Friday, November 28, 2014

Across the Pond in Business - Part 1: American 777-300ER


See Part 2: British Airways A380


While pricing for my trip to Amsterdam for the last KLM MD-11 flight, I came across a fantastic deal in business class that I just could not pass up.  It was on a British Airways (BA) ticket from San Jose, California to Amsterdam for $2400.  The only catch - I had to make two connections to get there. The connection through LAX gave me an added bonus.  For the same price, I was able to choose to fly either on American (AA) or BA or a combination of both.  Of course, I went with the “enthusiast combo," flying outbound on the AA 777-300ER and returning on the BA A380.  This also allowed for a BIS comparison between the new business class products from the two airlines.  How does the new American flying their newest airplane compare with the elegant old British queen flying their newest behemoth of the skies?

Preflight

I had checked-in online, but for reference, here were the American premium check-in desks at LAX.  It was quiet on this Saturday afternoon.  I thought the area was rather dark and drab for a premium area.

Seat map for the flight.  It would be a pretty full flight.


I proceeded upstairs to the security check queue.  After standing in line for a few minutes, a group of us were led to another set of doors on the opposite side (where there was already a queue).  I later found out the two sides fed into a central area.  However, it was confusing, the line moved slowly which added to the frustration.  Long line notwithstanding, I made it through security screening after 15 minutes.

I headed to the Admirals Club.



At reception, I was given two drink chits.  Since I didn’t drink, I later gave them to a couple lucky blokes who were already having a grand time at the bar.  At the upstairs reception, I traded my boarding pass for access to the showers.  After a full day of spotting at LAX, the shower was very refreshing and “hit the spot”.  I was prepared for the long flight ahead across the pond. 

Inside the main area, the recently renovated Admirals Club was impressive.  Large floor-to-ceiling windows gave an excellent view of the ramp looking west towards the Bradley Terminal (similar views can be had to the east ramp on the other side of the club, albeit in a smaller part of the lounge).  Room and furnishing were tastefully decorated.



Food selection was, as expected for an U.S. carrier, paltry.  We are talking about the usual nuts, pretzels, and cheese and crackers. At least there was fresh fruit.  Fresh food choices were available to order from the bar.  I asked whether I could trade drink tickets for food, but the answer was “no”. 



My ride. The long fuselage extended range 777-300ER was parked right downstairs from the Admirals Club at gate 41. 



At the appointed boarding time of 6:05 pm, I headed down to the gate.  Elite and business class boarding were already underway.  It was crowded in the gate area, but I was able to make my way to the boarding door, walk right on board without waiting (that was nice!).




The Flight

AA 136, Los Angeles - London Heathrow

Aircraft:  Boeing 777-323ER
Registration:  N727AN
msn/ln:  33541/1176
Aircraft Delivered:  February 2014 (age 0.8 year)


N727AN arriving at LAX from LHR earlier that afternoon

Scheduled departure - arrival:  6:45 pm - 1:15 pm
Actual departure - arrival:  6:46 pm - 1:05 pm
Take-off LAX Runway 25R:  7:07 pm
Landing LHR Runway 27R:  12:59 pm
Duration:  9 hours 51 minutes

Flightaware Flight Track:


Boarding at L2 door, reminiscing of the 787, I was greeted by the welcoming sight of in-flight bar.  I commented to the flight attendants that I was impressed already.  One of them replied, “wait until you see it with food”. 

Business class is in a 1-2-1 layout with direct aisle access for all seats.  The cabin was stylish which brought “wows” and comments like “stunning” from a few boarding passengers.

 
 


I was offered a pre-departure drink with a choice of champagne, water, or orange juice.  This was followed by a choice of newspapers and then the menu.




Inside the at-seat cabinet consisted of a pair of Bose noise-reduction headphones, a bottled water, and an amenity kit by Akhassa.  The kit consist of eye shades, eye plugs, towelette, lip balm, facial moisturizer, body lotion, toothpaste and toothbrush, socks, and pen.



At 6:42 pm, the boarding door closed.  United Kingdom landing cards as well as priority lane immigration cards were passed out for UK-bound passengers.

Captain Jordan introduced our flight.  He is joined by two first officers.  Cruising altitude was expected to be 31,000 feet with 9 hours 37 minutes flying time. 



At 6:46 pm, we pushed back from the gate, one minute late.  We were soon greeted by the distinctive low deafening rumble and vibration of the GE90-115B engine start, commonly known as the “777 mooing” (look it up on YouTube).

A flight attendant took everyone’s dinner order.  I had pre-ordered the halibut which the flight attendant confirmed.  Just a rough guess by overhearing other passengers, I guess about 50% of the people pre-ordered their meals.

Between 30 days and 24 hours prior to the flight, American allows you to pre-order your entree selection for your flight. 

