Why Can’t All American First Class Crews Be This Good?!

Filed Under: American, Travel

I’ve flown American’s international first class a countless number of times. This includes their old first class on the 777-200, as well as their new first class on the 777-300.

The total number of international first class seats American has fleetwide is decreasing significantly, as 777-200s are being reconfigured without first class.

I find there to be a significant benefit to first class over business class on the old 777-200s, given that first class features direct aisle access from every seat, while the business class seats are angled, with seven seats per row. While the first class product is outdated, it’s worth it for the physical comfort (this doesn’t apply on the reconfigured 777s, which have a new business class product).

American’s old 777-200 first class

Meanwhile on the 777-300 the difference is marginal at best. American has a fantastic reverse herringbone seat in business class, featuring direct aisle access from every seat.

American’s 777-300 business class

The first class seats are only marginally better, as they’re in the same 1-2-1 configuration, and aren’t more private.

American’s 777-300 first class

Perhaps American’s 777-300ER first class is a victim of how good business class on the plane is. In the past I’ve asked why American even bothers with international first class, since they don’t do much to differentiate the soft product, and service is extremely inconsistent.

I was blown away by my American flight from Sydney to Los Angeles back in January, which featured their enhanced first class service (which should be expanded systemwide soon).

American-First-Class-Sydney - 3
Not your average American Airlines starter!

The truth is that the improvements were minor, but they really made a huge difference in terms of perception. It just felt like they were putting effort into the service. But that was only half the equation, as I also lucked out with a fantastic crew on that flight.

Yesterday I flew American’s first class from London to Los Angeles, which was interesting to fly after the Sydney flight, since it didn’t feature the enhanced soft product. In other words, the food was as it always is (basically the same as in business class).

Not the most first class starter out there…

And not the most first class meal either…

However, the two first class flight attendants, Rebecca and Suzanne, were fantastic. It’s amazing how far a little bit of effort and a good attitude can go.

They were friendly, humorous, and attentive. With every interaction they’d make eye contact, smile, and even crack a joke or two.

Beyond that, their attention to detail made me feel like I was on an Asian airline. These are all very minor things, but they make such a big difference:

  • I had ordered a glass of champagne and was drinking it really slowly, so after a while the flight attendant came by and said “that doesn’t look cold anymore, let me get you a new glass, because I’ve had it sitting on ice”
  • After one course I placed my fork back on the tablecloth, since I didn’t want the crew to have to get me a new one, yet the flight attendant noticed it and said “that doesn’t look clean, let me get you a fresh fork”
  • After the meal service they explained the turndown service they offered and asked if I wanted to be woken for the pre-landing snack
  • I ordered some brewed coffee, and the flight attendant said “I have some now, but it’s not fresh, so can I brew a fresh pot? How about I make you an espresso or cappuccino in the meantime?”
  • Throughout the flight they were through the cabin every 5-10 minutes to see if anyone wanted anything

It’s tough to explain because these are all minor things, but I genuinely felt like they wanted to be there, and like I was their guest. Contrast that to the purser I had on my Los Angeles to London flight last year, who couldn’t have left a more unfavorable impression.

In fairness, every airline has inconsistent service. This past week I was so underwhelmed by the service on an Emirates flight that I asked for the purser (then things were quickly sorted out). But the difference is that Emirates has a fantastic product otherwise. Like, how disappointed can I be about bad service when I’m having caviar and Dom Perignon, and can visit the plane’s shower suite or bar? 😉


Meanwhile on American the difference between first and business class is so limited if you have a bad crew. If they at least introduced the Sydney catering to the rest of the flights there would be a more tangible difference in the product.

But what goes the furthest is a great crew, and unfortunately that’s something which can’t easily be forced or trained. When you run into flight attendants like Rebecca and Suzanne, though, it’s a real treat.

If only there were a way to book flights operated by specific flight attendants, as it has the single biggest impact on the overall experience, in my opinion…

  1. Since relocating here (UK), all my AA flights start TATL. Sadly, it seems great crews are the exception not the rule. Many aren’t bad either (although a few are just 99.9% attitude,.awful) but most are just “meh.” When I do get a great crew, rare as it is, they’re not just great they’re amazing–I’ll send that complement to AA,.usually ending with a question worded jyst like your title to this.

  2. So..

    First class:
    “that doesn’t look cold anymore, let me get you a new glass, because I’ve had it sitting on ice”

    Economy class:
    “come on, get your plate over here, we need get landing soon!”

    Why Can’t All Class Crews Be This Good?!

  3. Lucky
    I flew LHR LAX on Monday in business and yes the hard product was great. And the photos of my food look almost the same as yours. The only significant difference appears to be salt and pepper shakers in First:-)

  4. Service on AA premium classes is inconsistent at best, indifferent at the worst. We flew AA business from LAX to SYD two weeks ago on the AA enhanced product. Great business class seats. Awful and disorganized flight attendants, especially flustered during pre-boarding. One aisle received slippers and pajamas while another didn’t. As my wife and I were sitting on opposite aisles, we noticed the difference and called it out, only to be informed (lied to) that these amenities were “not standard”. On the return leg, I had my call attendant light on for 20 minutes before getting attention. Funny thing was that the FAs were walking up and down the aisles frequently, ignoring the light.

