I will always remember this flight. I typically remember flights where something goes wrong or the service was comedic however, I will remember this flight for the right reasons.
American has refined and retained the glamour of air travel. Albeit, not on every route in their network. They have refined and redefined what the "transcon" route should be and it's only going to improve in the coming years.
Once the Douglas DC-3 and eventually the DC-7 was put into service, transcontinental service became practical. American Airlines was at the forefront of this new "Transcontinental Network". Air travel had become something of luxury and glamour and the level of luxury only increased with the arrival of the jet age.
Now, decades later, these transcontinental routes have retained their glamour, awe, and luxury even when the domestic market has become saturated with ultra-low cost carrier vying to become the airline with the lowest fares and the least amount of service. Again, this ultra-low cost model has yet to infect the premium transcon routes and its clear, especially on my most recent journey across the country in American's "Flagship First Class", a name rightly assigned to the service.
American Airlines FL# AA17
Departure/Arrival: New York-Kennedy (JFK)/San Francisco (SFO)
Departure/Arrival Time: Scheduled 5:00pm (Actual 5:29pm)/Arrived On-Time: 8:37pm
Date February 12, 2016
Aircraft: Airbus a321-231, Registration: N117AN
Class of Service: First
Meals: Multi-Course Dinner/Snack
For the majority of both domestic and international flights, the passenger experience begins at the gate when the gate agent welcomes Group 1 or Zone 1. This however, is not the case. With American's Flagship Service, the passenger experience begins the moment you step into the terminal.
I had arrived at New York-JFK roughly two and a half hours before my flight, traveled from terminal 3 to terminal 8 in under fifteen minutes, and located Flagship Check-in. Terminal 8 was filled to the brim as the cliche goes. Every single agent from every airline operating out of Terminal 8 was occupied assisting passengers. This was also the case at First Class and Priority Check-in areas. Though, I by-passed the lines snaking across the terminal as I made by way to the exclusive Flagship Check-in located on the far north side of Terminal 8. Flagship Check-in is offered to First Class passengers on three-class flights both international and transcon as well as Concierge Key AAdvantage members and the Oneworld equivalence tiers flying in international first or business.
I was greeted by someone at the podium who made sure that my information checked out and that I was eligible to use Flagship check-in. Once inside, I was greeted by two very eager ticketing agents who asked if I would need any assistance in checking in to which I responded that I was "just going to use the kiosk". The two double checked to make sure I didn't want face to face assistance. Once I got my boarding pass I proceeded to a small seating area where I organized my bags and charged my phone while I did so. Then I exited towards security. There I was greeted by a separate agent who escorted me to the very front of security and took my bags for me. Within a minute of exiting the lounge, I was through security.
Flagship Lounge at JFK
Once I made it through security, I proceeded to the Flagship Lounge. I had only been to the Admiral's Club at JFK so I wasn't sure what to expect. That last time I was eligible for lounge access I was denied entry to the Flagship Lounge due to the fact that I didn't meet the age requirements. This time, I teamed up with a fellow San Francisco passenger who commutes weekly between the East and West Coasts. I noticed that she had just made he way through Flagship Check-in, we exchanged some words in the security line, and she headed in the direction of the lounge. So, I asked if we could act like we knew each other. She might be one of the nicest and most seasoned travelers I've met on one of my set of flights. She said "of course" and we proceeded to the lounge. There we both checked-in and we welcomed to the Flagship Lounge. We exchanged some words and went our separate words until we met up again in the boarding area.
The lounge itself is decent sized. Beginning sometime this Spring, the lounge will be renovated to better reflect American's new branding and better serve the needs of the modern traveler. The lounge's age was certainly showing but nonetheless,had an inviting atmosphere with plenty of amenities. I made my way to the dining area and helped myself to the fairly extensive buffet and enjoyed a few sodas. I then made my way over to the showers where I freshened up before the 6.5 hour journey to the west coast.
Every agent I encountered during my visit to the lounge was very professional and welcoming. When I noticed I had misplaced my I.D., the Flagship Lounge attendant held onto my bag and wished me luck in finding it. I did locate it. It had fallen out of the "doggie bowl" I had set the contents of my pocket in as I passed through security. When I returned to the lounge the Flagship attendant welcomed me back in and said that she was happy that I had located my I.D. Though the lounge is a bit dated and pretty humble, I truly enjoyed by experience at the lounge and couldn't imagine what it would have been like waiting in the chaotic gate area. From the lounge I made my way down to concourse level and proceeded to gate 42.
I arrived at the gate roughly ten minutes prior to boarding and both the priority and general boarding lanes were jammed full of passengers waiting to board. I made my way to the front of the pack when the gate agent made the announcement that all passengers not seated in First Class should clear the Priority AAcess boarding lane. That thinned out the crowed quite a bit. Finally, boarding for flight 17 to San Francisco commenced and I practically sprinted down the jetway. I made my way to seat 1A where I was immediately greeted by the purser and welcomed on-board. The terrific purser and lead first class flight attendant took my jacket and asked if I'd like anything to drink. I asked for a water. Less than a minute later, she brought back a tray lined with a black cloth, poured the water in front of me, and then set the glass down offering a second "Welcome Aboard". The flight, still on the ground, was off to a terrific start and I could tell I was blessed to have a truly First Class crew on my flight.
