Guest Reviewer: Chris
An avid traveler and obsessive points and miles hound, Chris is my travel buddy extraordinaire. I love him for his enthusiasm, his sense of adventure, and his many lounge access credit cards. Hope you enjoy his perspective!
Review: British Airways First Class SFO - LHR
Review: Iberia Airlines Business Class LHR - MAD
Recap: Sights in Spain
Review: American Airlines Business Class MAD - DFW
American Airlines (AA) #37
Madrid (MAD) - Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
Sunday, January 3rd, 2016
12:20 PM - 4:45 PM, Duration: 10 hrs, 25 mins
Boeing 777-200 Business Class, Seat 5H
When we originally booked our flights to Spain for New Year's, we weren't able to find many options for the return flight: no Star Alliance, oneworld, or SkyTeam airline had two award seats available from Europe to the US during the first few days of January, and paid fares were crazy expensive. We were pretty set on going to Spain, so we decided to book an American Airlines "AAnytime" award, which requires many more miles than a "MileSAAver" award but has better availability. In our case it cost us 135,000 miles each for one-way business class, which is a ton (a saver award would have been 50,000 miles). But we were gambling that some last-minute award availability would open up and we'd be able to change our tickets.
Unfortunately nothing better ever opened up, so we were stuck paying the high mileage rate. To make things worse, we weren't all that excited about the flight itself, since the plane type was an unrefurbished 777-200. Jen reviewed this product last year and wasn't impressed: the cabin is dated, the seats aren't lie-flat, and there's no all-aisle access, so it's one of the worst international business class products out there. But hey, at least we had a way to get home, and we didn't have to fly in economy!
We took the train to Madrid-Barajas airport and got there about two hours before our flight. The economy class check-in line was insanely long, and the business class line wasn't much better, so we went to the automated kiosks. An agent quickly stopped us and told us that none of the machines were working and that we had to wait in the line instead. Later, while we were standing in line, we saw several passengers check in using the machines, so I told Jen to hold our spot while I tried to use the machines again. The agent repeated her earlier statement that all the machines were broken, and refused to explain why a select few passengers were being allowed to check in using them. It was bizarre.
After about 30 minutes in line, we finally made it to a check-in agent. I'm a relatively patient person, but Jen has a short fuse, so by this point in time she was getting pretty snippy and wanted nothing more than to quickly get her boarding pass. The agent had other plans, and decided to play a game with us that I can only describe as "500 questions". She started out by asking Jen a bunch of general questions about our trip, that gradually got more and more specific to the point of being ridiculous:
At that point the check-in agent turned her attention to me, and asked me some equally specific questions, except mine focused on my job rather than our travels. Toward the end of it I was having a minor existential crisis - she had managed to probe so deep that I'd learned there were many things I couldn't answer about myself. Eventually she decided that we probably weren't terrorists and handed us our boarding passes.
As I walked away from the check-in area, I checked our boarding passes noticed that our seats had changed - we were in row 5 instead of our previously-selected row 10. I suspected there might have been an equipment change, so I looked up our flight on FlightAware.com, and saw that our plane type had changed to a retrofitted 777-200. This was great news, as it meant we'd be getting a brand-new cabin with lie-flat seats, all-aisle access, and large TV screens.
We headed through security, which was relatively quick, then had a train ride and a long walk to get to our gate. On the way there, we briefly stopped in at the Iberia lounge, which was quite nice although very crowded.
The line for priority boarding was extremely long, probably due to the fact that Dallas/Fort Worth is American Airlines' largest hub and thus has many elite passengers flying to it. We got onboard and settled down in our seats: my seat (5H) was a rear-facing seat in the middle section, whereas Jen's (5K) was a forward-facing window seat. The cabin is in a 1-2-1 configuration, which meant I had someone next to me, but there was a tall partition so I never saw or noticed them for the duration of the flight.
The old 777-200s have 16 first class seats and 37 business class seats, whereas the retrofitted 777-200s only have a business class cabin with 45 seats. I suspect some passengers got bumped down from first to business, but honestly it's not much of a downgrade considering how crappy American's old first class product is.
The cabin felt modern, with new finishes and seats with plenty of privacy. There was more than enough overhead bin space, so I had no trouble stowing my bags. The seats were in a reverse herringbone configuration, with rows alternating between forward-facing and rear-facing seats. At my seat I found a large pillow, a blanket, and an amenity kit waiting. Each seat has two power plugs and two USB ports, and features a touchscreen remote for the TV, along with another touchscreen to control the seat.
Shortly after I sat down, a flight attendant came by to take my coat, though I noticed that she seemed very stressed. As she walked up and down the aisle, she was talking to herself and saying things like "Oh my God, this is such a nightmare" or "I'm not used to having 43 business class passengers." While I understand that a larger cabin than usual can make things stressful, it seemed a bit unprofessional to fret about it in front of passengers.
A few minutes later, I was given a choice of water, orange juice, or champagne from a tray. I chose champagne as usual. The standard goodies shortly followed - headphones, newspapers, and a dining menu. The headphones were Bose noise-canceling ones, which are pretty good for business class.
We took off on time, and after reaching cruising altitude the first meal service began. It started with a hot towel, followed by a drink (I went with a Coke Zero), which came with a ramekin of warm nuts. For my appetizer, I chose the hummus and stuffed grape leaves, which were pretty good.
I did notice that the table pulled up quite close to my body, with no way to move it farther away. Maybe I'm just fat.
Next up was the main course. I'd chosen the jalapeño chicken, which also turned out to be quite good. Jen had the beef, which she said was "fine" (which is saying a lot, since airplane beef is usually terrible).
Dessert was an ice cream sundae with a choice of toppings. You can't really go wrong with ice cream, and this one definitely hit the spot.
After the meal, I watched some TV, then napped for a bit. The bed was comfortable, and had enough room for me (6'0") to sleep without any trouble. After waking up, I went to the lavatory and noticed that they'd set up a snack bar in the galley, with a few options like fruit and chips.
A couple of hours before landing, we were served a light meal. I chose the flatbread, which was tasty.
Soon after that, we were on the ground for an on-time arrival in Dallas. Overall I enjoyed the flight: the food was good, and I was glad to have flown in a more modern seat and cabin than I was originally expecting. American Airlines' retrofitted planes have a substantially improved business class over their old product. To be honest, I actually preferred it over the British Airways First Class flight that we had on the way there. While it's not as luxurious as the business classes of some Middle Eastern or Asian airlines, American Airlines offers a solid way to fly between Europe and North America.
Just a twenty-something with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.