Review: American Airlines First Class 777-200 Beijing To Chicago

Filed Under: American

As I explained in the last installment, I had received notice that my flight from Beijing to Chicago would be delayed by several hours due to a late inbound aircraft. That ended up working out pretty well, since it meant we could sleep in and not head to the airport at the crack of dawn.

American 186
Beijing (PEK) – Chicago (ORD)
Saturday, May 9
Depart: 1:40PM
Arrive: 1:30PM
Duration: 12hr50min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 2D (First Class)

I already knew on the outbound that we would have the same crew in both directions. That’s always a double edged sword. If you have a terrible crew, you’re out of luck. If you have an awesome crew, you’re in luck.

Fortunately we had Scott and Eliot on this flight, so I knew it would be a great flight. Upon boarding through door two we were recognized by the business class crew, who said “didn’t you just fly with us on the way out?” Yep!

American 777 first class cabin

We headed to seats 2D & 2G, which were a bit further from the galley than the seats in row one we selected on the outbound.

American 777 first class cabin

I was in 2D, while Tiffany was in 2G.

American 777 first class, seat 2D

American 777 first class, seat 2D

One of the first officers was seated in 2A during boarding, and he looked at us in a really confused way for a minute. Then he had the same reaction as the business class crew — “wait, didn’t you just fly with us from Chicago a couple of days ago?” Yep indeed.

He was super nice, and I talked to him for about five minutes. He apologized for the delay, and explained they’d do everything they could to fly at “going home” speed. For that matter all the pilots were super nice. At one point or another I ended up talking to all four of the pilots, and they were outrageously friendly (which I often don’t find to be the case on US carriers).

American 777 first class, seat 2A

Waiting at my seat were an amenity kit and slippers.

American first class amenity kit and slippers

Then on my ottoman were the menu, pajamas, a blanket, and pillow.

American first class pajamas and menu

Without even asking, Eliot brought me a glass of champagne. This time around he served Gosset on the ground, which is their first class champagne (usually they just serve the undrinkable business class champagne during boarding). We didn’t want to waste the bottle, so we polished it off before takeoff.

American first class pre-departure champagne

Scott did his rounds throughout the cabin, much as he did on the way out. He looked every bit as put together as he did on the outbound. He greeted each passenger by name, presented them with the menu, and talked about how they had “prepared a wonderful service” for the flight. Class act (and a hell of a marketer, for that matter)!

View from seat 2D in American 777 first class

While boarding finished up I decided to change into my pajamas. One of the two first class lavatories was broken, and apparently one of the economy lavatories was broken as well. Ouch.

Boarding was efficient, and at 1:30PM we began our pushback with a half full first class cabin for our 12hr15min flight.

The safety video played as we taxied out. The taxi to runway 19 took quite a while, and we were only airborne at 1:55PM.

There was a bit of chop on the climb out, though about 20 minutes after takeoff the lunch service began.

The lunch menu read as follows:



The wine/beverage list read as follows:



Let me preface this by saying that airline catering out of China is almost uniformly terrible, in my experience. Then again, American’s catering has gotten terrible even out of their hubs, so…

Anyway, service began with drinks and nuts. I had a glass of champagne and some still water.

American first class lunch — nuts and champagne

At that point my table was set and I was offered a selection from the bread basket. I chose some pretzel bread, which was probably the highlight of the meal.

American first class lunch table setting

For the starter I ordered the scallops. I wish I could say how they tasted, though they were so hard that I couldn’t even cut them with a knife. Unbelievable.

American first class lunch starter — seared scallops

Meanwhile Tiffany had the chicken starter, which apparently wasn’t much better.

American first class lunch starter — roasted chicken

Next I was served the vegetable wonton soup. It was pretty terrible as well.

American first class lunch soup — vegetable wonton

The next course consisted of salad, which was non-offensive.

American first class lunch salad — seasonal greens with fresh vegetables, feta, and red onion

For the main course I ordered the sea bass. I’m really not trying to bitch, but it was awful. Completely inedible, from the sauce to the fish.

American first class lunch main course — pan seared sea bass

Lastly for dessert I had the chocolate lava cake. In relation to the rest of the meal it was very good. In relation to any other chocolate lava cake I’ve ever had, it wasn’t.

American first class lunch dessert — warm chocolate lava cake

Noting my dissatisfaction with the meal, Eliot asked if he could at least make me a cocktail, which I took him up on. It was sweet and sassy, as I’d expect from him.

Post-lunch cocktail

Once the meal was finished each passenger was offered a bottle of water.

Bottled water

Again, service throughout the meal was excellent. Eliot and Scott were a class act, and made a great team. You had super straight-laced and professional Scott, and fun and informal Eliot.

The great news about American first class is that since there’s not really anything to do and I don’t really overeat or drink too much on American, I find it quite easy to sleep. So I had my bed made and headed straight to sleep, with a bit over 10 hours to go to Chicago.

