Oye vay, what a flight. Let me begin with a disclaimer: this flight review is an anomaly and is not a proper reflection of American Airlines service standards. However, last month, American decided to suspend all catering services out of LAX from their primary provider, Gate Gourmet, due to a listeria outbreak in one of their kitchens. "Out of caution" and for the safety of its passengers and crew, they would temporarily source meals from an alternate group until the outbreak was contained.
The full article has been covered a few times, including this write-up in Forbes, providing details of the outbreak which was discovered in a drainage pipe away from any sterile food preparation areas. While most airlines continued as normal, American stood alone as the only US airline to completely suspend its services from LAX. I'm certain a decision of this magnitude does not come lightly, especially at the expense of its passengers and their inflight experience.
As luck would have it, my international long-haul flight was one of many affected by this change in service. Despite American's conscious efforts to rectify the issue, both with vouchers and travel options, the execution and outcome was unfortunate. So, as a travel blogger who's committed to sharing both the good and bad, I have decided to write a review of the flight.
I booked this flight with cash and upgraded to Business Class with one of my Executive Platinum Systemwide Upgrades, which top-tier AAdvantage members receive 4 per year.
Airline: American Airlines (AA)
Route: Los Angeles (LAX) - Tokyo (NRT)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER
Duration: 12h 00m
Service: Business Class
Oh Los Angeles International Airport, so much to say about the experience but simply not enough words (or time) to describe it. The airport is atrocious in its current state. As a California-native, I've managed to fly through LAX 100+ times with each time a question of: "why did I choose LAX again?" as I de-plane from the American Airlines remote terminal and await the shuttle bus.
However, there is hope for this mega-hub.
LAX is slowly raising its airport and terminal experience to the likes of Singapore-Changi and South Korea-Incheon, both consistently ranked as one of the top premium airports. While the footprint for each award-winning airport is large, they've managed to ensure its simple to navigate.
The crown jewel of LAX is TBIT, or Tom Bradley International Terminal. The newly renovated TBIT is absolutely stunning. While the check-in lobby has only undergone a minor facelift, the rest of the international terminal experience has been reimagined from the studs, making this one of the nicest terminals in the world. Just have a look at the grand retail shopping area with immersive and cinematic TV screens and airy ceilings.
LAX is a real treat for oneworld flyers, because 1. TBIT is seamlessly connected to both American Terminals 4 and 5, and 2. I consider the shared oneworld/Qantas/Cathay Pacific/British Airways Business Class and First Class lounge to be the two best airport lounges in the US. Of course, on a global scale, these lounges offer very limited amenities and services but it's a wonderful lounge for the US. On this trip, I visited the Qantas First Class Lounge, which I accessed as an American Airlines Executive Platinum and oneworld Emerald member. Unfortunately, my Business Class seat would not have granted me access into the lounge otherwise.
Once inside, you'll find plenty of seating and lounging. The highlight of this lounge is their on-demand dining services, which I've enjoyed a few times for breakfast and lunch. My favorite dish in this lounge is their Calamari, which I found to be cooked so well and incredibly flavorful considering the logistics of stocking these facilities with fresh seafood.
Not to mention, I'm also quite fond of the ASPAR hand soap they stock in this lounge, with scents created exclusively for Qantas First Class. All-in-all, this is hands down my favorite US lounge.
The Boarding Process
I prefer arriving at the gate with a comfortable time cushion before boarding, around 30 minutes ahead of the scheduled boarding time. However, when I arrived at the gate at 10:45AM, 45 minutes before departure, I found myself to be the last person to board the aircraft and rushed on. Apparently, this speedy and efficient gate crew boarded an entire Boeing 777 in less than 15 minutes as boarding was scheduled to begin at 10:30AM. It was a bizarre scenario but I scurried onboard and took a seat.
This flight was operated by my all-time favorite aircraft and now the commercial aviation industry's most widely used plane, the Boeing 777. This workhorse completely redefined the aviation world as the first mega-twin engine aircraft to offer incomparable operating economics and greater passenger comfort. I am still awestruck by the sheer size of this aircraft, engines, and operating capabilities. It's an engineering marvel this aircraft is able to connect nearly any two cities around the world with as many passengers and cargo as its four-engine predecessors like the Boeing 747 or Airbus A340.
I rushed down the jet bridge and was ushered onboard by one of the flight attendants working my row, who proceeded to offer a glass of orange juice. This is where the service standards - or limitations - begin to alter. Waiting at my seat was an amenity kit in collaboration between Cole Haan and C.O. Bigelow and a Bose headset, however, there was no menu. The flight attendant brought over a glass of orange juice and began to apologize as he informed me of their very limited catering services. This was the first of many apologies on this flight.
At 11:30AM, the purser added her welcome and once again, informed everyone that this flight has been impacted by a lack of catering options. She explained the situation with their catering partner but reassured everyone the issue was expected to be resolved very soon - which, unfortunately, served me no good for the next 11 hours.
