Review: American First Class A321 Los Angeles To New York

Filed Under: American

American introduced their A321 service between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco a few years ago, and it really is a very sexy, special plane, with just 102 seats. I’ve reviewed their A321 first class service before between New York and Los Angeles, though figured I’d review this flight as well, since it has been over a year, and this was also a breakfast flight, rather than a lunch flight (which means the service is a bit different).

American 292
Los Angeles (LAX) – New York (JFK)
Sunday, October 11
Depart: 6:00AM
Arrive: 2:25PM
Duration: 5hr25min
Aircraft: Airbus A321
Seat: 2F (First Class)

As is the norm, boarding occurred through the forward left door, which leads immediately into the first class cabin. American’s A321 first class consists of a total of 10 seats, spread across five rows in a 1-1 configuration. These are reverse herringbone seats, which is the same business class hard product American has on their 777-300ERs. The way I see it, it’s the world’s best business class hard product.

American A321 first class cabin

I had selected seat 2F, the seat on the right side of the second row of first class.

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American A321 first class seat

There’s plenty of legroom, and there’s essentially an “ottoman” underneath the TV screen, which also becomes part of the bed when you recline your seat.

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American A321 first class seat

Already waiting at my seat was a pillow and blanket, which is the same set that American offers in first and business class on all their longhaul flights. While they’re nice enough for business class, I do wish they’d do something to differentiate them for first class.

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American A321 first class pillow & blanket

Also waiting at my seat was a heritage amenity kit, as well as a set of Bose Quiet Comfort 25 headphones. American recently upgraded these even further from the Bose Quiet Comfort 15 headphones, which is awesome.

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American A321 first class headphones & amenity kit

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American first class Bose headphones

Once settled in, the purser came by to offer pre-departure beverages. This guy was a very special “flavor” of flight attendant. He was an older straight guy (at least that’s my assumption based on having overheard him talking about his wife) with an amazing sense of humor, who was also serious about being professional.

“Hey, welcome aboard! What can I get you to drink?”

“Thanks! Water no ice, please.”

Now, I have a tendency to talk really fast, and I was probably talking even more quickly than normal, since I was jetlagged and way over caffeinated. And he called me out on it, which I loved.

“Wow, could you have said that any faster?” For the next several interactions he exclusively talked to me really quickly. Hilarious!

Given what American charges in the market (and that they also have a solid business class product) I really wish they’d improve the soft product on the A321, including serving drinks in glasses rather than plastic cups.

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This is what a cup of water looks like

The first class cabin quickly filled up, and then the rest of the plane walked through the cabin to get to their seats. This really is a very impressive plane, as I’m guessing most people haven’t flown on a single aisle plane with just two seats per rows. So there are lots of comments as passengers walked past the seats to economy, as I find to be the norm when in first class.

Once everyone was settled in, the purser came by with the menus for the flight.

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American A321 first class pre-departure water

At around 5:50AM the cabin door was closed, given that everyone was already aboard. A moment later the captain came on the PA to welcome us aboard and inform us of our flight time of 5hr25min, which he anticipated may put us into New York a few minutes late, as that flight time is a bit longer than usual.

We began our pusback at 5:55AM, at which point the safety video began to play.

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View from seat 2F in American first class

We made it to runway 25R by 6:10AM, where we were immediately cleared for takeoff. During the first 20-or-so minutes of the flight we had some really gorgeous views as the sun slowly began to rise.

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Sunrise view after takeoff enroute to New York

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Sunrise view after takeoff enroute to New York

At that point the purser came around to take meal orders. As he got to my seat he said “are you in the business? Is that your real name on the manifest?”

I simply responded with “if I were to have an alias, do you think that’s the name I’d go by?”

“Fair enough.”

The menu read as follows:

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And the wine/beverage list read as follows:

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One of the nice things about A321 first class is that they have espresso and cappuccino on offer, so I took advantage of that feature and ordered a cappuccino. It was served with a couple of biscotti cookies.

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American first class cappuccino

About 20 minutes later the table was set for breakfast. There were two sets of tablecloths — one white and one beige.

To start I was offered a very small fruit plate, along with a choice between a roll and a biscuit from the breadbasket.

