The FlAAgship Experience: Vancouver, Los Angeles and New York inc. CX/QF First lounges
American Airlines; the airline that everyone loves to loathe. Up until now I had successfully avoided AA outside the US, but with a trip planned with stops in Vancouver, Los Angeles and New York, it seemed the time was right to build an almost exclusively AA itinerary and fly them across the Pond.
Amongst other snippets, this report will cover:
BA’s new First Wing at LHR and new Club Europe catering
Cathay Pacific’s excellent recently refurbished First Class lounge at LHR
AA’s Flagship Business product on the 772, A321 and 77W along with their new International First Class lounge at JFK
The Qantas International First lounge at LAX
Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver, InterContinental Los Angeles Century City and InterContinental New York Barclay LHR-DUB
It was a slightly overcast early April day as we dropped our bags at the Sofitel T5 before our positioning flight across the Irish Sea to Dublin to start the main itinerary. By good fortune this flight would take place the day before the awkwardly named BAinvesting4U event where BA announced a number of new premium ground and onboard products, and was the first full day that the First Wing was operational in T5 ahead of its official opening at the event. In a joint project with the airport operator HAL, BA have converted former office space to link their First check-in area in Zone J directly to the Galleries First lounge, with two dedicated security lanes incorporated into the area. This means that First and oneworld Emerald passengers (and their guests) can bypass the main security search areas and, crucially, don’t have to set foot in the busy shopping areas until it’s time to go to the gate from the sanctuary of the lounge.
BA have redesigned their First check-in area to incorporate more space and a distinctly more impressive entrance. We were welcomed by the agent manning the podium and directed inside, where another agent directed us to a free desk.
The desk arrangement hasn’t changed, although the First customer service desks that used to sit just outside of the First walls have now been brought into the First Wing, enveloped by the new more expansive wall. Incidentally, Club customer service desks are now only available in Zone E, halfway along the concourse. The seating area has been modernised and is now aligned with the new premium check-in areas at LHR T3 and LGW. The check-in area remains a pleasant space, but I would like to have seen BA incorporate seating at each check-in desk, as well as use softer features such as plants and flowers to warm up visually what is now quite a large, cold space. That being so, the wall panelling and integrated lighting is very smart.
With boarding passes in hand, it was a right turn over to one of the three podiums before security, which essentially form the Galleries First reception desk, behind which sit the usual automated boarding pass gates to gain entry to security and consequently the airside area of the terminal.
The security search area itself is impressive, with two smart looking lanes and a huge feature wall to the left, with ample natural light flooding in from the right and ahead given the Wing’s location at the far Southern end of the terminal. With the opening of the First Wing, BA (re)introduced a dedicated premium team of agents to staff the area, and HAL quickly followed suit with their security officers. The friendliness in this latter respect in particular was a welcome change from the Heathrow norm! With security formalities complete, a sharp left turn deposited us in the newly created corridor through to the lounge, currently home to plenty of media screens and not much else, although I understand at some point in the future this area may open out to provide premium retailing.
Navigating around a small film crew (presumably part of the event preparation), the end of the corridor opens out into the Galleries First lounge adjacent to the Gold Bar. In a slightly odd move, passengers eligible to access the Concorde Room have to walk through the Galleries First lounge and main lounge lobby area to get to their lounge. Signage has been updated to reflect this, but is does somewhat detract from the experience for these passengers.
We headed to the rather warm Refectory area for breakfast and found a seat at a table despite the lounge being fairly busy on this weekday morning. I opted for the flax seed granola from the menu rather than anything from the buffet; a good choice that I’ve had on a couple of occasions now, although attracting the attention of the waiting staff to place an order is always something of a challenge; I often resort to getting up and approaching them with a menu in hand. Breakfast is probably the lounge’s strongest offering, a significant but not transformational step up from the offering upstairs in Galleries Club.
We whiled away the next hour or so on the terrace with views across to T5B; more filming was taking place here with a BA manager being interviewed for a promotional film.
I’ll have more pictures from the Galleries First lounge at the end of this report, but for now it was time to head down to Gate A7 where our 3 year old A320 G-EUYU awaited to ferry us to DUB. A rather officious agent came down the Priority Boarding line barking at people that only Club and Gold passengers were allowed to board now, despite not having made any announcements to that effect. At one point she stated she ‘didn’t have time to argue’ with one Silver passenger who took this lack of announcement up with her. Whilst I appreciate the enforcement of the correct boarding sequence, this is clearly not the way to go about it. Luckily most other boarding experiences on this trip would be much better, thanks mainly to AA’s excellent approach.
