One Victim Live Shared His American Airlines First Class Service, Hong Kong – Dallas

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 (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’?”

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 flew AA first class this May from Heathrow to LAX and found the onboard service to be excellent: pro-actively making sure I had water throughout the flight, regularly checking up to see if I needed anything. True, the food wasn’t great, but I received what I had pre-ordered and, more importantly to me, the WiFi was reliable and worked well throughout the flight.

  2. @ Gary — I would be reaching into the C-suite on this complaint. I would expect a VERY substantial refund. Last resort would be a credit card charge back.

  3. What I find truly astounding on transpacs is the jv situation where you would theoretically pay the same price for JL or AA metal. Except I cannot possibly imagine a situation where one would actually choose the AA flights over JL.

  4. In the last year I have flown long-haul three-class First, two times. It was fantastic both times.

    Let’s hope AA leadership learns of this particular experience and 1) takes action and 2) realizes this stuff is more common than they realize.

    It’s important to note, depending on the aircraft and length of flight, there may be a margin between FAA minimum staffing and contractual staffing. A flight cannot go unless it meets FAA minimum. If it is less than contractual staffing, it’s not a contractual violation. Each flight attendant working the flight is contractually entitled to understaffing pay. That means the remaining crew is being compensated for the staffing shortage so intended to be able to pick up the slack.

  5. I never fly AA so I wouldn’t be able to tell, but the accusations seem so outrageously bad that this sounds like the passenger was making things up to make AA look as bad as possible. I have no idea and someone who flies AA has to chime in but I’m just having a hard time believing that a service could never as bad as stated. Regardless, I go out of my way to avoid AA so I guess it doesn’t matter to me.

  6. So, this whole shitty passive-aggressive service on AA thing. It’s 100% real and I have experienced it, and due to corporate reasons I have no choice but to fly AA. The bad AAttitude is usually from burnt out FA’s with 25-35 years of seniority.  On the other hand, 35+, especially 45+ year seniority — especially old LUS ladies — are extremely pleasant and doting with (grand)motherly love.  Less than 25 years seniority, FA’s are often pleasant because they can only rarely hold those trips. My experience has been terrible with the middle group.

    TWICE this summer coming back from Europe, I was berated for ordering *a glass of champagne* instead of breakfast.  “Well, we’d have to open a new bottle”, or some other snide comment.  On a $6000 fare. Mind you, I rarely drink and had barely a glass of wine for the dinner service. DFW-PEK, I was refused the option to switch from red to white for the exact same reason as in the above story (I bet I had the same purser). One time flying from ORD to Asia, one male purser (first name “S”) kept giving me prickly passive-aggressive service, kept ignoring my requests during a drink service, until I had to go to the galley and get myself a diet coke. As I was coming back to the seat *with drink in hand*, he then asked what he could get me to drink (!!).  I had enough, and said “nothing, I don’t really expect any service”, and put on my eyeshades. A few minutes later, I get up again to use the bathroom, and as I open the door, I see this purser waiting for me outside the bathroom the whole time, staring at me with deep crazy-eyes.  He took me aside, said he wanted to “set things straight” and told me how offended he was about my comment, since he was “serving me nonstop, and service is what I take pride in”.  Afraid of confrontation, I smiled and rushed away to my seat.  One of the other FA’s saw what happened, and apologized to me profusely for the purser’s conduct, told me that he had a “reputation”, but that he was quite senior and always flew trips with his wife, who was the FA on the other aisle… and then gave me a whole bunch of miles through his tablet.  Mind you, this was a purser who kneeled down and had a small chat with every passenger, so I thought I was going to get good service — I must have rubbed him in the wrong way or something. Although I felt terrorized on that flight, I didn’t complain to AA as there’s nothing they can do. Various FA’s have told me that there is complete impunity to this kind of behavior due to the union, and absolutely no way they can get further training or punished for things like this. There is no oversight whatsoever. Unlike Asian airlines with IFS/ISM positions with actual supervisory power, AA’s FA contract does *not* allow for any flight attendant to formally observe or critique another. AA has some great FA’s though – one time I flew on my birthday, and a purser made me a really nice card along with a very generous goodie bag, so I could enjoy my flight for several days afterwards. I’m not sure how much better the service can be on UA with a giant 50 person business cabin on a 767. I’m not sure where the good/bad balance is these days, but AA has great food and excellent seats, and apparently great corporate fares, so I’m stuck with them.

