Review: American Airlines Business Class LAX - PVG
Review: PVG Cathay Pacific Lounge
Review: Dragonair Business Class PVG - HKG
Review: Andaz Xintiandi Shanghai
Review: Grand Hyatt Shanghai
Review: Hyatt Regency Suzhou
I have already written about my flight experience on American after being upgraded from Business class to First class on the reverse of this flight (Shanghai to Los Angeles) here, but despite the fact that I've flown this flight in Business multiple times now, I haven't had a chance to review it yet. I took this particular flight back in March and it was my second time flying this route. In all honesty, I do my best to fly Cathay Pacific when traveling to Shanghai, but sometimes it isn't within my budget, so I resort to flying American.
American Airlines #183
Los Angeles (LAX) - Shanghai (PVG)
Friday, March 20th, 2015
10:55 AM - 4:10 PM (+1)
Boeing 777-200: Seat 11H (Business Class)
I fly to Shanghai for business quite often and since I am loyal to oneworld, I will often get stuck flying American Airlines metal internationally. I will admit that in some cases, i.e. when a route has a 777-300 or uses the newest American Airlines Business class layout, flying American internationally is not bad, but this particular route is a bit rough with the extremely dated 777-200.
American Airlines boards even this international flight directly out of American's terminal 4 at LAX, which is a bit of a nightmare to begin with because none of the boarding areas are really large enough to comfortably support such a large group of people. It's also disappointing because Tom Bradley International is the nicest terminal at LAX and terminal 4 is probably the worst, but I digress.
Once boarding, the first thing you will notice is how extremely old the airplane looks. The seats are caked in years of grime and unfortunately, nothing ever looks very clean. American's Business class on this route has a 2-3-2 configuration, which is less than ideal for an extremely long flight when you know you'll either have to disturb your seatmate to get up or they'll disturb you depending on where you're seated. Additionally, instead of being lie-flat, which is the standard for Business class seats on international flights, the seats are angled lie-flat, which is basically the worst when flying more than 12 hours internationally and preferring to spend a majority of the flight asleep. So, not only does every seat not have aisle access (standard in most international Business class cabins), but you'll be sleeping sitting halfway up as well.
It should be said that as an objective reviewer, I need to point these things out, but I am honestly really appreciative that my employer will pay for Business class when flying to China - much appreciated!
I grabbed my seat in 11H, which is an aisle seat next to the window and settled in. At some point during the boarding process, the flight attendants came by to offer orange juice, water, or champagne. I had some water and perused the menu. Due to the timing, this flight offers a "dinner" served at lunch time in the US shortly after takeoff, and a "breakfast" served in the middle of the night in the US about an hour and a half before landing.
While waiting for takeoff, I had a look at the entertainment system and the seat controls. As you can see, everything is extremely dated. The remote controls for the in-flight entertainment are usually somewhat crusty and can be found to the left of the seat. The televisions themselves are pretty small compared to standard international Business class offerings and are completely stationary, so no adjustments can really be made. The good news is that American's movie offerings are quite good and on flights to China, there are usually around 40-50 (my estimation based on flipping through) movies available each flight.
As I mentioned, the seats are angled lie-flat and the seat controls found near the armrest in the middle of the two seats are quite complicated given there's not really anywhere for them to go! I usually have a bit of a hard time getting my seat as flat as it will go, but then again, I usually struggle with seat controls, so maybe it's just me!
Prior to takeoff, the crew will come by to take meal orders and sometimes will introduce themselves. Service on these flights is usually hit or miss, but I'd say more often a miss. The first time I took this flight, I had service items sit on the table at my seat for no less than 6 hours without being taken away even though I had given all indications they were no longer needed. After ringing the call button, no one came for more than 20 minutes, so I had to wait for my seatmate to get up, then finagle my way out of the seat without knocking things over, then just took the glasses to the galley and put them somewhere because it was clear that a flight attendant was never going to do it. Generally, US airlines never have service on the same level as Asian airlines, which I find very disappointing, but it's something I accept as a given.
