right.

That means it’s very bright whenever the lights are on in the galley. Equally awkward is that a crew member tends to sit in the jumpseat immediately across from you, so on a longhaul flight they’re basically just sitting there face-to-face with you, just a few feet apart.

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Light from galley visible from seat 1D

Beyond that, the light above row one wouldn’t go out.

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Light above seat 1D

It just blows my mind that US airlines can’t install proper curtains between cabins and galleys. I know they’ll argue it’s for “security reasons,” but every other airline in the world manages to do it, so…

But here’s the surprising part. I fell asleep almost immediately — with just under 11 hours to go to Beijing — and woke up less than two hours before landing in Beijing. I slept completely uninterrupted for nine hours. It wasn’t amazing sleep (in the sense that I was still exhausted when I landed), but I don’t remember the last time I’ve slept for that long. I was in disbelief. With the amount of light, galley noise, etc., I figured there was no way I’d sleep for that long. But I did.

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Airshow enroute to Beijing

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Airshow enroute to Beijing

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Airshow enroute to Beijing

Obviously I skipped the mid-flight snack, though here’s what that menu looked like:

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American first class snack basket

As soon as I woke up I was asked if I wanted a pre-arrival meal. The menu read as follows:

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I selected the quiche lorraine. Quiche, salad, and cheesecake sure are a unique combination (and I do love the pretzel “garnish” on the cheesecake).

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American first class pre-arrival snack — quiche lorraine

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American first class pre-arrival snack — quiche lorraine

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American first class pre-arrival snack — fresh seasonal greens with Italian herb vinaigrette

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American first class pre-arrival snack — salted caramel cheesecake

Meanwhile Tiffany had the dim sum.

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American first class pre-arrival snack — dim sum

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Airshow enroute to Beijing

As we began our initial descent into Beijing, Scott came through the cabin again to give everyone a box of Lily O’Brien’s chocolates and thank them for flying American.

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Box of chocolates before landing

As we approached Beijing there was a gorgeous smoggy sunset, which I could barely make out from my center seat. The descent — and for that matter the entire flight — was incredibly smooth, and at 7:30PM we touched down in Beijing.

As usual it was quite a long taxi to the gate, where we arrived at around 7:50PM.

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First class cabin upon arrival

We arrived at a gate (rather than a remote stand), which was only about a five minute walk from immigration. Queues there were virtually non-existent, so within 15 minutes of touching down we were in a taxi bound for the W Hotel.

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Beijing Airport arrivals hall

Bottom line

This flight was simultaneously disappointing and pleasantly surprising.

On the plus side, the service was top notch. Scott and Eliot were a class act, and couldn’t have tried harder to execute a top notch service. I was also thrilled about the fact that I was able to sleep for such a large portion of the flight, given that there’s not much else to do on a flight without wifi. Beyond that, I commend American for their pillows, blankets, and pajamas. That’s all a very nice touch, and I actually like their pajamas.

Unfortunately every other aspect of the experience was rather disappointing. American’s meals have gotten worse across the board over the past few years, but the changes in international first class are especially drastic and disappointing. I’d argue their first class catering is inferior to business class catering on most foreign carriers.

As far as the seats themselves go, while they’re way past their prime, they’ll be removed soon, so can’t say much there.

To those of you that have recently flown American’s old first class, what was your experience like?

Enjoy this review? Check out hundreds of other reports on airlines, hotels, and airport lounges worldwide!

Comments

  1. My one question is how AA isn’t embarrassed to be charging thousands for that First Class product? Embarrassing.

  2. Ben do people actually pay for US airlines intl F? Is there any need to have it? Surely anyone who is willing to pay for it would at some stage fly a foreign F flight, realise how much better it is, and never pay for US F ever again?
    With a dreadful soft product why would anyone pay a premium over a decent J hard product?

  3. Dasani water in First Class!!!! That is so much US airlines!!! That is not even mineral water but tap water with a brand.