  7. I simply don’t believe this story.
    A Flight Attendant denying a First Class passenger a glass of red wine until the white wine opened bottle is finished is ridiculously outrageous and even the worst Flight Attendant couldn’t accomplish such a disgrace.
    There must be another side of this story.

  8. Followed this on FT and agree with JonNYC; this is a credible compliant about truly atrocious service. I’ve only flown AA international F three times (disclaimer: all on miles) and only has exceptional service and it was a leg up on AA business. While my experiences were great, I can see this happening. The use of victim here is a little strong though, IMO. “Experienced poor service and bad FA attitude” sure, but I wouldn’t use victim.

  9. I too have experienced similar attitude / service on long haul and vowed to never fly AA First again. I’m not demanding but I do believe in proper services. Yes, flat bed is good, but I have much much MUCH better attitude and services on JAL or SIN or Thai Y (even UA J is tolerable). It’s basically unacceptable.

    My experience :
    1. Just offer one round of drinks during dinner. No refill. No coming back to check. Ignore the call button. Had to bring my own glass to galley to ask for it.
    2. Had a can of soda. Never collect the empty can, even after landing.
    3. Missed breakfast cause I was sleeping, despite telling purser to wake me up. Still had at least 1.5 hours left and they refused to serve me. Not even a coffee “we’re preparing for landing” (but they’re not).
    4. FAs were chatting in galley most of the time during night flight. Unprofessional.

    I had better food, more drinks, more attention on a 2 hour fight in Y in Vietnam than AA HKG-USA F flights. Never again.

  10. @Kory – you clearly haven’t flown AA much. If you did, this story wouldn’t be unbelievable at all. Yes it’s bad even by AA standards, but well within the realm of possibility.

  11. AA’s hard product is up there and highly competitive with the Asian airlines, and when the soft product is hitting on all cylinders, AA’s product can be phenomenally great.

    However, AA suffers from huge inconsistency in service. I’ve experienced service from a very charming FA who would squat down for each passenger to make herself eye level with you and provide Ritz Carton like service to a FA who would just plop things down and then walk away.

    I’ve even seen great Asian airline style service on one aisle and a grouchy barking service on the next aisle.

    AA has the ability to be great and hit a lot of home runs but they strike out a lot too.

  12. While some of these things may have happened, I’d call *bs* that they all did. Also highly doubt catering would be an issue from HKG. DFW, perhaps, but still somewhat unbelievable.

  13. @Gene

    I’m not so sure a charge back would be successful here as I see it under FCBA language as I doubt that AAs Contract of Carriage makes any mention or stated inclusion of X, Y or Z service elements as being a defined component of the purchase itself.

    I’m not saying that I think it’s not a compensable event, but that I don’t think a FCBA-based chargeback, is a tool that the OP can effectively use as I don’t think it really addresses the essence of the alleged failure.

  14. Where does this stop being simply bad service and start being fraudulent? If you are paying a five figure sum for a ticket and being denied the basics (particularly if you see them being offered in a lower class of service), at what point could you not only make a complaint, but potentially press charges for fraud or false advertising?

    It seems in this case the treatment of the passenger borders on victimisation and potentially denial of service due to possible prejudice.

  15. I flew from LHR to MIA in Flagship First about two years ago on AA. The food was incredibly good. The arrival meal was one of the best I have ever had. The wine was reasonable, but not award winning. The meals really were very very good and the portions very generous.

    The service on that flight was beyond fantastic. The purser was always there when I needed anything, yet she was never a bother. To say the service was very personal is an understatement. The cabin was very intimate and they went out of their way to keep the curtain closed between the cabins. In fact, they didn’t go much at all between first and business. The seat was very comfortable as was the excellent bedding.

    This may have been a one-off (with AA, INconsistency rules!!), but I was extremely happy on this flight and would choose it again based on that experience.

  16. We just flew AA first class from Iceland (KEF) to Dallas on Thursday. The service and food were excellent. My wife and I pre-ordered our meals and were served quickly. The flight was full – but everything was great!

  17. Gary’s comment above requires one further note: for the uninitiated, if JonNYC says something’s true about AA, then it’s true. Trust me on this one.

    And to follow through on my last comment here, if I were still working the same entry-level job after a quarter of a century, if I had no supervision at all, and if I were protected from punishment by a union contract then — assuming all three conditions were met — I’d probably have just about the worst attitude in creation as well. Still, I wouldn’t be stark crazy.