Shortly after takeoff, drink service began and we were offered warm nuts along with our drink of choice.
The "dinner" menu read as follows:
Thai Chicken with grilled five-spice pineapple, watermelon, and Asian mint dressing
Mixed greens with artichokes, roasted tomatoes and feta cheese
Peppered Beef Filet with thyme jus, smoked mac and cheese and haricots verts
Cashew Chicken with ginger garlic sauce, egg fried rice, stir-fried vegetables, and baby bok choy
Soy Glazed Halibut with miso sauce, green tea rice, snap peas and baby carrots
Stuffed Portobello Mushroom with mixed vegetables, wild rice, sauteed spinach and roasted red pepper sauce
Traditional Ice Cream Sundae with your choice of butterscotch, hot fudge, or seasonal berry toppings
Gourmet Cheese Plate
Black Forest Mousse Cake
True to form, I ordered the peppered beef filet as my entree. In general, I somehow think beef is better than chicken on an airplane (up for debate) and I don't eat fish or like mushrooms. The starter was pretty odd. The combination of chicken, fruit and mint was a bit too weird for me, but I at least finished the fruit and some of the chicken - separately. I really enjoy this salad and have seen it on multiple American flights. They love to pile on the dressing, which is more than I would have liked, but it has a lot of flavor with the artichoke and feta, which is great. The beef is honestly never great, but somehow it's the lesser of the evils for me, so beef it is. In this case, it was suspended in a pool of watery liquid and the mac and cheese was a bit too smoked for my liking, but it was edible so I'm not complaining. For dessert this time around, I went with the ice cream, but I've since found that my stomach is happier if I skip dessert while flying for long periods of time - imagine that!
As soon as meal service was complete, the flight attendants turned down the lights and straight up disappeared for the next 7-8 hours. Rarely have I seen them stroll the aisles to check and see if anyone needs anything and it's almost always the case that I won't see them again until the lights come back on and it's time for the "breakfast" service to begin. This is disappointing to me as someone who does not like to ring the call button and hates to be a bother, but would definitely appreciate it if the flight attendants came by every once in a while so that I could feel comfortable grabbing them if necessary.
About an hour and a half before landing, the lights come on and the flight attendants begin beverage service. "Breakfast" meals are on the cart, so they pass them out after you order your drink. I decided to pass on breakfast on this flight, but the menu read as follows:
Fresh Seasonal Greens with bell pepper, radish and pepper cream dressing
Broccoli and Red Pepper Strata with smoked chicken sausage and roasted potatoes
Dim Sum roast pork bun, chicken gyoza pot sticker and shrimp shumai with e-fu noodles
Triple Chocolate Cheesecake
I have ordered the Strata before and it's really not appetizing at all. The egg is always over-cooked and all of the items kind of blend together, so it all has the same flavor. In general, I just don't eat anything before landing when flying this route, but I think it would be really nice if they could offer some sort of a la carte fruit or yogurt as an additional option.
Once the meal service is complete, it's usually about 40 minutes until landing, so I'll use that time to freshen up and collect my belongings. It should also be noted that American passes out Bose headsets at the beginning of the flight, which is very nice, but they start collecting them right about now. So a word of advice here is to always have a backup pair of headphones ready in case you want to finish watching that movie that was almost over before landing.
All in all, this flight could certainly be worse, but I'm always so underwhelmed. Flying between San Francisco and Shanghai in Cathay Pacific Business is truly a world of difference and it's unfortunate that American doesn't even try to step up their game. Despite this, it should be noted - I have been told that in November, the aircraft will finally be upgraded to a 787, which I honestly think will make this a MUCH more pleasant flight due to the much nicer, newer aircraft and the fact that it offers a 1-2-1 configuration with lie-flat seats in Business.