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American first class breakfast starter — fresh seasonal fruit plate

The fruit was fine, but American does virtually nothing to differentiate the soft product, which is sort of disappointing.

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American first class breakfast starter — fresh seasonal fruit plate

The biscuits and jam they serve are the same as in domestic first class. Again, if they’re trying to charge several thousand dollars for these tickets, couldn’t they maybe offer some proper preserves?

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American first class breakfast scone with strawberry jam

The next course was a custom made yogurt parfait, which I really enjoyed. You could choose what you wanted in it, which is a very nice touch. Kudos to American for offering that.

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American first class breakfast starter — customized yogurt parfait

For the main course I ordered the bagel with salmon. The salmon itself was decent, though the bagel was hard as a rock, which sort of took away from the enjoyment.

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American first class breakfast main — smoked salmon and bagel

After the main course was served, individual bottles of water were distributed.

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American first class bottled water

Shortly thereafter a plate of sweets was served, which seems highly unnecessary for breakfast, though it was quite tasty.

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American first class breakfast dessert — a selection of sweet treats

I worked for the rest of the flight, thanks to the inflight wifi (I have a monthly pass with Gogo). After a few hours of work, we were a bit over an hour out of New York, at which point I could smell the cookies baking in the oven. About 15 minutes later the purser passed through the cabin with milk and warm cookies.

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American first class pre-arrival snack — warm chocolate chip cookie with milk

There was also a snack basket available throughout the flight, which was placed in front of seat 1A. It was similar to the snack basket otherwise available on domestic flight, and contained chips, pretzels, cookies, etc.

Before I knew it we were on our approach into New York. I’m pretty sure the purser actually wanted to be a pilot growing up, because I’ve never seen someone so engaged with the approach we were taking into the airport. No fewer than three times he explained that we’d be flying out over the Atlantic, and then making “that 180 degree turn to line up for our approach.”

He reminded us of that several times, including when the seatbelt sign was on, and he said “as promised, we’re out over the Atlantic, and now we’re going to make that 180 degree turn I was talking about earlier. Alrighty then!

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Airshow enroute to New York

We were also informed we’d have an automatic landing, not due to visibility, but rather because I believe they have to test it out every so often. This required turning off all electronics completely during landing.

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Airshow enroute to New York

As we headed out over the Atlantic and then turned back east, we hit a bit of chop on our descent. On the plus side, the views were gorgeous.

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View on approach into New York

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View on approach into New York

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View on approach into New York

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View on approach into New York

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View on approach into New York

We had a smooth touchdown on runway 31R at 3:30PM, and from there it was a roughly 10 minute taxi to our arrival gate at Terminal 8.

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View on final approach into New York

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Taxiing at JFK Airport

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Taxiing at JFK Airport

We bid farewell to the purser, who was an all around class act.

American first class A321 bottom line

American is the only airline to consistently offer a three cabin first class product between New York and Los Angeles. And a reverse herringbone seat is my favorite kind of business class hard product. So they have that going for them.

That being said, I do find it a bit disappointing that American does so little to differentiate the soft product. A little bit of effort goes a long way. This principle was especially clear on my recent flight between Sydney and Los Angeles on American, where I was blown away by the service. Even though it was only minor differences, the experience felt so much better than other first class flights I’ve taken on American.

It would be nice to see something similar in American’s transcontinental first class.

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

  1. I understand you’re an AA fanboy lucky, but the constant review cycle of Qatar/British Airways/American oneworld products is getting very, very, very stale.

  2. Nice review. Looking to take this flight sometime in the near future. Do you get to keep the Bose headphones? Probably a dumb question.


  3. Nice review as always. Good to hear about the jovial purser, such interaction can really make a flight memorable.

    BTW the older Bose headsets were QC15 and not QC20. 20’s are the in ear model. Glad to hear they are now using 25’s I find them much more comfortable.

  4. Definitely don’t take breakfast or red eye flights with premium service; seems like a waste to me unless you really really really have to fly those times.

    Question: if I want fly premium from NYC and starting from WAS is the mileage redemption combined or are you only charged 32.5K?