While I slept almost the entire way on the outbound, I “only” got about six hours of sleep on this flight. That’s still a great amount of sleep, but after the sleep I got on the last flight…

I should note that row two is much better than row one in terms of galley lighting. Furthermore, the crew finally figured out how to turn off the light above row one on this flight. Apparently when the lighting system is set to “daytime lighting” that light automatically turns off, while when it’s set to “nighttime lighting” it stays on by default. So by just keeping it on daytime lighting the cabin was much darker.

I woke up with about four hours to go to Chicago, as we were over northern Canada.

Airshow enroute from Beijing to Chicago

Airshow enroute from Beijing to Chicago

Airshow enroute from Beijing to Chicago

I was a bit hungry, given that I didn’t really eat the first meal. So I had a look at the mid-flight snack menu, which read as follows:


I selected the roast beef sandwich. The bread was stale and beef was chewier than gum, but at least the small quantity of curry potato salad and the fruit side were good.

American first class mid-flight snack — roast beef sandwich

A couple of hours later the pre-arrival bunch service began. The menu read as follows:


Having learned my lesson with Beijing catering at this point I decided to skip this. Tiffany ordered the duck from the snack menu.

American first class snack — duck

Meanwhile on my next trip to Beijing I ended up having the mixed pepper quiche, which was actually very good for airplane quiche. Better than any quiche I’ve had catered on a flight out of the US. So I’d highly recommend ordering that in the future.

American first class brunch — mixed pepper quiche

I spent a couple of hours getting work done on my laptop, and before I knew it we were descending to Chicago. Scott came around the cabin to bid each passenger farewell and thank them for flying American, and again offered a box of chocolates as a parting gift.

American first class pre-landing chocolate

Our descent into Chicago was smooth, and we touched down at 1:30PM, and had a five minute taxi to gate M1 from there.

American 777 first class bottom line

American’s old first class is a really underwhelming product, at least compared to what’s offered by non-US airlines. The seats and entertainment are disappointing, while the food is disgusting.

That being said, I can’t emphasize enough how awesome and professional Scott and Eliot were. If only the rest of the product matched the service they provided.

All that being said, I actually found myself about as well rested as I’ve ever been on a plane in American first class. That’s because without great food, great entertainment, Wi-Fi, or amenities, there isn’t all that much to do. That makes it the ideal circumstances for getting some shut eye.

All-in-all I’m excited for American to reconfigure their 777s with a new business class product and without first class. Ultimately the catering and service will presumably be similar, while American’s new business class hard product is only marginally worse than American’s old first class product.

  1. If the pajamas are waiting at the seat when you board, does that mean they only have one size?

  2. Why would the prospect of a significantly less premium heavy airplane configuration be “exciting” to someone who makes such good use of upgrade instruments?

  3. I appreciate the trip report. The last statement does confuse me “All-in-all I’m excited for American to reconfigure their 777s with a new business class product and without first class…new business class hard product is only marginally worse than American’s old first class product.

    So you are looking forward to a marginally worse product? I take it that was a crack at humor?

    When I read this trip report I think to myself, I will fly a different carrier to Asia in F. But really when I look at it the service, seat are great. You got a comfortable sleep and a nice crew. Entertainment, I usually pass on that anyhow and just watch from my library of movies and entertainment on my laptop. Wifi can be hit or miss on international (but true would that does take a way a little from the product).

    But really the major thing that was poor on this flight is the meal. And I agree from the pictures at least, it looked awful. I can understand that American Airlines cannot afford to serve caviar in F. And I can also appreciate that expensive champaigne’s and wines are not necessarily worth the cost – I personally would opt for some “fine wines and champaigne’s” in the $50-$100 bottle range. But what I really don’t get is what is with their appetizers and main course and lunch for that matter. Your pictures of the food looked bad. Is it just too expensive for AA to cater better for F? I would even hope they could afford to cater better then that in a J cabin.

  4. What is this love from US airlines for branded tap water in a bottle? It amazes me they cannot offer a real mineral water in first class.

  5. The Pretzel Bread turnend out to Be the Highlight…hehe. Thx for the Review, was fun to read! 🙂

  6. Based soley on the seat, would you take old 777-200 seat in first or new 777-300 in business? Service, food, size of cabin don’t matter just strictly the seat. thx

  7. Caviar aside; why is the food on some of the Asian airlines so much better than the US airlines’ food? Do they use different caterers, or is it how much they spend? I know you’re not a big fan of CX food, but I am quite fond of it, and I remember watching a video of a CX chef stir frying lobster at their facility in Vancouver… does CX have food prep facilities at all their destinations?

  8. You should fly Austrian soon again man .. I flew in business in March this year from Beijing to Vienna and I ordered the Sea Bas too and it was amazing 🙂 actually the whole flight was phenomenal .. The crew, the half throne seat on the 767 (bigger legroom than on the 777) .. everything !