    Bottom line – great hard product, woeful soft product. American should invest in training their staff to international standards or hire new crew.

  5. So Lucky, when are you on your Garuda-China Eastern quest? Thought that’s what you were flying to the O2.

  6. Seniority bAAsed flying retiree’s, they do the trip for the vacation layover. The food is SkyChefs business class cold packs – the FA’s just use larger plates. Everone disappears after the first meal service is over. That’s AA’s F problem.

  7. I just can’t wait for when your pretentiousness crashes and all this foolishness you came to believe you’re entitled ends…. Unbelievable!!

  8. Completely agree that a great flight crew can make a huge difference. Just did a trip ib AA to/from London in business. On the way over, my crew was one of the best I have ever had in any seat class on any airline. I felt special the entire time with the attention to detail. I believe it’s the first time I’ve ever written to AA to compliment the entire FA group. I still recall the names of the staff after two weeks. On the return, the meh attitude. Oh, they weren’t rude or anything like that, just not interested in doing anything more than getting the minimum done, forgetting a request, etc. The trip was forgettable and so was the crew.

  9. Earlier this month I had a great first class experience on a AA LhR-ORD 777-200. The food was still business class like but the crew was the best I’ve had in years.

  10. In response to the comments regarding an “Excellent Crew” vs the “Get the Job Done at best” Crews-

    I have worked as a Flight Attendant for an AAirline for over 20 years. While I don’t disagree with the often disparity between crews and the level of service received, I take issue to the missing facts from the conversation. What you all seem to forget, or perhaps as I suspect don’t realize, is that the Crews are exhausted due to the minimum rest often received after flying to an International destination. That is why statistically you will have a better experience flying to your International destination vs your return. The simple truth being that the reduced rest built into the city the crews are laying over in leaves little time to re-charge! Then add in the number of days a Flight Attendant has to fly in order to make a “living wage” and you again face a fatigue issue. Do you know that a new hire flight attendant receives just $22 a “FLIGHT HOUR?” If a new hire works 100 flight hours, which is a high time flying schedule, the will GROSS $2200. Take out taxes, insurance, the cost of their first uniform, ( Yes some AAirlines require new hire flight attendants to pay for their first uniform via payroll deductions) you can see the financial stress these new hires face. And we all know how burdensome living hand to mouth can be. Then add in every flight attendant receiving on average $25 per day for all meals in these wonderful International destinations. Many flight attendants are forced to carry food to simply be able to eat on a layover. Then come back to the boarding process; do you realize that your Flight Attendants aren’t being paid until the plane literally pushes back from the gate. Then, do you realize that the Flight Attendants aren’t catered any food for that long haul flight? Unless they bring their own food or are fortunate to have leftover food from the meal service, they don’t eat! And let’s not forget about the Domestic trips. On a 3-day trip for a flight attendant, Day 1 can begin at 4am and end at 9pm, with a sign in on day 2 at 6 am. You read the correct, 9 hours from arriving at the gate, deplaning the passengers, walking to the van to be taken to the hotel, the hour to unwind and eat, the hour to wake up and get ready and you’ve had a nice 4-5 hour “NAP” before starting it all again. NONE of these facts are exaggerated!
    Here is the bottom line. Perhaps the readers and writers of this blog should focus on addressing management and why their employees aren’t treated like “GOLD?” I suspect if they were, you would be too!

  11. ^^David I understand your position as an FA and appreciate your perspective but let’s call a spade a spade – the FA’s on Lucky’s LHR-LAX or even on the LAX-SYD flights mentioned in the comments are senior FAs at the top of the pay scale and not new hires who’ve just had to lay out for their new uniforms. They bid the routes they want to fly. If they don’t want to be there or the layover is too short to get adequate rest, they should bid domestic turns with no layover.

    I flew LHR-JFK earlier this month in J – had the same appetizer as Lucky and pre-arrival meal option, although I chose the salmon salad which was actually delicious. Was expecting the service to be meh but was very pleasantly surprised with the entire crew- all were friendly, attentive and responsive to any requests throughout the flight. Between the crew, the inflight wifi (needed to do about 5 hours of work on the flight) and the amazing personal space on the 77W, I thought the experience was on par with or maybe even better than my normal BA F TATL experiences. AA definitely hit a home run with their 77W – just wish they could have expanded that premium ethos to the rest of the longhaul product.

