My review of American Airlines 77W Business Class – is it better than BA Club World? (Part 1)

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This is my review of Business Class on American Airlines Boeing 77W (777-300) between London Heathrow and New York JFK.

This is the first of two sister articles.  Today I want to consider the following question:

When redeeming Avios to the US, you often have the option to fly with BA’s partner American Airlines.  But is American Airlines business class as good as Club World?

Later this week Anika will look at this question:

When redeeming Virgin Flying Club miles to the US, you often have the option to fly with Virgin’s partner (and 49% shareholder) Delta Air Lines.  But is Delta One – the Delta business class seat – as good as Virgin Upper Class?

My flight was booked with Avios via ba.com.

At the airport

I reviewed the American Airlines First Class lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 3 here.  It isn’t great and if you’ve got any sense (and a Gold card) you’ll head for the Cathay Pacific First Class lounge instead.  Business Class passengers without a Gold card are best to hit the Qantas or Cathay lounges rather than the AA or BA ones.

The key thing you need to know is that American Airlines operates a range of long-haul Business Class seats.  Between London and New York, the best regarded option was meant to be what AA’s booking system calls the 77W – the Boeing 777-300ER (‘Extended Range’).  Parked at the gate, it looks like this – click on any photo to enlarge slightly:

Review American Airlines Business Class Boeing 777-300 77W

20 years ago, Business Class on US airlines was a laughing stock.  British Airways had its swanky flat beds (BA was the first airline to fly one) whilst the US airlines carried on for years with seats on a par with what Norwegian now flies as Premium.  Those days are long gone on Delta and American.  We are still waiting for United’s Polaris seat to arrive at Heathrow.

It takes you, oh, a whole 10 seconds after boarding to realise that the American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER business class cabin is a huge step up from British Airways Club World.  It is a 1-2-1 herringbone layout with EXCELLENT privacy:

Review American Airlines Business Class Boeing 777-300 77W

All the window seats are solo seats.  In the middle block the seats point inwards so, whilst your feet are fairly close, your head is actually nearer to the person on the other side of the aisle:

Review American Airlines Business Class Boeing 777-300 77W

and

Review American Airlines Business Class Boeing 777-300 77W

Unlike Lufthansa, there is no chance of your feet touching the feet of your neighbour due to the divider:

Review American Airlines Business Class Boeing 777-300 77W

I was sat in 7A, in my usual ‘half way down the cabin, by the window’ position.  I REALLY liked this seat.  There was no slam-dunk reason why – it just got a LOT of small things right:

the seat has lugs at the top, letting you lean your head sideways and giving privacy from the person to the side of you

Review American Airlines Business Class Boeing 777-300 77W

the controls are idiot proof and easy to access

Review American Airlines Business Class Boeing 777-300 77W

whilst your feet disappear into a footwell, it is a big one – you can move your feet around.  I should note that the footwell appeared narrower on the seats in the middle section.

Review American Airlines Business Class Boeing 777-300 77W

the TV, as you can see above, stows away and is not forcibly in your face for the whole flight as you get with Iberia etc

there is an easy to access and good-sized storage area

Review American Airlines Business Class Boeing 777-300 77W

whilst you can’t see it in my pictures, you can move the dining table when it is out so you can still leave your seat

None of these things seem like a big deal. Individually, they’re not.  However, when it all comes together, it makes you feel very calm.  All of the little niggles you expect to find turn out not to exist.

I was a happy bunny at take-off with my (admittedly too small) glass of champagne served by the (ahem) long-serving cabin crew:

Review American Airlines Business Class Boeing 777-300 77W

Nothing is perfect though ….

No seat is ever perfect, of course.  I had a couple of niggles:

You cannot see out of the window easily.  Your head is basically in the aisle whilst your feet are by the window.  If you enjoy staring out of the window whilst flying then this may not be the seat for you.

