This is our review of Flagship business class on an American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER from London Heathrow to New York JFK.
American Airlines is part of the BA, Iberia, Finnair and Aer Lingus transatlantic joint venture, which means that you may find yourself on an AA flight as part of any USA itinerary with these airlines.
It’s been a while since we looked at American Airlines in detail so it was good timing that BA and AA invited me to New York to see the brand new lounges at JFK Airport’s Terminal 8. You can see my review of the new top-tier Chelsea Lounge here whilst my report on the ‘BA Gold’ Soho Lounge is here. Note that initial feedback on the two lounges from passengers has not been great with multiple reports of teething troubles.
I’ve previously only flown American Airlines on short haul trips, so I was looking forward to experiencing their long haul product. AA often gets a bad rep in aviation circles but I’ve always received good service, including as a student when I accidentally booked myself on a flight to San Jose California rather than San Jose Costa Rica …. but that’s a story for another day!
American Airlines check in at Heathrow
American Airlines is currently flying from Heathrow Terminal 3. We will have to see if this is permanent, as AA and BA have played a number of rounds of musical chairs between Terminals 3 and 5. For example, all flights to New York were meant to fly from Terminal 5 last Summer.
When it comes to checking in, AA and BA share Zones D and E:
Anyone travelling in Flagship business or First can use the premium check in area in Zone D. This is shared with BA and split into a business and First area, although when I arrived they were waving passengers straight into the mini First area regardless of cabin class:
There was no queue so I was checked in very quickly and off on my way through the (admittedly nightmarish) security lanes at Terminal 3. Of all the terminals at Heathrow, Terminal 3 still seems to suffer the most from congestion with queues even forming at Fast Track.
Fortunately the exit from Fast Track security avoids most of the duty free maze and I headed into the American Airlines Admirals Lounge at Heathrow which I reviewed here.
On-board AA’s Flagship business class on the Boeing 777-300ER
Unfortuantely our flight was delayed slightly by a late arriving aircraft into Heathrow. I used the extra time to pop into the Cathay Pacific First lounge for a quick glass of champagne before heading back to the gate.
Terminal 3 has a unique process at Heathrow which boards people into holding pens before boarding actually starts. I’m not sure why it does this, but it does mean that once you go through you are stuck in the gate area.
This was a busy flight and with the delay it was incredibly busy (and hot) in the holding pen. Everyone was desperate to get on.
As it was a full flight I wasn’t able to get good photos of the cabin, so you’ll have to imagine it. On this aircraft, AA has a tiny, two-row forward business cabin behind Flagship First whilst everyone else is in a large, 11 row cabin to the right.
Whilst American Airlines recently announced a new business class seat called Flagship Suites, those won’t actually be flying until 2024 at the earliest. Instead, on this particular aircraft, you’ll find a Cirrus seat. It is a common ancestor to Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Suite on the A350.
The good news is that everyone has direct aisle access. It is a herringbone layout, with window seats facing the window.
Whilst not the newest seat, I was still comfortable. Annoyingly, as you can see, I had selected a row with a missing window. If you have a choice I suggest you give row 11 a miss.
The seat is fairly conventional in its design. The padding on the seat was showing signs of over-squashage, however, and ought to be replaced. On the left I had a side console and storage area:
There is also storage underneath the side console, which was big enough to fit both of my massive size 10.5 Timberland boots (I was travelling for the brutal New York winter!)
Directly by your left shoulder (although fortunately not close enough to accidentally activate) were some seat controls, as well as some input and output sockets, a reading light and IFE remote. More on that in a bit ….
I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of legroom. The foot rest goes all the way to the edge of the cabin, so it feels fairly spacious in bed mode. It is more of an open than enclosed design, which should appeal to anyone who hates the foot coffins now popular in business class seat design.
Waiting at my seat was a large pillow plus a quilted blanket (albeit wrapped in totally unnecessary plastic), a bottle of water and some Bang & Olufsen headphones, a menu and amenity kit.
I was pleased to see a bottle of water as this is not always a given. I did ask for another later on but the crew had run out and offered me a 2L bottle instead, which I gladly accepted.
The amenity kit is a new design from Shinola, a Detroit-based company. I wasn’t hugely blown away by it and actually prefer the older This Is Ground kits introduced in 2019. The Shinola kit is made of fabric and although quite large felt very empty. Inside were some ear plugs, an eye mask, disposable socks, dental kit, pen and hand lotion:
None of the products particularly stood out to me and I don’t think it’s a particularly memorable kit. BA’s The White Company kit is better.
