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.
Chicago (ORD) – Beijing (PEK)
Wednesday, May 6
Arrive: 8:10PM (+1 day)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Already waiting at my seat upon boarding were a pillow, blanket, slippers, and an amenity kit.
I was also offered a set of pajamas, which were a new style compared to the striped ones I’m used to.
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.
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.
I was also offered a set of Bose headphones. I love that American offers these in both first and business class on longhaul flights.
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.
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.
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.
About 30 minutes after takeoff the dinner service began. The menu read as follows:
And the wine/beverage list read as follows:
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. 😉
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.
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.
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…
The salad was also quite good, as it consisted of spinach lettuce and strawberries.
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.
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.
Meanwhile I decided to mix things up, and had the warm pineapple upside-down cake, which was decent.
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.
We had about 11 hours to go to Beijing, so I figured I’d try to get some shut eye.
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.
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.
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.
Beyond that, the light above row one wouldn’t go out.
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.
Obviously I skipped the mid-flight snack, though here’s what that menu looked like:
As soon as I woke up I was asked if I wanted a pre-arrival meal. The menu read as follows:
I selected the quiche lorraine. Quiche, salad, and cheesecake sure are a unique combination (and I do love the pretzel “garnish” on the cheesecake).
Meanwhile Tiffany had the dim sum.
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.
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.
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.
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?