Route: Los Angeles – International - New York – John F. Kennedy Int.
Airline: American Airlines
Flight Number: AA180
Aircraft: Airbus A321-231
Seat: 2A (First Class)
Distance: 2475 miles
Duration: 4hrs 36mins
We arrived at Terminal 4 around 2.45pm, just under two hours before departure on this last daytime departure to JFK. American reserve a door at the end of Terminal 4 for a separate check-in area to handle longhaul International First, JFK flights and Concierge Key members.
On this occasion a verbal verification with the lady manning the door was enough to allow us in. There were two self-service kiosks but as this was a little different we opted for the full service option. There were two check-in desks although only one was manned at this time. One of AA’s very polite Special Services agents appeared and introduced himself and collected our IDs and took them around to the podium that his colleague was manning.
The boarding passes were printed up and he walked us the short distance to the lift which took us one level up and brought us out right by the boarding pass inspection for TSA Pre-Check. He escorted us past a couple of passengers and shook our hands wishing us a pleasant journey and hoping to see us soon. Although we didn’t really need this it was certainly a fun way to start our journey back to the east coast.
Within a couple of minutes we were through security and headed towards the airside connector which would take us to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. This connector opened last year and is rather a boon for the premium passenger thanks to Qantas’ First lounge. It was only a few minutes walk from security to the Qantas lounge so very convenient too. The agent who scanned our boarding passes spotted my fiancee’s engagement ring and congratulated us, I guess we didn’t look like siblings or business partners!
Despite having come from In-N-Out Burger in Hollywood we were both keen to sample the lounge fayre. Their First lounge in Sydney is one of my favourites anywhere based on nearly every metric that’s important to me so I was keen to see how this would stack up. The restaurant area was rather quiet and we had a lot of tables to choose from and soon one of the waiters replete with white coat and black trousers was over with (rather crumpled) menus and champagne (we opted for the Pommery and Laurent Perrier) whilst we perused the menu.
Taylor then stood in and took solid care of us and was keen for us to try as many items as possible, saying the kitchen could rustle up smaller portions of things if we wanted to try those. The staff are Sofitel trained and it shows, really top notch service…
The food was out quickly and we’d soon forgotten that we weren’t especially hungry. The crudo was absolutely delicious (though a little extra chilling of the fish wouldn’t go amiss), the signature squid excellent too. The chicken laksa was top notch and the pork too. Definitely the best food I’ve had at any lounge in the US (although the British Airways Concorde Room at JFK comes close).
By the time we’d enjoyed the food and a champagne top up or two it was only about 20mins before boarding started. We retired briefly with champagne to the non-restaurant area (which takes up about a half of the lounge space) and spotted a certain Tom Jones and companion who appeared to be on one of the BA services back to Heathrow.
With about ten minutes to boarding we packed our items and headed back towards Terminal 4. We were leaving from one of the gates at the end of the concourse and as on the outbound flight there were some premium cabin gate lice. As it was only a few minutes until boarding started we stood away from the gate and waited for the PAs.
As soon as the display behind the gate agent switched over to “Boarding Now” (as opposed to the countdown) half of the seated passengers congregated around the gate even though there were no other indications boarding was to commence! The Concierge Key passengers were called by name and brought down the Priority lane and just as they were scanned aboard First Class was announced. Amusingly none of the premium cabin gate lice were in First Class either!
We stood at the end of the jetbridge for a couple of minutes whilst the final cabin preparations were done and I could see the catering being loaded through 1R. When I got to my seat waited with my rollerbag out for a good time to head against the flow of traffic for the toilet to change. The flow never really let up enough and the main flight attendant came over to introduce herself, rather friendly and explained I couldn’t leave my rollerbag on the window shelf for the flight. I think she was being serious! She did break the news that because of the timing of the catering load pre-departure drinks wouldn’t be available but they would get something to us as soon as we were in the air. At this point the Captain walked through the cabin saying hello and welcoming us onboard.
For some reason the passenger in 1F put her bags above my seat so I had to wedge mine in the remaining space above 1A once I did manage to squeeze through spotting our mixed gender flight crew preparing 106NN for the journey eastwards.
