No Lights, No Food, No Recline: The 5 Hour American Airlines Flight Where Even The Toilets Were Shut Off

American Airlines reportedly sent a redeye flight from Los Angeles to New York on February 2 without working electrical systems. There was only emergency lighting in the cabin. Flight attendants couldn’t prepare food in the galley of the cross country flight, and business and first class seats didn’t have power so could not recline.

According to a passenger who reported on that they were seated in first class seat 3F, “The cabin exit strips and the emergency light in toilets were illuminated [but] toilets did not flush.”

Cross country flight AA28, scheduled to depart at 10:47 p.m. and land at New York JFK at 7:00 a.m. the next morning, is operated by American’s premium Airbus A321T, a product that is beginning the process of being eliminated. It has coach, business class, and a Flagship First Class seat as well.

American Airlines A321T Flagship First Class

Passengers in Flagship First Class – something no other U.S. airline offers – were given “no food, 1 cocktail.” Flight attendants tried to perform service but their “flashlights were running out of power” as the flight progressed.

But the lack of food even in first and business class, and an inability to recline into the bed that American had promised to customers, was the least of passenger concerns: “Toilets were disgusting people were peeing in the sinks since they drain.” (I imagine those sinks looked like the ones on this Delhi flight.)

American Airlines A321T Business Class

I was somewhat skeptical of the story at first, because the aircraft in question appears to have spent less than two hours on the ground in New York before flying Westbound to Orange County and wasn’t hasn’t spent significant time out of service. However I reached out to American Airlines more than day ago about the incident and haven’t heard back. I will update this post if they respond.

It seems strange to me for American Airlines to make the decision to proceed with the flight without power in the cabin, no meals, no reclining premium seats. Every customer in a premium cabin should get their money back, since they did not receive the product that was sold to them (and if they were in business they they did not just buy “transportation from A to B”).

Delay the flight for a fix, or if not possible in a reasonable time announce to passengers:

  • We need to operate this aircraft to New York
  • As a courtesy we will permit you to travel in your assigned seat
  • However if you opt not to, this is essentially an involuntary denied boarding
  • We will provide you lodging and meals for the night as well as rebooking options

American Airlines A321T At New York JFK

American Airlines has flown New York to Chicago without a lavatory before but passengers knew in advance they’d have to hold it for the duration of the trip. (On a flight to Hawaii, American told passengers to go in a bottle when the lavatories became inoperable.)

On the other hand, an American flight from New York to London turned back when only four of the plane’s 12 lavatories went inoperative on the argument that passengers congregating for the remaining lavatories was becoming a security risk.

Apparently passengers on the Los Angeles – New York redeye did not receive any proactive apology message or compensation from the airline.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The famous A321T on American, the plane that helps AA with their entertainment contracts.

    Round of applause everyone. Round of applause

  2. Waiting for AA bring your own lawn chair, food, drink, diaper, oxygen bottle and flotation device announcement.

  3. Wow. I’m stunned that AA made this incredibly stupid and reckless decision, and equally stunned that the FAA isn’t looking into it.

  4. January 26, the early morning SFO-JFK A321T flew without IFE or in-seat power for F and J seats. Seats couldn’t recline as a result. At least the ovens worked. Proactively offered 5,000 miles for the hassle. Seems kind of paltry!

  5. I was on that flight. Seated in business. After takeoff, I tried to recline. No power at seat. Phone not charging. I was the first one in business to flag down a flight attendant. Said they were working on it. They manually laid my seat down flat. I said I just wanted to sleep. Didn’t need food service. No emergency lighting on. Ordinary overnight blue lights. Toilet worked. Woke up close to NYC and power was working. Flight attendant said that captain fixed it.

  6. Something doesn’t stack up with this story. I don’t believe the plane left the gate in this condition. No Captain would take the flight with no working toilets for a 5 hr flight.
    Unless more passengers come forward this is a hoax or very exaggerated story.

  7. With so many planes in the boneyard to reduce excess capacity, it’s much higher bar now to take aircraft out of service for repairs to anything but critical systems. No excuse for the miserable experience of the passengers but it’s apparently cheaper to operate such a service-crippled flight and compensate passengers than bear the systemic higher costs across an airlines fleet for higher statistical confidence levels for meeting promised service levels. You want cheapest possible air fares for a class of service? Something has to be traded off. That’s risk of being disappointed and inconvenienced and uncomfortable.

  8. Inquiring minds want to know if the one cocktail American Airlines Flagship First-Class passengers received was their predeparture beverage served in a plastic cup?

  9. So, the story as related by @JR who was on the flight doesn’t jive with the initial story reported here. Lavs worked, lighting was normal, seat recline was a problem initially and captain seemed to have resolved the problems inflight. As @David said, this might have been an exaggerated story.

  10. “Every customer in a premium cabin should get their money back, since they did not receive the product that was sold to them.”

    I’d argue yes they should, but there should be some level of payment to all the rest of the passengers.

