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American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Service"

Thu Sep 11, 2003 1:54 am

This is my first trip report posted here, so comments are welcome.
I understand this to be a very busy route, and has probably been commented on before, but here is my take on it.

This was my first trip on a 777, so I was impressed with its size. When annoucements were made over the PA, they kept referring to the flight as the 'American Airlines flagship service'. What this meant exactly, I am unsure - but I was expecting American's finest aircraft. Visually and comfort wise, I was not dissapointed. The 777 is a completely different animal to the usual A320s and 757s I fly. Once we were called to board flight 101, their 'flagship service' I was directed to the back of the plane by a cheerful flight attendant. We were sat on row 41, the second to last. The leg room on American was stunning for economy class. I could easily stretch out. The seat was comfortable and the complimentary cushion and blanket were welcome. I switched the PTV on, and proceeded to the flightmap.

I had heard great things about the 777s engines, and they certainly looked massive. The problemss began when they actually started up. Their noise matches their size accurately. Being used to smaller Airbus aircraft, the 777 was very noisy. I had no intention of sleeping, so I wasnt too bothered, and merely hoped the performance would match the size and noise. This was not to be. I had flown into LHR on a A321 to catch this flight and the 777 felt very sluggish in comparison. On take off, the engines roared, causing all the fixtures to rattle and vibrate, and we were drowned with the noise, but we were not rewarded for our troubles. The aircraft edged forward, as though the aircraft was just too big for the engines to push forward with any great speed. The take off run was long, but it needed to be, because you could hardly feel the aircraft gaining speed, it was that gradual. Some people might prefer this, but the blast down the runway, to me, is one of the best parts of flying. The 777 was pedestrian. The much criticized Airbus aircraft I usually fly on puts it to shame. Im not sure if this is some practice of American - to not strain the engines in any way, or whether this was actually the raw power of the 777 - anyway, I wasnt impressed.

For such a large aircraft, we also had a very bumpy and rough flight over the Atlantic. It started over Ireland and lasted the entire flight, apart from about an hour gap in mid flight. I attempted to take a few pictures, but it was next to impossible, the plane was shaking all the time. Most have some blur to them.

In terms of service, the meal was perfectly acceptable. The choices were between a chicken pasta dish or salmon. I opted for the chicken, which proved tasty but lacking in temperature. Drinks were regularly offered, and I took full advantage of this. However, once the first meal was served and cleaned up, the cabin crew seemed to disappear for the whole length of the flight. They made a return near the end to serve a pizza snack, but other than that, they were nowhere to be seen for 4 hours - but they had no problem handing out drinks at the galley.

Conditions at JFK were far from perfect, with rain, thunder and heavy cloud. The flight had been rough throughout so it didnt seem so out of place. It was one of those landings where you go into the cloud, and stay in it for 25 minutes, only to suddenly emerge about 40 seconds prior to touch down. I was expecting a rough landing, with the rain lashing over the window. However, the pilot did wonders. Just as we passed over the end of the runway, the plane leveled out, and remained completely stable, producing THE smoothest and most gentle landing I've ever experienced.

Immigration arrangements were poor. With a 40 minute wait. Can American be blamed for this?

Our e-tickets specified terminal 8 at JFK for AA flight 100 to LHR, so we turned up about 2 and a half hours ahead of scheduled departure time. The terminal was incredibly busy, with one huge line for all flights and check in desks. We ended up standing in line for about 45 minutes, but all the time, staff were having to call people out of the line for flights where check in was about to close. This created much confusion and frustration but eventually we made it to check in, only 1 hour and 45 minutes prior to departure. The staff at the desks were polite but all other staff encountered in the airport were questionable. They were staffing an airport, not a football statium - the attitude was entirely out of place. I feel if you knew exactly what they wanted, you wouldnt have any trouble, as that wouldnt require communication with them. For example, at baggage check in (that required us to walk up the hall to deliver our bags to screening), there was an 'invisible line' that I must have crossed when assisting a colleague to pick their bag up from the floor. If a line had been present I wouldnt be too bothered, but to be chastised so ruthlessly was not required. What is the relation of security to passengers? I thought we were working together to travel safely. Instead, I got the impression they thought they were putting themselves out just to let us travel. Anyway, I'm going off base here, but the attitude just seemed out of place. We were human beings after all, and just because we were travelling did not mean we gave up our expectation of respect and politeness.