  4. What does it mean that “be was more junior than Scott but was a language speaker”? Isn’t everyone a language speaker?

  5. Flying that cabin to China sounds not ideal, but for 67.5k when you can find it, I think those are the best seats to Europe. I’m 6’3″. When I fly to Europe, I want a snack and sleep. That massive cabin and those large seats are the best and I’ll miss them. For day flights or flights when I want to experience first class amenities the old AA flagship product is embarrassing. But especially from DFW or LAX flying east at night, there is no product that gets me to Europe more ready to go without burning a day or two to jet lag. 67.5k is now what you pay for biz with many programs. A comfortable bed, a decent champagne and desert, to Europe for that price is still pretty good.

  6. Another honest review. Lucky: Do you know if AA provides ‘full’ F service on their shorter, e.g. ORD-LHR, intl. flights? I read that it’s moe like ‘business plus’, e.g. no pajyamas, reduced meal service.

  7. Last year, I flew in F from ICN to DFW and the FA Scott and his wife were working that flight as well. I could not agree more that Scott is top notch and takes pride in his job and it shows. How nice that they are able to work/fly together. Pretty cool!

  8. @Lucky, You should have gone back in Business Class, as we got the retro Amenity Kits. And since business was 30% full going, and 70% full coming back, I snagged a few extras. I got Allegheny going to PEK and Reno coming back.

  9. Trip reports like this give me hope for the airlines in the US. I am a firm believer that service is what ultimately keeps customers coming back, and while the fleet is slowly getting upgraded its nice to know some of the FAs are going out of their way to make it a positive experience for customers.

  10. I’ll take Delta One over this any day. Good food, Westin Heavenly bedding, and friendly crews. Fully flat seats on all international flights, proper outlets and entertainment systems.

    I know you like AA miles but this just looks miserable.

  11. @02nz — “language speaker” typically means that they’re qualified in the language of the destination, in this case Mandarin.

  12. @Neil S: +1!!! I hate Delta and what they’ve been doing with their loyalty program. However, I just flew their Delta One last week to and from Europe and in comparison with other US airlines it was by far the best business class option you can have. Of course it does not come close to Asian, ME and some of the European carriers but there is no doubt Delta offers the best business class product among US airlines. Seat was very modern and comfortable, pillow and comforter were very good quality, entertainment technology was pretty good and food and wine selections were pretty decent.

  13. A lot of people say that Delta does not offer international “first class.” Functionally, how is this different than Delta business class long haul? Looks the same to me (food may be better).

  14. I hope you sent in an applause cert for Scott.

    @Damon – On the Asian routes that will eventually be converted to 2-class 772’s, AA often sells F for not much more than J.

  15. @Anthony: That is probably one of the right things Delta has done lately. They know they cannot compete with the first class service and quality other international carriers offer so they just do not offer that. In the meantime, AA and United still keep an outdated class of service that they keep calling first class. And there are people that pay $15k plus to travel on that “first class” product.

  16. didnt’ American for a while early on in the 777’s lives have two first class configurations- an Atlantic and a Pacific one? One of them had the swivel seats, others did not.

    The product does look dated, indeed, but if it’s being phased out there’s not much more to complain about.

  17. Great, balanced review Ben. Nine hours of sleep? What chemical inducement enabled that?

    “I like me some sass!” Oops, there is an extraneous s preceding the last word. 🙂

  18. @Mark: Really? How long have you been reading this blog?

    @Santastico @Anthony: (Obviously) I agree Delta offers the best international premium product on a U.S. airline, and it’s ironic that its Delta One / BusinessElite / whatever is quantifiably superior to first class on United and American. By cutting out a “first class,” Delta can afford to focus on a singular premium cabin and provide an experience that is very much a hybrid of business class (with respect to seating and cabin size) and first (with respect to food/beverage, bedding and service). I think UA and AA are spread too thin with their cabins and honestly have no idea how to differentiate them other than to remove amenities from business class. (Best UA experience I ever had was flying BusinessFirst on a 2-cabin longhaul without “Global First”- I’m convinced 2 cabin service is better than 3 cabin service on American carriers.)

