Review: American Airlines First Class, Sydney – Los Angeles

I was excited for another flight in American Airlines Flagship First Class after flying down to Sydney in the product, if only to have a fuller experience to compare and because with American eliminating the product when they start reconfiguring their Boeing 777-300s to offer business class suites it might well be the last time I fly American Airlines international first.

We left the Qantas first class lounge and headed out to gate 61, which is a good 7 minute walk away. Since we only had a short time for breakfast in the lounge, we stayed there past the boarding announcement. But there’s no reason to board the flight 50 minutes prior to departure, so we made a leisurely walk over. There was no one in the priority boarding line, though when we got through there was a slight backup on the jet bridge.

I turned left past the boarding door, while my wife and daughter walked through the galley to turn left in order to reach their seats. I walked through the business class two row mini-cabin in order to get to first class.

American has several different business class seats. These are the Safran (née Zodiac) Cirrus seats which were pioneered by US Airways and adopted by Cathay Pacific.

American Airlines Business Class, Boeing 777-300ER

American Airlines Business Class, Boeing 777-300ER

American Airlines Business Class, Boeing 777-300ER

American Airlines Business Class, Boeing 777-300ER

American Airlines Business Class, Boeing 777-300ER

Entering the first class cabin, you see larger seats that are entirely open (no doors) and while large lack storage. That’s amplified by there being no overhead bins over the center section of row 1, which is directly beneath the crew rest area.

However I must say I still like the spaciousness of the seat, and think it’s really good for working – especially since it has two tables. There’s the main table when facing forward (and a seat belt on the ottoman in case someone wishes to dine across from you) and the seat swivels.

The window seats can turn to face out the window and still have a desk for working while gazing out. The middle seats can turn to face each other.

Always check your American Airlines long haul seats upon boarding. It took a crewmember about 10 minutes to get my wife’s seat into position so that it would adjust. They hadn’t cleared the last nonrev onto the aircraft yet, so there would have been time to switch seats if they couldn’t get it to work.

Seat storage is really needed because you do get a lot of bedding at your seat when you board, a mattress pad and a blanket and pillow plus a small side pillow. Those will fill up the bins quite easily.

One of the items at my seat was a photocopied menu. The lead flight attendant apologized for this and seemed genuinely embarrassed at the flimsy copy paper that was used.

Entrees did not match the preorder selections. The system showed two different flight’s worth of pre-order meal options, and only one set of options would register. When you’d choose some options, other choices would populate. I assumed those were the ones that would actually be loaded, but it turned out to be the opposite. My ocean trout selection became bugs (mini-lobsters). My wife’s lamb became short ribs, and my daughter was shown as having chosen a pasta dish which isn’t what she ordered.

Fortunately we were able to switch from the items shown as having been pre-ordered that weren’t to those that we preferred since we were asked for meal preferences first. It wasn’t clear if that happened because we were in the first row, or because half of the cabin had been seated within an hour of departure and there wasn’t anyone on the upgrade list, so were presumably nonrevs (I did not check the manifest).

Looking over the menu what stood out most I think is how appalling it is that they cater $15 wines in first class, and zero Australian selections out of Sydney. It seemed to me there should have been Australia wines on the flight to Sydney, but how come not departing there? The Drappier champagne remains a good choice, albeit a value selection for international first class, but serving it in plastic cups when offering predeparture beverages is, well, just wow.

I think my biggest issue is that it’s almost fine not to have much of a catering budget – there’s very little differentiation between business and first class catering on American, really just the addition of a soup course.

Why not at least care enough to make the most out of the budget you do have? In the case of wines, don’t just outsource selection to the supplier. Someone has this as their job and airline catering is or at least should be more than making sure there are food and beverages of some kind on the aircraft. And why does the menu have a lobster starter and mini-lobsters as a main? Just seems careless.

This is a minor grip but the Bang & Olufsen headphones do not let you listen to entertainment content while in noise cancelling mode. There is a noise cancelling setting and there is an entertainment setting but you cannot cancel noise while watching a movie. Which is dumb. Is it cheaper, or did no one pay attention to the actual product they were sourcing?

Prior to departure crew offered pajamas in two sizes, small-medium and large-extra large. I opted for a large and decided to change right away. The largest (accessible) lavatory is behind the business mini-cabin, but I just used one of the two forward lavs off the first class cabin galley.

The striking thing about the lavatory is the built-in shelf space that goes unused. There’s a place for the airline to stock first class amenities in the lavatory. Since the space is built-in, it’s still there, even though American doesn’t offer anything. And the empty space just stands out.

Back at the seat I began to settle in. The screen is large enough and swivels enough to view it whether in takeoff and landing mode, or if the seat has been moved for dining or relaxation for the rest of the flight.