As this was a full flight, I ended up in middle seat 5E, originally the first row of Euro Traveller but with the curtain moving forward one row in the intervening 24 hours or so since online check-in, was now the second row. A flight time of 1 hour at 34,000ft was announced during a slightly late pushback. We taxied for a hold at Runway 27R, before routing up to Manchester and then across the Irish Sea to Dublin, where we arrived around 10 minutes behind schedule. As is the norm at Dublin, stairs to both forward and aft doors were used to disembark passengers onto the apron, with a short walk across to the terminal where we were to be greeted by customs sniffer dogs ahead of baggage reclaim. A completely unremarkable flight where I declined the buy on board service, hence the lack of images from this sector.DUB-LHR
I have yet to see Flight Connections at DUB T1 in operation, so we headed out through customs and back upstairs to the check-in hall, stopping at an empty ET desk (as the single CE desk was busy) to check all was in order with our AA itinerary; boarding passes were issued for all sectors through to LAX the following day.
Fast Track security was quick and friendly as it often is at Dublin, and it was then upstairs to the airport-operated DAA Executive lounge. This lounge is split into two separate rooms either side of the reception; at the time of our visit, the right hand portion was closed for refurbishment, meaning the left (larger) side was the busiest I’d ever seen it. I hope the refurbishment is going to (or now has) encompass the washrooms, as they are distinctly dated and on this occasion had no hot water. I had some soup from the well-stocked and well-tended buffet, although the arrangement of chairs and low tables doesn’t make for the most comfortable of meals. The airport wifi was virtually unusable. Due to the busyness of this lounge, I didn’t take any new photography on this trip, however, the area of the lounge that was still open hadn’t changed since my most recent previous visit in January.
Boarding at Gate 204 was the usual BA approach of ‘every man and his dog at once’. This hop back to London would be my third trip on G-EUPG, a now fairly elderly A319 delivered in 2000. I settled into 1C in a 7 row cabin, my jacket was taken and hot towels dished out as the First Officer announced a short flight time of just 55 minutes. We were delayed pushing back by some 20 minutes due to congestion, some of which was spent holding near the runway.
Once airborne, the cabin crew commenced the new Club Europe service, introduced just a week or so before this trip. This flight fell into the short distance band and afternoon tea time bracket, and offered a choice of sandwiches or a ploughman’s salad, the latter served with bread and both served with cake. The ploughman’s is the more substantial and attractive option, but the sandwiches are undoubtedly the healthier choice, which is what I went with this afternoon. Previously afternoon tea flights would offer just the sandwiches, with a packaged cake and fresh scones. I welcome the introduction of two choices and the move to fresh cakes under the new style service, but am more than disappointed by the removal of scones.
My afternoon tea was presented on the Club World style china now being introduced across Club Europe services to align the two brands; a positive move, IMO, that looks much smarter than the now dated, but iconic, London imagery chinaware. Interestingly, the sandwich tray was Club World branded on the underside, whilst the cake plate and new (more sensibly sized) mug were both branded simply as Club, presumably reflecting their use across both short and longhaul products. The sandwiches were fresh, although the texture of the open sandwich and the cheese on it wasn’t to my taste. The cake was naughtily satisfying, accompanied by a peppermint tea.
Landing on 27L meant quick travel to the T5 end of the airport and the Southern end of T5A where the Common Travel Area (Republic of Ireland) arrivals gates are located, linked to a corridor that bypasses immigration but feeds into the international baggage reclaim hall and customs. Sofitel London Heathrow
Although our flight to JFK left in the afternoon of the following day, a night at the Sofitel was a more comfortable option than returning home. I’ve reviewed this property on several previous occasions so I’ll keep things fairly short in this section and let the pictures do most of the talking. Suffice to say it was another pleasant stay at what is probably Heathrow’s best hotel, and relatively good value as I used, in part payment, EUR80 worth of vouchers from converted Accor points that were about to expire.
Despite requesting a room with an internal Zen Garden view, we were allocated a room at the end of the building overlooking T5’s car park; this is actually a better view than the internal view. This property opened in 2009 and is now starting to show its age a little around the edges, although superficially remains well designed. Little niggles such as noisy aircon, no bathrobes, soft pillows despite firm being requested, and a lack of bedside power sockets are now more apparent, although wifi was very fast and the Sofitel MyBed as comfortable as ever.
