American Airlines Flagship First Bottom Line
Although American offers a solid business class hard product on their 777-300s, their First class leaves much to be desired at every corner. The entire experience I would label as a good business class, and nowhere near the best business class in the world.
The Good: More food options than in Business. Better stocked amenity kits and wider seats.
The Bad: Does not meet the expectations of even an average First Class experience.
The Noteworthy: Cabin crew were somewhat friendly, but not sufficiently polished to consider them “Flagship First” cabin crew.
Getting to Haneda
I left my Tokyo hotel around 3h30m before my departure from Haneda. I initially wanted to take a bus, but given my love of public transport, I decided to take the Tokyo Metro. It was honestly seamless, much like everything in Japan. Even though the metro ended up being very crowded, I never felt uneasy or uncomfortable.
Check-In Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo Haneda airport is divided into two terminals: domestic and international. American flies out of the international terminal. Check-in was quick, the agents were extremely polite and attentive, and offered me an invitation to the JAL First Class lounge. Within 10 minutes of getting off the metro I had my boarding pass. Security, however, was a bit slow. There seemed to be an issue with some passengers ahead of me trying to sneak in bottles of water. The security staff had to explain, more than once, that they were unable to take them past the checkpoint. It took about 15 minutes to get through security.
The JAL First Class lounge at Haneda Airport is an improvement to the one in Narita, however, it is not as nice as other First Class lounges. I did enjoy my stay there, with fresh sushi and stunning tarmac views. I decided to leave a bit earlier than I usually leave the lounge to walk around the terminal.
Gate and Boarding
Our flight left from the very farthest gate in the terminal. By the time I made it to the gate, there was a very long line of passengers waiting for seat assignments. As I tried to make my way to the boarding lanes, which were already assigned, I heard my name called from the gate desk. I quickly asked the agent if something was amiss, and she apologized that I would need to change seats, from 2A to 1A, because 2A was defective. I had no issue with the change, and by the time I had my boarding pass, the agent ushered me to the front of the First Class/OneWorld Emerald queue.
The American Airlines 777 First class cabin consists of 2 rows of seats set in a 1x2x1 configuration. The seats feel extremely exposed, something other flyers have shared about the cabin. There are overhead bins on both sides as well as the middle section, which means it does not feel as spacious as other first-class cabins out there. I did not find that any seat was more private than the rest, which made the cabin feel very open and not exclusive (even though it is found in only one type of aircraft in all of AA’s fleet).
The American Airlines Flagship Suite is wider than their business class seat. It feels like your throne in the sky. The fact that it can swivel into a desk with window views is a unique feature of this seat. However, that’s where the positives end. Although wider than the business class seat, the IFE screen is about the same size, and the seat needs to be facing forward for taxi, take-off and landing. There are seat controls on a small screen on the window side of the seat. Power outlets, headphone jack, and IFE control are all found on a compartment to the side. The compartment also has a small mirror.
Waiting at my seat was a pair of Bang & Olufsen headphones, which were undoubtedly as good as any Bose Noise-cancelling headphones. There were also tons of Casper-branded bedding and a large pillow. Also waiting was an amenity kit. It is made by This Is Ground and with amenities from Allies of Skin. I found it to be really well stocked and with quality products. There was also a sleeper suit, the same one that is provided to Business Class passengers on longer flights.
Departure and Take Off
Before boarding, there were still 5 seats available for sale on the flight. By the time boarding was done, every seat in Flagship First was taken. I was confused, as 2A (I was told) was broken. Eventually, I figured out that those other 5 open seats were given to AA employees because some of them knew the crew on this flight. I may have been moved to make a crew member happy, but I didn’t mind, it was otherwise a good flight in 1A. It’s also pretty cool to sit on a 1A seat.
As soon as I was settled in, the flight attendant working my aisle came by offering water, juice, and champagne. I chose the orange juice because I was not feeling champagne that morning. She also came by with a menu and a drinks list. Although the menu looked elegant, the variety was quite limited (more on that later).
Just before departure, the purser came by and welcomed me aboard. He thanked me for being an AA Executive Platinum and told me to let him know if I needed anything (this would be the last time I would see him before arrival). We left the gate about 10 minutes after the schedule and took off on time.