FLIGHT AA17 BOUND FOR SAN FRANCISCO
I've already mentioned my pre-flight beverage and how quick the crew was to begin premium class service. In addition to pre-flight beverages, amenity kits were handed out, the purser brought passengers a menu and explained the dinner service, and flight attendants from both First and Business class made several rounds up and down the aisle refilling glasses and assisting passengers. American's boarding music contributed to the upbeat and welcoming pre-flight atmosphere, well at least for me, as Bon Iver's Hinnom, TX played throughout the cabin. Hinnom, TX just so happens to be at the top of quite a few of my playlists at the moment. Finally, my carry-on was stored in my own personal overhead bin, everything I would need for the flight was stored neatly throughout my "suite", and I inserted in buckle into metal fitting and then pulled on the loose end--tightening it low around my waist. I was eager to finally get airborne.
The American Airlines "Flagship Suite" found on the Airbus a321-231 "Transcon" is one of my favorite hard products in the sky. Up until this nearly 6.5hr hop across the country, I never felt like I had enough time to really experience the seat. I've come to realize just how amazing this seat is. American has a really fantastic product for a relatively short flight. The legroom is exceptional (though getting out can be tricky when the bed is fully flat). The cushion is the perfect balance of firm and soft and allows for a fairly enjoyable nap on these flights. There is a plethora of angles and positions the seat can transform into including a fully flat (180 degree) bed that is nearly six and a half feet long measuring maybe a little over two feet in width.
Each seat of course is fitted with individual AVOD (audio-video-on demand) that can be controlled from a generously sized touch screen or the remote located adjacent to the seat. The "suite" features a single AC outlet that continuously powers any device including laptops, a usb outlet, and a few other outlets including a jack that allows for select Apple devices to be paired up with the AVOD system. Storage isn't an issue as each First Class seat features a personal overhead bin, a storage compartment at chest height adjacent to the seat, a water bottle compartment, and two shelves built into the side of the seat. All of these features make this seat one of my favorite hard products in the sky and my go-to for transcon crossings.
Shortly after we reached 10,000 feet, the purser brought out warm nuts and took beverage and dinner orders. I ordered each course right then and there which the purser greatly appreciated as it meant not having to run back and forth each course. The nuts were tasty as always and there's nothing like a can of Coke at 30,000 feet. There's always something about being that high up that makes a can of Coke all the more refreshing.
Ten-ish minutes after receiving warm nuts, the purser and second first class flight attendant set-up a few carts in the galley where they began preparing for the fairly extensive dinner service. She brought out a white table cloth, napkin with metal silverware clamp, bread plate, butter, salt and pepper, and a glass for a second beverage during my meal. The second first class flight attendant then came by with a bread basket from which I chose a pretzel roll which turned out to be unbelievably tasty and soft. The purser then brought around bottles of wine and a bottle of water. I was asked if I'd like to have some red wine with my fillet however, being the honest young man I am, I had to turn down the offer with being too young and all though, I can't say I wasn't tempted when an adult offered my fancy alcohol. I asked for sparkling water and a second pretzel roll as I subconsciously, had devoured the entire roll even before the first course was brought out.
The beets were pretty good. The pecans were fantastic and full of flavor and the balsamic glaze accompanied the dish perfectly. I then enjoyed a fresh salad with more balsamic dressings. Then came the main attraction. Beef fillet. Hmm. Yeah, it was fantastic. It was cooked medium, a little more than I typically prefer but it was still exceptional. The shiitake mushroom sauce also tasted fantastic and made the fillet a little exceptionally tasty. The mushrooms, potatoes, and vegetables were also flavorful however, in limited quantities.
Eventually, an hour later, it was time for dessert. Just as there were five choices for dinner, there were five choices for dessert. I did have some trouble deciding on rather or not I wanted the mousse or a sundae. I eventually settled on the sundae which was absolutely fantastic and can best be summed up with the following gif....
Unfortunately, all good things do have to come to an end and before I knew it, I had finished off two salads, three pretzel rolls, a steak dinner, and a sundae. I also had an espresso that is exclusively offered on the 777-300 and a321T in First and Business Class. I then sat back, relaxed, and enjoy the rest of the flight.
Service and Amenities
In addition to the meal service, American provides each first class passenger with an amenity kit with Red Flower amenities, Bose headsets. earbuds, bottled water service, snacks, linens and a pillow, full beverage service anytime, cookies, and fresh fruit. Needless to say, I wasn't searching for things to do or eat anytime during the flight.
The in-flight entertainment also did a pretty good job at keeping my young active mind at ease as I watched a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory, stated House of Cards, and watched a bit of Everest. I also listened to a few albums though, nothing that I didn't have saved to my phone. The wi-fi worked surprisingly well even though a notice about high usage was at the top of the Gogo landing page. Though, I only used the service for 30 minutes as the flight pass was $35. I usually get the wi-fi flight pass if it's $10, $15, maybe up to $20 but $35 is almost criminal in my opinion. So I settled on more in-flight entertainment and watching the moving map.
Finally, I reclined my seat further and settled in for the remainder of the flight.
Well, those six hours flew by, pun intended. Before I could finish up my second episode of House of Cards, I heard the final approach announcement. Sparkling water and a second hot towel was brought out and I freshened up. I brought my seat back into the upright position and let out a sigh. I honestly could have done the trip to Europe or possibly even to Asia in that seat. However, it wasn't just the seat, it was also the crew. The crew was by the book. They did everything as they were supposed to. I watched both first class flight attendants consult the in-flight service handbook and preparation sheets in order to provide the best service they could.
American's three class transcon flights are some of my favorite trips out there. They are just the right duration, always leave me well feed, allow access to some of the most premium lounges on an American airline, and I love the a321T's first class seat. If you're still undecided about what airline to do the LAX/SFO-NYC hop with, don't hesitate. Book one of American's two Flagship flights across the country.
The Unaccompanied Flyer