Lost in Translation: American Airlines First Class Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita

Filed Under: Airline Reviews, American

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American Airlines First Class New York JFK to Los Angeles
American Airlines First Class Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita
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Japan Airlines Business Class Nagoya to Tokyo Narita
American Airlines First Class Tokyo Narita to Los Angeles
American Airlines First Class Los Angeles to New York JFK

We spent the night at the Sheraton Gateway LAX, which is my favorite airport hotel at LAX. They are great with upgrading Platinum members to suites, the beds are extremely comfortable, and they actually have a restaurant-quality… restaurant! Which is rather rare for an airport hotel…

Ironically enough this was my one stay where I didn’t get a suite upgrade, as they were fully committed. Since I’ve reviewed the Sheraton Gateway LAX before, I’ll skip reviewing it this time around.

I took the shuttle from the Sheraton Gateway about 75 minutes before my departure time, while my friend ended up having to take a cab since he was running late and didn’t want to cut it too close with the next shuttle.

I headed inside to first class check-in, where there was no queue. The agent was polite and within about five minutes printed my boarding passes all the way to Kyoto.

First class check-in

I headed up to the security checkpoint, where there was about a five minute wait. Meanwhile my friend passed me in line while being escorted by one of the porters. I guess I hadn’t realized that international first class entitles you to use the Flagship check-in area (which for whatever reason I thought was only available to Concierge Key members and those that paid for Five Star Service), which he had smartly taken advantage of. Don’t worry, I took advantage of it on the return, though!

Past security I headed to the Flagship Lounge for about 10 minutes, before boarding was called for the Tokyo Narita flight. The Flagship Lounge LAX is one of my favorite lounges in the US, so see my previous review for more pictures and commentary.

Flagship Lounge LAX

The flight was departing from gate 41, and I got there right as first class boarding was announced.

Gate 41

American 169
Los Angeles (LAX) – Tokyo Narita (NRT)
Tuesday, May 22
Depart: 11:40AM
Arrive: 3:20PM
Duration: 11hr40min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 3A (First Class)

Boarding was through door 2L, so I turned left into the huge first class cabin, consisting of 16 seats (is there any airline with a larger international first class cabin?).

I chose seat 3A because this was an odd numbered flight, so meal orders are taken starting in the back of the cabin. On even numbered flights I usually aim for 2A.

My seat, 3A

Waiting at my seat was a day blanket, pillow, duvet, and amenity kit.


Day blanket, pillow, duvet, and amenity kit

While not the most luxurious in the world, American’s amenity kits are functional and have all the basics.

Amenity kit contents

Within a few minutes of settling in the first class cabin was nearly full, with 14 of the 16 seats taken, meaning there was one empty seat (the other empty seat is a pilot crew rest). While not significant in any way, I’ve always found it interesting that American’s international first class cabins consistently have a more leisurely crowd than what I’ve found on most other airlines. With the exception of my friend and I and one other passenger, everyone else in first class were couples in their 70s. They all seemed to be vacation bound and snapping pictures.

About five minutes after taking my seat the purser, Steve, introduced himself. He was very friendly and (very, very, very) talkative, and more than happy to offer flight tips, tips on Japan, etc. He spent at least five minutes explaining to the guy behind me how best to cope with jetlag on Japan-bound flights.

He offered me a pre-departure beverage, the menu for the flight, and a set of pajamas. He also explained that he’d be more than happy to provide me with turn down service anytime I wanted.

Pre-departure beverage

American deserves huge props for introducing pajamas in first class. While most other airlines are cost cutting, it’s nice to see American investing a bit in their international first class product. And while the pajamas weren’t Shanghai Tang like Cathay Pacific, they were very comfortable and I’ve found myself wearing them at home more than any other set thanks to how light they are.





Boarding was efficient, and at around 11:30AM we commenced our push back and taxi to runway 25R.

American planes

After a rather long takeoff roll we were airborne and flew out over the Pacific before taking a right turn North up the coast. While there are perhaps more “iconic” views on takeoff, there’s something I love about flying out of SoCal on a sunny day.


View up the California coast

About 30 minutes after takeoff the service commenced, starting with Bose headphones being distributed.

Bose headphones

Shortly thereafter the meal service commenced. The lunch menu read as follows:

And the wine list read as follows:

Service began with tortilla chips and hummus, which was a nice change of pace from the usual cheese antipasto. I also quite liked the ramekins, which I believe American just has on the Japan routes.

Tortilla chips and hummus

That was followed by Diet Coke and hot nuts. See if you can spot what’s wrong with the picture below.

Diet Coke and hot nuts

It took at least 45 minutes before the initial beverage service before the appetizer cart was rolled around, and then it took at least a few minutes per person for Steve to serve the shrimp and salmon. I don’t fault him for it since he was engaging with each passenger and they all loved it. Meanwhile, I was just hungry!

While it’s not caviar, I like salmon and shrimp just as much, and Steve certainly put a lot of effort into the preparation.

Smoked salmon and tarragon shrimp

The next course was salad, also served off the cart. It was served with chicken breast and the choice between a creamy Asian dressing and balsamic vinaigrette.


For the main course I selected the pan-seared halibut. It had a lot of potential, though was very dry. I suspect it was sitting in the oven for too long given that the service was a bit slower than usual.

Pan-seared halibut

For dessert I selected the ice cream sundae, which was delicious. I had a glass of Bailey’s to go along with it.

