To put this into context, I had just flown down from Boston, MA into JFK on an American Eagle flight earlier in the morning. The story begins on the way into the American Airlines Admirals Club in Terminal 9. Enjoy
Route: New York John F. Kennedy Int. - Los Angeles Int.
Airline: American Airlines
Flight number: AA245
Aircraft: Boeing 767-233/ER
Seat: 03J (First Class)
Distance: 2475 miles
Route: COATE J36 BAE DBQ J144 DSM LNK J60 HEC CIVET5
Duration: 5hrs 33mins
Date: Wednesday 5th July
Photo © Ralph Duenas - Airplanespotters
Photo © Joe Statz
I hopped into the elevator with another family leaving the bustling concourse behind and as we entered I was made aware that the family and I were on different flights. Then it clicked to the Admirals Club staff we weren't all together! I was asked if I wanted to move to AA1 which was leaving at 9am, an hour earlier than my JFK-LAX counterpart and I informed them because of my already long layover at LAX I'd be happy to stick to my original itinerary. This caused a bit of banter between the two about the new Admirals Club at JFK and the Flagship Lounge at LAX...
My first impressions of the Admirals Club here were very positive, the decor was bright and it felt very airy. Certainly a nice place to while away an hour or two so I grabbed a bagel and coffee and found an internet ready PC to pass the time.
American Airlines Admirals Club at JFK's Terminal 9
After about 15mins I took a seat by the window which overlooked the much talked about JFK-NYC helicopter. As I watched the rotors began to spin almost as if it was giving an impromptu performance for me!
US Helicopter Sikorsky SK-61N departing for New York City
It was a good spot to see the AA international departures as well as some of the early morning BA craft leaving Terminal 7 for London.
At about 9.30am I went downstairs, perhaps a little early, for the boarding of the flight. After just a minute or so the first announcement was made for First Class passengers so I went and exchanged pleasantries with the GA before boarding. Much to my surprise, or not , there were two chaps already sitting down, one beside me in 3H and the other in the aisle seat at the front of the business class cabin.
As the boarding continued for some time I settled into my seat which was really rather huge and extremely comfortable. As the other passengers filed back to Business Class and Economy I was brought a glass of pre-flight champagne and menus were handed out.
Pre flight champagne: Domaine Chandon Napa Valley Brut
We were informed the flight was full although First Class still had five of the nine seats empty so Mr 3H moved forward to have a row to himself . This allowed me to spread my junk across two enormous seats
As boarding came to an end a guy from Business Class was brought forward amidst a sea of apologies from a couple of FAs and took the lone seat in the centre. He struck me as rather odd looking chap with a bandanna underneath his Trilby (neither of which were ever removed) and had a collection of toothpicks behind his left ear which he chewed on, rotating between his collection throughout the flight
The legroom in seat 3J, and I was stretching my feet out!
The 9 seat First Class cabin on the AA Flagship Service 767-200
More picture of this First Class cabin and seat can be found thanks to Planecrazy2, here
The glorious weather at JFK this morning
Virginia, the flight attendant today in First Class came round with a copy of the manifest, welcomed me as 'Mr Davidson' and sat on the edge of seat 3H beside me and asked which of the various options from the menu I was after and whether I'd like to have a DVD player to use during the flight. The menu is as reads below:
Warm mixed nuts
THE SALAD CART
Seasonal mixed greens
offered with a creamy Parmesan Peppercorn Dressing
or Olive Oil Vinaigrette
SOUP DU JOUR
Chicken with Wild Rice
to accompany your entree selection
A seared salmon fillet served cold on a bed of Linguini Noodles and enhanced by Jalapeño and Papaya Relish
ROASTED CHICKEN AND SWISS SANDWICH
Roasted chicken and Swiss Cheese offered on Ciabatta Bread accented by Chipotle Ranch spread, served with fresh seasonal Greens and a Dressing of your choice.
DINE UPON REQUEST
In an effort to accommodate your individual preferences, American Airlines is pleased to offer any o the entrees listed below for your Dine Upon Request selection, presented all at once at any time you wish during the flight.
Roasted Chicken and Swiss Cheese Sandwich
Soup du Jour
THE DESSERT CART
Breyers Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream with a choice of Hot Fudge, Butterscotch or seasonal fruit toppings and fresh Whipped Cream
FRUIT AND CHEESE
A selection of seasonal Fruit and fine cheese'
The accompanying wine list was as follows:
Domaine Chandon Napa Valley Brut
Buena Vista Carneros Reserve Chardonnay
Clos du Bois Sonoma County Pinot Grigio
Lambert Bridge Sonoma County Merlot
Geyser Peak Sonoma County Shiraz
Graham's Six Grapes Port NV
SKYY Vodka, Tanqueray Gin, Bacardi Rum, Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch, Maker's Mark Bourbon, Crown Royal Canadian Whisky, Dewar's White Label Scotch Whisky, Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whisky
Heineken, Amstel Light and select U.S. Beers
Brandy and Liqueurs
Di Saronno Amaretto, Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlua, Courvoisier V.S.O.P. Fine Champagne Cognac
Carbonated Beverages, American Airlines Premium Blend Regular and Decaffeinated Coffee, Tea, Fruit Juices, Milk'
We pushed back really rather late, considering this was a 10am departure we weren't on the move until closer to 10.30am and it was only about to get worse!