  5. Hi Lucky,
    I don’t get the purser’s “are you in the business?” comment. Did he think you worked for AA or was that about being a blogger? How could someone use an alias?

    I would assume that even celebrities have to fly commercial using their real name because of the security checks. How would one get ID for an alias? Then again, I’ve never been to LA so maybe there is some celebrity trick for this that you know of. 😉

  6. @ GMan — Thanks for the correction! Can’t believe I screwed that up, since I was double checking last night when I was writing this, and specifically remember writing “15.” Oops! :p

  7. @ keith — As I’ve noted on the blog, I’m trying many new products this year, which is my new year’s resolution. This is a trip I took last year, and I figured I’m better off writing the review than not. Totally understand if it’s stale to some and they’d rather skip it.

  8. @ Xtina — I think by “business” he meant Hollywood rather than working for American. And that’s a great question about an alias, I’m not sure. On one hand figure it’s not allowed, but maybe there’s some trick so it at least shows differently on the manifest. Maybe someone else can chime in.

  9. @Lucky: this is from last year? you got some trip report catching up to do! I look forward to the reviews of new products.

  10. Lucky, as a side note, do you know, or is there a way to tell the following

    Which us cities does Japan air fly their sky suites business class to Tokyo from, and also do they fly the same new business class to Bangkok from either toy ngo or kid airports? It is hard to tell from their website. Thanks!

  11. “The fruit was fine, but American does virtually nothing to differentiate the soft product”

    Stupid question, but…differentiate it from what, exactly? Isn’t this a domestic flight also?

  12. How would you compare the AA A321 transcon seats to JetBlue’s Mint A321, seats in particular for B6’s row 2 and 4 which are also in a 1×1 configuration? Could you also offer any comments comparing the Delta One seat?

    I took a quick flight on an AA A321 recently from BOS to JFK in first. I was not as blown away by the seat as I thought I would be. I was again in one of the first 1×1 seats. It seemed like a lot of space was wasted on the sides with the way the unit was constructed instead of making a wider seat. I expected to really say wow!!! But I honestly didn’t. I did like how the tray table can sswivvle and also near the outlets you could put your laptop vertically which was neat. I also wasn’t completely blown away by the comfort of the seat itself.

    So that is why I’m curious about the differences in the transcon seats with B6 and Delta in particular. I would say the most important things are the seat comfort, the service/food, and having WiFi.

    Also there have been some reviews that say AA has scaled back the food service offerings on these JFK transcon flights, but I’m not sure if that is absolutely true or not? Does anyone know? I would be worried if AA is just making food service close to or like any domestic first class segment!

    From what I’ve read regarding just the product and service alone, the best JFK transcons are JetBlue and Delta.

    I’m also excited we are getting JetBlue Mint in BOS first for SFO and then for LAX. I’m worried though if JetBlue only serves Dunkin Donuts coffee even in Mint!

  13. @ Mika — I haven’t yet flown Mint, though the “suite” does look impressive. I’m hoping to fly it soon, and will report back.

  14. Granted its a breakfast flght, but the alcohol selection is pitiful. Titos? Jack Daniels? Bacardi? Not awful brands for Delta Comfort+ but for a true first class product would it kill them to serve a single malt scotch? grey goose? craft beer?

    Heck, in the delta economy cabin 48 hours ago they served me Newburyport Pale Ale and woodford reserve.

  15. Would you ever consider reviewing UA’s p.s. transcon service? I’d think that you would fly them at least occasionally, given that you fly other Star Alliance carriers such as LH so often! I was on a p.s. flight EWR>SFO yesterday in BusinessFirst and it was lovely. The food in particular was spectacular.

  16. @Jon

    “What on earth is served in Y?”

    Nothing unless you pay for it (though AA will be bringing back some packaged snacks soon). You’re not used to flights that are entirely in the United States, are you?

    @ Eric W.

    Lucky and United decided to “consciously uncouple” some time ago. 😉

  17. @eponymous coward

    Haha no fortunately I’m UK based and have never flown domestic US I’m always in and out internationally. I know the basic Y domestics are BoB but I would have thought you got served something comp on these transcons. I’m a bit shocked you don’t, a 1 hour BA domestic (single class) to London in the morning you get a hot breakfast.