We then discovered that our flight was departing from a gate in terminal 9, not terminal 8. I presume this was due to construction work, but it involved a 10 to 15 minute walk in the warm air outside. I got the feeling terminal 8 was mainly for domestic flights, and was seriously overused. Getting into the deparure area we discovered the air conditioning was not functioning as we might have expected. The place was full to breaking point, and the temperature in there was incredible. I was glad it had taken us so long to check in at the air conditioned room at terminal 8, rather than sit in terminal 9 sweating it out for any length of time.

Shopping and services in terminal 9 were also rudimentary, particularly for international departures. Hence there were no shopping opportunities to pick up cheap cigarettes that I had promised to bring back for a family member that smoked. Squeezing past the the people waiting to board the LA flight at the gate next to ours, the PA came on and annouced boarding would be delayed for 10 minutes, because the "plane was too hot". The terminal was too hot, but that didnt seem to bother them. They needed to "start the engines and get the air conditioning working". They needed that in the terminal too. 15 minutes later, we boarded our wind tunnell. Every single air valve was blasting air out, although it was still quite warm.

On our flight out, the PTVs were available from the start, and I presume this was normal, because a bloke I was speaking to who flew this route frequently asked a flight attendant if they would be switched on. We were told they would come once in the air. All this really achieved was a rather distant and obscured view of the safety video on the main screens at the end of the cabin, where we had been able to view it on PTVs on our flight out.

JFK will be JFK I suppose, regardless of the airline. 14 planes were waiting on the taxi way to depart, so we spent quite a while shunting forward waiting for our turn. The plane was getting to a nice temperature now, but the imminent departure discouraged people from messing with the valves, particularly in the central seating where you really needed to stand up to alter the settings. I could hear many people complaining about being cold, but we were alreading on the runway ready to depart.

I was keen to dismiss the disappointment with the 777s 'performance' that I experienced on the way out, but this was not to be. The engines roared loudly, the cabin shook, and the windows rattled, but still, the departure was a mere crawl. I'm not sure if this is just AA policy, or the 777 generally, but even compared to the Airbus aircraft I have been on (A320, A321, A330) this can only be regarded as 'pathetic'. It seems hard to believe that the 757 and the 777 could have been made by the same manufacturer. Take off in the 757 can be likened to an aircraft carrier based catapult system - you really feel the engines blasting you down the runway. On the 777, we were crawling down the runway with the engines roaring in our ears. This obviously forced a long take off run. I was going to ask a flight attendant if they wanted us to get out and push if it would help us take off any easier. I glanced out of the window and saw the taxiway I had seen previous departures lift off the ground next to - we were still cruising down the runway, all wheels down. After another few moments of cruising with no lift off, I began to get somewhat uneasy, even though I consider myself a cool customer when it comes to flying.

The frequent flyer I had been talking to was sat behind me, and he had his wife (who wasnt so frequent and a timid flyer) sat over the aisle to him. While preparing to depart, every noise and clank she had asked "is that normal?" to which he replied "yes, perfectly normal". Anyway, the front wheel finally lifted, and being on row 41 (second to last window row) the runway came up to meet us. Then nothing. We remained in this position - the runway whizzing past just a few feet below us. After a few seconds, the cabin began to vibrate most unusually, with an associated thudding noise.

"Is this normal?" asked the women. Her husband remained silent. The plane continued to scream down the runway in this position, vibrating quite violently, and even I became concerned, because as far as I knew, no - it wasnt normal. I presumed we were past the 'point of no return' - I dont know the exact term, but the point where you cant abort take off. If this plane wanst going to leave the runway, we were surely in a pickle. I glanced around the cabin, and everyone seemed acutely aware of the situation, staring out of the windows, and looking around the cabin for some reassurance. It probably wasnt too long, but it seemed like an eternity at the time. This was easily the longest take off run Ive seen, and so much longer than other traffic I had seen. The 5 seconds or so with the nose up in the air with the rear skimming the runway was also most strange as it begged the question - can we not get enough speed to take off?! Eventually we lifted off and the severe vibrations and shaking ceased. Past the noise of the roaring engines and rattling fixtures, you could hear the collective sigh of relief.

The inflight entertainment was a bit hit and miss. For about 60 minutes the screens were blank, even the main screens. The flight attendants promised they would be switched on soon, but the radio channels were working. Eventually the screens activated - for about 20 seconds, when they switched off again. The radio channels also ceased. This was going to be a loooong flight without any entertainment. Sleeping was going to be difficult with the noisy cabin of the 777, which truly sounded like the engines were on full throttle all the time (which I know they were not). After the take-off and now this, I began asking what sort of tin can aeroplane are we flying?! The inflight entertainment finally came on again after about 35 minutes.