Service on this stay was a little poor, certainly in comparison to other stays. Our bags took an age to be delivered to the room and only came when I phoned down for them. It took three attempts to order room service, the first time going to the switchboard but not being called back, and the second time going unanswered completely. When my salmon salad did arrive, it was thankfully worth the wait.
It was a leisurely start the following morning, hampered initially by the unnecessarily short-corded hairdryer, but saved by a perfectly timed arrival on the Heathrow Express platform for the short transfer to T3.LHR-JFK
American Airlines offer a dedicated First Class check-in area at LHR, in a separate building on the departures forecourt; it’s open to passengers in F and oneworld Emerald members, and has recently been given a refresh internally with new desks to align it with the design of the Flagship check-in facilities in the US.
This is a nice facility, but not entirely practical as one has to walk outside and into the main check-in area in any case to access security. We were welcomed just inside by an agent and asked the usual AA security questions whilst a problem with their check-in system was being rectified. Before too long we were at one of the desks, bags deposited and new AA-stock boarding passes in hand for both sectors today through to LAX. (This facility closed in July 2017, with Priority check-in now located in Zone B inside the main terminal building.)
Through Fast Track security in remarkably little time even factoring in a family ahead of us who had no concept of 100ml liquid rules, we made a beeline for Lounge C - the Cathay Pacific lounge. I recently reviewed the Business Class lounge from a trip earlier in the year. Today, however, the First Class lounge experience awaited, through an open doorway to the right of the main lounge walkway, immediately after the reception desk. The lounge follows the superb design of The Pier at HKG, with small differentiating features in the First Class lounge including green onyx walls and brass pendant lamps; it’s the apartment design of my dreams.
The First Class lounge is nicely proportioned and is principally split into two main seating areas, with a semi-private mini buffet (or pantry, as CX term it) in one, and a self-serve bar in the other.
Seating is also arranged in front of the floor to ceiling windows that wrap around two sides of the lounge, offering views onto the apron and the Southern Runway in the distance.
There is a quieter TV lounge seating area immediately around the corner to the right after entering the lounge, and a reasonably sized full waiter service dining room to the left.
Washrooms and showers are shared with the Business Class lounge in the main entrance corridor.
We headed initially to the dining room for a late breakfast, to be enjoyed on elegantly but simply laid tables. The menu was reasonably extensive; my bircher muesli and omelette were both excellent and nicely presented, although brought in the wrong order (not a major problem).
The lounge was never too busy, but emptied as the morning flight to HKG was called for boarding, permitting me to do a few laps for photography and the cleaning team to move in to spruce everything up (not that it needed much sprucing). I passed the time reading The Economist, and as the clock ticked past midday asked the staff for a copy of the all day menu, which looked far more enticing than sadly my stomach was ready for anything more.
The excellent AA app informed me boarding was underway (and that our bags had been loaded), so we ambled along Pier 5 to the fairly distant Gate 30 where boarding was indeed already in progress. There was no queue in the Priority lane and we were shortly stepping onboard (via the single airbridge to 2L) N785AN, a 772 delivered to AA 17 years ago. Originally configured as 3 class aircraft, AA are nearing completion of a reconfiguration and refurbishment of their 772 fleet to remove Flagship First and fit fully flat Flagship Business seats. These refurbished aircraft come with two types of J seat; B/E Aerospace Super Diamond (all forwards facing) similar to QR’s A350/A380/787 product, and a custom variation on the Zodiac Cirrus product (alternating forwards/backwards). This particular aircraft featured the Zodiac product.
Initial impressions of the cabin environment weren’t the best, as the colour scheme (in keeping with AA’s latest cabin interiors across their fleet) is functional rather than stylish; at least 5, if not 50, shades of grey, tempered only by the attractive mood lighting.
I settled into Seat 4L in the forward of two J cabins, where I found a pillow and blanket on the seat, with a randomly branded water bottle, Bose headphones and amenity kit resting on the shelf to the side. Jackets were taken and PDBs of water, orange juice or champagne passed around, in the usual chAAracteristically un-premium plastic glasses.