Dining on American Airlines Flagship First is supposed to be a culinary affair. Sadly, it does not meet such a high burden. Although there were good intentions in terms of making the menu feel authentically Japanese, the food was truly American Airlines. The menu read as follows:
I ordered the Japanese meal (to be able to compare this flight to my JAL First Class flight and with my other American Airlines Business class flight from Tokyo. The meal began with a ramekin of olives (instead of the usually warmed nuts) along with your drink of choice. A few minutes later, I requested to have my table set on the window-facing table. Although legroom is very restricted in this position, there’s nothing better than a table with a 30,000-foot view. The table linens were elegant, and the table was set with relative precision (as far as non-Asian carriers go). I was also brought a bottle of Evian water as well.
The meal began with an amuse-bouche of prosciutto and fig with tomato gazpacho. The gazpacho was pretty good, and the prosciutto went well with the fig.
The Japanese appetizer (Zensai) was a box of a variety of Japanese delights. It was really good, but short of great.
The dainomono was sadly disappointing. The cod did not taste fresh and the wagyu beef was a bit overcooked even by my standards. The flavor was a bit hit and miss depending on the bite, which is something that I had not encountered in JAL First. After my main course, I decided to forgo dessert since I was full and not really feeling like eating. I had a long week in Asia and I wanted to sleep.
The pre-arrival snack was truly disappointing. I slept for longer than I usually do (waking up only 80 minutes before arrival). The flight attendant, as soon as I woke up, asked for my meal order. I asked for the Japanese meal, only to be told it had run out. I am not a big breakfast person, so I opted for the chicken sandwich. The flight attendant also brought me the smoothie.
The smoothie was the highlight of the meal. That says a lot about the second meal service. The chicken sandwich was cold, flavorless and the bread was hard. I picked at it for about 10 minutes, forcing myself to eat at least half of it since I needed to eat something after 8 hours of sleep.
I would love to say that privacy was the biggest issue with sleeping on American Airlines Flagship First. However, the seat design is rather odd. I found myself in one of two scenarios: either I slept with the armrests down and risked (literally) falling off the seat while turning or I slept with them up and made the bed more narrow. This was a rather unusual dilemma to have, especially in First Class. American’s business class seats are more comfortable, even when considering that First Class has better bedding. I decided to sleep with the armrests down and avoid moving, and I was able to sleep for about 7 hours.
Notes on Wifi, Service and Wow Factor
I will always commend American for their domestic fleet’s connectivity. Over 95% of their mainline fleet has fast wifi. Their widebody fleet, however, uses Panasonic wifi, which is usually abysmally slow. This flight was no exception. I wanted to work, or at least send a few emails, but the connection was so slow my MS Outlook would not work. That’s probably the reason I ended up sleeping for 7 hours.
Service on the flight was well-intentioned but spotty. The crew seemed to care about making passengers feel welcome and taken care of. Yet, when I was going to sleep, there was not proactive preparation of the bed, they did not bother to wake me up for breakfast even though I had asked them to wake me up about 90 minutes before landing. The crew (based on what I saw while I was awake) just went through the motions for most of the flight. They smiled, but they weren’t genuine smiles. I believe this is a reflection of the overall attitude of American. I don’t fault the FAs only, I also fault the lack of leadership at American’s C-Suite.
As far as Wow factor goes, the swivel chair is unique for American Flagship First. My primary issue is whether or not that justifies the poor design of the sleeping position.
Arrival and Landing
About 40 minutes before landing, the captain came on the PA and informed us of our early arrival at LAX. He expected us to have to wait for a gate or have to park at a remote stand given space issues at the airport. About 20 minutes before landing, the purser came by and thanked me for flying American, he did not ask how my flight was. Again, this was another missed opportunity by American. We landed without issue at LAX, and did, in fact, end up parking at a remote stand.
I came in with low expectations. Sadly, even those expectations were not met. The crew was not to the level that you’d expect with First class at any airline. The seat (although wider and an original concept) was not private (at all) nor comfortable. The food was subpar at best, I would even rank it below their own business class meal. I truly wanted to like American’s First class, but I can’t in good faith say that anything about it was First class. Flagship First is neither Flagship nor First. American does much better in business class, and that’s (in my opinion) an average business class at best.
Here is a list of all my flight reviews: The Millennial Traveler Flight Reviews
Here is a list of all my lounge reviews: The Millennial Traveler Lounge Reviews
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So you were the only customer in first, the others being employees, and yet they ran out of the Japanese meal that you wanted? I’d complain just for that.