Review: American First Class A321 New York To Los Angeles

Filed Under: American

My flight to Los Angeles was departing from gate 38, which is a bit of a haul from the Flagship Lounge. This required taking the underground tunnel to the far American concourse. I left the lounge at around 7:15PM, in anticipation of the 7:30PM boarding time.

American’s Terminal 8 JFK

The gate area for LAX was quiet, which wasn’t much of a surprise based on looking at the seatmap. Even though the plane has just 102 seats, economy looked like it was about half empty.

American departure gate to LAX

At 7:30PM boarding began, starting with Concierge Key members, followed by first class.

American 293
New York (JFK) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Thursday, September 21
Depart: 8:00PM
Arrive: 11:29PM
Duration: 6hr29min
Aircraft: Airbus A321
Seat: 4A (First Class)

At the door the crew was busy setting up the cabin, so I didn’t really get much of a welcome, but that was fine, since it meant I could get some good pictures. There’s no denying that American’s A321 first class cabin is S-E-X-Y. Having a 1-1 configuration on a narrowbody plane isn’t something you see every day.

American A321 first class cabin

American’s A321 first class cabin consists of a total of 10 seats, spread across five rows. American has reverse herringbone seats in first class, which are the same ones they have in business class on their 777-300ERs. The privacy in this product is unbeatable for the domestic flights this plane operates.

American A321 first class cabin

I had assigned myself seat 4A.

American A321 first class seat

American A321 first class seat

As you can see, the personal television is latched to the seat in front, though can be extended while in flight.

American A321 first class seat

American A321 first class seat

All the seat functions were on a panel to the left of the seat. This included the entertainment controls, seat controls, USB outlets, and a reading light. I appreciate how easy they are to reach, without being in the way.

American first class seat controls

To the side of the controls is a small storage compartment, which also has a 110v outlet.

American first class storage

Then beneath the seat and to the left is another storage compartment.

American first class storage

Already waiting at my seat were Bose headphones, which American offers in first & business class. That’s really impressive, given that many of the world’s top airlines don’t even have decent headphones in first class.

American first class Bose headphones

There was also a pillow and blanket. While both were reasonably comfortable, I think the blanket has seen better days, and it might be time for American to update these.

American first class pillow & blanket

Then there was a Cole Haan amenity kit with some products from Clark’s Botanicals. The amenity kit had eyeshades, socks, a hand wipe, lip balm, and a cream. There’s also a code for $75 off a $250+ purchase with Cole Haan (I haven’t used it, so the first person to use it gets it).

American first class amenity kit

American first class amenity kit contents

There was also a bottle of Dasani water (which isn’t my favorite, but I at least appreciate that they have these).

American first class bottled water

All passengers board through the forward door on American’s A321s, so there are lots of comments as people walk through the cabin, since it’s not often you see a domestic plane like this.

About 10 minutes after settling in I was offered a pre-departure beverage of choice. I just ordered some still water, which was served in a glass. I appreciate that American serves these in real glassware, which they didn’t use to do.

American first class pre-departure water

The flight was pretty empty (though that didn’t stop the flight attendant from announcing “we’re expecting a completely full flight”), so boarding was done by 7:45PM. At that point the first class cabin was full.

American first class A321 cabin before departure

Here’s what the seatmap looked like the morning of the flight:

And here’s what it looked like when the door closed (blue=occupied):

Clearly a majority of the people in the cabin were non-revs/employees. They work hard and I’m all for them getting benefits, but American might want to consider their pricing/inventory management strategy if they can only fill a couple of first class seats on a Thursday evening flight, which you’d think would be a period with high demand.

Anyway, by 7:50PM the door closed, and then a few minutes later the captain made his welcome aboard announcement, informing us of our flight time of 5hr30min, and expected on-time arrival in LA. He did warn us there would be a long queue for takeoff, though.

By 7:55PM we began our pushback, at which point the safety video was screened.

During this time I browsed the entertainment selection. American has a pretty extensive library of both movies & TV shows, including lots of HBO shows that I like. I wish they’d change up the selection a bit more often, as I feel like they’ve had the same episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Big Bang Theory for a long time.