The Cabin + Seats
Catering aside, the best discovery and surprise of this flight: flying on a newly-refurbished American aircraft with B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seats! In layman's terms, of American's international fleet Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, this is the best Business Class hard product they offer, however, is offered selectively. Why? When American announced their long-haul premium product refresh, their original seat provider, Zodiac, could not meet American's aggressive roll-out plan and the airline ultimately cancelled the entire seat order. As a replacement, American opted for the gorgeous B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seat which is a significant upgrade in comparison to the Zodiac option with added space and privacy.
I was in complete shock when I saw this seat, as I was fully expecting a rear-facing Zodiac seat. This cabin offers a similar 1-2-1 configuration with 5 rows in the forward cabin between doors 1L and 2L, and an additional 4 rows behind door 2L and before Economy. I was absolutely thrilled to be trying this product out for the first time.
First impression was the seat color, which is a gorgeous deep blue color with a dark gray exterior wall. The window seats face outwards, while the center seats face inward making it ideal for passengers traveling in pairs. Unlike the Zodiac seats which look very narrow and tall, these seats look wide yet short, likely due to the very rounded headrest shape.
Once seated, I did find the seat back height to be shorter than I would prefer as the headrest could not be adjusted and sat uncomfortably behind my shoulder. For taller folks, the limited headrest adjustments and shorter seats could prove to be a problem in the up-right position.
The light wood grain tray table contrasted well with the seat, giving the cabin a homey warmth. I love when airlines use wood patterns or materials as accents. As far as storage, this seat offers plenty of compartments for all your knick-knacks. My favorite was the side table with a shallow but wide open-top compartment versus a deep bin. Within, you'll find your electronic and USB charging plugs and TV remote control.
Additional storage can be found under the seat along the side wall for your shoes and slippers.
Minutes before departure, the Captain added his welcome to confirm our flight time of 12 hours and that we would be pushing back on time at 11:30AM. We left the gate at 11:30AM on the clock and made our way down to Runway 25R for a quick departure.
The views departing LAX is alway stunning, with views of Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. Funny enough, while I started my day out of SFO, which we passed on our way to Tokyo. I snapped a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park. Hello again, San Francisco!
15 minutes after departure, we leveled off, and service began 15 minutes later at 12PM. The service began with drinks, a bag of pretzels, and bottled water. I ordered a glass of sparkling water which was served with - not kidding - a domestic sized bag of pretzels.
As mentioned, due to the heavy service changes, this flight did not come with a menu. Instead, the flight attendants read the menu aloud. The two options included a beef filet or vegetable lasagna.
I selected the beef filet which was served on a single tray with two salads, bread, and a lemon meringue cake. Wow, what a disappointing meal. If the flight was not nearing 12 hours, I likely would have left most of it untouched. While the corn salad was tasty, I found most of the food to be poorly cooked. The beef was tough and soaking wet. This meal is passable for a domestic First Class meal but certainly not appropriate for an International Business Class flight.
A few hours later, a cheese and fruit platter was offered as mid-flight snack. This was quite good.
For our pre-arrival meal, boxed sandwiches and chips were passed out. No comment.
The Entertainment + WiFi
In my prior experiences, American is one of a few airlines which offer decent WiFi prices and connectivity speeds - sadly, except on this flight. I spent a good portion of the flight troubleshooting the connectivity, giving up about halfway to Japan. I then decided to browse the movie and TV selection, which American offers a generous line-up. I decided to watch Wonder Woman. Did you know the movie is almost 3 hours long? It certainly took up a good portion of the flight.
The B/E Aerospace Diamond seat is special as it offers an extra wide design. Perhaps it's the very rounded headrest but I immediately noticed in pictures how spacious and wide the seatback was compared to other Business Class seats. In fully-flat mode, the seat is definitely spacious, which any flyer would find comfortable for rolling around and spreading out. However, the seat height may be uncomfortable for taller folks as the feet area is tight.
The blanket and pillow is decent, but certainly not memorable. The blanket wasn't long enough for me and I'm 5'10" for measure.
The crew began preparing the cabin for arrival an hour before landing, which I found to be odd and overly proactive. We were asked to turn in headsets early and reset seats into the up-right position. We circled a bit and landed exactly at 4:50PM. The purser welcomed us to Tokyo, added her thanks and, once again, apologized for the catering issues on this flight. She was genuine and sympathetic for the trouble, which I appreciated.
It's safe to say, running an airline is no simple feat. Everyday, airlines are faced with a slew of logistical challenges and for the most part, they make it look simple. While these circumstances are rare, it shows how difficult and unforgiving the service industry can be. While the catering options on this flight are not reflective of Americans service standards and experience, the service provided by the Flight Attendants was poor as expected with limited check-ins and impersonal interactions. On a flight under these circumstances, especially for premium flyers, I expected more sympathy beyond apologies, despite it being completely out of their control.
From the worst to the best part of this flight was trying out the new B/E Aerospace Diamond seats, which is definitely one of American's better Business Class seats, which you can find on select 777-200's and 787's. The seat itself is extra wide, which is nice compared to their Zodiac seats, which is uncomfortably narrow and border-line claustrophobic. Additionally, the seat offers a wide surface area for working and plenty of clever compartments for all your travel knick-knacks. The challenge and limitations come with seat height, which taller folks may find cramped around the feet and in the up-right position.
All-in-all, American's Business Class experience continues to see sure signs of improvement, which I'm very excited for.