Service wise, American Airlines were perfectly acceptable. I got 4 full cans of soda from the many drinks services offered, but the choice of meals was limited. The beef ran out a few rows ahead, so the last 6 rows were forced to have the salmon. Despite that, the meal was okay, with the chocolate cake being particularly good. The crew were friendly and showed appropriate attentiveness for a night flight, in contrary to the many scare stories I had heard about AA staff.

American cannot beat when it comes to space. Leg room was again.... incredible for economy class. I could stretch my legs fully and didnt feel cramped in the slightest. Full marks to American for making economy bearable on long haul. The extra room doesnt sound like a lot (a couple of inches) but it makes all the difference. I could have probably stretched out for a good sleep with the seat reclined had it not been for the noisy 777.

People in the central seating were having difficulty with the air conditioning, with the vavles being too high on the 777 for them to reach. To cool down the the plane, they had all been turned on the maximum, which made it somewhat uncomfortable. In most rows, the tallest person had to adjust everyones.

The flight was smoother than the outward flight, with only the occasional turbulence. Despite the dubious 'performance' of the 777 on take off, we made excellent progress at 39,000 feet, arriving over Ireland in next to no time. Had it not been for the need to stack over LHR for 20 minutes, we would have been on the ground much earlier than scheduled.

Landing was superb again. The AA pilot managed to pull off a really gentle landing, and I had trouble figuring out exactly when we touched the ground. Full marks chap. Immigration in LHR lived up to British standards. EU passports got the 'wave through' treatment and we were through in next to no time. However, for international passport holders, the line was immense. The room was stuffy and lacked air conditioning. It made my wait in US immigration look easy.

So overall, would I travel with AA again on this route? Yes.

- The price was excellent (both flights were full, with nearly every seat in business class looking 'used' afterwards)
- The service was good, with both sets of cabin crew being friendly.
- We made good progress on both flights - arriving almost exactly on time.
- The legroom was superb.
- All AA staff on the ground were friendly and professional.
- Pre-selected seats were the exact seats we had.

I wasnt very impressed with the 777 - although I would have no problems with flying on one again. I have no idea why it seemed so noisy, or why the take off run out of JFK was so unusual. Call me crazy, but I got the feeling the plane was just good enough to be doing what it was doing. I wouldnt like to be onboard for an occasion where you had to see what power the plane had in reserve, but with its excellent safety record, I have no reason to believe this would happen.

So despite having to use less than perfect equipment, AA still managed to offer a good service, and I would have no hesitation flying them again, seeing as most airlines now fly 777s transatlantic.
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RE: American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Service"

Thu Sep 11, 2003 2:21 am

Interesting report - I have to admit I tend to ignore the bulk of the domestic US trip reports that get posted here, so I don't read much on AA service. Appears it is comparable to that of any other international airline.

Shame about the hassle and rudeness of some staff at JFK - but in my experience, that is exactly what JFK is - a dump, and with rude airline staff to boot. I much prefer the smaller airports, such as SAN.

As for the 777 - since it was your first trip, I guess you must have really noticed the difference. Having travelled most Boeing and Airbus types, I'm pretty much unable to tell the difference in noise or performance anymore....

Once again, tks for the report!
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RE: American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Service"

Thu Sep 11, 2003 3:01 am

I have flown the JFK-LHR route before on the 777 with AA and found it to be a nice experience too, except for JFK. We had our gate switched 3 times to all three different terminals there and it was winter in the freezing cold that we had to walk between terminals. And customs in LHR is dreadful...we had a kid throwing up in line last time. It was horrible.

However, I never noticed the noise or sluggish takeoff on 777s. But I have noticed that 777s have incredibly smooth landings. I just flew a CO 777 CDG-IAH and had probably the smoothest landing ever.
-"...never have I been a blue calm sea, I have always been a storm"
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RE: American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Service"

Thu Sep 11, 2003 3:01 am

I've never noticed the 777 to be pedestrian on takeoff. I have flown on a large number 777 services to and from the Caribbean with BA and the takeoff has always been quite impressive. Maybe it is just AA's policy.
As for the comparison with Airbus airframes...we flew Air Jamaica's "Atlantic Limousine" A340 service too and from Jamaica in April this year and whilst I can't fault the Business class or First class service or cabins I was very aware of the "Flymo" impression the engines made on full throttle and the fact that we required the entire runway to lumber off the ground...give me a 777 any day.
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RE: American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Service"

Thu Sep 11, 2003 5:07 am

That was a really good and detailed report, thanks for posting it.