American entertainment system

American entertainment selection

American entertainment selection

Usually when a flight has Wi-Fi I work rather than watching a movie, but I was tired at this point, so decided to relax. I ended up watching Baywatch, because Zac Efron shirtless. It was awful. No amount of airbrushed Zac Efron abs make up for how bad it was, in my opinion.

American entertainment selection

After taxiing for about 15 minutes the captain came on the PA to advise us that we were presently #20 for takeoff, and that it would be another 20 minutes or so before we were airborne, which seemed optimistic. We ended up taking off at 8:55PM, nearly an hour after our scheduled departure time.

Our climb out was smooth, and about 20 minutes after takeoff the purser came around to take meal and drink orders. American has two flight attendants working first class on the A321 — one in the galley and one in the aisle — which is a pretty good staffing ratio for a 10 seat cabin.

A few minutes later the food & drink service began. The menu read as follows (American also has new menus — they used to be a booklet, while now it’s a single sheet of paper with the food on the front and drinks on the back):

Service began with tablecloths being distributed. I don’t get why American doesn’t have tablecloths that don’t cover the entire table, but…

American first class table setting

Next up were (small) hot towels.

American first class warm towel

To drink I ordered a glass of champagne, which was served with mixed nuts. Having just had a bunch of food and drinks in Flagship First Dining, I was still stuffed, so I mainly ordered food so I could review it.

To start I had a glass of champagne (which lasted me throughout the meal). American serves Lanson Black Label, which is respectable. However, I find it a bit weird that they serve better champagne in the Flagship Lounge (which a oneworld Sapphire traveling in economy internationally can access) than they do in three cabin first class.

American first class dinner — champagne & mixed nuts

The drink was served with American’s tasty warm mixed nuts, which I didn’t have this time.

American first class dinner — champagne & mixed nuts

Next up the table was set with a bread plate, butter, small salt & pepper shakers, and cutlery. I appreciate that American serves directly on the table rather than using trays.

American first class dinner appetizer — smoked salmon cheesecake

The starter consisted of a smoked salmon cheesecake with caper onion relish and micro-greens. It was super rich, though tasted great.

American first class dinner appetizer — smoked salmon cheesecake

Next up was the salad, with a choice of creamy orange dressing or balsamic vinaigrette. The salad was tasteless and boring. Surely they can do better than this?

American first class dinner — arugula with watermelon radish

For the main course I ordered the Thai curry shrimp with mushroom risotto and sautéed spinach. This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting from a curry shrimp dish, but it was decent enough. The risotto was rich and flavorful and the sautéed spinach was good, though if anything the shrimp themselves were boring.

American first class dinner main course — Thai curry shrimp

For dessert I wanted to order the four seasons mousse cake, though they had already run out of that, so I instead ordered an ice cream sundae (basically exclusively for the picture, because I was so so so full). As much as I love American’s sundaes, some variety once in a while would be nice, and that’s tough to get when they run out of the other option.

American first class dinner dessert — ice cream sundae

The meal service was done about 1hr45min into the flight, and was well paced. The crew was… good(ish). They were perfectly fine, efficient, and well intentioned. However, there was nothing premium about the service. If you fly JetBlue Mint you’ll get specially trained flight attendants who genuinely seem like they want to be there, while on American you’ll get the same level of passion up front that you get anywhere else in the plane.

Like I said, both flight attendants were friendly, but I was never addressed by name, never asked how anything was, never asked if I needed an explanation or introduction to my seat, etc. While minor, the napkin American gives you has only two forks, while there’s an appetizer, salad, and main course. So I used the fork for each of the first two courses. When I placed it on my salad plate when I was done, the flight attendant removed the dirty fork from the plate and put it on the tablecloth, rather than getting a new one. Again, this is minor, but hopefully drives home the point of the service not being very “premium.”

Airshow enroute to Los Angeles

After the meal and watching Baywatch I was tired, and tried to sleep for a few hours. For whatever reason I couldn’t really fall asleep, so I tossed and turned instead, and just sort of relaxed. As much as I love reverse herringbone seats in general, I couldn’t help but feel like the one on the A321 is significantly narrower than the one on the 777-300ER. Is it just me?