  18. I know it’s fun to bag on AA, but we just got off a great DEN – DFW flight in F. Dani left a hand written welcome note on each seat, full open bar pre departure, addressed everyone by name. Great service.

    Then again, we’re had the other extreme. I like to highlight the positive out there

  19. I flew business class to Auckland and they ran out of dinner but offered to get me
    Something inferior from coach The seat was fine and the attitude blah though too not sincere
    Was promised miles from the purser but of course never received anything
    It’s easy to hate American as they suck so bad it hurts emotionally and physically
    And yes I’ve been on some good flights over my 25 years on rare occasion
    yet today I rarely ever fly them due to Parker’s destruction of the airline and program which were once a reasonable sound choice and draw regardless of the lack of consistency and service standard

  20. Nothing surprised me nowadays on AA. On a recent Transaltalntic flight in J FAs came to to me yelled “Chicken!” – why did she called me “Chicken” when I did order lousy beef?
    Why flying CX in Y the chief purser would come an introduce herself to OneWorld Emeral but on AA I was simply called “Chicken”?
    I think in Dough’s opinion AA F and J are simply “Big From Seats”.

  21. Flew AA international F once, SYD-LAX, and had an overall great experience. With that said, this was one of the first few flights of that route (back when it was on the 77W), and the director of in-flight ops was actually on the flight, so I take my experience as the exception.

    I’ve flown J on many other of AA’s long haul routes (using my SWU’s as an EP) and have come to not expect much. I’ve had FA’s treat me like getting me a drink is doing a favor, and others where they go above and beyond. The trick with AA is to enjoy the nice seat and IFE (wide bodies only of course), and if you get some decent food and service, well then that’s gravy. I would never pay for AA premium cabin; I only fly it because I can UG into it.

  22. Gee Gary if you’re going to tell the story why not tell the WHOLE story -the flyer said
    1 It was a PARTICULAR PURSER who treated the whole first class cabin badly
    2 He was also told that his pre-ordered meal was not loaded, etc
    3 When the purser went on break the service improved with the new (junior) crew greatly
    4 That he was told this particular purser was a known “issue”
    5 That his next flight was with great service, etc.
    6 People suggested others might have been non-rev, etc. and made other excuses – he stated he paid F fare and entire cabin had been sold old for days so no non-rev buddies to blame
    You did a real disservice by only stating part of the story so people might think this was an odd/unreal complaint/story – you’re usually better than this 🙁
    I wouldn’t EVER pay AA for F when I have a choice – and one can only guess how many of that cabin will not pay AA again and choose another airline because of one “bad apple” – and the follow on from the twitter account and yours, but…… I’m really glad I don’t own AA stock (and I’m a 2mm flyer with ALL travel paid by myself and I went from Prem Exec every year for many years to 0 dollars spent for the last few.
    I’m not alone.

  23. As an award traveler, this would ruin the whole experience and hard work of collecting miles to redeem for these upfront cabins. No wonder everyone works hard to get miles redeemed for partner airlines, instead of these domestic airlines, even on international routes. Thanks for sharing this. More motivation to try NOT to book AA meta on overseas flights.

  24. I’m a lowly AA Gold, thanks to my million-miler status with them, but even with million miles (albeit earned via a mix of AA, TW, HP, and US miles), I haven’t flown them in more than 3 years. I get better treatment on UA with no status and an Explorer card than on any AA flight I’ve taken in the last 10 years.

    I’ll be flying them early next year to the Caribbean to clean out my miles stash and then I don’t see ever flying them again unless there’s no other option.

  25. London local here. Have flown AA transatlantic more times thsn i can count, in biz, and in first. There are the random great crews, but over the years they’re more “exception” than norm, including crews not unlike the one in this report, and an F seat just means you’re more clearly hearing the FA’s in the gallery go on about how they hate the company.

  26. Any airline has its good and bad moments. As a DFW based former ExPlat 4MM I found that, increasingly, the bad moments on AA outweighed the good. I gave up and switched to United for lack of a better choice. Surprisingly, I am well pleased with UA after 2 years as 1K. AA still has a better hard TATL product. But I gave up on them to the point that I just deal with making a connection on UA for overseas stuff.

  27. @BBJ “AA’s hard product is up there and highly competitive with the Asian airlines’

    In business class, sure, definitely not in first class

  28. As a retired AA flight attendant with multiple letters of commendation on file for my service, it saddens me to read these reports about the falling off of quality on-board service. However, I do not think the situations are made up. I was beginning to see drops in service before I retired 2 years ago.