  9. Can I over a small suggestion as a long time reader? I love this blog and I keep coming back for the great first class reviews. I don’t travel at all for work but I do collect miles as a hobby so my partner and I take one nice free international trip per year in business class. We’ve been to Europe a few times and are going to Australia this year. I tell you that to give you some idea of my level of involvement in the points/miles/travel game.

    Here’s my suggestion: stop it already with the snooty proclamations of how certain champagne is “undrinkable.” I’ve seen that in more than one blog post and I can’t tell you how off-putting it is to hear a 20-something year old guy who is really leading a charmed life whine about how bad his day was because he was forced to drink the lowly business class champagne. Frankly, it pretty much ruins the post when you do that. It’s possible to write a great blog without being uppity and the majority of the time you do that. Just every once in awhile a “I’m-better-than-these-lowly-peasants” attitude kind of sneaks in and creates a weird vibe.

    But back to the good stuff…I always feel like I’m right there on the plane and know exactly what to expect from your posts and you really do a good job of describiing every thing down to the last detail. Just keep in mind how “lucky” you are (ha…get it?) to be doing this.

  10. @ ATLJason — Fair criticism, and I appreciate the feedback. That’s certainly not the intention.

  11. @ mangoceviche — It’s all a function of budgets. The catering companies work within the budgets they’re given. That’s why food can come from the same kitchen but have hugely variable quality.

  12. @ shaun — I’d say the first class seat is marginally better. That being said, I personally value the wifi on the 777-300ER immensely, which would make me choose 777-300ER business class over 777-200 first class.

  13. @ Greg — To clarify, my point is that old first class is only marginally better than new business class. I’m excited about that because I can upgrade from economy to business class, but can’t typically upgrade from economy to three cabin first class.

  14. @ Theonlywaytofly — Because ultimately if flying during off peak times or confirming upgrade space in advance, the number of premium seats doesn’t matter quite as much.

  15. @ Neil S. — Same quality on all flights so far. Think I’ll only review these flights, but will do separate hotel reviews for all my stays.

  16. @ Mike — They do have multiple sizes, so I’m guessing they could have swapped them out.

  17. Hey Lucky congrats on finishing this trip report so quickly! And thanks. Will you write reviews of your recent AA 77W F and BA 747 F experiences? Wouldn’t be as interested if you’d just flown your original itinerary but I’d love to read about your experience flying the long way to Beijing, especially since you haven’t been thrilled by either product in the past. You should tell us about those flights!

  18. You should avoid the fish and try my meal suggestions instead… Beef Boursin on the outbound and Sweet/Sour Chicken on return. Much more edible than what you ate on your flights.

    My meal experience was almost the complete opposite of yours, not to the degree of being up to CX F standards or even foreign carrier J meal, but actually something I would finish. The wonton soup and the mixed berry cake were the only offensive thing served to me.

    The Duck snack on the outbound was decent. I skipped the return snack as I didn’t find the options to be appetizing and I expected the roast beef sandwich to be terrible anyways.

  19. As far as as the Champagne is concerned, the pre take-off stuff really is as bad as it gets, I once had a sip and couldn’t believe it. Never again. Nothing snobby or spoiled about Lucky calling it as it is.

  20. I’m reading your review of the awful food but all my brain keeps saying is, “Dewars White Label?” Really? They may call it First but it certainly has no Class!

  21. @Lucky – I burst out laughing reading your comment

    Lastly for dessert I had the chocolate lava cake. In relation to the rest of the meal it was very good. In relation to any other chocolate lava cake I’ve ever had, it wasn’t.

    Do you ever bring your own snacks on the plane in case of long delays, poor food etc. I’d be interested to know

  22. As I read more of these trip reports illuminating the questionable aircraft, terrible food and iffy ground services, I am more and more confused as to why anyone would choose to fly the north american carriers to Asia when we have the top-notch asian carriers (SQ, CX & ANA for example) to choose from. I realize a lot of the travel you write about is points-based, both accumulation and redemption, but for the many who pay for their flights it doesn’t make sense to spend the same but get inferior returns. Or what am I missing here?

  23. Catering out of the Chinese airports is generally not great. Even if flying SQ or EY, you would notice a drop in quality. I spent a lot of time flying AA F out of PVG from 2006-2010 and the food was even then much worse on the return than the outbound.

  24. @ Alexander Simons — Can’t say that I do, given what limited carry-on space I have. Usually they have some extra packaged snacks aboard, if nothing else. And ultimately not eating for half a day would probably be good for my health anyway. 😉

  25. @ Jerry — So behind on trip reports that I feel like I’d be yelled at if I wrote them, given how many others I have to catch up on. We’ll see. 😉

  26. If you don’t mind me asking the question here, Lucky.

    I have the opportunity to fly BA F on 747 or AA F on this older 777-200. Not considering the tax and fuel surcharge of ~$500 difference [flying out of LHR], which would you choose and why? On one hand the BA F is more newer and more stylish, but narrow seats, on the other hand, this AA F 777-200 review is terrible.

    Thanks for your advice.

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