In-flight entertainment with American Airlines
The in-flight entertainment screen swings out from the side. It would be unfair to compare it to the latest-generation screens, such as those on Virgin Atlantic’s new A330neos, but it does feel a little dated and the software wasn’t particularly smooth.
As mentioned above, American Airlines supplies Bang & Olufsen headphones to all business class customers. These are, without a doubt, the best in-flight headphones I have ever received on an airline.
Whilst I’m not an audiophile, what normally happens when I’m reviewing a flight is that I try the provided headphones before switching over to my own Sennheiser set. On this flight, I ended up using the B&O pair for the entire flight. They were extremely comfortable, with great noise cancellation and good sound – well, as good as can be when dealing with the low-quality files provided to airlines.
The only issue I had is figuring out where to plug them in. That’s because they feature a three-pronged plug, and the only three pronged socket you can see from your seat is one next to the seat controls:
As it turns out, this is not the plug. I spent about five minutes trying to turn the headphones and troubleshooting why they weren’t working. I even got my own headphones out to see if they were broken.
Eventually I asked the crew, who let me know that the audio connection is actually inside the storage unit that I couldn’t actually see inside. This is totally out of sight – you would not know it is there – and is quite possibly the stupidest design decision they could have made. I’m sure the crew must get asked how to use the headphones on every single flight.
Once I got it all to work I did enjoy watching a couple of films. There is a decent selection of new releases as well as a good back catalogue, so you should find something to entertain you.
The only other problem with the B&O headphones is that they are so nice that AA is worried you are going to steal them and therefore collect them about 30 minutes before landing. If you want to continue watching something then you are offered the economy earbuds.
If you want to stay connected, AA also offers inflight wifi. There are only two options:
- a two hour pass for $24
- a full flight pass for $29
The difference is so marginal that it doesn’t really make sense just to go for two hours. I tried it and managed to use it for basic messaging and emails as well as social media. It did drop out briefly so it is not 100% reliable.
Meal services on American Airlines Flagship business class
Once settled into my seat the cabin crew came round offering a pre-departure drink. I opted for the champagne. It is served in a thin plastic glass – the disposable kind you can buy for parties – which doesn’t exactly scream ‘premium’.
There was a hot towel service as well, which I’m always a fan of.
The crew were incredibly efficient and also took food orders during taxi. I quite like this – on a lot of recent transatlantic flights it’s taken an hour or so to even take an order so I can appreciate their desire to get things going, especially with a cabin as big as this.
Food was served within 40 minutes or so of take-off, which I thought was impressive. I had the prawn starter, which was delicious. It was accompanied by a decent salad which is rare to find on flights (BA loves a pasta or cous cous salad ….)
At this point they also came round with a post-take-off drinks service, which was slightly slow.
Once I had finished they brought my main. I’ve had a number of good beef dishes recently so I went for the braised beef:
Unfortunately, this was very dry and quite disappointing. I would not order this again.
Finally for the dessert, I went for the chocolate mousse. I know AA is famous for its ice cream sundaes but I just didn’t fancy it.
Once the meal service was finished the cabin crew made themselves scarce, and I didn’t really see them again until later. They were obviously available if you called the crew bell but I don’t recall them proactively checking on us.
If you were hungry throughout the flight you could pick up a range of snacks and light bites in the galley, and there was also a second meal service before landing. I chose the pasta salad with asparagus which was good:
All in all, I have to admit flying American Airlines long haul business class is a mixed bag.
When it works, it works really well. I was particularly impressed by the Bang & Olufsen headphones and the meal starter, for example. I also liked that the cabin crew tried to deliver the meal service as soon as possible after take-off.
Less impressive were the cheap plastic glass of champagne at boarding and the dry braised beef, which brought the experience down.
One thing – and this is purely down to geography – is that this flight is very much a ‘night flight’ during the winter owing to the very short days. We didn’t take off until after 6pm, which is well after sunset in the UK in December.
It meant that the entire flight was in darkness, and was treated as such. That meant that after dinner cabin lights were dimmed and you were clearly encouraged to sleep, even though I would rarely try more than a nap on a flight from London to the East Coast. It was a very odd experience and I’ve realised that I’d much rather be flying in daylight hours when going westbound.
If you want to try it for yourself, this HfP article tells you everything you need to know about how to redeem Avios points on American Airlines including the best ‘sweet spot’ redemptions.
How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (September 2023)
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!
In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.
You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:
There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:
You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points.
Run your own business?
We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.
You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.
EDIT: Applications for this card are temporarily suspended due to IT issues with the British Airways On Business SME loyalty scheme.
There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.
Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.