  19. @Lucky – What kind of bag was visible in the early picture of 1D? Was that a Defy Bag? I’m not associated with them, so it’s not a plug, but I was thinking of getting one.

    Greg

  20. It’s hard to see in the pic, but my favorite part of the China immigration card is the “settle down” option under “purpose of visit.”

  21. Great report, Lucky! One point I noticed: at the top of the trip report it lists this flight duration as 10:35, rather than the 13:50 (I think) block time.

  22. I’m not surprised the wine wasn’t that great. I’d never heard of Wild South but apparently you can get a bottle of their 2014 Sav Blanc for less than US$10 locally 🙂

  23. @ greg99 — Nope, the bag is actually from a local place in LA. Will have a post about my carry-on situation soon.

  24. @ Adi-T — Hmmmm, that must go back a really long while, as it pre-dates my time flying with them.

  25. @ Anthony — Soft product in Delta business class is probably better than in American first class. That being said, there’s still something to be said for the added personal space of first class over business class.

  26. @ Steve N. — Yep, they provide full international first class service on flights to Europe as well.

  27. @ 02nz — “Language speaker” meant he spoke the language of the destination we were flying to (Mandarin), which gives them preferential bidding.

  28. @ Ben S — Presumably not many. Keep in mind some companies have corporate contracts whereby they’re getting huge discounts for first class on American, so they’re paying business class prices for first class. For the most part it’s filled with people upgrading from business class, though. Given how sub-par their business class is as well, I guess that’s one way to incentivize people to pay for business class on American.

  29. I flew with Scott R. on that same ORD-PEK flight back in mid-April when we had a 17hr delay. I cannot stress enough what an incredible purser he is – friendly, attentive… old school service and one who truly takes pride in his work. Demanded the same of his crew. I felt compelled to write to AA to tell them what a gem he is and that I wish every other FA at AA would follow his lead.

  30. If you’ve ever wondered this is why I still return to your blog. I’m done with perpetually devalued points chasing and over hyped credit cards but even a revenue traveler can benefit from a proper trip report. It is my hope that you’ll bring the routine trip reports back to the forefront and maybe find a better way to backup your work.

  31. You always say “I love that American offers these in both first and business class on longhaul flights.” in every single American trip report. Nevermind, covers up all the other non-first class aspects of American ‘flagship’ first class.

  32. @ Planesandtrains — Right, just as I mention the food sucks in just about every report. Just trying to be consistent. 😉

  33. @damon. No. As long as US airlines keep their age old legacy programs SWU programs, absolutely no incentive to upgrade their product. I can’t think of any other airline that does this.

  34. I had the Boursin crusted beef filet on DFW-PEK (in F) and it was solid. My friend in biz who joined me for dinner had the chicken and he regretted it. The duck mid-flight snack is actually pretty tasty and considerably better than the pre arrival meal.

    My return flight, I went with the sweet and sour chicken and that was good too. Try those options on your next trip. The lava cake with ice cream was good.

  35. I’ve flown this plane LHR-DFW a few times, longest I’ve ever slept on a plane each time, perhaps the abysmal entertainment and fear of ingesting Americans food is why I decided just to sleep.

  36. Had the same crew today PEK-ORD. Scott was just as described; nice to see an AA FA who really cares about customers having a great experience. Eliot, on the other hand, was kind of a dick. He made some inappropriate comments to us, and fell down on some aspects of service (e.g., offering dessert by saying “can I get you a sundae?”, when in fact there were 4 dessert choices).

    Food was hit-or-miss. The scallops appetizer was good; wonton soup was bland; feta/onion salad was excellent; the sweet and sour chicken was gross, Panda Express quality soggy fried chicken chunks.