  12. Actually, with all due respect, your fact about being “Senior” flight attendants is totally askew. In fact I just returned from Paris Thursday and the crew consisted of 3 FA with, “Senior” status, being 27 plus years, 4 FA with 7 year seniority and the remaining 4 with 2 years or less Seniority. And guess who was working the business class aisle….the 4 Flight Attendants with 2 years or less seniority. There is a myth that First and Business class are desired by SENIOR flight attendants. Simply not true. And with All due respect, the LHR route is consistently one of the most Junior schedules. At 20 years I can only hold LHR as a schedule. It is routinely crewed by the most Junior Flight attendants wishing to work the International route. And your reference to Domestic turns is just not correct. Domestic turns are the MOST SENIOR of the routes typically. At 20 years Seniority I could not even dream of holding a domestic turn schedule. Not even close. One of my biggest complaints from the flying public who try to be knowledgeable because they fly “so much” is not really knowing the truth about how Crews operate regarding Seniority or schedules.
    I think you’re missing the bigger point about the schedules and fatigue. And to my point about fatigue. My point was and is that regardless of seniority, they still face the same fatigue issue. The “Senior” flight attendants still face the same limited sleep, lack of food catered on a flight etc etc etc. And to be honest, the Senior flight attendants are probably the ones who need the rest more! Just saying!

  13. @Keene Dude heres an idea dont work for AA but dont come on here and criticize Ben because of AA’s labor [email protected] If you dont like what Ben is writing about then dont read the blog and certainly don’t complain about it. I am sick and tired of people who come on here and complain about nothing. I like the blog I dont always agree with Ben but it has helped me a great deal to get a better insight into carriers. IF YOU DONT LIKE WHAT IS WRITTEN HERE DONT READ IT/COMMENT. Do us a favor please. Good report Ben

  14. If I was unable to do my job well, with a good attitude, or felt I did not earn a fair salary, I’d start looking for a new job.

  15. AA flight attendants get paid more, are treated better and live in better conditions than most top rated airline crew. I receive better service from international crews that make a fraction of what the Americans make and live in worse conditions and don’t have a tantrum because they need to offer a drink before push back . I get better service because it’s a pleasure for them to serve you. And in return, I am most greatful and kind to them. People dream to work in this country. However, sadly I receive the best service from the countries who’s employees have very little. It’s not money or fatigue,it’s people working in the service industry when they have no desire to to serve or please.

  16. I am almost scared to comment, but, my experience with AA First class was completely colored by the flight attendant. DFW-NRT: “Middle Aged” man, obviously gay, really was just interested in getting through the flight being inconvenienced as little as possible and disappeared for the vast majority of the flight.
    Return: Delightful, mature flight attendant, proud of her 30 plus years with AA. Spoils us rotten the whole way. Never quit smiling the whole flight (all of us.)
    No, this is not gay-bashing. Straight, gay, men, women, minority or not, it breaks down to the individual.
    The culture of service has definitely faded,even before the “merger.”
    Then, there are pearls, like Teresa, on our return flight, who was everybody’s indulging Grandmother.
    BTW , Aadvantage member since 1987, Platinum for life.(If I knew then what I know now) 🙂

  17. Even Delta business class meal service is better than the AA first class meal pictured in this post. Salad and entree should not be served at the same time.

  18. @David,

    Great comments and certainly a different perspective. I wouldn’t want your job. Which brings up my question. Conditions for FA’s have been going downhill for years. What motivates you to stay? There must be more pluses than minus, otherwise why not take your skills and move on to another career? I’m really not trying to be dismissive, but there is no question the people skills of senior FA’s run the gamut. Are the gems just professional enough to keep their job dissatisfaction to themselves or do they still love their work? And what about the cranky ones. Are they miserable and just don’t care if the passengers know it? Or do they wish they were doing something else for a living, but something keeps them from moving on? If so, what?

  19. I have no pity for anyone who complains about something yet doesn’t do anything to change the situation. I am a teacher, meaning I am unionized, have a contracted workday, and have a seniority based system. My contract hours are 30 min before school starts to 30 min after. Meaning every parent or student meeting I take outside of those hours, every professional development meeting/conference I go to, every paper I grade, book I read, thought I put into teaching outside of those hours, I am not being compensated for. Yet, I show up to work approximately 1 hour before school begins, typically leave anywhere from 2-4 hours after the end of school, and then take care of anything else at home that must be done to insure that the experience that I am delivering for my students is the best that I can provide. I do it because it is my profession and that is what is demanded of being a professional. The extra drive of my romanticized view of education and its affect upon people helps, but that is no different than the romantic nature of travel and experiencing new cultures when compared to the profession of a FA. If you don’t like it, leave. Teacher attrition is huge because people cannot handle the workload, expectation, and lack of pats on the back. Being a FA is a career, not a job, just like being a teacher. Yes there are some terrible teachers who paint the profession full of tenured teachers just phoning it in to their pension, but there are others who work hard day to day and stay in the profession until they just can’t physically continue. This can be seen in Lucky’s experience with the FA’s on his flight.

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