There is no armrest to one side – in my case, on the aisle.  This occasionally felt weird as I would lean sideways, expecting my arm to hit an arm rest, and there wasn’t one.  (EDIT: comments below suggest that this is a hidden armrest and there was a way of making it come up)

Review American Airlines Business Class Boeing 777-300 77W

No-one explained the seat.  I thought there was no washbag (not all airlines offer them on day flights) but I eventually found it, with a bottle of water, just before landing in a hidden compartment.

The washbag was interesting.  The contents, branded Bigelow, were nothing special.  What I did like was the way that, when unwrapped, it formed a small Cole Haan branded bag:

Review American Airlines Business Class Boeing 777-300 77W

American Airlines Boeing 777-300 IFE

Let’s start with wi-fi.  This was the best in-flight wi-fi I have ever used.  It was relatively cheap ($12 for two hours) and the connection was excellent.  I wasn’t doing any streaming so I can’t comment on that, but it was perfectly acceptable for email and general browsing.

Sadly, the IFE system itself was a bit of a let down.  American Airlines has live streaming of BBC World News and two US news channels, which was very impressive.

The film selection was weak – Sherlock Gnomes and Solo were what passed as ‘new releases’.  The back catalogue selection was well curated, I admit, but the TV selection was poor.  The TV comedy selection, which I often go for because they are short programmes, was particularly woeful.  Overall it doesn’t come close to the literally thousands of pieces of content offered by the Middle East airlines.

It’s worth noting that you can connect your own device to the IFE system but it requires one of those white / red / yellow 3-part cables.

There were three novel features:

seat to seat chat, letting you email a passenger elsewhere on the plane

a chat room, which no-one was in but which in theory lets you have a group chat with anyone who wants to join

an e-reader with some magazines on it – except that the choice was US-centric and very limited

I was a little frustrated.  The live TV and chat functions show an airline which is trying to do things differently, but it then lets itself down with weak content.

To be continued ….

This is the end of Part 1 of my American Airlines 77W Business Class review from London Heathrow to New York JFK.

In Part 2, click here, I take a look at the food on offer.

If you are reading this via email, you have not been sent Part 2.  Click here to read it directly on the HFP website.

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Bits: Last day for our Marriott exclusive, Air India drops Heathrow to New York, BA A380 to Dubai
My review of American Airlines 77W Business Class - is it better than BA Club World? (Part 2)
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Comments

  1. Rob – the aisle side armrest pops up. Just push the latch down and the whole thing will slide up. They just have to be down for take off and landing as that is how they are certified by the FAA and CAA.

  2. One of the worst things about AA is the sometimes aggressive possessiveness they have about the headphones often collecting them an hour before landing so making it less of a premium experience. On most flights they are at your seat but earlier this year flying back from CLT it was over an hour into the flight before they handed them out and even then it was only after persistent requests from several passengers.

    I get that these are expensive pieces of kit but even so the CC can be over zealous about collecting them and the cases to the point of rudeness.

    Apart from that I do like the AA TATL product over BA (other than CWLCY).

    • But the are Bose and they issues ear buds. You are right though they need to sort that out.

      • Oh those cheap and nasty ear buds yes they are such a premium offering!

        And I checked the amenity kit from my last 2 flights and they no longer include the cloth covers for the headphones either.

    • +1 – waaay too aggressive on the Bose headphones – similar experience of waiting > 1hr to be issued and then about 90mins before landing being forcibly removed from passengers….and its been like this since they started issuing them!

  3. All the seats are good but the ‘mini cabin’ front rows in J are outstanding and don’t require status or additional charges to occupy them – first come, first served. By far my favourite TATL Business class experience.

  4. There is an arm rest but it must be stowed for take off and landing. They don’t explain the seat as it’s been around for at least 5 years.
    The plastic champagne glass is a let down but everything else is great!

    • Well in that case they surely could have used their CRM to recognise Rob has never flown AA in that time and deigned to show him the features. I find it very disappointing when they expect you to figure it all out yourself.

      • I’ve never been shown how the controls work in CW. My first CW flight was a red eye. I didn’t find the reading light until the lights went on for breakfast.

        On the A318, no one showed me how everything worked. I only knew about the iPad holder because I had read reviews of the flight in advance.