I stuck my laptop bag underneath the ottoman and moved some items on top of it while I got myself organized.

Beside the seat is a pair of slippers, which had been pre-placed. I really value disposable slippers on board so I don’t have to put my shoes back on when I get up to go to the galley or the lavatory.

Next I had a look inside the amenity kit. My one wish for the Shinola bag would be pockets of some kind inside, rather than just a hallow space. That would make it a bit more re-usable. There’s a pen, toothbrush and tooth paste, eye shade and socks, ear plugs, and some lotion and face cream. I still feel like comb; tissues; hand sanitizer; perhaps cologne; and mouth wash were missing.

Once we got up in the air, on-time, the cabin was switched to ‘AA Party’ lighting, which I’ve always really liked. Hot towels were distributed.

Meal service then commenced promptly. Since I’d eaten in the Qantas lounge I skipped the soup course (even though it is often a highlight). As ever the olives which are served up front with nuts are quite good.

The meal tray comes plated with a salad, that isn’t a separate course. And flatware is wrapped inside the napkin instead of laid out on the tray table.

Not preferring the other option, I went with the sort of duplicative lobster starter. This was the toughest lobster meat I’ve ever tried.

Bread was served room temperature, which made it not worth trying to spread any butter.

The bugs were tasty but overcooked. I’d still recommended them over most American Airlines catering choices.

I had the ice cream sundae for dessert which was a smaller portion, but better ice cream, than on the outbound. That’s a tradeoff I’ll take any day.

After the meal I settled in to work, but the wifi wasn’t useful on board. Panasonic gets grumpy when I complain about their internet on American Airlines, always insisting that it’s American’s unwillingness to pay for a functional solution rather than their service that’s the problem.

Eventually after about an hour wifi maintained stability enough to connect. $35 for the flight would be alright, even for a first class passenger and in a world that’s moving to free wifi even for economy, if it actually provided functional service. But it’s simply slow with significant latency. I managed to tweet that it took me an hour to tweet about how bad the service was – but once I got that tweet to send the system disconnected for most of the rest of the flight. At least after a couple of days they responded to my complaint that they’d process a refund.

So instead I fired up my laptop and watched half of the first season of L.A. Law which I’d downloaded before the trip, having wanted to re-watch it (but it isn’t available on any streaming service in the U.S. as far as I’m aware).

About 8 hours into the flight I ordered a steak sandwich from the ‘dine anytime’ menu. It was actually quite good, though I wish it was accompanied by something other than a bag of chips which I didn’t open. Fries would be nice.

The flight was surprisingly smooth throughout, something that the captain announced to expect at the start of the journey. Usually transpacific crossings involve some period of turbulence. This really didn’t, and the seat belt sign stayed off most of the flight.

I don’t much like the early departure time for this flight. American’s is the earliest Sydney – Los Angeles, at 9:20 a.m., but Qantas, Delta and United leave only at most an hour later. I’ve gotten a night’s sleep, I’m simply not tired until late in the flight, and I don’t get much rest before landing in LA around six a.m. It means I’ll need to take a short nap and then plan to get out and have a normal schedule for the evening if I want to adjust to the time immediately and without jet lag.

I finally took about an hour’s nap with three hours left in the flight. When I woke up they were serving breakfast and I was offered my choice, I went with the eggs which might have been o.k. in premium economy. Breakfast is usually done badly by U.S. airlines, but in a product advertised as first class this should be a cut above that and wasn’t. First, there should be a selection that’s more brunch-like. And second a real first class would have something cooked to order rather than reheated bulk egg product accompanied by room temperature bread.

The one thing I did enjoy about breakfast was my double espresso.

Cabin crew on this flight were great. Sometimes not proactive, and I had a drink order simply forgotten, but they tried to work with what they had and that was really appreciative. When they apologize for it, I sympathize with them. They are being given business class tools (and a photocopied menu isn’t even that) for international first class, but that’s not their fault at all.

And on the plus side, crew didn’t collect headsets until 25 minutes out from Sydney rather than the typical hour which has never made sense on American (and that’s a pre-US Airways takeover practice that held over).

We arrived at our gate in Los Angeles at 5:50 a.m. and then held there ten minutes before customs opened, so everyone had to wait on the aircraft. Still we were off the plane early than scheduled. How LAX customs isn’t staffed before 6 a.m. boggles the mind, though.

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. I think the cheap wine, poorly thought-out menu, and unrefined service delivery is a reflection that the people in charge of these things really don’t appreciate or understand the expectations of someone paying for an international first-class ticket. If I can spend several thousand dollars on a seat, I expect a bottle of wine that costs at least 1 or 2 percent of the ticket price.

  2. The paper photocopied menus were there when I flew the LAX-SYD route in March. Doesn’t feel like a temporary thing at this point, sadly.

