While I normally fly British Airways’ Club World (Business) product from Austin to Mumbai via London, I had the chance to fly American’s new 777-300ER Business class from Dallas to London, and First class on BA’s 787-900 to Mumbai.
I arrived at Dallas off a flight from Austin. My flight out of Austin was delayed by about 20 minutes coming into Dallas, meaning I still had a comfortable 1 hour 40 minutes until my next flight. However, since I like being first on the plane, I usually end up just subtracting an hour from the posted departure time (so I can be amongst the first to board), meaning I only had an hour of “usable” time. Furthermore, I had to take the Skylink transit between terminals, and essentially walk the length of DFW’s Terminal D.
However, I was looking forward to check out AA’s new temporary Premium Lounge in Terminal D, since they’ve currently shut down the Admiral’s Club to make way for a new Flagship Lounge, and I couldn’t find many reviews of the temporary Premium Lounge. Furthermore, my short layover ensured I’d have a chance to check out the lounge but not have to spend too much time in it if I didn’t like it.
By the time I transited from Terminal C where my flight from Austin had landed, to Terminal D where my flight to London was departing, I really only had about 45 minutes to get to the gate. To make matters worse, my gate was about halfway to the lounge, meaning normally I’d just go wait by the gate instead of making the trek to the lounge for a few minutes.
Nevertheless, I followed the ample signage for the Premium Lounge by gate D36. Unfortunately, despite the multitude of signs on the way to the lounge, I couldn’t find the lounge entrance itself once I got to gate D36. Right behind me was an Australian business traveler (judging from his accent and suit) looking for the same lounge, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just me having a brain fart when I didn’t see the (relatively small) sign for the Premium Lounge entrance.
While there was someone standing by the entrance checking boarding passes, he wasn’t doing a very good job as I walked past and didn’t even know about him until I saw him checking passes when I left the lounge.
Once up the elevator, there is an open set of double doors with clear signage indicating the lounge entrance.
Normally I’d be disappointed to find this the exterior for a “Premium Lounge”, but given the temporary nature of this particular lounge, I decided to let it slide. After checking in with the reception, I made my way to the back of the lounge.
The lounge is essentially divided into three sections; first is the “outer” section with seating and a bar near the entrance/reception. Next is a passageway with a quiet room overlooking the terminal (complete with the Eames chairs from the old Admirals Club), and then the “inner” lounge where there is a small buffet and additional seating.
I found the buffet to be lackluster, but certainly better than the normal Admirals Club fare. Besides the chicken and rice on my plate, there was also a beef option and some vegetables with hummus and a few packaged snack options.
Overall the lounge had excellent socket availability and was quite large – certainly better than what I’d been expecting when I’d heard “temporary lounge”. I rushed out as soon as I finished my plate, stopping only to take a quick peek into the “Business Center” which turned out to just be two computer stations.
I made it to my gate just as they were wrapping up preboarding. Since attaining OneWorld Emerald status, I’ve enjoyed the priority boarding in Group 1 with BA or Group 2 with AA. However, much to my chagrin, the gate agent called for Groups 1-3 to board together, resulting in a massive rush to board the plane by all OneWorld Sapphires and above (including AAdvantage Platinums and above) and premium passengers.
AA’s new 777-300ER Business class is arranged in a 1-2-1 setup with reverse herringbone seats, ensuring that all seats have a fair amount of privacy and direct aisle access. Last year, I flew on AA’s Zodiac seats on the 777-200LR which is also arranged in a 1-2-1 setup and was very impressed, despite criticisms that the Zodiac seat can be too narrow. Since I’m used to BA’s extremely dense 2-4-2 setup, I found the seat to be quite spacious and comfortable.
Thus, I was looking forward to flying on the 777-300ER with its superior seats. I had selected seat 7A for myself, which was towards the front of the second (larger) business class cabin. Unfortunately as seems to be the trend for my on my flights to London from the US, the overhead compartment was filled with safety equipment and oxygen tanks. Since I’d boarded early, however, I was able to snag the compartment across the aisle.
The seat itself was fairly comfortable and there was a lot of stowage space, including the compartment where the headphones were stored. My only criticism of the hard product is that the IFE screen had to be stowed away for take-off and landing, meaning that I wasn’t able to watch anything for about 20 minutes after departure and 20 minutes before landing. I was also happy to see two individual air nozzles for my seat, allowing me to adjust the airflow.
Another nice feature in the cabin was the larger TV screens at the front of the cabin showing our progress – while not very useful for most of the flight, it was great to have them there right when I woke up and didn’t want to fire up my own screen.