About an hour before landing the crew came through the cabin with freshly baked cookies, though I passed. There was also a snack basket.

I decided to order a cappuccino. The flight attendant asked me whether I wanted cream with it. I thought that was a bit odd, though said no. I was then served an espresso. He inadvertently did me a favor since I think I had my daily dairy for the day. The espresso was served in a cute little cup, though not on the little tray with the biscotti that I’ve seen them use in the past.

American first class espresso

I checked out the bathroom at the front of the cabin, which was clean but no frills.

American A321 first class lavatory

About 30 minutes before landing the crew came around to collect Bose headsets, and then handed out warm towels and mints.

American first class pre-landing towel and mint

Our descent into LA — and entire flight, for that matter — was smooth, and we touched down at around 11:15PM. From there it was a roughly five minute taxi to our gate, where we still arrived early, despite the delay for takeoff.

Airshow approaching LAX

Airshow approaching LAX

American A321 first class bottom line

American is the only airline that operates a three cabin product between New York and Los Angeles, which makes it popular with the entertainment industry. While the hard product is impressive, the soft product isn’t.

Service is… okay. Food is… okay. The amenities are… okay. I don’t think American’s first class soft product experience is materially better than business class on Delta and United in the same market, and most definitely lags behind JetBlue.

It would be nice if they invested a bit more in the soft product to make it exceptional and stand out, as they did back in the day when they flew 767-200s. This doesn’t have to be anything major, but something like a custom made salad cart, an appetizer cart, etc., would make the experience feel a lot more premium.

What do you make of American’s A321 first class product?

  1. So, I’ve flown this product maybe a half dozen times. I will say that sometimes I’ve had a *phenomenal* crew (shout out to FA Karen!). The last time I flew this product, I had a pursuer who forgot to bring the small plate AND salad to three different passengers (including my wife) in a First cabin with only 8 passengers (80% full). She dropped the entree on my table, and I had to separately flag her down to ask where the rest of my food was. “What do you want?” she asked. Um…the other stuff that’s on the menu? Amazing that it happened to two others. We all looked at each other, wondering what was going on. So I agree with you on this point: Service makes *all* the difference on this route.

    One other point. How do you know the other passengers were non-rev/employees? I have (once or maybe twice) in the past been upgraded from Business to First on this route when Economy was oversold. Not sure if you had any insight there.


  2. Flew the opposite routing in February and had the same impression, 100%. Our FAs were fun, though – cheeky and engaging and just the right amount of unprofessional at the right times because they knew their audience. Everything else, though, was absolutely mediocre and not worth what someone would pay if they’d used cash. The only thing about this flight that was premium was the F seat. The J product is the same as UA flies, so you can’t really claim that as much of a marked improvement other than being newer seats.

    And I love/hate the sundaes. Love them because I have a sweet tooth but hate them because they’re so unimaginative and a total copout. Definitely not a first class experience. AA has a long way to go with this. So much potential squandered.

  3. I flew the JFK-LAX first a few times and thought the seat was poor and not nearly as good as the seat on the 77W. Product is unremarkabel and I agree the soft product is lacking.

    Also, bro, stop apoligizing for things like the forks etc. Not providing the right amount of forks is a big deal and makes the whole experience common. No more semi apologies!

  4. Don’t usually fly American, but if the first class cabin only had two paid seats before non-rev upgrades, wouldn’t they offer the ones who paid first choice of meals and desserts so they can’t “run out” before getting to one of the two people who booked that class of service?

  5. Agree with @PalmBeachWasp — I’ve been on the 77W from LAX-MIA, and its first-class product is far superior to this transcon. Much more space, and the seats have a massager! Thanks for the heads-up, Lucky. Will not be flying AA between LAX-JFK. I’ll stick with JetBlue Mint.

  6. we only fly first class and it is unreal on AA Kudos to Julio, Israel, and Latasha–stewards/stewardesses for making those 5-6h flights fly by! The quality of the food, seats, service are fantastic!