  18. Does AA offer pajamas on their redeye LAX-JFK A321 flights in F?
    I rarely fly AA or oneworld so I enjoy reading these reviews. Thank you for the review.

  19. Gosh, they don’t even serve spring water, just some municipal (tap) water that has been treated and branded. Pitiful.

  20. This looks like a great product, but I can’t get over the fact this costs 2-3x as much as JetBlue Mint, which is arguably a better product in almost every respect minus lounge access. I almost have to believe nobody in those first class seats actually paid the price American actually charges and is either in those seats due to an upgrade, points, or hollywood contract.

    (Also, FWIW JetBlue serves Brooklyn Roasting for their espresso/cappuccinos in Mint)

  21. One might say that they’re trying to differentiate classes of service with the customized parfait, three options for mains instead of two, the plate of sweets after the meal, and the espresso and cappuccino options–are any of these things available in business? It seems like your review repeatedly pointed out ways the service was different, though you kept writing it wasn’t differentiated. Am I missing something?

  22. Ben, I am puzzled why the purser’s sexual orientation is in any relevant to his special “flavor” of service. Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t assume someone is gay or straight based on simply superficial observations. Also, I agree that F is not very differentiated from J, except maybe in terms of the seat/privacy, but F is also generally only a few hundred dollars more than J.

  23. @ Andrew — Perhaps it’s not relevant, per se, but neither is someone’s gender, nationality, age, etc., all of which I frequently make reference to in my reports. I like to take people along for the ride as if they’re there, and part of that involves being descriptive. None of it is intended to offend. But of course any descriptive word will invariably offend some.

    And I wasn’t assuming he was straight based on superficial observation — I noted he had a wife. It’s well known, however, that a majority of male flight attendants at the US legacy airlines are gay.

  24. Hey Lucky – I will be taking this flight on Monday night from SFO and connecting to CX (all in F) . . . random question you might help me with . . . for the transfer between terminals at JFK does one make their own way, or as they are both oneworld and on the same ticket will someone come help/expedite? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  25. If they told you to turn off all electronic items because of the automatic landing, how did you take those pics?

  26. @Dan:

    A camera doesn’t count as an “electronic device”, which would include devices which can disrupt radio transmissions (such as a wifi or Bluetooth enabled device)

  27. “But of course any descriptive word will invariably defend some.”

    Really? I thought it would offend them…

  28. As someone who flies this route a lot I can agree that the soft product is ‘meh’. But the hard product isn’t perfect either. The seat (even for a HWP person like myself) is tricky to get in and out of (not enough clearance between rows)……the ‘lounging’ positions aren’t great…..and there isn’t much privacy in the fully flat position (and forget about viewing the monitor at that angle).

    Really what you are paying for here is the privacy of no one sitting next to you….which is particularly worth it if you plan on sleeping. AND flagship checkin service is fantastic.

    Ben, I have one question about this route…and your review touched on it. Why does AA use only door 1L for boarding and deplaning? Back when this was a 67 route they used L2 which was waaay more civilized. In fact, why not board 2L and deplane 1L?? People are paying upwards of $3500 one way for the privacy and exclusivity on this flight. Would it really cost AA that much to re-position the jet bridge?? Am I the only person irritated by this??

  29. I love the reflection of the plane (from your TV screen)in your first picture out the window. It made me look twice to figure out what I was seeing.

  30. Lucky you are selling him short because he has a wife……he could easily be bi with his job……….and I recently flew JFK-SFO in FC on the 321 and I thoroughly enjoyed it………but like some of the other readers I would love to see you review the other transom 3 category FC products…………

  31. @liam — 2L door is too close to the engine nacelle. They never use it on the A321s (as far as I know) for fear of damaging the engine.

  32. @liam, My understanding is that A321s only use door L2 as an emergency. The door is too close to the engines to be used for normally boarding as it poses too much risk for normal boarding usage.

  33. I did the A321 First Class via JFK-SFO-JFK last year. I also happen to have am older straight married guy as the purser and he too was very accommodating and attentive. I wonder if its the same purser on your flight.

