American Airlines is the only U.S. carrier which offers a ‘three cabin first class’ product. They have a first class ahead of business class on their Airbus A321T aircraft that mostly fly domestically between New York JFK and both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and on their Boeing 777-300ER aicraft flying largely to London Heathrow, Hong Kong and São Paulo.
Business class is a flat bed with direct aisle access and generally enough food to keep from going hungry, but it’s a mass market product. First class is supposed to be an elevated experience. A smaller cabin where you aren’t surrounded by a lot of people; better bedding for sleeping; quality dining and top notch wines and liquors; as well as personalized service.
There are certainly some incredible first class products, like the new Singapore Airlines first class with separate bed and seating area (where a center divider between seats can open to allow a couple traveling together to sleep beside each other). Singapore offers some of the best dining and service in the sky. I’ve certainly always enjoyed first class meals and service on ANA and Cathay Pacific, and there are partisans who really like the Air France product.
Singapore Airlines New A380 First Class
If you were to fly Hong Kong – São Paulo via Dallas Fort-Worth in American Airlines business class the lowest price I’m seeing in September is $2795, without looking at discounts such as via AAVacations.com (air and car) or booking through American Express’ Platinum airfare program.
Elevating that to first class the lowest price I see in September is $12,577. (Again without researching bulk fares.)
First class is more than four times as expensive as business class for this one way journey. Is it worth it? For some customers, buying a more tailored experience, it can be.
- They aren’t considering the upcharge over business. Instead it’s a value compared to flying private.
- They may have to get off the plane and go to a meeting, and in the context of huge merger or mega entertainment show the cost may be a rounding error but the comfort could make a difference in the outcome.
But is American Airlines international first class worth it? There’s no suites with doors. There’s no fine dining compared to peers selling international first class. The benefit surely comes from the service, right?
A customer flying American Airlines Hong Kong – Dallas – São Paulo in first class shared his experiences with American’s first class service in real time during the Hong Kong – Dallas flight.
He found the purser working the first class cabin the “worst flight attendant [he’s] ever had.”
- Meal service began with no linens on the tray, and no drink refills offered during the meal and “just a bad attitude.” He had pre-ordered his choice of meal but was told he couldn’t have it because “there were people with higher status” who wanted it (he reports he’s an Executive Platinum member flying in paid first class, though that shouldn’t matter in this case).
- He proactively asked for a glass of red wine. He’d already had a glass of white with an early course. The request was denied, being told he “had to finish the white bottle for cost saving.”
- He asked for a bottle of water but was told none were available, however this didn’t appear to be a catering issue since he saw “tons of water bottles” when he walked back to business class.
- When he requested a mid-flight snack he was told catering “forgot to load any.”
- Not only didn’t he get a mid-flight snack, but “[n]o meals served before landing because they are short staffed” which perplexes me – that most obvious read suggests the flight attendant was accusing the company of violating their union contract and FAA minimums. Regardless, there would have been time to prepare a second meal on a flight blocked at 14 hours 45 minutes.
American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER First Class, Credit: American
At the American Airlines investor day in September, 2017 CEO Doug Parker didn’t just tell the audience that his airline would never lose money again. He said that at the end of the day investments in seats don’t make a difference, other airlines are going to match the best seats. What can create a competitive advantage is service.
Parker laid out the argument that American would make culture a competitive advantage. They would do such a great job with the airline’s culture, that employees would be aligned with their mission of taking care of customers, and that would help them earn a revenue premium.
I know how this passenger would respond if Doug Parker did his best impression of former New York Mayor Ed Koch asking, “How am I doin’?”