        I’m sure on AA or BA the crew will explain these things if asked, and there is probably some info in the in flight magazine (if you can find the bleedin light to read it by).

        The crew may think its patronising to suggest the seat controls to you without being asked. It suggests you’ve never flown business class before. Especially in a seat that is at least 5 years old.

        • BA CW has a whole separate instruction guide in each seat…

          I find AA crew do not want to be at work, so will interact with you the bare minimum, I sill prefer the service of CW and will choose it over AA, even if others think AA have the better seat.

      • Exactly. They should know who does and does not know the aircraft, they have the data.

        • +1. I recall on BA SFO-LHR it was my first time in J having only flown in Y or F before (bizarrely). The crew knew and the CSM came up to say they could see it was my first time in CW and whether I’d like them to show me the features of the seat (or if I was okay on my own). Nice touch and not at all patronising if done in the right way.

    • I’ve always assumed the plastic champagne glass is so you can keep your drink during take off. I don’t think that would be allowed with glass for safety reasons.

    • There is also a little latch on the armrest – Surely Rob could have had a guess that that did something like lift the armrest…. Who doesnt try and press every button possible?!

    • Qatar J seems to get it right (some of the time), well at least if you get a native or near-native English speaker, and they aren’t rushed off their feet during boarding, they ask something along the lines of “do you need me to explain how anything works” or “have you flown this aircraft before”. The airline does have the data but it might be wrong, and it’s not F where you would expect a very personal service.

      The armrest thing amused me a bit, most airlines except BA have something similar…

  5. With a business class ticket you wouldn’t have access to Cathay First Lounge, just the Business Lounge. Obviously you had access to the First Lounge with your gold card. Both lounges are very good though shd still better than AA.

    • Correct, will fix.

    • I would think it’s quite easy to sneak into the F lounge even if not entitled… not that anyone here would do that, when I lose BA Gold at the end of the year I’ll be perfectly happy with the J side.

      But I always thought it was a bit odd that the F entrance is where it is. Often when I go to the toilet then head back, there aren’t any staff at the front desk and/or they won’t be looking towards the F entrance to challenge any interlopers (who they would need to remember by face, and be absolutely certain!)

  6. David S says:

    In answer to your main question, seats on the AA 77W are outstanding compared to Club World but food and srrvice definitely better on BA on TATL anyway in my experience.
    On our last trip with AA, flew mini cabin on 77W but food was very average and white wine was served warm and my wife asked for it to be chilled and 30 seconds later, the wine came back with ice cubes in it- tasted disgusting. Service was so and so.

  7. MAY L LIM says:

    If you don’t have status for first class, which lounges would you recommend if you have oneworld sapphire or BA silver

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Cathay or Qantas

      • Depends what you want from a lounge. I feel Cathay is the best but I prefer American Airlines over Qantas if I just want to relax somewhere quiet with self service booze. If only they had the nice American craft beers that they serve on board rather than Bud and Carlsberg.

        • guesswho2000 says:

          The AA lounge? That has to be the worst one there now the Servisair lounge has closed, surely?

        • Nah the American airlines lounge is basically the same as the the T3 BA lounge but it’s usually quiet by comparison. Qantas is a beautiful modern space but I’ve always found that they either don’t have the bar staffed and you have to wait for someone to come over, or the bartender is stuck making loads of coffees as they don’t have automated machines. Service has always been without a smile for me and they takes ages to check me in so now I rarely bother with it.

        • @Lumma – ah that’s a shame, I had the opposite experience in the Qantas lounge: the bartender (admittedly making coffees at 9am!) was so friendly, smiley and engaging with all the passengers in a professional but interested manner. It was so genuine that I was moved to write to Qantas to tell them.

    • You don’t need status if you are flying J. You can use any OW lounge.

  8. There is an armrest. It pops up.

    The first seat isn’t that much different except it swivels.

    I would never fly business on BA to the USA. Done it once and never again.