  34. Lucky, you said “…So there are lots of comments as passengers walked past the seats to economy, as I find to be the norm when in first class.”

    I did JFK-LAX in FC on this plane in December and as I was settling in a heard “Sweet Jesus” being yelled behind me. I turned and there was a young boy (about 12) looking around him as his father was prodding him and saying, “OK, keep moving”. The boy turned to his father and said, “But look at this!”. It was very funny and I know how he felt because I’ve rarely flown anything other than Economy and was quite excited about it too. I hope he gets the chance to experience something so comfortable when he is older. Agree about the food though, pretty ordinary.

  35. Ben you are too young to know about the true Flagship service that AA served on this route. The food offering on your flight is NOT in my opinion flagship quality. Oatmeal, Horrible bagel and a strata being served really… Those are Y meals, I just flew UA’s PS service and let me tell you the food offering is much better in J then what AA is serving in F.. Sad how people will except this and be happy.

  36. The more reviews I see of this route in first, the less and less it seems worth paying the points or dollars (yikes!) premium for first class over business class.

    American is wasting a HUGE opportunity to have a truly flagship service and far superior product. The hard product is there, no doubt, but they really are being cheap on the food. When you’re charging thousands of dollars for a product, would $20-30 more per passenger in F really cost you that much?

  37. @Liam Lufthansa, and occasionally Air France, have been known to use L2 on the A321 for boarding. As others have posted, some airlines consider the proximity of the engine to the door to be a potential hazard. It can be done, but most prefer the safer option of L1.
    Lucky, how do the seats align with the windows in F? I know 1A/F have just one window. Is there a better row than others?

  38. @mike AF and LH do not use air bridges when they board through L2, they use stairs. There was talk about this on FT, when I told people that AA would not use L2 to board I was told I was wrong since the European Airlines do, yes they do, only stairs not air bridge.

    I also think galley space is the real issue for the lack luster meal service, when the wide bodies were used galley space was not an issue so you could have your separate salad course made at your seat.. AA needs to either cut back on F seats or J seats to expand the galley in F to get a proper flagship meal service.

  39. @Tony – interesting thought re galley space, and one I hadn’t considered. Still doesn’t totally explain the difference between AA and DL, given that DL’s D1 service on 757s still beats AA A321Ts.

  40. From the alternate universe of Jabalpur, India, and as an AA EXP (and customer since age 8) my reaction was that the article should have been titled “You’ve got to be kidding!” with respect to the food service. Transcontinental First Class with a mummified bagel for breakfast? Those seats aren’t cheap, and at 5 am, there may not be much for sale in the terminal. As usual, when flying domestically, a trip to Whole Foods beforehand is pretty much essential to avoid being very uncomfortable with the on-board food. First Class and we have to bring our own food. Oh, well…

  41. Oh, and I forgot. The plastic cups. That’s a class act, for sure, especially because they tend to crush easily and spill all over the table. 🙂

  42. @Dave the galley is bigger on the 757 then on the 321, doesn’t matter how you cut it, the 757 is a bigger plane and the galley’s show it. I have family and friends who worked for AA and or still do, one is a FA supervisor. The decision to use the 321T’s was strictly a $$ saving thing, Airbus gave AA deals they couldn’t pass up, AA knew it wasn’t the right aircraft but saving $$ makes shareholders happy. The FA’s don’t like the 321T’s, a family friend was one of the original FA’s that was trained for the inception of the flagship service (transcon) things she has told me about the problems the FA’s have with meal service it’s a joke, so AA gives great seats to compensate for the late of food..

  43. 1. In the business? As in porn? I wouldn’t be surprised if the major airlines have developed aliases for high-profile customers because it has been documented that TMZ has bribed airline workers (specifically Delta) at LAX for each day’s flight manifests. This is a proven fact. Read this:

    2. The hard product is impressive, but is it really worth the cost unless you’re in the Hollywood or media industries? How many people actually sleep during the day on a 5 1/2-hour flight. Even if you slept soundly you wouldn’t get more than 3 1/2 hours, maybe 4 hours. Personally, I’d rather have generous recliners and outstanding service and food.