As of now, my recommendation is to avoid flying American international on the old 777-200 aircrafts if you can.
During a visit to Seattle earlier this year, we decided to stay at the Hyatt at Olive 8 in downtown Seattle. Olive 8 is a "Hyatt" branded hotel and is located at the corner of Olive Way and 8th Ave (how original). Funny enough, it's also located directly across the street from Hyatt's other primary Seattle property, the Grand Hyatt Seattle. The Olive 8 is a category 4 property, which requires 15,000 points per night if not paying with cash.
We arrived fairly late after a Friday night flight up from San Francisco and received an upgrade to a Luxury King Suite thanks to an expiring suite upgrade. We made our way up to the 15th floor after an uneventful check-in process and found our room.
The Luxury King Suite is the first level of suite offered at the Olive 8. It was a good sized room and honestly, as with pretty much all suites, really had more room than we ever would have needed.
Upon entering, there was a small bench directly across from the door (in case you need a place to sit while taking shoes off), then after turning to the left, there was a desk, a small wet bar area, and the living room, with plenty of space for entertaining any guests who stop by. The wet bar had a couple of water bottles, but they were definitely not complimentary, which is something that kind of bothers me about US properties (they're always free outside the US). If the water isn't free, I'd rather it just not be there, but I digress.
The bedroom had a king bed, a chair and side table, another television, and two matching closets on either side of the entrance to the bathroom. It was on the smaller side, but there was still plenty of room, especially because the living room area was quite large.
The bathroom was quite large with a double vanity, a separate soaking tub and shower area to the right, and an enclosed toilet on the left. The toiletries were KenetMD, which is nothing special, but good enough.
Overall, the room was well-appointed and had everything we would need. I find Hyatt branded Hyatts (so confusing) to be very minimal and modern, which is nice, but you'll not usually find anything particularly special about them either.
The gym, spa and pool are located on the 3rd floor of the hotel. The upper part of the building housing the Olive 8 is a residential space, so the building residents share these amenities with hotel guests. You'll find a lap pool and hot tub as well as a pretty well-appointed gym with plenty of cardio equipment and free weights. The gym also offers dry and chilled towels and water bottles, which are always appreciated.
As a Diamond guest, I had breakfast included Saturday and Sunday morning at the hotel's on-site restaurant, Urbane. Breakfast is served from 6:30 AM to 11:00 AM on weekdays and from 6:30 AM to 2:30 PM on weekends, so there's no reason to miss breakfast even if you have to sleep in a bit, which I really liked.
The brunch menu had a great selection of both breakfast and lunch dishes and had a lot of really tasty looking options. In the end, I opted for my usual breakfast dish: two eggs any style with toast, potatoes and a choice of bacon or sausage. Chris had the biscuits and gravy. After we ordered, about 15 minutes went by before our server came back to let us know that the kitchen was backed up, so our orders were going to take a while. He brought out a complimentary fruit bowl, which was nice, but it did end up taking about 40 minutes for us to get our food. Luckily, we weren't in a huge hurry, so it wasn't really an issue. Since it's hard to mess up eggs and toast, I was perfectly happy with my meal. Chris said the biscuits and gravy were a little dry, but overall, it was a good meal and as always, I was happy that it was included due to Diamond status.
The Olive 8 is located pretty centrally in downtown Seattle, but it should be noted that it's still quite a hike from the main attractions of the downtown area, including Pike Place Market, the waterfront, and the sculpture park. We were fine with the location, but if you're looking to be right in the center of the action, the Olive 8 is probably not the best choice. Even though it's still downtown, the streets surrounding the hotel are pretty quiet, so that's something to keep in mind.
Overall, the Hyatt at Olive 8 is a solid choice when visiting Seattle. The rooms are modern and nice, the amenities are there if you need them and it's close enough to walk 15 or 20 minutes to most attractions in downtown Seattle, but far enough away that it won't be too noisy or crowded.