Before pushback I took a few moments to explore this modified version of the Zodiac Cirrus product. These seats are more usually arranged in an all-forwards facing configuration (as CX have done, or on AA’s 77W, which I would be sampling on the return sector). On paper I wasn't convinced of the layout as I thought privacy may be an issue given the alternating direction of the seats, but in actuality it worked adequately well with the opposite aisle passenger only visible when I was sitting fully forward; I’m not sure all seats are as private as 4L, however. This version of the Cirrus seat is certainly not as private as the usual forward-facing arrangement.
Ignoring the few crumbs around the edges, there appeared to be a decent amount of storage with a large literature pocket to the side of the seat, and a smaller shelf in the side console with integrated USB sockets above the power sockets. Rear-facing seats benefit from two large side shelves either side of the seat, whilst forward-facing seats just have the one side shelf; this is still far more space than BA’s Club World seat offers. Seat controls are provided on an easy to use touch screen panel.
Unfortunately for those passengers sitting in the middle seats (and travelling together), the centre dividers were stuck up, something the flight attendants said was pretty common. As boarding continued, Mr 5L dumped his bags above 5H, much to Mr 5H’s displeasure on arrival at his seat.
As boarding completed, some rather flimsy menus were handed out and newspapers offered. A flight time of 6h55 at a cruising altitude of 36,000ft was announced, although later in the flight I noted the moving map data was showing the heady heights of 39,000ft had been attained over the Atlantic. As boarding seemed to have completed well in advance of scheduled departure time, the FAs came through the J cabins taking lunch orders by name; my pre-ordered main course was acknowledged.
In the end, pushback came two minutes late and we taxied out to 27L whilst the safety video rolled; personal screens weren’t put out by the FAs, just one example of the rather more relaxed approach to certain issues that AA takes, in contrast to their over-zealous (and completely ignored and unenforced) use of the seatbelt sign inflight. The danger with the seatbelt sign is that overuse creates a culture of ease, such that when people really do need to be strapped in (turbulence, for example), the chances are they won’t be. I won’t even mention the ‘block the cockpit door with the catering trolley’ rigmarole.
Up in the air, and I fired up the IFE to watch La La Land; surprisingly enjoyable if predictable. The Bose headphones are a definite plus point of the Flagship Business product, and I liked the lack of adverts before the movie started, although I don't understand why the majority of airlines fit such low quality screens to their IFE systems. Wifi was available on this aircraft at a reasonable rate of USD19 for the duration of the flight.
I also took this opportunity to rummage through the amenity kit; we were travelling just at the point of changeover to new bags, and this sector appeared to be using up the older grey (and rather cheap looking) stock. The Cole Haan branded bag featured similarly branded socks and an eyeshade, with unbranded pen, tissues, earplugs, headphone covers and dental kit. Fairly pleasant hand lotion, lip balm and mouthwash from CO Bigelow completed the kit, whose hand wash also featured in the three smartly designed J washrooms (one in the forward galley and two either side of the Doors 2 galley), which were otherwise devoid of any special amenities.
The fairly attentive but randomly attired FAs commenced lunch with a bar service (via trolley), at the same time pulling tables out and laying them for each passenger with a tablecloth that seemed far too small for the oversized table.
Refills of the delicious nuts were offered from a carafe just prior to the carts rolling down the aisles for a second time delivering starters (just the one offering of a bland caprese salad), presented on a cloth-covered tray with bread plate, side gem wedge salad (meh) and some surprisingly dainty salt and pepper cellars that definitely beat the sachets offered on BA. I’m not sure why AA feel the need for a side salad as well as a salad starter. Warm, rock hard bread was offered from a basket.
My braised beef main course (hand delivered with the offer of further bread) was surprisingly decent (ignoring the oddly flavoured polenta), the beef being tender and fairly lean. Presentation of this dish was better than I was expecting, with the sauce in a little pot rather than having the whole dish swimming in it à la CX.
Dessert from the trolley was a choice between a traditional ice cream sundae or roasted white chocolate and hazelnut tart; banking on the sundae on the next sector, I opted for the tart which was inoffensive, served on the table once the tray had been cleared away and enjoyed with a green tea in the absence of a peppermint option. I’m not a huge fan of the mugs that AA use in J and domestic F (quite possibly in international F too); they don’t hold that much liquid.