  7. @ Jake — You’d think so, but that’s not how American does it. Once you’re on the plane they took orders front to back or back to front, and don’t take status into consideration. You can pre-order your main course, but that’s it. Agree it doesn’t make sense, but that’s how they do it.

  8. I believe the seats on the A321T are angled more sharply than the ones on the 77W, making them feel narrower and harder to get in and out of. I find the A321T F seats to be somewhat claustrophobic, which I never feel in the 77W J seats.

    I agree that back in the day, when AA flew the 762s, F felt materially different from J. Now, not so much. I guess if you have a lot of time before the flight to enjoy the new Flagship First Dining, that might be a differentiating factor. But on balance, I don’t find F to be worth all that much over J.

  9. @Billiken – he means the gate for hte Los Angeles flight was quiet. Which makes sense given how empty he said the flight was

  10. They should take food order by membership tier and do operational upgrades last. On this flight, with few revenue passengers on first, its not acceptable that they were out of your choice of dessert. With only 10 seats on a long flight, that shouldnt be difficult to manage.

  11. I have a friend who says as a non-rev, this is one of the easiest routes for him to get a seat on (well, SFO-JFK in F). He says that revenue management is happy when there are at least 2 paying customers on the flight in F. Personally, I think they made the cabin too large (or could discount a bit to fill it up). You often see J oversold on this flight and F full of non-revs. Have never actually flown this myself, but I really don’t see much of a difference between business and first on these routes other than direct aisle access. And J seat is “comfortable enough” for a route of this length. Service is really where AA could differentiate themselves – and in fairness to them, sometimes they do.

  12. @ Ben – does it not seem odd (scary?) that they give you a pre-landing mint with the old American Airlines typeface – circa 2013?

  13. I have flown JFK-SFO and LAX-JFK in F twice, both times I had a good experience but it’s true, it wasn’t the greatest. Food is marginally better than in J – and I overall like it for a domestic flight. Seat is very private and IFE is great. Also, FA’s were good both times, the second time I’d say they were excellent (although they kept serving prosecco when I asked for Lanson…). Getting that type of seat on a domestic flight is without comparison – so can’t really complain about it. Overall, this is a product tailored to the corporate clients, and apparently AA is very happy of how successful it is (I read in a LA newspaper some time ago I think)

  14. “The privacy in this product is unbeatable for the domestic flights this plane operates.”

    I’d disagree and bestow that title on the the throne seat, with a door, on Jetblue Mint.

    Add the service disparity on top of the privacy and B6’s J class offering is decimates AA’s F class offering.

  15. This is a side note, but…
    I find AA’s terminal 8 to be offensively boring and tedious, and the opposite of a premium experience. Admittedly, by NYC standards it’s well above average (at least it’s not Newark/LaGuardia/JFK T2), but it feels like it was supposed to be a much nicer building that got budget cut by bean counters. It’s particularly annoying to have to traverse 3 sets of escalators coming from gate 38 to baggage claim. While the flagship lounge is nice, it’s a loooooong trek to that gate, and everything from the institutional grey walls to bought-in-bulk lighting to no paper towels at the gate bathrooms speak to the crapulence of American Airlines and the type of ‘how much can we cut service’ attitude they have.

    JetBlue’s T5 is a much more pleasant experience.

  16. Nothing appealing to me about these “First Class” seats. Cramped, uncomfortable, claustrophobic. Very little foot and leg room. For me First Class is about being able to stretch out and be comfortable. That and some decent food and attentive service. Privacy was never an issue for me.

  17. I’ve done these transcons several times in first to LAX and SFO. I love the seat of course, and I find the crews really variable. Sometimes (like the last time) I had an incredible crew who called everyone by their names, we had very attentive service and one of the FAs has been doing JFK-LAX for nearly 30 years!

    The food can be like the crew: sometimes good, sometimes not so. I do like that you can order your main in advance. I completely agree with you though about nothing being truly special. It would be great if there was a special training perhaps for the crew working in first as there is on Jet Blue.