The seat itself is almost identical to the 777-300s in Business Class, something I got to sample for the first time a couple of months ago between Heathrow and JFK. There was perhaps even a little more room on the A321T because of a larger gap between the edge of the seat and the fuselage sidewall. The Cole Haan amenity kit was already waiting at the seat but the menus and Bose QC25 headphones were distributed just before we pushed back at 4.30pm.
We taxied back towards the Qantas hangars at the west end of the airport before stopping, the guys in the front seat noting that the direction of the departures was part way through switching and they didn’t know how long it’d be. From our twists and turns I could see we were following a few other aircraft from the Delta and United side in a conga line. Eventually at 5.07pm we were lined up on 24R and ready to go.
As was the case for arrival at LAX we were already in the clouds before I could see the Pacific Ocean but once we punctured through the cloud at 10,000ft it was nice and sunny! Our departure route almost mirrored our arrival with us flying north east over the airfield as we tracked towards Las Vegas.
I was enjoying the view from my two windows when the guy in 1A reached through the gap and closes one of the windows that definitely fell into my territory. He didn’t ask, didn’t gesture, just reached around and took care of it. After a few minutes, with the potential of a view of Victorville’s boneyard below, I decided to open it back up which earned me a turn of his head and some scrunched eyebrows. Alas, the clouds below put to bed the views of anything. With nothing to look at outside the window I opted to play around with the IFE. As is the case with most of my flights I enjoy films that don’t require much thought and so picked the sequel to the Horrible Bosses film I’d seen a few years back.
We reached our cruising altitude right around the time we reached Las Vegas and it was announced that despite our delayed departure a decent tailwind would get us into JFK around 15mins early.
LOOP9 DAG J9 LAS KU45O CHESZ KD54S PITMN KD57U KD60W KD66A KP69C KP72E FOD KG75M DAFLU J70 LVZ LENDY6
Forty minutes after departure the leisurely meal service started, initially with drinks and nuts. I opted for the champagne, Lanson Black Label, despite what the menu told me. A step up from the Prosecco offerings in Business Class a few days before. Another notable step up was the glassware, noticeably weighty…
Hot towels came out another ten minutes later and the lack of drinks on the ground was certainly being made up by a significant number of top up offerings in the air, even before I’d had so much as a morsel of food!
Whilst the food was decent, the Beef Oscar rather good in particular, I think overall I preferred the meal in Business Class! It shows how narrow the gap is between Food and Beverage that AA offer on these flights. As was the case in Business Class once the meal service was over the snack baskets were out in front of 1A and 1F.
After dinner Dasani water bottles were handed out and I reclined the seat further until the film was over just as we crossed from Nebraska into Iowa. My other half across the aisle was napping whilst I chose to once again use the free wifi time to listen to a few tracks on Soundcloud. Before I pack I always have intentions of reading a few magazines or similar but never get round to it…frankly lying the seat back and stretching out watching the aircraft track on the inflight map was pleasant enough.
Seat 2A – Flagship First – A321T
The front galley was blocked off for some time (maybe 15-20mins) whilst the flightcrew used the facilities, during this time it was requested that all passengers in First remain seated. As soon as the “sandbags and upturned drinks cart” routine was over the main FA (who incidentally reminded me strongly of Mary Louise Parker’s Weeds character in both looks and demeanour ) was back in the cabin with drinks top ups. I began to alternate more between water and the Lanson although was keen to try an A321T specialty….the cappuccino. In First there is an espresso and cappuccino machine and so I requested the latter with a Baileys. This seemed to cause confusion as the crew were wondering if I wanted the Baileys infused and made with the cappuccino. I was looking for a more simple solution….for it to be dunked in afterwards
Just after she’d brought the concoction out she noted the cookies would be out shortly so you have two photos here!
Warmed chocolate chip cookies with Baileys cappuccino
I’m not a coffee aficionado but there wasn’t anything incredible nor dreadful about the cappuccino, my decision to add Irish liquor probably not helping with able to discern the quality of the initial product!