We taxied round the back of JFK and beside runway 31L and I noticed a BA747 moving rather quickly. At 10.30am it was a bit early for an inbound from LHR and then I saw the nose come off the ground and it took off! I thought this was odd as I had seen this aircraft pushback almost 2hrs before! As we turned parallel to runway 4L it became apparent why....the line of aircraft was like nothing I'd seen before. Tails as far as the eye could see! We got in the queue behind a JetBlue EMB170 and a North American 767, an airline I'd never heard of but I could see five of their aircraft at the same time so maybe I should have...
The 27 strong line in wait for takeoff at JFK
The captain announced for the benefit of those on the port side why the other half of the aircraft were all of a sudden itching to hit the lavatories and it was decided to allow people to go to the bathroom one at a time although the seatbelt sign was left on. I reclined my seat some distance and pulled the blanket over me as I watched planes in the distance depart. One by one we crawled nearer the threshold of 31L and by the time we took off at 11.30am I had been onboard for 2hrs! Just another five and a bit to go!
Video of the takeoff of AA245 JFK-LAX. Note the condensation patterns forming in the engine during the takeoff roll
We climbed out through the grim cloud layer and up to an altitude of 38,000ft. Above the weather it could not have been more different, a clear blue sky. Warm nuts were brought round and a glass of Pinot Grigio made it's way to my seat. Virginia then came around with the DVD players which I began to set up. The package included Bose QC2 headphones (although I used my own) a Panasonic DVD player and all the relevant cords to hook it up to the inflight power system plus a DVD booklet with a couple of dozen options
Inflight Theater, glass of Pinot Grigio and the staple of American carriers First Class cabins....the hot nuts
A second glass of Pinot Grigio was offered as was another top up of hot nuts which I accepted on both counts. I flicked through the DVD library which included the following options:
Aeon Flux, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, Firewall, Kiss Kiss,Bang Bang, Million Dollar Baby, Syriana, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Blow, Donnie Brasco, Forrest Gump, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Gangs of New York, The Godfather III, The Great Train Robbery, Harry Potter 2, Independence Day, Legends of the Fall, Memento, Miss Congeniality, Best of Frasier, Jimi Hendrix:Woodstock , Rick Steve's Europe:Ireland, Movie Edition:Scene It? - The DVD Game , The Tavistock Official Film
The Inflight Theater with DVD library on the left hand side
After some flipping back and forth I eventually chose Donnie Brasco, a film I had been interested in seeing for some time but just not got round to it. The main screen movie had been announced earlier as 'Take The Lead' so I was quite glad to have the DVD player option!
Hot towels were brought round at this stage in preparation for the beginning of the meal service.
Soup de Jour - Chicken with Wild Rice
The courses were served on a rolling basis, as soon as one was served the next was brought out. Next round was the salad cart and it pulled up next to my seat. I got to choose from peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and tomatoes.
The Salad Cart comes to town....mushrooms, peppers and balsamic vinaigrette
Once the salad was gone it was time for the Roasted Chicken and Swiss sandwich, in my mind a slightly odd choice for a Flagship Service First Class with a pretty hefty premium over the 2 class services but frankly I had little option It wasn't that it tasted bad, it's just this isn't the right cabin on the aircraft for this kind of entree. I do understand that until just a few months ago that the Flagship Service warranted something more along the lines of my thinking but alas fell victim to the never ending string of cost cutting measures.
Roasted Chicken and Swiss Cheese offered on Ciabatta Bread accented by Chipotle Ranch spread
The view from 3J
The captain had informed us before takeoff at JFK that our route was to take us towards Pittsburgh, PA and in pretty much a straight line from there down to Four Points National Monument over the Grand Canyon and south of Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Being used to predominantly flying transatlantic I had my eye out the window at various points once the skies cleared up, almost continuously trying to work out whereabouts we were.
I thought this was Cleveland, OH at the time but now I'm not so sure. Cookie to anyone who knows
Despite the interesting view which took us over Milwaukee at one point (well I think!) the FAs made a number of announcements for those passengers to shut their blinds if they weren't looking out of the window so those watching the movie can enjoy it 'sans glare'. Having four windows to myself when reclined I felt a little selfish not closing at least one so closed the most forward and peeked out of the others every now and then to make sure the other three didn't fall victim to such pedantry.