American Airlines #182
Shanghai (PVG) - Los Angeles (LAX)
Tuesday, August 4th, 2015
6:10 PM - 3:40 PM (-1): 11 hours, 50 minutes
Boeing 777-200: Seat 2J (First Class)
I've spent the past month in a whirlwind of travel for both business and fun. After a great two week vacation in Norway and Iceland, I headed straight to China for two weeks of work. On the way there, I got very lucky to have Business class essentially empty, (which was amazing given that American currently flies the oldest, worst 777s from Los Angeles to Shanghai and the Business configuration is 2-3-2) so I was able to have the row to myself, which was excellent. On the way back, I was crossing my fingers for the same fate, but they really did me one better and upgraded me to First! It was a last-minute upgrade because I boarded the plane and spent a good 20 minutes in my seat anxiously awaiting the moment the doors closed so I knew I didn't have a seat mate. Instead, a flight attendant came up and asked me to come with her to my new seat, 2J. Sweet. As of now, I'm about 10,000 points short of Executive Platinum for the year, so I was super excited that my status was finally getting me somewhere.
I moved up to the First class cabin and saw that it was also empty except for 3 seats. Figuring it would be like my flight out where the plane was just mostly unoccupied, I was looking forward to a quiet flight in a lie-flat bed (since American's 777 Business has angled lie-flat). Unfortunately, the pilot announced a few minutes later that this would be a full flight and sure enough, the seats all around me became filled up with other passengers, including a very fortunate little girl and her parents.
American's First class on the 777 actually reminds me pretty much exactly of Business class on Cathay Pacific's 777-300 or American's new Business class on the 777-300 (which really sets the tone for what you should expect of American's international "First class" offering) with a 1-2-1 configuration. I certainly wasn't complaining though because there is nothing better than an unexpected upgrade, so I was just grateful I wouldn't have to get up in the middle of the night to let my seat mate go to the bathroom.
The seats were comfortable enough, but this plane is as old as they get. Every time I fly this route, the plane just feels so dirty, like the seats never get cleaned well. Unfortunately, First class was no different than Business in this regard. Similar to other first class products I've flown, the foot rest across from the seat actually has a seatbelt, which means a companion could dine across from you if you choose. While comfortable, the seat was literally the most confusing thing I have ever encountered on an airplane. I initially thought my seat was broken because the controls wouldn't work at all. Finally, I called a flight attendant over and she explained to me (as if I were a total moron) that the seat needs to be turned using this tiny invisible latch under the left arm rest into the center of the cubby in order for the controls to work. Um...how on Earth would someone know that's how they work?!
Once I got the seat controls worked out, it was a struggle to figure out the television, which pops up when you push a button under the window. That was one thing, but then I couldn't for the life of me find a remote, so I found my first movie by pushing the screen, which wasn't super responsive to the touch. About 30 minutes into my first movie (The Age of Adaline), I finally located the remote under the right armrest - duh.
Prior to taking off, the flight attendants passed out pajamas, which is probably my favorite thing about flying in First, because I feel awkward changing into pajamas in Business since no one else does it. The amenity kits were waiting at the seat when we boarded and were American's standard "heritage" amenity kits, but larger and more boring. There was also a Bose headset to use for the flight, but it should be noted that American is ridiculous about the Bose headsets and collects them literally an hour before landing in both First and Business class. As a result, I always remember to put my own earbuds in my pocket so I can finish whatever I am watching an hour before we land.
The flight attendants had collected meal and drink orders prior to taking off, so once we leveled off, they began handing out mixed nuts with our drink of choice. It's somewhat interesting that they make an effort not to use carts in First - I guess because it's not as classy and special (and come to think of it, none of the other First class products I've flown do either), so everything was brought individually.
I had looked at the menu when I was previously seated in Business and noticed that the First class menu was nearly identical. The only difference was the addition of one choice for a starter, an additional soup course (which I passed on), an additional dessert option (also passed), and slight changes to the wine list - better champagne and 1 additional selection each of white, red, and dessert wine.