    As always, thanks for your indefatigable work!

  18. 1) Why would American spend more on extra F amenities when no one is buying F in the first place? I know its a chicken and egg situation, but paid premium F in the US simply isn’t that strong.

    2) There has never really been strong paid F on this route because J is very good. You can buy business class for $700 or less if you plan ahead, get comparable food, double EQM, etc. Why would people pay extra for F?

    3) The best part about this route is the plane. Both J and F are very “private.” American and United’s planes are bigger, and make it less appealing from that perspective.

    4) While JetBlue mint is a great product, I’d still rather buy a J seat on American and earn 5,000 EQM each way. JetBlue Mint is also often more expensive than AA, Delta and United depending on what corporate contract you are flying on

  19. @ Anthony — I obviously don’t have access to any numbers as they keep those private, but American management has claimed they’re happy with their decision to keep first class on the route and that there’s strong demand. If there weren’t, then why bother having it? They could fit significantly more business class seats in the same area. As far as your point about “why would they invest more in the product?” I think it comes down to a chicken and egg argument. What comes first — a product worth paying a premium for, or people paying a premium for a product that isn’t worth it?

  20. From what I have read here, these passengers for the most part are condescending snobs who do not understand how fortunate they are to have such great service on a domestic flight. THESE First class seats are not Cramped or Uncomfortable or Claustrophobic.
    My observation is that the airline employees should Not be given first choice on menu selections over paying passengers. That is a No-Brainer.
    Otherwise, on a Domestic Flight the service provided sounds wonderful.

  21. I would fly this in Business or first as I have a dozen times in the past
    but the economy seat is unacceptable if you want to fly coach and upgrade to business if you don’t clear
    First is a respectable seat but the food brings down the whole experience to coach with food Being American thinks that this redemption is worth 50k to 100 k each way I’ll let them keep it
    at 32k it made sense but the whole program and bad saver award inventory doesn’t make sense so I have moved on!

  22. The seat is definitely narrower than the similar seat on the 777, and is not a great seat for sleeping. I’ve only flown the route once and had phenomenal service, but I must have been lucky that day.

  23. They definitely need to do something about the five-year-old mints they’re handing out. I notice them every time I fly domestic F.

    Variability is the order of the day with AA crews and food. You simply never know what you’re going to get. It used to be you had a better chance of good service and excellent food on a flagship route like JFK-LAX, and a hard product to be proud of – but those A321Ts are approaching five years old and starting to look a bit scuffed and worn, with the infamous AA “security tape” showing up in lavatories and on wall panels. Under the Parker regime the premium routes are a total crapshoot, like everything else. Pay them lots of money, then roll the dice and see what you get.

  24. @Lucky, what’s wrong with a bottle of Dasani still water? They could have used the absolute cheapest brand of bottled water, for the convenience, it really doesn’t matter. Its perfectly fine.

    PS, Delta serves Dasani in First Class as well (albeit in the little bottles).

  25. @John – every time I get one of those mints with the former logo I wonder how many millions of these wrappers they purchased. Buttermints don’t have a 5 year shelf life, so I think it’s reasonably safe to assume they’re somewhat fresher. But still embarrassing.

    The main courses seem very mushroom-centric with 3 of the 4 featuring mushrooms. Surprised all the mains weren’t covered in cilantro, too.

  26. Ben are the quality of of Bose headsets better on this aircraft ? I notice they are a different model than the ones on the 787 business class . Or are they all the same ?

    More often than not people do not buy full fare first class tickets but the JFK LAX route can be lucrative. An athlete or celebrity comes along and purchases 4 round trip tickets that alone can be the cost of 60 economy tickets. Do the math.

  27. “2) There has never really been strong paid F on this route because J is very good. You can buy business class for $700 or less if you plan ahead, get comparable food, double EQM, etc. Why would people pay extra for F?”

    Well – Not saying it is as profitable as they want it to be, but there are a lot of people in LA & NY (and I guess SFO) who don’t always fly private who have first class written into their deals. With a three class tier, it allows AA to charge an extra-extra premium for first, albeit discounted to corporate customers. As documented here and elsewhere, there is minimal service (and product cost) differences from J, so AA creams off pure profit from F customers. Which is why they can accept only 2 real paid F per flight.