As the meal service wound down I settled down to finish La La Land. I asked a passing FA for some fruit and was told the self-serve bar would be set up shortly; unprompted, the FA came back to let me know once it had been set up, which was a nice touch. The bar was decently stocked with both fresh and packaged snacks, healthy and not so healthy; certainly more expansive than the BA Club Kitchen on similar length flights. I grabbed a banana and a fruit pot to take back to snack on with Inferno, the latest Dan Brown novel to be turned into a movie. The gentleman in 5H was struggling to find the location of the headphone socket, rather awkwardly located at shoulder height adjacent to the handheld IFE controller. Through sign language I was successfully able to show him the location, which earned me a thumbs up!
Sitting relatively still watching the movie it was quite obvious that the seats are built in pairs, as I could feel every one of my neighbour’s movements; not a great design by any means. In typical AA style, the curtains to the galley weren’t closed, and the last seat in the cabin was used as a rest seat, not just for flight crew but for flight attendants too, which is never the most premium of looks. The crew kept water bottles topped up throughout the flight, and regularly offered further drinks.
1h10 out of New York the refreshment meal service commenced. I opted for the healthier of the two options (although was initially handed the sandwich); the charred cauliflower power bowl was pretty bland and tasteless, served with cheap packaged breadsticks, but an absolutely delightful little chocolate pudding pot.
US customs cards were handed out and Bose headphones collected 35 minutes prior to landing a little ahead of schedule. A short wait for our gate to become free had us on stand at Gate 8 five minutes before STA, and we exited from 2L to join a 15 minute immigration queue (one of our ESTAs having recently been renewed, meaning we couldn’t use the re-entry kiosks). Baggage was out promptly and rechecked at the partially self-service special belt immediately after exiting through customs, meaning no visit was required to check-in upstairs before making our way back through security for our connecting flight to LAX. JFK-LAX
With no need to visit check-in, we headed straight for the efficient TSA PreCheck lane, where there was practically no queue. Right ahead in the main part of T8 is the main AA lounge complex, featuring an Admirals Club and (at the time of travelling) the temporarily-named International First Class lounge (IFCL). There’s another Admirals Club in the satellite building. We were welcomed at the reception and directed to the left into the IFCL.
This lounge has recently been refurbished and expanded; at the time of travelling a small section was yet to be completed with temporary walls and buffet area in place, awaiting the opening of the Flagship Dining area. At the time of writing, this area has just been opened (for Flagship First passengers only) and the lounge rebranded back to Flagship lounge; the lounge itself is now open to Flagship First and Business passengers, along with oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members, leaving the Admirals Clubs as essentially lounges for paying members. I'm not sure the size of the Flagship lounge at JFK is up to the numbers of guests that are now eligible for access; with only Flagship First and oneworld Emerald members previously permitted access, the space was never too busy and retained a shred of ‘premium’ feeling about it.
The lounge is nicely proportioned and features ample different seating options arranged around a central bar, with expansive windows overlooking the apron and the New York City skyline in the distance.
The style of the lounge (or lack thereof) is rather bland and corporate, and not wholly distinguishable from the previous Flagship lounge. That being the case, the lounge is extremely functional, with almost all seating areas having access to power and USB sockets within easy reach, and a dedicated business seating area with pod seating and separate quiet room with lounge chairs. The washrooms are a little spartan (showers are also available, but I didn't have time to take a look).
We settled in some armchairs towards the end of the lounge, the relative peace being shattered on occasion by a rather loud door alarm that the staff didn’t seem wholly bothered about when asked. I headed over to the temporary buffet setup, which whilst much more expansive than the average Admirals Club offering was pretty weak for AA’s most ‘premium’ lounge. The Bollinger on the bar was much more fitting.
After a delay of 35 minutes during which I could see from the lounge that our aircraft was not yet on stand, it was time to head over to the satellite building and Gate 39 for AA’s usual clear group boarding (despite many people clogging the entrance preventing priority groups from boarding with ease). N101NN, an A321 delivered new to AA in 2013 would be our home for the very precise flight time of 5h36 at up to 34,000ft. AA have configured their transcontinental A321s with five rows of B/E Aerospace Diamond seats in Flagship Business, upholstered in the usual dull greys of AA, and arranged in a 2-2 configuration in the middle of three cabins. At Seat 7C I found a cushion and blanket, along with water bottle and amenity kit placed on the side shelf. Menus were handed out on the ground, jackets taken (but only after I asked), and PDBs skipped presumably as we were now running 45 minutes behind schedule.