While I’d been changing into my pajamas (AA does not provide pajamas on this route), a menu card had been left at my seat. A few minutes later, I was offered a choice of champagne, water, or orange juice for my pre-departure beverage and went with champagne.
It was disappointing to see that AA serves the pre-departure beverage in plastic glasses, as this really undermines the whole “premium” feel.
AA is one of only two airlines to offer Bose headphones in Business class. These were excellent – very comfortable, very quiet, and great sound quality. I was, however, disappointed by the amenity kit. This is definitely a step down from the Cole Haan pouch I received last year. The contents were fairly standard, with moisturizer, lip balm, dental kit, and eye shades.
Service overall wasn’t great on this flight, though I don’t think it was intentional – I’d had a great flight crew on AA last year, and had been welcomed on board, thanked for flying AA, and familiarized with my seat, none of which happened this year. While normally I wouldn’t mind too much, I do think this is an easy area of improvement for AA’s service – especially because I didn’t realize the headphones were stored inside the compartment behind the IFE remote, and was only informed this when I asked for headphones. This wasn’t limited to me, as the person in front of me had the same problem.
Shortly after take-off, the crew came by and served nuts and took drink orders. I ordered the champagne and was glad to see the plastic glasses had disappeared. That being said, I’m not sure how I feel about these compared to the more traditional flutes – I’ve heard people say they prefer them because they are less likely to get knocked over, but I have to say I prefer the more traditional champagne flute.
Soon the crew came around and took dinner orders – I went with the Panko Crusted Prawns, partially because I’ve never had a fried dish on board a plane and was curious to see try it. There was no choice of appetizer, as the only option was the Fig and Goat Cheese Chicken Roulade. While I probably would have chosen this, it would have been nice to have a second option, especially if I was vegetarian and hadn’t put in a meal request.
One thing I was a big fan of was that American offered an “Express Meal” option, wherein you could ask to immediately be served a single tray with a salad, entrée, and dessert option in order to maximize sleep. There are many times I wish BA would roll out something like this on all its routes, not just “sleeper service” ones, as the full meal service usually takes over 90 minutes and really eats into sleep time.
Also unlike in BA wherein each tray is individually brought to each passenger, the crew rolled two carts (one for food and one for drinks) down the aisle. Personally, I have a strong preference for the way BA does it, as it helps build an illusion of more tailored service – with a cart rolling down the aisle serving trays left and right, I feel the service is very reminiscent of economy wherein this is the only practical way to serve a couple hundred meals quickly.
Another key thing that I didn’t like about this setup was that my drinks and food were served by two different people. When the attendant handed me my tray, I asked for a glass of wine, and was told to ask again when the drink cart came around. While I don’t think the flight attendant was trying to be rude, and practically there was nothing she could have done as there were two carts between her and drinks attendant, but this certainly didn’t make me feel very premium – considering that AA routinely sells these seats for over $4,000, it certainly didn’t endear me to the service.
Overall, the food was fine but nothing great – I do remember being more impressed by the catering last year.
After the meals were cleared away, the cabin lights were dimmed and most of the passengers went to sleep. The seat was a true flatbed and the foot of the “bed” had a decent amount of wiggle room, so I didn’t feel as though it was too narrow. My only criticism of the seat is that in certain positions, I could feel the gap between the bottom and back, creating an uneven bed. For this reason, I have a strong preference for seats such as Virgin Atlantic, wherein the seat is folded over and there is no uneven gap in the bed. The blanket and pillow were fine, though some padded bedding would have been nice.
I woke up with a little over an hour left until landing – soon after I finished changing, the flight crew came around to serve breakfast and the cabin lights were turned on. I had the fruit platter with yoghurt and muesli, which was fine if not amazing. After clearing the trays, the crew came around to pick up the headsets and offered earbuds as replacements so that we could continue watching through landing. While I was sad to see the amazing Bose headsets replaced by cheap earbuds, I was happy that I at least had an option to continue watching.
I was very excited for this trip as I would have both the opportunity to try a new lounge, as well as fly AA’s reverse herringbone seats. I was especially excited about flying AA because of my amazing experience last year on the 777-200LR and the Zodiac seats. Unfortunately, the service and catering were definitely worse this time around, and the seat wasn’t a radical improvement. That being said, it was a good flight with some great IFE movie options, and an overall solid experience. Was it the best business class experience I’ve had? No. This was certainly not on par with experiences I’ve had flying Emirates and Virgin Atlantic. Was it better than my normal British Airways flight? Yes. The hard product was superior, but the service and catering were about equivalent. Which has the better Business class configuration on the 777-300ER? AA hands down. Would I fly it again? Yes, there was nothing wrong with this flight and would certainly look to flying it again if possible.