As we neared New York City cruising in over northern Pennsylvania I decided to change back into my normal clothes. As I returned to my seat the FA asked about my Bose headset noting she was collecting them in preparation for landing. As I settled back into my seat she did bring around earbuds for the final portion of the flight though I carried on using my own Bose QC15s.
As we crossed over Williamsport, PA at FL370 the aircraft began to noticeably descend, this was the cue for the most curious of AA offerings….a pre-arrival small glass of sparkling water with a lemon. It’s been done for as long as I can remember on these transcontinental flights and is a little bizarre but does the job and seems a low cost way to round off the service.
Pre-arrival sparkling water with lemon
There was zero cloud cover which offered a superb view of all below as we neared New York City. It was even better for those like me on the port side as the aircraft banked to fly almost parallel to the Hudson River offering amazing views of Manhattan, Queens and beyond…
1) Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens…..and Rikers!
2) Brooklyn and Queens with JFK off as the large white spot in the top right corner overlooking the bay
Just after the aerial tour concluded, as we headed out over the New York/New Jersey Bight, the lights were brought up and a dish of the AA branded mints brought out. The “Nancy” FA also thanked each of us for choosing American and took this opportunity to ensure each of our seats was in the correct position. The occupant of 1F was still almost in the fully reclined position (!) and in my case despite holding the appropriate button to adjust the seat back to landing position apparently it wasn’t quite there so I felt like a right amateur.
After coming in over Long Beach and the Five Towns we touched down on 31R at 12.41am, just as the flightcrew had noted when we departed LAX. We pulled around the back of Terminal 8 and onto Gate 14, the most convenient gate for a quick exit from the secure area. I should note we were lucky to arrive at all as the IFE screen noted our altitude to be -385ft! Some QNH/QFE gaffe there…
The passengers in row 1 were slow to gather their items so I found myself by the galley chatting with the FAs until the gate agent welcoming us got the door opened. We were a little faster on our feet than her and found ourselves at the door back into the main concourse with it closed and locked. Alas, the lady was just around the corner and we walked through a deserted check-in area to meet our ride back home on the kerb outside.
So having flown B6 Mint, AA Business and AA First I feel comfortable drawing some conclusions between them.
There's no doubt that when it comes to the ground product AA comfortably trounces B6. Mint really focuses on the onboard product, there's certainly nothing close to Flagship Check-In, yes, there is a premium Mint check-in desk and you get priority security/boarding but there's not even any lounge access available unless you arrange it yourself (Airspace and VX Loft are your JFK and LAX options).
Once onboard it's a little more six of one and half a dozen. I don't think it'd be outrageous to compare the paired seats in Mint with the AA Business Class seats (the former I haven't done yet) and the Mint solo suites with First on AA. I'd rate the solo suites above AA First because of the added privacy and space.
I've flown on AA enough to know there are excellent FAs and your Flagship transcon premium cabin is going to have a very high hit rate. My experiences with Jetblue seem to mirror those of the "online community" in that Jetblue FAs are more consistently excellent and take huge pride in their jobs, this even seems to filter down into very workaday MCO-JFK and v.v. flights that I've taken on occasion. Generally I don't like to compare such a small sample particularly something as variable as service, though.
Food and beverage is a close call. As noted in the report overall I preferred the AA Business Class food to that of the front cabin. I was pleasantly surprised by the Jetblue concept as you get to pick three of five smaller dishes. I found the quality of the food to be really rather good and different in style so hard to compare with American.
Where it comes down to it though is value for money. Although a little more scarce than when I first flew Mint you can bag solo suites for $599 each way between JFK and LAX. On this itinerary I paid $1300 return for Business Class (per person with the upgrade to First being free as noted), whereas AA First was around $3900 return per person at the time of booking. I could never see myself spending the regular First price given the alternatives. As noted in the first report Jetblue was $2600 return per person when I booked so Business Class on AA made perfect sense here, and when it’s a very good product to boot!. Obviously it's all down to price versus perceived benefits. At the $599 per person fare Mint solo suites offers unparalleled value for money and would be my first choice....alas it all depends on if that first choice is available!