Menu choices were taken soon after takeoff; although I had pre-ordered a main course online and this was acknowledged, in the end I chose to rest on this sector. Looking at the menu while pulling this report together, the cumin rubbed pan roasted chicken looked like the best of the main courses (and IIRC this is what I had pre-ordered). Rather optimistically I asked for an ice cream sundae to be kept aside for me, but in the end sadly didn’t feel up to it.
I put the seat into flat bed mode and attempted to get some rest, but for the first hour or so was disturbed by the meal service, particularly being in an aisle seat. I’m not a huge fan of the Diamond product (the Super Diamond product is a whole different ball game). These are the same seats that QR have on their refurbished A330 fleet and longhaul narrowbody fleet, and have pretty limited storage options with just a slim shelf below the fixed IFE screen and awkwardly placed side shelf at shoulder height. There’s very little privacy, particularly in aisle seats, a problem compounded by the narrow aisles on these narrowbody aircraft. I’ll have more images of the cabin and will take a look at the IFE system on the return sector back to JFK later in this report.
To combat a loudly snoring gentleman in the row ahead, I took a two-pronged approach; I requested a set of Bose noise cancelling headphones from the cabin crew in the galley (as they are only available on request on transcontinental sectors), and popped open the amenity kit for the eye mask. The amenity kit was a scaled down version of the Cole Haan bag received on the previous sector; similarly old stock, this time featured yellow socks and eyeshade, and lesser quality Clark’s Botanicals products, all wrapped up in an odd ‘envelope’. The single washroom had no special amenities.
As the meal service concluded, I requested a banana and tea. A snack basket was placed in the front row, at which point the FAs went into full galley chatter mode, only pulling the curtain part way through the flight. I wish this curtain were positioned behind, rather than ahead of, the washroom, as light from the washroom was quite disturbing during the night. I dozed lightly for around 3 hours on what is a fairly comfortably padded seat, albeit with limited footrest area. 40 minutes out of LAX I headed to the galley and requested a coffee, grabbing another banana from the snack basket on the way back to my seat. I didn’t notice much proactivity from the crew on this sector; once the meal service had concluded they weren’t seen again outside of the galley until cookies made an appearance half an hour from landing.
Bose headphones were collected with 13 minutes to go, far later than I’m used to on AA. Hot towels didn’t make an appearance until we were practically on the runway. We’d made up plenty of time en route such that we landed only three minutes late; despite this, an aircraft was at our gate and was only just boarding passengers. I used the time on the ground to check-in online for our flight up to Vancouver the following morning. With a gate change, the predicted 20 minute wait on the taxiway reduced to 15 minutes and we pulled up on stand approaching midnight local time. LAX have an odd system in the baggage reclaim hall of T4 whereby they advertise flights as having ‘arrived’; plenty of people understandably assume this means bags have arrived and can be seen going off hunting around the various belts. Luckily when bags did start to arrive from our flight ours were off within 5 minutes, allowing us to head outside to find the shuttle bus to the Crowne Plaza. Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport
A 10 minute wait for the shuttle bus followed by a 10 minute drive (via a random stop in an alley to let some other passengers off) had us at the Crowne Plaza, just outside the airport, at approaching 1am. There was no queue at the Priority desk and we were checked in efficiently by the friendly agent and directed to the lifts for our 7th floor standard room, with a rather noisy view of West Century Boulevard and the airport in the distance.
Looking back at the images now, the room doesn’t look bad at all (if expectations are suitably tempered by the fact this is an airport hotel in a very oversubscribed market). However, my overwhelming impression at the time (perhaps partly down to tiredness) was that this room was Drab with a capital D. There were certainly elements that showed the room had perhaps seen better days; the noisy aircon unit mounted on the wall next to the window emitting a faintly musty smell, and the artex ceiling to name just two. On the other hand, the wifi was fast and didn’t require any faff to connect to, something more hotels could aspire to deliver.
As seems to be the case in many US hotels, practicality was lacking with no bedside sockets or master light switch (even in the hall); cardboard cups on the tea tray added to the slightly cheap feeling of the property.
I had a comfortable night’s sleep and was up relatively early the next morning to a slightly foggy scene.
The Temple Spa amenities in the bathroom were a pleasant surprise (although there was no shower gel, just a soap bar), a plus point balanced by an overly powerful shower and leaky shower curtain which naturally flooded half of the bathroom floor. Why can’t more hotels install shower screens?!