  9. While definitely better than BA, these seats have been around for a very long time now on other airlines (most well known on Cathay but others have it too), and other features such as chat/live TV have also been around for many years now – I am not sure I would be congratulating AA so much to be honest.

    • You are right. It is a better cabin than BA but it’s nothing radical. No different from CX or QR. Obviously that’s no bad thing. Personally I prefer BA crew and the lounge experience has historically been poor with AA but that may have changed now. I’ve not flown back from JFK on AA for a while. This seat on AA is not new.

    • Roger1* says:

      JK: Well, they’re new to me. 🙂 For several reasons, I’ve not used AA biz or first across the Atlantic for years, so I welcome the detailed review.

      Keep it up, Rob!

      • I wasn’t a criticism but a statement of fact.

        • Same, I welcome the review as well, just felt there was no need to congratulate AA as they’ve not done anything innovative here at all. Really they are just doing the bare minimum expected these days (and BA are obviously doing less than the bare minimum).

        • You really need to look at transatlantic and Middle East / Asia as two entirely separate markets. Purely in the context of UK to NA, the AA product is probably the best there is.

          Doesn’t matter how good Qatar / Emirates / Etihad / Cathay etc are, because they’re not flying UK to NA.

  10. Ian Gleave says:

    I was a little surprised at the barely disguised ageist comment about the cabin crew. Unnecessary and not really what I would have expected on this site.

    • Maybe it could’ve been worded better but it’s a well known issue with AA that their long serving crew get on the better routes and aren’t as enthusiastic as their younger counterparts.

      Saying that, I flew economy on this plane recently to JFK and found all the crew to be great.

    • I thought it was a joke about the small measure of champagne!

      • Jill (Kinkell) says:

        Er….No! We got a tumbler …or non stemmed glass! …..with barely an inch of champagne on our recent return from Denver.

        • David S says:

          You were lucky you got something Jill. Last year flying from Dominican republic back to CLT, they did not have any champagne or sparkling wine since apparently they get loaded at CLT for the trip to Dominican and they were all gone by the time AA landed at Dominican. Pretty bad show for an international business class!!!

    • Hmmm. Not sure ageist. Perhaps, rather, an inference that those who have been in the employ of airlines for a while don’t have customer service at the forefront of their minds. At least that’s how I read it.

    • It was a statement of fact, not an indication of the ability of anyone. It’s very rare these days that I (at 47) am younger than the crew.

      • I’m not sure that’s a fact Rob!?

        I’d suggest this is more of an opinion (which is fine, your site) based one person’s view – who flies American reasonably infrequently?

      • Flying to Crete and back from JMK last month I was easily younger than 90% of all the crew – and I’m 50. They were all perfectly competent. I have to say I felt very young on the last AA flight as well…

  11. Other things that impressed me.

    The hook to hang your jacket – which the crew then offer to take away and hang in a wardrobe for you.

    The huge tables, and the nice side table.

    Lots and lots of storage. A handy cupboard with a mirror inside it. The holder for a water bottle. The space under the ottoman where you can keep your shoes or a small flight bag.

    The warm nuts served with the drinks.

    The steak coming on a plate that is so hot they have metal tongues to pass it to you.

    The cabin crew addressing you by name.

    The purser coming round the cabin before landing to thank you for flying AA.

    The three windows if you choose your seat carefully.

    The big overhead lockers, which are empty because of the low density seating.

    The mature cabin crew. I’ve always found them to be lovely, and they just make me feel safer.

    The fact you can reserve your seat for no charge when you book your flights, and see what seats are available before booking. I’ve chosen flights based on what seats are available.

    I can put up with watching the Sound of Music again for this sort of luxury before sleeping for a couple of hours.

    I have my first BA flight coming up in F in December. I’m just hoping it will be as good as J on AA.

    Oh and if you ever take a former US Airways A330 to Philly or Charlotte, you turn left for an exclusive J cabin which has the prototype seats which are very similar but not quite as good.

    One of AAs planes also has a massive washroom on the starboard side forward. Can’t remember which one it is though.

    The only downside to AA might be feeling lonely if you are traveling as a couple. Not at all easy to talk to each other in the middle pair, you have to lean right forward.