We made a quick taxi from Terminal 4 to Runway 25R.  There would not be a delay for departure from LAX on this day.  At 7:07 pm, we started our takeoff roll.  Distance to London Heathrow:  5898 miles.  We made a sweeping left turn and headed east.  The angled seat provided a great view straight ahead, but it was a bit disorienting.  I really could not “feel” which way we were banking.  I’m sure the darkness outside had something to do with it as well.  Also another drawback was I could not get my face right up against the window to look down.  Any photo ops had to be done by reaching across to the window (as if I was seated in a “B” seat). 

It was announced the “International Flagship Dinner” was about to begin.  One and a half hour prior to landing, a light breakfast will be served.  Hot towel was then passed out.

The captain once again came on the PA and provided the weather in London:  it is currently raining but it is expected to be clear by the time of our arrival.  We expect to arrive in LHR 15 minutes early.

Beverage service with warmed nuts


While over Colorado at 31,000 feet, dinner service began with Thai Chicken starter and green salad with a choice of dressing. 




My entrée of Seared Halibut followed.  It looked delicious.  Based upon reviews I have read on flyertalk, I had high expectations for this dish.  Though flavorful and nicely grilled on both sides, the fish unfortunately was overcooked and was too dry.  Accompaniments of risotto and brocoolini were both tasty, however.


 

Dinner service was capped off with dessert.  I just could not resist the made-right-in-front-of-you ice cream sundae (and I thought that was just a thing on United!).  Topping choices were:  hot fudge, butter scotch, berry, nuts, and whipped cream.  I asked for the little cookie roll for the other dessert.  The hot fudge was a bit skimpy, I asked for and received a refill about half way through my sundae.

There was not a decaf hot beverage available.  I was hoping for decaf or herbal tea to go with my sundae.  A flight attendant joked, "we don't want you to get any sleep tonight!"  I went with hot water.  The lemon was a nice touch.



Overall pacing during meal service was excellent.  It took one hour from beginning to end, and it was only 15 minutes between appetizer and entree.

I was going to work on my laptop and try out the wifi (pricing below), but the wealth of programs on the in-flight entertainment really caught my eye.  It took a while just to go through the available selections to make up my playlist.



After watching an episode of House of Cards in the dimmed and hushed cabin, it was after 11 pm and time for bed.  On the way to the lavatory, I could not help but peruse through the wealth of selection of snacks available at the in-flight snack bar.




I told a flight attendant, “I was just going to brush my teeth, and you are tempting me with all these food”.  It was obviously the flight attendants were proud of this.  One of them proceed to describe to me all of the items.  We then briefly chatted about travel, airplanes, and how me being a Star Alliance guy, was impressed with the new American; specifically with the configuration on this aircraft. “You got to see this bathroom” concluded the conversation.  The flight attendant specifically pointed out to me the larger lavatory noted how the forward lavatories were better decorated than the ones at the center or the rear.


No auto flush like the 787


I took a pass at the scrumptious snacks.  I went back to my seat and reclined it to the full 180° flat position.  After getting an early start that morning, I was ready for sleep.  After settling in — uh oh — this was not very comfortable.  It felt like a bunch of lumpy seat cushions put together.  I had to “line up” my body to the appropriate cushion in order to get the support in the right areas.  Even then, it was still not comfortable.  

Between the loud triple 7 engines and the rather uncomfortable bed, I was only able to get about four hours of light “sleep”.  With about two hours to go, I woke up and got ready for breakfast. 


For breakfast, I had a choice of a quiche or yogurt.  I went with the quiche (strata on the menu).  The cinnamon roll in the bread basket offering looked the best, so I went with it.  It was delicious!  I took another when the basket came back around.  The entree itself was not all that memorable, though having fresh fruit was always nice and appreciated. 




A flight attendant came by and we briefly chatted about my work.  She then took me on a brief tour of the first class cabin.  On the way back, we ran into the flight attendant at the bar from earlier in the evening.  She asked, “did you have the cinnamon roll?”.  I replied with a slight coy smile, “I had two”.  By then, the bar was pretty much all cleared out with the exception of the packaged products.  She persuaded me to “take a few for the road” before she had to put everything away.  “I think I will” was my reply!



I made it back to my seat in preparation for landing. The Bose headphones were picked up about 40 minutes to go in the flight. We were offered a disposable headphone if we desired to continue watching our personal TV. No matter because the screen had to be folded for landing anyway. That's one drawback of the angled design as I love looking at the map while on approach. We turned final south of Greenwich (note Millennium Dome) before making our final approach from the east to Runway 27R at Heathrow. As noted previously, I had to reach across in order to get these shots.





At 12:59 pm, we made a smooth touchdown on 27R under beautiful sunny skies. We made a short taxi to Terminal 3 and came to a stop at gate 335 at 1:05 pm. Flying time was 9 hours 51 minutes.

Cockpit visit and the nice conversation with one of the First Officers made me feel like a kid again!  :)



An enthusiastic and friendly crew accentuated by a beautifully configured airplane made this an enjoyable and memorable flight. American ought to be congratulated for putting out a world-class product. I was very impressed!  



See part 2 of this trip report: my return trip on the British Airways A380 (and some thoughts comparing the two products).

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