  28. Talking about the order for ordering, more than once I’ve been on a paid F ticket and been one of the last to get to order food on Delta (where I’m silver) or United (where I haven’t had status for 20 years and actively avoid). Meanwhile as an American platinum I get to pick, as @Lucky says, in seating order. Better or worse? Fair or not? The FAs know the non-revs but they don’t know the paid vs upgraded on most airlines unless you get upgraded after boarding. But on American if I pay for F I can always pre-order my meal. So there’s that.

    I was once the last person on a United flight to be asked for my meal order while on a paid F ticket and my colleague loudly pointed on that I was probably the only person in the cabin who had paid. The FA looked offended…

  29. Air Canada takes food orders “by miles” according to the FA I asked. Regardless of how much (or if) you paid. I still think pre-ordering at online check in would be the more efficient way, and everyone gets what they want.

  30. Your experience pretty much matches what I experienced the one time I flew the A321T SFO JFK. Except my seat didn’t recline at all, nor did the second one I tried. Luckily the third (and last empty seat in F) did. So not too impressed with the seat nor the uninterested service.

  31. Regarding tablecloth not fitting the tray, I’m guessing they have one standard tablecloth used across the fleet and the First Class trays on the A321T’s are larger than most all other aircraft (where the tray tables are covered by the tablecloth.

    I guess it isn’t worth it for them to create a sub-fleet tablecloth.

  32. If you fly in coach, you can watch the IFE during boarding instead of waiting for ten minutes after takeoff before you can release the screen. Worth the extra $-1600 if you like IFE.

  33. The “Gourmet Cheese Plate” reads like stuff one of the flight attendants picked up out of the 7/11 dairy case on her way to the airport, lol

  34. LOL–William exactly–the “gourmet” cheese platter read like something from Wawas. Seriously, this the “best” 1st class AA can offer -crap from a convenience store? Any wonder why that airline was a bad joke?

  35. I’ve flown this route several times and have always had excellent (or at least above average) in-flight service.
    I usually fly on the weekends though and the number of non-revs in First is annoying – they typically spend a significant amount of time socializing with the crew. I’d prefer the cabin remain quiet and tranquil, as it was obviously designed to be.
    As a few others have mentioned, the walk from the Flagship Lounge to the gate can be somewhat long. I’d think AA could easily use gates in the same part of the terminal as the lounge.

  36. Why is the coffee mug so dirty & stained?

    And what the heck is wrong with that towel . . . It’s so tiny you’d think they made it just for Trump’s hands.

  37. There was also a bottle of Dasani water (which isn’t my favorite, but I at least appreciate that they have these)

    I agree they so can’t get H2O right. I’m giving up my AA status over this

  38. FWIW twice this month I have seen them take status into account in taking orders. I was on LHR-LAX with a colleague in J and she apologized to him that she had to take my order first since I was EXP which I chuckled at. Also was on LAX-SFO last week where the FA took a CK seated in the middle of the cabin’s drink order before anyone else. Same thing with the snack basket. YMMV

  39. Flown this flight about 10 times or so in F. Easiest UPG in the system from J > F, not so much from Y > J. Sometimes fares in F aren’t much more than J either. Do think they should have done only 4 F seats and maybe 28-30 J seats, but probably has to do with the structural requirements of the plane.

    Love the F seats for a domestic product, but yes, they are narrower than the J seats on the 77W. They’re a different seat. Look similar, but it’s not the same.

    You’re definitely right about the entertainment industry loving this route, but speaking from experience, most only get booked in J, and then they’ll get UPG’d. Only the top A-listers and execs get booked in F. However, all of the contracts with the entertainment give them access to flexible fares that are discounted but still expensive, so AA makes plenty on it. I’m sure even if they can sell a dozen or so $3-$4K fares a week on this route, it’s still probably worth having the cabin there.

    Overall, a great product though. Love Mint, but I’m on the AA hamster wheel so…. :/

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