    Oh and if you have young children you are better off using BA. They will feel very isolated in AA as they won’t be able to see anyone.

  12. I flew this plane in “main cabin extra” last month on the same route and found it great and would be more than happy to do so again. I’d rather keep the points for something else

    • AA main cabin was good 15 years ago, when they had 34″ pitch (“More Room throughout Coach” ) and a 2-5-2 layout.

      But with a 3-4-3 layout and a 31/32″seat pitch I wouldn’t do it now.

      • There’s some of the 777s that still have 9 across towards the front of the economy cabin. Then 10 across at the back. On aa.com you can check the exact seat map on any flight to see what you’re gonna get (as long as there’s no equipment swaps of course)

        I actually wouldn’t take the exit row again (which I did in one direction) as there’s no storage anywhere and the TV screen needs to be stowed away for the takeoff and landing

        • Come to think of it, it’s the 777-200 that has the 9 across rows. It also has a worse business class seat (still all aisle access but front and rear facing with issues with wobbling when the person in the connected seat moves around)

  13. If it’s the same as the Cathay long haul J seat then it’s an excellent hard product.

    For those of us not starting in London, with AA we have the T5-T3 transfer to tackle. This can easily take an hour on a bad day and I don’t think you could do it in less than 30 mins with a perfect run. This is vs <10 mins from doors open on inbound Domestic to being in the lounge for a T5-T5. Less of an issue on return as you have to do security anyway coming into T5 as an international arrival but you still have 15-20 mins on a bus.

    • Prins Polo says:

      Agree, this is why e.g. flying on Finnair from HEL into T3 I prefer to continue to the US on AA in order to avoid the T3-T5 transfer.

    • BarryOnCaronline says:

      Agree, why can BA not manage transfers for domestic passengers between T5 and T3 so to avoid another UK security check. Bus transportation would sort this irritation.

      • The flow of passengers across the Heathrow campus and the routes you take are all approved by UK Border Force.

        The only approvals outside of this are for Tarmac Transfers when there is a genuine concern that passengers will miss their onward connection.

        This is done on a flight to flight basis and in reality is when your connection drops below minimum connection time, but when there are sufficient volumes of passengers to warrant the extra cost of the buses.

        The approval to do this is given on a case by case basis by the Alpha 1 at UK Border Force.

        It is not BA’s failing, it is the airport design and UK Border Force.

  14. Rob, just a small point – the ‘W’ denotes 777-300ER. The plain ‘-300’ is something else (only a few exist, mostly serving regional routes in Asia). In IATA terms the latter is 773. If you’re going to use full aircraft types in articles please get them right 😉

    • Oops just realised you corrected yourself in the article and it’s just the header… ignore me! Coffee needed 🙂

    • RussellH says:

      And people were giving me hassle a couple of weeks ago about my complaining that an article about the Piccadilly Line to LHR being illustrated by a picture of S Stock, which does not fit in a tube tunnel!

      I have no idea if I could tell the difference at a glance between a 777-300 and a 777-300ER, but I suspect not. I suspect that I would find it difficult to tell the difference between either of those and an A330 (but then I have never been on an A330).
      🙂

      • 777-300 to 777-300ER visibly is the same except the winglets and number of doors being the primary dividers.

        Plus it normally says somewhere on the fuselage!

      • Well, if we want to feel good about others being pedants too, let me help some more and suggest you keep your full stops inside your parentheses please 🙂

        • Shoestring says:

          @Chris – but RussellH’s full stop usage is correct. Full stop *inside* parenthesis when it’s a whole sentence in parenthesis. *Outside* parenthesis when there’s a standard sentence with a clause in parenthesis at the end.

  15. The new direct aisle access Polaris seat on UA has been flying to/from lhr/sfo for a few months now.

    I’ve been flying AA new 773 in business since it launched and it for now is way better than BA CW.

    OT but my first BA longhaul oak-lgw had WiFi the other day. Speeds were ok. You can use google on safari for no access fee. The plane itself was really old.

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