  37. Yikes! With so many bad reports about AA’s food I don’t know what I’m in for. Flying JFK-LHR in the new 777-300ER 1st cabin. I only hope that this being my first time out of economy will help me ignore the negative aspects of AA food and service I’ve been reading so much about.

  38. @ Ross — If it’s your first time flying anything other than economy I think you’ll probably by pleasantly surprised. Enjoy the trip!

  39. Does AA offer “full F” service on red eye flights between DFW and South America?
    I am flying on a B772 in first between DFW and SCL and would like to know how is the service and what amenities do they offer on these flights.

  40. Thanks for the report. There’s currently a 600 USD price difference between F and J on a FRA-DFW-SCL roundtrip ticket, and I’m not sure if it’s worth the money. After years of LAN I’m new to AA. Thanks for your help 🙂

  41. FRA-DFW-FRA, would be on J class.
    DFW-SCL-FRA, would be on F
    If I were you, I would fly American, for me, the service is way better than LAN. The downside would be their aircraft, they are showing a little bit their age, but very well maintained (better than LATAM Airlines Group)

  42. FRA-DFW flights are on B763.
    For me, at least I would pay the extra USD600 for flying in a TRUE Lie-flat seat

  43. Thanks for your review. We’re looking at DFW to MAD next September. Right now it’s showing the 777-200 V1. Any idea when/if the aircraft will be upgraded for this route?

  44. Thank you Ben. This article was written in a respectful manner. Considering how much first class you have flown this must have been a bigger disappointment than was let on . American is taking the 777-200 off the ORD PEK route on March 4th. Between now and then except one day around the Chinese New Year the load factor in First Class is 1 / 15 almost everyday for the most part . I’m considering using a “buddy pass” to fly this route and go see the great wall. I also have the option of returning from PEK thru DFW on the 787 there is usually 10 -15 seats open in business class and no upgrade cue. Leaving DFW is a different story with a full cabin up front always but leaving PEK theres not much competition in the premium cabins. Or I can just fly first on the 777 both ways . For a blue collar guy I think it would be a great experience but not the experience of a lifetime that I would get from Cathay Pacific first class. There is almost always award availability on the LAX-HKG route 48 hours prior to departure and I am 100% flexible at the present time but I just don’t see the 50K bonus miles from the Citi Aadvantage Card posting to my account in time before the March 21 deadline. I should be hitting the $3000 spend requirement in about a week . Next account statement close is about 2/17. I am new to the miles game . Going for a visa at the Chinese consulate tomorrow . Thanks for this website and all the free information you provide.

  45. thought I would give AA FC a try from JFK to FCO this October using my miles, after reading this I’m not sure, seem the business class might be good enough but wanted to experience FC, maybe not on AA. Any experience on retrofit B777-200 on this route? Anyone

  46. @ Paul — If you can find a plane which is retrofitted then I think that’s probably a good option in business class. Much fresher feeling cabin.

  47. Just have say someone should lodge a class action against AA for false advertising NRT-DFW 777200 1st Class as first class. Its as described in your review. Hopping off singapore first into AA was just an embarassing contrast in what really is first class and what is not and highlights the USA vs. Asia pac carrier differences. At best its “lie flat discount business” and then compares poorly with say AirNZ Virgin or Singapore business. Its still worth the points i used to fly it ($2000usd return) and night and day vs economy and its All Goodman for me but if id bought it with hard earned tax paid dollars retail id cry. However at the end of the day its really a first world problem of little real consequence and it was flat and comfy, though not private, nor luxurious, nor stunning with no first class food or drink. Should have read the fineprint. I thought it was the dreamliner service – turns out thats the JAL AA codeshare for same route. AA know their product is sub par and are refitting this as bc and I suspect “outsourcing” their first class to JAL who probably do it right

  48. Did you give Scott one of your EXP “recognition of excellent service” slips?

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