    3. As for food, I eat healthy. For breakfast, I only have yoghurt, uncooked oatmeal, berries and honey. I eat that six or seven days a week. On the other hand, if I was a generous eater, I would be disappointed because there’s probably zero difference catering wise from what’s being served in first-class and business-class.

    4. I think the big problem with regards to service is three-fold: (1) U.S. airline employees and, more broadly, hospitality sector employees in general, are older than foreign counterparts. Go to Asia. They’re all youngish employees at major airlines and hotels, all of whom (at least those who actually provide service to customers) fluent in at least two languages. Outside of flight attendants, most of these jobs — even front desk attendants at U.S. hotels — don’t pay well. (2) We don’t have a class culture here. Most Americans are perfectly fine with diner-style “hey hun” service fro overweight, 50-year-old Debbie the waitress. That’s a big cultural difference from say Europe or Asia, where social class is much more prominent and people have certain expectations from the “help,” so to speak. (3) There’s no competition. Sure there’s Alaska, Virgin America Southwest and JetBlue, but neither one of them is truly a national, premium passenger-focused airline in the same way as American, Delta or United. American, Delta and, to a lesser extent, United can charge what they charge for premium services on marquee routes because there just isn’t the competition for the Wall Street hedge fund manager or Hollywood celebrity. I’m Delta Detroit hub captive. We never get any of the premium services that Delta touts for J.F.K., L.A.X., A.T.L. and increasingly both S.F.O. and S.E.A. The same for M.S.P. This is why Delta’s first-class upselling is both brilliant and controversial. It’s brilliant because they do a fabulous job at selling their first-class/international business-class product as premium. The upper middle-class leisure traveler falls for the sales job hook, line and sinker and pays for the upsell, filling the empty forward cabin seats and giving Delta an incentive to either take away or make it increasingly impossible for top-level frequent fliers — who know the forward cabin in many cases isn’t actually worth paying for — to get an upgrade. This is controversial because either they get onboard and realize the premium product they expected to receive isn’t available on the route they’re flying (for example, lay-flat internationally-configured seats in business-class aren’t on planes flying seasonal routes to Iceland from J.F.K.) or they don’t notice things like water being served in a plastic glass.

  44. I am a Corporate Travel Consultant with over 30 years managing Fortune 500 Companies Travel and that type of food is unacceptable for “Flagship Service” at the Prices commanded for this. Just checked and currently the lowest Advance Purchase price for this Class of Service is 2558 roundtrip and a “walk-up” last minute fare is a whopping 5903 roundtrip!!!

  45. I flew it a week ago in the other direction at 3.30pm and found it to be one of the best flights of my life. I was actually astounded by the catering – curried prawns, cranberry/orange salad, tailored ice-cream sundae, baked-on-board cookies – all were at least restaurant quality and much better both than what I was expecting and constantly seem to read about. My seat was utterly superb (1A), the service 9/10 (nobody’s perfect) and I found Flagship Check-in particularly, and the fast-track outstanding. Lounge only so-so although perfectly OK (I’m Australian and we have rather high standards for lounges down under, which are rarely, if ever met in the States). Was booked as part of a last-hurrah use of my AAdvantage points prior to their deval in a three-sector, 72,500 point flight from JFK-LAX-SYD-MEL all in first, except for the domestic final sector in business.

    Also @Jo145 – your post about the twelve year-old’s comments made me laugh very loudly for a whole minute! Thanks for making my day! It is indeed amusing listening to the comments and seeing the looks on everyone’s faces as they trundle by…

  46. I think you need to try the new Qantas Business Suites on qantas A330s that fly coast to coast (MEL/SYD/BNE – PER) in Australia as well as between Australian and Asia/HNL (SIN/HGK/PVG/BKK/NRT). I believe this is the best hard product on domestic routes globally.

  47. Hi Lucky – nice review. I am trying to confirm that all JFK-LAX AA flights use the A321T. I have read they do but thought I’d ask someone who actually travels this route.

  48. Sure that *view from New York* wasn’t a screenshot of Google Earth plastered over the window?

  49. BTW: How much does *Wing Seat* tickets cost? (Baggage still stored in the hold)

    Does it costs extra for the oxygen mask? Does it come with sound proof head phones to block the wind? 🙂

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