When we planned to travel the American South West in early 2020, I decided to book an open-jaw flight from Düsseldorf to Los Angeles and an inbound from Las Vegas. Both flights were routed via London-Heathrow. On the outbound we had the choice between either flying one of British Airways’ remaining 747s or crossing the Atlantic with American Airlines. Since I never flew American long-haul, I wanted to test their product. I chose poorly.
Because I had to make my booking with American Airlines to get on this flight, I got to experience their booking system first hand. It was a nightmare on many levels. My booking went through without problems – but when it came to customizing it, it hit the fan.
First, I tried online to add one checked bag to one of the two light fares I had booked. It was impossible, so we had to pay the higher fee at the airport (or we would’ve since they checked our bag for free for whatever reason). As it turns out, American runs a strict no-online-checked-bags-for-light-fares policy. Plain and simple, you have to choose a different airline if you want to avoid paying an extra fee on top of your bag fees.
Secondly, my girlfriend prefers a vegetarian diet, so I wanted to order a special meal for her. In order to get that done for our return flight with British Airways, I had to go to BA’s site to add it. This process is done within seconds, thanks to an easy drop-down menu. No such thing could be found on AA’s website. So I had to call their hotline. After twenty minutes, it was done. This is the first time I encountered this problem with any airline. This is simply unbelievable for an international full-service carrier.
The rotten cherry on top of AA’s garbage sundae is still to come. To avoid ending up with two middle seats in a 3-4-3 Boeing 777 on an 11-hour flight, I reserved two adjacent aisle seats online. My payment was accepted and my reservation confirmed. Everything seemed fine. Oh, silly me.
At the gate in Heathrow, we got new boarding passes for unclarified reasons. As a consequence, we got exactly what I tried to avoid – two middle seats in a 3-4-3 Boeing 777 on an 11-hour flight. Economy was filled to the brim. I went to the gate agent, but never got a proper explanation for this. To be fair, the airline charged the reservation fee back to my credit card even before we arrived in LA. Still, a major f*ck up and serious point of complaint.
American Airlines has organized its boarding groups rather well. The process began 50 minutes before departure and despite a second check of travel documents, it took only about thirty minutes to board the fully booked 777-200. Flight attendants were very helpful to find space in the loaded overhead bins, even for those who boarded at the very end of the process (I had a vivid argument with the gate agent because of reasons I already mentioned). Sadly, their positive attitude would change.
Cabin & Comfort
I may have mentioned it before – American Airlines uses a 3-4-3 seating pattern on its Boeing 777 aircraft. The 777 have the narrowest cabin width of all planes that use a ten abreast configuration. Boeing originally designed it to have a 3-3-3 pattern. You probably get the point: The seats are extra narrow, the aisles are very narrow. Everything feels cramped in this aircraft type I actually like very much otherwise.
Making matters worse, some of AA’s older 777-200 have pretty old overhead bins, that prevent you from putting your trolley in horizontally. Since each trolley takes about 2/3 of the available space, the design limits it to one trolley per bin. This pretty much leads to a logistical catastrophe in times of light fares and ultra-high bag fees when the cabin is fully booked.
The seats are modern leather covered slimline seats, with a thin cushion. This is the longest flight I ever had in those seats and while I find them okay on shorter flights, they become uncomfortable really quick. While you can recline them a little, it is nothing that makes it huge difference in terms of comfort. I wouldn’t mind that on a shorter flight, e.g. from Europe to the US East Coast. On the upside, this prevents the person in front of you from suddenly sitting on your lap.
The seat pitch is nothing to rave about, either. Google Flights says it’s 79 cm, which is nothing special on long haul airplanes. Last year, I took a 10-hour flight in an Air France 777 with an advertised 81 cm seat pitch, and it felt way more comfortable. So nothing to give American a benefit on their overall average to subpar cabin interior.
Food & Service
I usually love crossing the pond on American carriers. On many occasions, you get to sit in a Boeing 767-300ER (still one of my favorite planes) that is staffed by a lovely crew consisting of experienced flight attendants at least double the age of the plane (most 767s are 20-30 years old). While I recently had the pleasure of flying Delta and United on flights to the east coast, things were different on American.
The crew was much younger (no one older than forty I’d guess) and their level of commitment was somewhere near zero. I get that an eleven-hour daytime flight in a packed economy cabin isn’t exactly a flight attendant’s dream. But you could at least care to give out food in a semi-motivated way. Or keep the bathrooms in a good condition. Or smile.
The first service was served approx. two and a half hours after take-off with a choice of beef or chicken. I decided to have the chicken. While its display was not particularly appealing, it was indeed very tasty. It came with a salad, bread & butter and a prepacked cake as dessert. While the main course was good, the entire meal was nothing to write home about. Two hours before arrival, two kinds of filled pizza wraps were given out. They were hot – and lacked anything else that would motivate me to add further positive adjectives.
I was shocked to see that the restroom already looked worn less than two hours after departure and before the first meal service. Its condition worsened over the duration of the flight.
WiFi & Entertainment
So there I was, trapped for eleven hours in the middle of a 4-seat-row that I paid money to avoid, in a meddling cabin paired with a basically uninterested cabin crew. You can already guess that the entertainment system pretty much had to save my flight.
It did. The movie selection was marvelous and I used the time to enjoy three movies that were on my personal watch list anyway (The Big Short, Zombieland: Double Tab, and Joker). There were plenty of movies that were still in or fresh out of cinema at the time, like Jojo Rabbit. The selection of TV series or documentaries was pretty comprehensive, as well. The monitor is equipped with a regular 3.5 mm audio port and a USB-port.
The entertainment system was easy to manage – either via remote or touch screen. If you still prefer to watch your own stuff, there is an international power socket right underneath the monitor to charge your devices.
Wi-Fi was not offered on this particular flight. This is not a negative note, since I usually do not use it anyway.
- Booking Experience
- Check-In & Boarding
- Cabin & Comfort
- Food & Beverages
- Entertainment & Wi-Fi
Given that I paid little more than €300 for my ticket, I’d say that American Airlines’ hard product (cabin, seats, monitors) is fine. It is nothing special or remotely premium, but nothing to complain about either. Unfortunately, their soft product, was a disaster on this flight. It started with multiple issues with the booking system and ended with a spectacularly disinterested cabin crew. Given the choice between American and a different airline, I would not take AA again.