Regarding the 777s takeoff performence - it needs to be able to takeoff with one engine failed, so with both of the huge engines working it is an overpowered aircraft. To save fuel and to reduce stress on the engines full thrust is not normally used, so you probably experienced around 75-90% of the 777s power.

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RE: American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Service"

Thu Sep 11, 2003 5:57 am

And the A321 you flew into LHR on was a short haul flight. The 777 was a long haul flight. The longer the flight the heavier the load - the more room needed to take off.

Try ATL-MCO on one, that'll show you what the 777 can do.
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RE: American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Service"

Thu Sep 11, 2003 7:46 am

Very nice trip report. I'm pretty sure that your 777 was not being applied to full power on your takeoffs; however I'm not really sure what could have happened on your JFK takeoff. I had a recent 777 flight and as we turned for takeoff, I was leaning forward and looking out the window. As we started the roll, I had to fight to stay in that position-it was that powerful. I find the 777 to be a very pleasant aircraft, especially from the passenger's perspective.

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RE: American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Serv

Thu Sep 11, 2003 11:04 pm

Nice report.

I've flown UA's 777, in about row 38 or so, and found it to be fairly quiet on climb out. I remember being suprised. You're right, the 777 is no 757, but it does have quite a bit of excess power for its weight, being a twin-engine aircraft. As was mentioned earlier, the 777 has to have enough power left in one engine to continue its takeoff roll after V1.

Now, if you want to talk a long takeoff roll, talk about a DL 764 fully loaded SLC-HNL on a hot day, at 4200 feet in elevation at the airport... That baby takes a while to lift off!
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RE: American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Service"

Fri Sep 12, 2003 1:03 am

Hmm... regarding the lacklustre performance of the 777 while taking off, lets not forget that the aircraft is probably heavy with tons of fuel for that trans-Atlantic leap. Hence, the initial slow start of understandable, when compared to a short hop of... say JFK-ORD on a AA 777.

The report of AA's international service seems inconsistent and this report just underlines that fact further. International service is better than domestic's.
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RE: American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Service"

Fri Sep 12, 2003 7:14 am

Despite the mysterious disappearance of the crew for 3 to 4 hours on the way out, I have to say, the service seemed pretty consistent on both flights. The return flight was much shorter, and hence, there probably wasnt enough time to notice that the crew were sat chatting for any great length of time.

Having said that, the service overall was very 'functional'. It didnt do anything to particularly exceed expectations, nor did it really constitute a poor service. In my view, the lack of any special extra's was more than compensated for by the leg room and price. Could AA be taking cues from the low cost sector? I suspect they might be on to a winner so long as the level of service is maintained, i.e. drinks, meals etc. Lets face it, paying £100 less for a ticket offsets any $5 charge for alcoholic drinks or toothbrush as far as I'm concerned. However, what really made it work was the smiling crew. I expected moody and pissed off people serving my meal, but they were perfectly friendly and seemed keen to help and have a joke. Being a Briton visiting the USA, they fitted the American stereotype well... friendly, jovial and keen, with great accents to boot! - a good start to any break!

If they can make the fare structure actually work without deteriorating service and keeping their staff happy, I can see myself flying on AA on all future trips to the USA.
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RE: American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Service"

Fri Sep 12, 2003 7:27 am

The vibration during takeoff is probably the not-so-smooth grooved runway (for rain dissipation) mixed with a very heavy airplane. Nothing to worry about, the pilots surely felt it too. I've noticed it on the BA 777 flight from SAN-LHR twice.
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RE: American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Service"

Fri Sep 12, 2003 1:24 pm

Nothing beats the takeoff of the 757, hands down most powerful experience.

As for JFK, AA is replacing T-8 and T-9 with one mega terminal. You must have noticed all the construction, when it's finished it's going to be a mega state of the art facility.

But until then it's going to be disorganized, and dis-functional. More so because of the construction than anything else, the whole project should be complete by '06-'07. Parts of it will open next year.
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RE: American Airlines (777) LHR-JFK "Flagship Service"

Sun Sep 14, 2003 5:36 am

My guess is the 777 was simply on a minimum power takeoff, which may not be normal procedture on airlines you have flown in the past. In terms of noise, I think this depends more on where in the aircraft you are seated than the aircraft type

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