REVIEW: American Airlines' New Business Class

As an American Airlines flyer with Executive Platinum status - that's their highest level, which generally requires 100,000 flown miles annually - I am entitled to unlimited upgrades on all domestic AA flights. And while it's nice to have a slightly wider seat, the reality is that most of my intra-US flights are under three hours; do I really need (or even care about) a bigger seat for such short flights? Honestly, I don't. But when it comes to transcontinental (aka "transcon") flights - especially those overnight, red-eyes - the seat you're in makes a big difference. Over the past several months, American has been rolling out their brand new fleet of A321 aircrafts. To most, the type of plane your on doesn't often matter. But when we're takling about the difference between a recliner and a bed for these long transcons, it makes all the difference in the world! 

I was recently in Toronto and saw this as the perfect chance to try out the new lie-flat seats. I booked my flights to route via JFK, because that was the only way to guarantee myself a seat on the new A321. My routing was LAX-JFK-YYZ and back the same way. On the outbound, my upgrade cleared right at the 100-hour window; the earliest allowed as an Executive Platinum flyer. The upgrade on the return didn't clear until five minutes before boarding, which left me feeling the shpilkes. Thankfully though, when all was said and done, Sarah and I had the great pleasure to enjoy the brand new busines class seats in both directions! Now, onto the review and photos...

The seat actually looked very familiar to me, and I later discovered that they are the same product - albeit with some minor changes - that United uses in the "BusinessFirst" cabin on international flights. The cushioning on the seats is incredibly comfortable, and the 2-2 configuration makes it ideal for traveling with a companion. 

When it came time to sleep, a simple push of a button moves the seat into a fully-flat position. It was nice to see that they even offer a little shelf at the top of the center console to store some water, glasses, a cell phone or other miscellaneous items. 

When boarding, passengers will see each seat has a very nice, fluffy comforter wrapped up (in typical airline fashion) and a bottle of water already waiting. The Bose noise-cancelling headsets which are given to business and first class passengers are actually not passed out until about 10 minutes after takeoff. I'm not sure why this is, but it was quite frustrating to me. The IFE (in-flight entertainment) had already been turned on, but unless you brought a headset with you, you were unable to enjoy any of the offerings until the headsets were distributed. 

Speaking of IFE, this was the only area of the flight I had any issue with. The monitors in front of you could be controlled in two ways. First, they were touch-enabled, meaning you could start/stop/select your favorite movies and shows by simply touching the screen. While it sounds cool, it is really quite impractical because most of the flight you're reclining and are too far away to reach the seat-back in front of you. The other option, is with a hand-held controller that is kept on the side of your armrest (connected by a retractable cord). On the outbound (LAX-JFK) I noticed a glitch in the handset. If I ever paused the show I was watching, I could not then press play, rewind or fast forward; only "stop." This meant that I could not pause anything to go to the bathroom, to ask for a drink, to eat my meal, etc... Instead, I had to do everything via the touchscreen. Yes, it was annoying, but it failed in comparison to the IFE issue I had on the flight home. 

On the return (JFK-LAX) flight, my IFE didn't work at all. It kept turning on and off with different error messages appearing throughout the flight. To watch anything, I either had to watch what my wife was watching - NO THANKS! - or have her agree to read/sleep while I watch a movie of my choosing. Of course, we then needed to either switch seats or have the headset cord dangle behind her head; needless to say, this was not an ideal situation.  

As for the service and food, I had absolutely no complaints. I started with soup and then about 30 minutes later, I went on to enjoy my Kosher chicken sandwich. The AA overnight flights are considered "snack" flights, which means I got a simple sandwhich, rather than a "full meal." I had no problem with that as I just wanted to have a quick nosh followed by a movie and sleep. The flight attendants on both legs were incredibly nice and helpful, and I'd like to give a specific shout-out to Kristn, Holly and Anna Lee who helped make the LAX-JFK flight a real treat - scones, drinks, jokes and all! 

Overall, the flights were fantastic. It was incredibly frustrating to deal with the IFE issues, but they were thankfully overshadowed by the comfortable seats, attentive service, perfectly simple meals and, of course, a great travel partner; yes, I'm talking about wife. It was also quite fun to have fellow blogger Ben (aka Lucky) from One Mile at a Time on the outbound flight. Unfortunately, his service (in first class) was not nearly as top-notch as mine in business class; just goes to show that it's not all about the seat, but often about the flight attendants you're lucky enough to get! 

Compared to what USAirways offers as "first class" on their transcon A321s, I was more than pleased with how American has outfitted these new planes. I can only hope that as the merger progresses, they'll retrofit some (or all) of USAirways' A321s to match this new fantastic layout. The reality is, even if they do decide to refit the USAirways fleet, it could take up to two years before it's all done. I'm certainly not holding my breathe, but I'm not giving up hope either. 

Until then, I'll do my best to keep flying the new AA fleet and connect as necessary to a short-hop on USAirways when needed. 

What have been your experiences? Have you tried out American's new transcon A321s? Did you love it? Hate it? What was your favorite (or least enjoyable) transcontinental flight? I want to know... We all want to know! Please share in the comments section; after all, that's how we all learn. 







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