Ice cream sundae and Bailey’s

It was over three hours into the flight before the meal service was finished, at which point I decided to try and take a nap. I asked Steve for the turn down service, which he promptly provided. It consisted of a sheet placed on the seat, which definitely made the seat more comfortable. As I tried to fall asleep Steve sat down in the “buddy seat” of the seat behind me, and proceeded to give the guy seated behind me tips on what to see in Tokyo for about an hour.

Turn down service

I napped for about three hours and woke up a bit over five hours out of Tokyo. At this point the other first class flight attendant came by to offer me a snack. I asked what was in the bento box (I didn’t have the menu handy) and she said “I dunno, but it has rice.” You don’t say…

Mid-flight snack menu

I ordered a Diet Coke to go along with it, though apparently I drank the cabin dry because all they had left was Diet Pepsi.

Bento box

After the snack I slept for another couple of hours, and woke up about 90 minutes out of Tokyo, at which point the pre-arrival meal service began.

Approaching Japan

The pre-arrival menu read as follows:

Any long time reader knows I love nuts, probably more than anyone else. So I nearly had a heart attack when I saw a main course dedicated to nuts on the menu. A creamy macadamia soup? Yes please!

I never thought I’d say this, but the soup was too nutty for me. The nut chunks were huge, so it was a very crunchy soup.

Creamy macadamia soup

For dessert I had fruit and cookies, which were delicious.


About 30 minutes out the captain advised us we’d be starting our approach shortly, and should be landing at Narita Airport about 20 minutes early. The pre-arrival UNICEF announcement was made, and the crew collected headphones at this point as well. I changed back into my jeans and filled out the Japan landing card in anticipation of our arrival.

Approaching Japan

Final approach

After a smooth touch down we landed at Narita Airport. One of the downsides of flying OneWorld instead of Star Alliance into Narita is that Terminal 2 is much further from the runway than Terminal 1, so it adds at least 10 minutes to the taxi time. Then again, Narita has such exciting traffic that you could taxi me around all day and I wouldn’t get bored.

As the purser made his arrival announcement he wished the couple seated across from me a happy anniversary over the PA, which lit up the wife’s face.

Terminal 1

JAL 767

American 777

Traffic on the taxiway

China Southern 777

Once we arrived at the gate I briefly spoke to the lady seated across from me (who was celebrating her anniversary). She commented about how despite having traveled internationally extensively she had never flown first class before, and commented about what unparalleled luxury it was. As much as I can be jaded, it always puts a smile on my face when people are blown away like that.

And on the whole it was a very pleasant flight. No, it wasn’t Singapore Airlines, but the seat was comfortable, service was sincere and friendly, and food reasonably good.

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  1. I guess that wasn’t too tough? 😉

    @ Embla — American collects UNICEF donations pre-landing on international flights, so there’s always an announcement by the “UNICEF team leader” talking about what UNICEF does.

  2. I do love that they make your bed now, and offer pajamas, I enjoyed my AA F pajamas flying business class MIA-GRU overnight. They are comfy indeed.

    But the F food is not much different than what is served in back, albeit plated differently. The halibut when properly cooked is quite good and I am very happy with it as a business class meal.

    The amenity kits really ought to be differentiated in F as well.

    Sadly AA is getting rid of F in all but their 773s…

  3. I never eat fish on an airplane and I’ve had many colleagues who belatedly wished they had not either.

  4. I would guess that the Tea bag should NOT be in your diet coke drink!!!

    Thank you for the article! I would love to see a comparison on all the first class services for the domestic airlines on the international routes like this one. Thanks again!

  5. is it just me or does the food in the US based First Classes equal, at best the food of a typical EU or Asian C class? My latest meals on LX C were miles better that what I see on this picture…

  6. Ben, what is the “Flagship check-in area” at LAX? I fly international first on AA a fair bit and I’ve always just used the same first class check-in as I do when flying anywhere in any class as an EXP. Do you mean I can get escorted through security by a porter? Where? How? 😉

  7. @ zeffer — It’s only available at LAX. It’s a separate private entrance with private check-in and a porter.

  8. @ Lucky – Cool, thanks. Although I’m a bit miffed that no first class check-in agent has ever told me about it. I fly out of T4 to JFK in F quite a lot.

  9. Today in the news there is an article about the Flagship check in at MIA airport. There is no such area at JFK that I know of

  10. 2 things wrong the the Diet Coke & nuts.

    1. Lemon instead of lime.
    2. Tea bag in glass.

    Nice trip report!

  11. Do you get any sort of fast track through customs? All the flights from N.America seem to arrive around the same time and I always get long lines when arriving at NRT.

  12. @ Mike S. — Sadly no fast track. I agree lines are usually long around that time, though surprisingly there was no wait this time around.

  13. Mainly elderly leisure travelers? Does that mean it’s mainly AA retirees on travel privileges?

  14. Something else “wrong” with the picture-a departure on 7L. That’s unusual, at least for that time of year

  15. @ Eddy — Sure, it would cost 75,000 miles one-way in first class (or 50,000 miles in business or 25,000 miles in coach), plus taxes and fuel surcharges.

  16. I’m surprised the gate area at LAX looks so calm and deserted…the SFO gates for Asian flights are usually super crowded.

  17. We were on the same flight last year, the week before they started handing out the pajamas.

    We had CX first on the way back, still a world of difference between AA and CX first class.

    Those bose headsets are really cool, it was fun just switching the quiet mode on and off for the first few minutes.

  18. @ JetAway – Fish on plane is totally fine, in a matter of fact, the first time I ever had halibut was on UA ORD-HKG in F, it was perfectly cooked ! I never knew how smooth and tasty the halibut was, it made me want halibut all the time now !

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