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.