REVIEW: American Airlines’ Flagship Business – SYD/LAX

LATTE trials AA's lie-flat Business class cabin

Last month, I had the envious opportunity of trialling American Airlines‘ business class product on the non-stop Sydney-Los Angeles route. This was my first time flying American across the Pacific, currently operated by its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The oneworld aviation alliance member has been flying to Sydney for about eight years in partnership with Qantas, excluding a six-month pause last year due to aircraft availability issues, and a still recovering COVID market.

Here are a few of my personal experiences, observations and feedback on the product and what makes American a great choice flying getting to the US West Coast.

AA72 is scheduled to depart Sydney at 9:20 am, arriving into Los Angeles at 6:12 am — a flight time on paper of just shy of 14 hours. My flight gets away a bit later than planned. It’s not until midway through the flight I realise the delay may create a hiccup with my tight connection to Miami, given the immigration bedlam that awaits international travellers passing through Los Angeles International Airport. More on that later.

For reference, American Airlines’ 777-300ER has a four-cabin configuration made up of 8 Flagship

First, 52 Flagship Business, 28 Premium Economy (4 rows) and 188 Main Cabin (Economy) seats. First and Business are true lie-flat products. This aircraft type is also the only jet in AA’s fleet that has a First Class product.

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Flagship Business is spread across two sections – eight seats in two rows tucked directly behind First, and then after a set of doors and galley, another 16 rows of four-wide seats. All seats are reverse herringbone design (seats in the centre face inwards, window seats face towards the window). The design is the same seat concept pioneered by Cathay Pacific a decade ago which I’d been privy to be at the global launch of in Hong Kong a decade ago.

All Flagship Business seats have direct aisle access, a decent 20.5″ wide seat (2″ wider than Premium Economy and up to 4″ wider than Main Cabin), and 43″- 75″ pitch when laid flat. That measurement itself is only three inches shorter than Flagship First. Once I get used to the feeling of being on an angle, rather than facing straight forward, I find the seat really comfortable with decent padding in all the right places.

The seat design provides a high level of privacy between you and the person across the aisle. If you’re in the centre seats, it’s necessary to lean forward to establish eye contact if you wish to have a meaningful conversation.

The only major difference I can identify between AA’s current Flagship Business and an earlier version of the same thing is the removal of a small door for on my personal cabinet which had a mirror on the inside cover. That door could also be engaged to remain open and used as a privacy divider.

My seat, 11G, is halfway into the Business cabin, in the centre. My pew is occupied by a sealed plastic bag within which is Casper bedding, my desk has a set of packaged Bang & Oluffson noise-cancelling headphones, and my open-air cabinet contains a Shinola and D.S. & Durga amenity kit with accessories (dental kit, eye shade, socks, lip balm, hand cream, tissue, ear plugs and a tiny, but useful, pocket pen) — which in hindsight, appears as though it may be American’s Flagship First amenity kit. The compartment also retains a suspended leather strap with clip that the headset can hang. The three-prong jack for the headset is also located within the compartment.

Another storage space is located at knee height beneath the side table, where a set of slippers are tucked into a netted pocket. This compartment is large enough to store a water bottle, along with a laptop or tablet, accompanying power cables, adaptors, etc, should your upper compartment be full. It’s also great if you’re seeking somewhere a little more discreet for your wallet and mobile.

Speaking of discreetness, it took me a few hours into the flight to remember that this product has a great stowage space for shoes. And no, it’s not beneath the footrest (that padding is stuck down well), but instead beneath the armrest, with its own sliding door. The armrest itself has the ability to drop down – a function that is fantastic if wanting to slide out from your seat during meal service and provides even more space when laying flat.

There is a 15.4″ HD entertainment screen for Flagship Business class guests, which unlocks from its housing by clicking a switch. This is one of my only gripes with the product, as it limits your screen viewing time until in the air (as the units need to be stowed for take-off and landing). In fact, I have a clearer view of the unlatched screen of my neighbour in 11D than my own.

Los Angeles International Airport

The Panasonic system that American is using is good, and it has a diverse variety of some 120 movie titles including some ‘new release’ films, 150+ TV shows and lots of audio selections, however, the navigation by touch screen lags considerably, compared to that of other airlines’ IFE I’ve experienced (even in Economy class on some), to the point that the remote control makes it easier to navigate, but it does the job and the Bang & Olufsen headsets make the experience all the better.

Before I’m even in the air, a cabin crew member moving through the cabin pushing a trolley has grabbed my attention, handing out sleepsuits from a two-tiered trolley. The Recliner pyjamas are made from recycled plastic bottles and blended with cotton. Supplied pyjamas in Business are a real treat – ask the woman in my cabin who was excitedly gifted two spare sets for her grandchildren at home – and an item major airlines, such as Emirates, have moved away from providing. By the time the plane is in the air, more than 75% of those in the cabin are snug in these super soft kits, ready to get cosy for the next 14 hours ahead. (I do however notice others, like me, make the change a little later in the flight once the plane is levelled off – and unlikely to return to the gate!).

The seating layout provides a good level of privacy between seatmates and the flick-out bi-fold table provides a sturdy, and stable, base for not just eating but working. I manage to fit both my 14″ Macbook and a mouse on the surface, but there’s not a lot of extra room. The table has limited ‘bounce’, but not a great range of adjustability. It’s one spot that suits all, however, the seat can be positioned to find a comfortable working spot.

Menus include dishes inspired by James Beard Award-winning chefs. I chose the seared scallop with mango-melon salad and citrus vinaigrette, and roasted lamb shoulder with gravy, pearl couscous, roasted pumpkin and baby zucchini, which are accompanied by a large baby cos lettuce & red chicory salad and breads. All tasty, and the lamb was quite fatty, but to be expected.

The highlight of the meal service however is the vanilla ice cream sundae. Prepared in a glass-walled cup and served with an assortment of options including berries, whipped cream and chopped pecans, I select the hot fudge and chopped macadamia nuts… and regret nothing. Even with the hot fudge, the ice cream holds solid form for several minutes, and coupled with a Dr Pepper, it’s a nostalgic buzz from my youth living in the US.

The Casper bedding, which many of my surrounding other Business class guests have fitted to their seats even before take-off, is brilliant and by the time I lay down for a rest halfway into the flight, I can understand why they were so keen to have it laid out so early. As someone who traditionally doesn’t sleep well on flights, especially in the middle of the day, I’m certain this thick bedding – coupled with the lie-flat length of around 6 feet – plays a key part in a decent 5-hour block.

In the second half of the flight, a range of snacks are available for guests to choose from at the galley (sliced fruits or vegetables in dishes, chips, nuts, cheese and crackers, etc) and there are ‘Dine on-demand’ drinks and meals available up until 90 minutes before landing.

The service onboard is welcoming and sincere. At breakfast, when my cabin attendant realises she’s forgotten to serve my omelette when clearing, she is quick to rectify the situation, and with a hot coffee, pondering how that could have happened.

I arrive into Los Angeles just before 6am (with the sun just rising), and my IFE indicated I was in the air for 13 hours, not 14 as anticipated. That early arrival is a godsend as it gives me a little buffer for my connecting flight in 90 minutes to Miami. Next time I’ll give myself more time at LAX as immigration can be so unpredictable.

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