  3. Ha ha ! Nice walk through but a terrible product. Wow …. I wouldn’t waste one mile of a redemption for this. Shocked how coherently bad they still are. Try JAL or QR …. Shocked ,indeed

  4. My B&O headphones on yesterdays AA flight just had an on/off switch snd you could hear entertainment in noise cancelling mode.

    The first pair I used, I couldn’t hear entertainment because of a faulty jack.

    Were there two buttons on yours, one on/off and one to switch to entertainment?

    Otherwise, I think you got a faulty jack.

  5. @ Gary — If you had to wait on the jet bridge, there was a reason to show up sooner. You may have caught a deadly disease from the coach dwellers.

  6. Other than extra room there is nothing special about FC on the 777-300. I’ve flown it so many times and I always leave unimpressed. I don’t know why you are making such a big deal about it. it’s just an oversized airline seat with slightly better food and mediocre service. You should stop praising mediocrity.

  7. @Gary- It’s soon to be a relic of the past like Blockbuster video. It’s not even worth writing about it and you mentioned you were excited to fly it again before It disappeared. I know you’ve been in FC many times on the 777-300 on AA and can you honestly say it was ever a great product? It’s like getting excited about going on a roller coaster again that made you sick the last time you were on it.

  8. I appreciate the review and have always wanted to fly it even for the novelty. Looking in the next month from syd to say clt I see biz for 78k and first for 90k! There is a Qantas night departure to lax too (955pm I think). Advantage of the morning departure is you can arrive at your final destination in one “day”. Noting time change

  9. Great review Gary in my opinion. Very fair and I think it is a good reflection of AA’s current Int’l F product on the 77W. Reflects my experience on MIA-EZE when they had the 77W on this route.

  10. Assuming Seat Guru is correct and there are 8 seats in F on a 777-300, is there any way to estimate how many are actually paid seats vs award or non-rev? I know it varies because of certain heavy travel periods, I’m just trying to figure out at what point it’s profitable for AA to offer F service. The current mix clearly isn’t — at least most of the time–otherwise it wouldn’t be abandoned.

  11. @Mick – I would consider this worth 90k and worth 12k more than business for sure.

  12. International Wifi on AA is embarrassingly bad. Never get a consistent connection. What is worse I pay 49.95 for domestic wifi on AA (works great). The fact they charge an additional 25-35 per flight is just wrong. And what is worse they charge for a product that clearly has issues.

  13. Flew this route about a month ago in F. Service items must be hit or miss. We had actual menus, and PDBs served in proper glassware. I was in 1A and had the same issues with seat adjustment as you mentioned. For 76k SYD-LAX-ATL, it was still a great deal (fwiw, J was 66k miles).

  14. @Mick and @Gary.

    Was it a typo saying you found SYD-CLT for 78-90k? Last time I checked AA FF tickets you could not touch any flight to SYD for under 250k and that was for coach, BC started at 750k

    Am I missing a website somewhere. Wanted to go back to Oz, but not for 750k miles. Ease inform others where this info is located

  15. Comfy seat for that length of a flight. That plastic cup of champagne is shameful .

    You didn’t really sleep though. I’m flying SYD-LAX in J next week and plan on sleeping the second half of the flight. No expectations for the meal hopefully the lounge in SYD is nice.

  16. Maybe, just maybe, AA executives should be forced to fly in a truly random cabin on a random longhaul flight at least once every quarter with short notice. No extra legroom seats or other special dispensations, just treated as close as possible to normal humans. The problem with the ivory tower crowd is that they have no idea whatsoever what a normal business class passenger experiences let alone the real normals are dealing with in coach. They need to know these things to do their jobs.

  17. @coolah. I am searching syd to clt or ord and most dates in the next three weeks have biz for 78k and f for 90k (up to 200k). I think AA biz is pretty good so I wouldn’t pay a huge amount to upgrade to first. But for 10-30k I’d give it a go to use the qf first class lounge in Sydney (no premium for the lax lounge 🙂 and for its novelty value. I am using the American app so no tricks. I often find syd lax has much higher rates but if you add any city in the USA on the price comes down a lot. Good luck!

  18. What I find especially funny (i.e., mindbogglingly stupid) is how much AA drones on about metal neutrality with their jv partners when there is obviously no possible comparison between AA and JL or even QF. Paying cash, where prices are equal, who would ever prefer AA C or F?

  19. @Gary – thanks for the review…flying SYD-LAX in Flagship First soon and curious what time the AA ticket counter opens for bag drop? I would like to maximize my time in the Qantas F Lounge, but need to check a bag before clearing security…thanks for any info u can offer.

  20. I wouldn’t fly this POS airline if they gave me a free ticket!! Horrible management, lazy employees and bad product!

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