I took a few minutes to give my stomach a break and then the dessert trolley was wheeled in my direction for the finale, the made to order sundae.
Breyers Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream with Hot Fudge and fresh Whipped Cream
Virginia was doing an excellent job at keeping everyone stocked up on both drinks and food and with a smile too. After the remains of my dessert were removed she came round with a top up for my Pinot Grigio and a bottle of water. She struck up conversation asking where I was from and going, she seemed surprised to see a Brit living in Richmond, VA and heading to Seattle was on a JFK-LAX flight . We chatted for a few minutes and told her I was recently married and she offered congratulations and mentioned that she was approaching her 35th anniversary. She certainly felt more genuine and honest than chats with other FAs I have come across.
Some time later Donnie Brasco came to an end, a pretty good movie, and for once onboard an aircraft I hadn't fallen asleep and missed the conclusion! By this stage we were over the flyover states. Perfectly straight roads running parallel to each other and irrigation circles were punctuated by the odd piece of slightly hilly terrain. While some find it very boring I find it amazing how uniform it appears and for several hundred miles!
I fetched out my mp3 player and listened to an old favorite album from Yello, I blame my Dad for my taste in music I felt quite at home with my seat reclined to an lazy angle, the blanket pulled over me, listening to music with the odd peek out the window as the scenery began to change as we approached the Rockies.
And yes...the bear enjoyed the seat too
'Take The Lead' ended on the main screen and it was seen appropriate to follow it up with some positively ancient episodes of 'Taxi' starring Judd Hirsch as well as some of the pretty dreadful looking 'How I Met Your Mother'. Even without sound the latter seemed dire so I kept my eyes trained out of the window.
Looks like the Grand Canyon to me...
I kept my eyes open for various landmarks and just as I was wondering if we'd see Las Vegas lo and behold right on cue Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam and the aforementioned city appear just a few miles behind. This seemed to be the indicator to the crew that it was time for the last offered drinks round and I kept the tradition of the last few hours of accepting water at every opportunity which on this flight was about every fifteen to twenty minutes.
As we came over San Bernardino and into the Los Angeles basin I began to clear all my accouterments away and my DVD player was packed up and handed back. I did experience some problems with stowing my footrest although Virginia came over and with a smile insisted it was 'operator malfunction'. Indeed within just a few seconds it was out of the way leaving me rather red faced although it did make me feel better when Mr 3B experienced the same thing
Flying over Ontario, CA on approach to LAX
We landed at LAX on 25L a shade over five and half hours since leaving JFK with a UA Express Regional Jet beside us approaching one of the 24s. The weather was infinitely better than NYC and the SoCal sun beating down was very welcome.
The 767 was pulled up at Gate 42B a short hop from the Admirals Club and Flagship Lounge where I'd spend the next couple of hours before moving to Terminal 3 to catch my Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle. At the entrance to the empty Flagship Lounge I spoke with the guy about the various airlines and customer service, a good old rant for about five minutes or so
I helped myself to a few nibbles and grabbed an ice cold Corona with matching frozen glass A few announcements were made regarding extremely delayed flights going to and coming from DFW. I called my wife who was at this time at Richmond back in Virginia awaiting her flight to DFW and asked her to enquire about being moved to flights via Chicago or St Louis. Her flight out of Richmond had been put back 90mins and I was concerned she'd be marooned at DFW...
American Airlines & Qantas International First Class Lounge at LAX
The view from the Flagship Lounge: American Airlines aircraft of all shapes and sizes...
I supped on my Corona or two and relaxed for the ninety minutes before vacating to Terminal 3.
Verdict: Well to be quite honest I really enjoyed this flight, the lounges at both ends were really good, although a bit more food wouldn't go amiss. The staff across the length of the journey were really rather excellent, especially Virginia, the FA in First Class who really is one of the best I have come across in recent years.
As for the in-flight experience itself, the seat despite the dated appearance is perfect for this length of journey. It provides masses of room in row 3 and is
just what the doctor ordered in terms of width and recline. Of course having 3H free was a real bonus. The DVD Player was very welcome and a great addition to the service and it saves carrying one around in one's carry-on, of course, laptop toting folks need not apply!
My only gripe was with the food which could really do with livening up. At $2300 each way the food in the front cabin on the Flagship Service could really do with a little tweaking. The salad cart and sundae are fine but having a sandwich as an entree option doesn't really cut the mustard to be honest
Overall though I got off the flight with a smile on my face and would certainly fly the 767-200 up front again. I know plenty of people claim UA's Premium Service kicks AA Flagship Service out of the park but for me 95% of the AA service was fine