A prompt check-out at the Priority desk bypassing nicely a little queue at the main desk had us make an otherwise full shuttle bus back to T5, where check-in for regional flights on American Eagle is located.LAX-YVR
Whilst check-in for AA regional flights is possible in either T4 or T5, it makes sense to use T5 as this is where the shuttle buses to the infamous Regional Terminal or ‘Eagle’s Nest’ depart from. With just a short queue to drop bags at the Priority desk and another efficient PreCheck security experience, we were queueing for the shuttle to the Eagle’s Nest in next to no time. This shuttle, a 10 minute packed ride around LAX’s apron on an ageing fleet of buses, is a far from premium experience. I don’t see an easy solution to the remoteness of the terminal given LAX’s space and capacity constraints, but a switch to modern walk-through buses with level floors would go a long way to improving the transfer, which is as equally bad on the return as on the way out.
With plenty of time, there wouldn’t have been a reason why we couldn’t have used the IFCL in T4 or indeed the QF F lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) before transiting across. However, with time not on our side this morning and a visit to the QF lounge planned before our trip to JFK on the way back, we settled for the much more convenient Admirals Club (AC) in the Regional Terminal. This is a tiny, perhaps even pokey, lounge; not much more than a few crowded seating areas with small buffet and staffed (paid-for) bar, with no natural light or view to speak of. This AC was one of the first on the network to receive the latest design concept a couple of years ago, seemingly inspired by corporate offices of the late 1990s. We were welcomed at reception and given a drinks coupon each for use at the bar, although with not long before our flight opted for some self-service options; fruit and yogurt from the minimal selection did the trick to perk me up.
I was impressed that AA have managed to squeeze in a couple of washrooms into this small space, although given the lack of seating and seemingly high numbers of users, I can’t help feeling this space would’ve been better utilised as lounge seating.
The one redeeming feature of the Eagle’s Nest is that all gates are at most 30 seconds from the lounge. We were paged at Gate 52G for a document check before group boarding got underway, the gate area remaining clear throughout.
Our 2h9 flight to Canada’s Pacific city would be aboard two year old Embraer 175 N200NN, operated by Compass Airlines and configured with four rows of First Class (marketed as Business Class on international flights such as this) in a 1-2 configuration.
A blanket was waiting for me at 2F, although there was no cushion or pillow, not that this was really needed on a day flight. Open bar PDBs (in plastic glasses) were offered by an FA who clearly enjoyed her job, although jackets weren’t taken; I originally thought this was due to the lack of a wardrobe on the E175, but spotted jackets being hung on the return flight. A manual safety demonstration was given before an on time pushback and a long taxi around TBIT to the other side of the airfield for takeoff.
Following some beautiful views of the LA mountains, service commenced with a hot towel and drinks service accompanied by the ever-delicious nuts, which for some unknown reason weren’t warmed (maybe there are no ovens fitted on these aircraft?).
Lunch options today were a choice of a Tuscan chicken club sandwich or Asian chicken sandwich; the club sandwich was my choice, served on a tray alongside a side salad and dessert. This was quite possibly the worst premium class airline meal I’ve eaten (or picked at); processed chicken, rock hard bread, inedible salad accompaniments and a sickly sweet slushy lemon ‘thing’ to finish things off. Urgh. Most of this cheap meal was left on the tray. Copious amounts of coffee and a mint on descent did nothing to quell my hunger.
I found the seat on the E175 to be quite comfortable, although the back did become hard after a while; that absent cushion might’ve come in useful after all. The curtain to the Main Cabin was never closed, resulting in many interlopers coming through to use the forward washroom; no attempt was made to stop them. The E175 doesn’t feature in-seat power, but wifi was available which included the usual free IFE streaming to own devices.
It was a slightly overcast afternoon that greeted us on arrival into Vancouver’s transborder terminal.
With Canada not offering immigration pre-clearance at LAX, we merged with other arriving international passengers in the immigration hall. We’d unfortunately arrived just behind a flight from Beijing which meant a wait of at least 20 minutes before being treated to the usual unnecessarily officious questioning at the desk. The advantage of the immigration wait meant there was no hanging around for bags as they were already on the belt. The brilliantly convenient SkyTrain got us to the city centre in short order, from where it was a two minute walk to the Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver. The Fairmont Waterfront and 3 Nights in Vancouver
I was first introduced to the Fairmont brand on my first trip to Canada almost ten years ago. Since then, I’ve stayed in several more of their properties, and have always been impressed with the elegance of their buildings and simple professionalism of their service. Stepping into the spacious lobby of the Waterfront felt like it was yesterday, not a decade ago, that I was last here; although the property has been through a partial refurbishment in the intervening years, it’s still very recognisably the same hotel.