  11. A220,
    according to DL execs on their 3rd quarter earnings call and in response to analyst questions, Delta carries the most revenue for the auto and Hollywood contracts and was basing its investor guidance on settlement of the IAM and SAG strikes which were both going on at the time.
    Most people would not be surprised that DL carries the most auto industry-related traffic but still believe AA carries the most entertainment industry traffic and that the A321T is part of AA’s ability to keep that traffic.

    Given that AA is eliminating premium lie flat first class and that DL pretty quickly overtook AA at LAX during the pandemic, I suspect that DL managed to win the bulk of Hollywood contracts. I wouldn’t also be surprised if the reason that DL quickly added AKL even with an ex-Latam A350, the only longhaul widebody route that I know of at DL that has never been flown by an original DL configured widebody but is switching to one in the northern spring at the same LAX-SYD goes back to 1 flight/day, I suspect that DL won Hollywood contracts with enough of a schedule and the promise of putting a direct aisle access Delta One plane on LAX-AKL within six months.

    DL has long been the largest airline from LAX to NYC and flies nearly all of the other major markets except Chicago so likely has enough service to win and maintain Hollywood business.

    Lots of internet lore dies hard because people hold onto old facts but I would bet that AA would have challenged DL’s statement if DL was wrong. Given that earnings calls are filed with the SEC, companies really don’t have any ability to lie or exaggerate.

    I tend to believe JR’s account is the rule.

  12. Well, just keep in mind AA managements motto IS “going for a consistent product”. So good luck everyone. Pretty soon we will change our name to American Frontier or American Spirit.
    How sad and emabarrassing to be a long time employee at AA. They are destroying a once great airline.

  13. “Im stunned the FAQ isnt looking into it”

    As long as the MEL/NEF book was complied with before departure and QRH complied with after departure, the FAA does not care. It is perfectly legal and FAA approved for an airline to fly with quite a large number of things broken on the plane.

    The airline cares about the bottom line. Cancelled and delayed flights lose money. If it gets a flight operated with minimal to no delay, an airline will placard whatever maintenance items they legally can to get the flight moving.

    Pilots and flight attendants are humans too. If the crew was JFK based, they want to get home and not get stuck away from home waiting on a plane to get fixed. If a crew really wants to get home, they will do what it takes to get home even if it means accepting a plane with a lot of problems.

  14. Good Lord, our airlines are operating like a Third World shuttle. Glad I was part when this country had its act together.

  15. Lies. FA here, we do NOT fly with inoperable toilets. They would have diverted. Occasionally power outlets don’t work and just need to be reset, but it would NEVER be the entire plane. How can you just make stuff up like this?!?!

  16. Why do people keep responding to this story which has been proven to be an exaggerated one. THE TOILETS WERE WORKING, per comment from a passenger who was on that flight.

  17. on other topics which Gary has covered, the Senate approved an FAA funding bill which addresses ATC staffing, Next Gen navigation and expanding the pool of people in aviation and it also includes provisions for 5 additional outside the perimeter flights at DCA, a provision DL fought for and UA fought against.
    The house already passed their own FAA authorization bill which does not include some of these provisions including the outside perimeter flights but authorizing the FAA is one of the least contentious things that Washington can do. The funding delays have always been part of bigger budget battles.
    Hope you track this, Gary, but if the Senate version becomes law, it will fix alot of issues which you have addressed.

  18. I, also, cannot believe AA would allow this aircraft in the sky, to fly as is.

    A couple of years ago I was departing SRQ on a DL flight, and it was announced that there would be a delay because the toilet system wasn’t working. DL managed to get a mechanic to fix only one toilet. We were offered the choice of either flying as it was with one toilet, or waiting and re-booking until the next flight, approximately 5 hours later. Both flights SRQ to ATL, about 1.5 hrs in the air.

    What a contrast. Surely there are health laws in the US against taking off in an aircraft with no working toilets?

  19. @JR thank you for clearing things up. As I read the story I saw so many flaws with Gary’s version of events. Gary never tries to get to the real story and hates American Airlines. He is quick to blog about bad service with out knowing real facts. American doesn’t always get it right but I find on those transcon routes the flight attendants always try to accommodate.

  20. Lol
    Funny no one is blaming the flight attendants for this unfortunate situation!!!
    But this is the new reality
    Airlines in the US only care about getting you from point A to point B.
    With or without electricity, food , drinks, recycling seat.
    It’s like moving cattle.
    Hopefully one day you all wake up and learn the new way of Airline travel on US carriers.
    It’s not fine dining in the air anymore.
    Enjoy the ride!!

  21. “… before flying Westbound to Orange County and wasn’t hasn’t spent significant time out of service.”

  22. Every airline has a MEL, CDL & cabin discrepancy list of some sort. There is NOT a law saying that the toilets have to be working. In most cases the airline can add to these items but can’t go against the manufacturer’s certification of the aircraft. Toilets are not on the “gotta have” list but common sense says you don’t go on a transcontinental flight without them altogether. The captain should have rejected the aircraft with so much wrong with the aircraft. I smell (no pun intended here) something bogus about this regardless of who says they were on the flight. But, then again, this is American Airlines we’re talking about. So, who knows?