The dinner menu read as follows:
Steamed Lobster Claw, Shrimp and Scallop with mango chili lime salsa
Peking Duck Spring Roll with leeks, cucumber and balsamic glaze
Hot and Sour
Seasonal Greens with Carrot Spaghetti and Tomatoes
Grilled Beef Filet with port sauce, potatoes au gratin, asparagus and carrots
Roasted Duck Breast with plum sauce, egg fried rice and snap peas
Ginger Scallops with stir fried noodles and vegetable medley
Mushroom Wellington with mushroom cream sauce
Traditional Ice Cream Sundae
Gourmet Cheese Plate
Warm Egg Tart
Mixed Berry Tart
I chose the steamed lobster claw dish for the entree even though I don't really like seafood. It was probably the smallest lobster claw I've ever seen, but it was fairly tasty. Then for the entree (as always), I had the beef. Airplane beef is never really good, but I don't like duck, scallops or mushrooms, so beef it was!
After dinner, I watched another movie (Furious 7) and was feeling pretty tired. The rest of the cabin had already passed out, so I decided to get ready for bed. In any other international First class (ok, on Singapore and Cathay - I'm insufferable and spoiled, I'm sorry), the flight attendants practically forced you to allow them to make up a bed for you. Not so on American! At this point, the flight attendants have disappeared, never to be seen again until the "morning", but all the bedding is available in bags on the foot rest and you just recline the bed, then put down the mattress pad and blanket provided and you're ready to go. The bed was pretty comfortable and the mattress pad was definitely appreciated since you don't get that in Business. The thing I wasn't very happy about was the lack of privacy while sleeping. As you can see in some of the earlier photos, there is no barrier on the side of the seats, so when you're sleeping, you're very exposed to the aisle, which I hated.
Breakfast came about an hour and a half before landing, but I wasn't hungry and the two choices were not my favorite, so I passed. The "Light Meal" menu read as follows:
Fresh Seasonal Greens with green peppers and Italian dressing
Pumpkin and Mushroom Quiche with paprika potatoes and grilled zucchini
Szechuan Prawns with fried rice, lotus root and carrots
At some point during the flight, I went to use the lavatory and was confronted with this note taped to the mirror:
I have honestly no idea what it meant or why it had any business being in a First class cabin lavatory, but there it was. It seemed like the note was inferring that the water was broken in the sink and toilet, but they worked fine for me, so I have no idea. Quite classy.
While the lavatory lacked in class, I think American made up for it by passing out a small golden box of chocolates to everyone just before landing. They were excellent and I was thrilled with the unexpected treat.
Shortly after, we landed without incident and proceeded on to the absolute worst thing about flying American internationally into LA - parking at terminal 4, then having to get on a bus to go to the Tom Bradley International terminal to get through customs, then walking back to terminal 4 to resume the last leg of the itinerary.
All in all, I was thrilled to be upgraded without even trying, but American's international First class is not really much to write home about. As I mentioned earlier, it's highly reminiscent of Cathay Pacific's Business class in terms of layout and configuration, but comparing anything more than configuration to Cathay would be doing a disservice to Cathay's incredible service quality. American's flight attendants are largely disinterested and hole themselves up in the galley as much as possible (with the exception of only two cases where I have had truly wonderful flight attendants and service). This flight, the staff was definitely nothing special and even made me feel bad when I asked about the seat controls (although, in fairness, I'm sure they get that question all the time).
If you get it for free, take this flight. If not, absolutely take Cathay Pacific Business.
One thing I did find out at the beginning of this trip is that American will thankfully begin flying a 787 on this route in November. The American 787s actually do not have a First class, just Economy and Business, but given how mediocre my First experience was, I find that to be no real loss and actually look forward to experiencing this flight in the future on a newer 787 with the same 1-2-1 configuration in Business.
Just a twenty-something with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.