The usual efficient and friendly check-in had us upstairs and in our 15th floor Signature Harbour View room in no time at all. The room was generously proportioned for a non-suite, and featured an expansive picture window with views across Vancouver Harbour to North Vancouver and the mountains beyond. The windows desperately needed cleaning after Vancouver’s long winter, which made photography a little tricky, but cleaning was in progress according to a note on the desk (not that they made it to our room over the course of the next few days). The bench below the window was vaguely useful, but a set of armchairs with side table between them would’ve both looked the part and been more practical. The placement of the desk and TV furniture appeared slightly off, as the sockets on the wall to the right were visible.
Neutrally decorated, the room was elegantly comfortable without being outlandish. I would’ve liked a Nespresso machine rather than the Keurig, and the safe was positioned far too high in the wardrobe to be comfortable (and was too small to easily accommodate a 13” laptop). Wifi was also pretty poor at just 6mbps; be sure to sign up to the President’s Club to avoid a fee.
A pretty standard bathroom completed the room, featuring very pleasant Le Labo Rose 31 amenities. As is common in older North American properties, a shower curtain was present but thankfully no leakage occurred. The design of the vanity top appeared to be a little odd, as some water damage below the glass top was visible. Despite robes being present, I couldn’t find slippers anywhere in the room, but they were promptly delivered when I requested them at reception.
As we had arrived in the early afternoon, we had time for a few laps around the block before heading back to the hotel for in-room dining. The Rossdown Farms chicken was superb, the Okanagan apple tart equally so. Although the portions were small and I was left wishing we’d ordered some sides, the quality of flavours was outstanding. Easily one of the best in-room dining experiences of recent years, and all presented on a smartly laid square table.
After a very comfortable night’s sleep aided by super quiet aircon, we headed down to the hotel’s only restaurant Arc for breakfast where an excellent buffet awaited at a table with mountains visible in the distance.
Today’s agenda started with a stroll along the picturesque waterfront promenade, around and through peaceful Stanley Park, to a Starbucks on Denman Street for lunch.
From there, we headed up though the West End to Downtown and back to the hotel.
The Waterfront features a rooftop swimming pool and terrace, including herb garden and bee hives. It’s a shame this area isn’t a little better planted, but on a sunny day it would be a great spot to relax; just the one solitary swimmer was present on this rather chilly late afternoon.
Dinner that evening was at Salam Bombay, a pleasant if fairly ordinary Indian restaurant that nevertheless satisfied the hunger of a day’s exploration.
Our second morning in Vancouver was a Saturday, a day when it seems it’s popular for non-residents to go to hotels for breakfast. There’s nothing wrong with this of course, but a 10 minute wait for a table for residents without so much as the offer of a seat in the lounge area or drink didn’t get the day off to the best of starts. Once we were seated at a table, we were addressed by name which was good, although service wasn’t quite as attentive as the day before (or the following day), presumably due to the number of other diners.
If the previous day had been windy, today was wet. Very wet. Undeterred, we spent the morning wandering through Downtown to the ferry across False Creek to Granville Island market; a street photographer’s paradise, it was easy to get lost amongst the many vibrant stalls and boat yard.
After a bite to eat from one of the numerous eateries, a taxi to historic Gastown was a sensible decision.
Italian Kitchen was the venue for dinner that evening, a buzzing restaurant and bar just across the road from the restaurant we’d eaten at the previous night on Alberni Street. We didn't have a reservation so chanced our luck and accepted seats at the bar for what turned out to be an excellent and atmospheric meal.
Our final morning in Vancouver was spent along the waterfront once more; there are some lovely upscale apartments in this area which I can very much see myself at home in one day!
All too soon, and just as the weather was clearing, it was time to head back to the hotel to check out, where the concierge didn’t want any payment for posting a few postcards; a great touch to end another pleasant stay at the Fairmont Waterfront. Vancouver firmly remains one of my favourite cities (in one of my favourite countries), and next time I hope to be back in better weather for a little longer to explore further afield once more.Next:
Back to LAX for 2 nights at the IC, the QF First lounge, Flagship Business to JFK, a night in the Big Apple at the Barclay and Flagship Business to London on the 77W.