  23. “TexasTJ says:
    February 10, 2024 at 10:25 am
    Wow. I’m stunned that AA made this incredibly stupid and reckless decision, and equally stunned that the FAA isn’t looking into it.”
    I’m not There’s a reason why American Airlines is the worst or one of the worst airlines in the US. They’ve been garbage for a long time. I avoid them at all costs, I don’t know why anybody else wouldn’t also.

  24. These days flying is more of a health risk both mentally and physically, You are trapped high above in a closed space with nowhere to go. And flight attendants act like prison guards (Fight attendants) with no compassion or consideration for the person. Lawyers Please!

  25. Going on a 5 hour food fast and not eating anything (except water) is probably good for you. Your body needs a break from the junk food, high sugar food they give you. Not urinating /peeing on the other, can cause a bladder infection and in extreme cases, kidney damage. I would urinate at my seat and tell them why you are doing this; for health reasons! Advice from me, a health professional. LAWYERS Please!

  26. This story sounds like complete crap. Someone said something and you wrote an article about it. Only if we can hold writers, editors, and so called journalist to a standard.

  27. Generally speaking, it’s very important to urinate/pee if you have the urgency to do so, to reduce the risk of a bladder infection, or even kidney damage. (LAWYERS please!). But not eating for 6 hours is OK since it gives your body a chance to recover from the high-sugar, junk food they give you.

  28. Seriously??? If you are flying around with the emergency lights on, you have a serious electrical problem which is a no-go. This story sounds BS.

  29. As a seasoned employee of the airline in question, I found the “whole story” quite incredible. I cannot imagine the aircraft being dispatched based on the “story” if the lavs alone were inoperable. AA actually lands aircraft with inoperable lavatories since the use of lavs is a physiological necessity and an airline cannot ask anyone to “hold it”.

    All premium electrically controlled sears can be manually adjusted and it not unusual to have a seat needed to be reset or manually adjusted.

    Being that I am associated with employees involved with this aircraft, I would have heard of this drastic situation had it happened as the flight progressed or soon after it landed. I haven’t heard of any such situation happening.

    And for safety and security reasons, I cannot imagine an aircraft being dispatched in this supposed condition.

    Yes, the 321T is being “retired” as new 321 aircraft are coming into the fleet that will have the newest and more lay flat seating cubicles with privacy doors, expanded and improved main cabin extra seating and other amenities. The new aircraft are intended for international use with continuing transcon service. Unlike the 321T, with an interior that is seriously dated and worn down, that can only be used domestically, the new aircraft will be better utilized across the system. Providing a higher quality product and, as management likes to state, “improving the customer experience”.

  30. Flew JFK-LAX on 25th Jan. – Flight had no working IFE, although internet was ok.

    Woke up the next morning to find 5k AAdvantage miles in my account. A covering email indicated this was proactive compensation.

  31. I am also a long time employee with “said” airline , and no , they would not let that aircraft leave the gate with issues such as that!
    We are not perfect, and the other Airlines aren’t either, but I can said we work very hard to improve as a whole!

  32. I pointed out this would not be permitted pet the MMEL. Apparently my comment was censored and disallowed. Says a lot of the quality and truthfulness of this site.

  33. Everyone is yelling at Gary for posting a story with no verification, but is quick to believe some commenter named JR who we have zero way to confirm is telling the truth. Not saying he isn’t, but we have absolutely no way to confirm he’s any more truthful than what Gary heard, but you all are fine believing it, so it doesn’t seem like anyone really cares what the truth is, they just want what sounds best.

  34. I also cannot imagine a flight departing g with flight attendants using flashlights to see. No further mention of thst made up scenario. Truly fabricated story.

  35. Maggie
    I totally agree with you especially regarding Gary.. Gary is a Delta fan boy
    and looks for every opportunity to plug and push Delta. Gary hates AA and lurks around for the opportunity to slam AA. I recently.retired working for both Delta and AA 35 years (10 yrs Delta, 25 yrs AA. Delta hides/covers up so much. Their have their employees in fear of loosing their jobs if the talk.

  36. This wouldn’t be legal to operate a plane like this, and no flight crew would attempt to take off in a plane with significant electric issues. Full stop. The passenger’s account is a combo of wild exaggeration after the in seat outlets needed to be reset, and possibly their first red-eye where they were unaware the lights are turned low so people can sleep.

  37. Has American added a basic First Class? This is a reach. However, a the equipment listed is not on the MEL. In a hub like LAX. There’s mechanic’s available.

  38. I call total BS on this whole story.
    Sad that this “journalist” publishes a story like this without confirmation from AA or the crew .

  39. @Byron Jaffe – you’re employed by American Airlines, but are disputing a story without confirmation from American Airlines. Did you read that I reached out to American on the issue – in fact, specifically ops communications – and they did not respond? I held off on this for over a day waiting to hear from AA.

  40. AA executive bonuses are now based on flight completion factor. Huge pressure to have all flights go without regard to passenger comfort etc. The FAA is too busy meeting DEI goals to even bother giving a S*** about airline passengers. Take it for what it’s worth but AA is driving hard to be the next spirit.

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