    Flight attendant was #5 of 5 careers. All were enjoyable to a point. When the job became not enjoyable, I went and got a totally different job. I worked F/C almost exclusively. I treated my passengers as I would expect to be treated in F/C. Never had a problem. I am the living proof of the adage, if you don’t like what you are doing for God’s sake go get a different job. It’s not the company or the passenger’s fault that you are not enjoying what you are doing. Flight attendant is not a hard job. Tiring yes, long boring stretches at times working in pressurized cabins, yes. Permission to take it out on the customer, NO

    May I apologize to those passengers who got less than great service in First Class. There is NO excuse.

  29. I’m a regular on the NYLON route and tend to choose AA eastbound because of the J hard product and the lounges but I find the stories about the flight attendants completely believable. If I’m lucky I have minimal contact with them. Westbound it’s BA Upper Deck all the way. BA staff can be inconsistent but I have rarely seen them as jaded and indifferent as AA’s

  30. Every time I read a story about a crew member giving bad service to J or F class passengers, my thoughts are this person is just naturally a nasty/unpleasant person or they have an inferiority complex and get satisfaction by sticking it to people who they perceive to be better off in life than they are.

  31. Oh how the mighty have fallen, and sadly have stayed fallen. Its as the old hands confirm in their messages, the seniority and union thing has them so deep into the hole on service, with poor performers and lousy attitudes that just burst out into the open, and no way out for AA , but there is no excuse why AA cannot pick up their game considerably when it comes to their average and boring international meals and mediocre at best wines. I believe every word of the story. One would have thought they could get this right by now with crew turnover. We flew AA First a few times two or three years ago onto Asia. JAL First and Cathay Pacific First one way and AA First the other, only because there was no other choice. Never again we promised ourselves.

  32. Just completer AA 3 cabin, 777 1st class, transcon. Service impeccable. No minor detail left untouched. The experience described is definitely an anomoly that is not consistent with excellent service in AA 1st.

  33. I agree. The food has suffered greatly since the merger with U.S. AIRWAYS calling the shots.

  34. “My experience has been terrible with the middle group.”

    That just about sums it up for most of us. The younger FA’s are usually great, and the grandmotherly ones shower us with warmth and affection. The middle group need serious attitude adjustment.

  35. Flew AA to BKK via DFW- HKG in May in first. The service was fine, the food pretty good but the wines were not memorable (They were barely domestic first quality). Cathay Pacific took us to BKK in Biz class, and the food, wines and service were awesome.

    Thank goodness we had Cathy on the return from BKK to HKG, because the food on AA from HKG to LAX was disgustingly awful in first class. The service itself was fine, but nothing was edible until the continental breakfast.

  36. it’s either a crazy metrics goal driving the behaviour, or the employee is bitter so the wrong people are getting a first class ticket to deal with their bitterness and dissatisfaction with their company. It’s sad because if you have no passion about your career and bitterness is your daily unmotivator you’re missing out. If your company is fueling that dissatisfaction and doesnt put that in check the passengers are missing out. To me a paycheck, flight benefits, and daily bitterness arent a combo that would keep me in a career.

  37. Please
    What a B.S story!
    All you AA haters please stay away. You’re all looking for trouble on any flight. Plus all you mileage and upgraders are the worst. We need to go back to the days of no upgrades. You’ve ruined the first class experience. I’m willing to bet 90% of comments are from upgraded and mileage. By the way you people stick out like a sore thumb. Always crashing the boarding area to get on first so you can be seen—yeah I said it and you know it’s true. I could go on and on.
    P.S. I fly all 3US. And find them pretty much service wise about the same. Delta gets a few extra points but nothing to the point of I’ll never fly anyone else. Human kind amaze me.

  38. The inconsistency is the issue. I’ve had incredible service in AA International First. In Business, I’ve had incredible service (worth writing about to compliment); adequate service (noting to write about, either way); and a service experience that mirrors what the passenger here describes, right down to another FA coming to my seat to apologize for her colleague’s behavior and to tell me “she has a problem, and everyone knows it.”

    Compared to other carriers (BA, QF, DL, etc.) I’ve had service on AA that beats them, hands-down. However, the other carriers more consistently offer service of an acceptable, comparable level flight-to-flight. The inconsistency is the issue.

  39. @ Ron:

    I fly all 3 US airlines also, in PAID F (J international). AA is generally the worst – it is a noticeable difference in (lack of) service. I had an “experience” with a purser in AA J international that was horrible. I do agree that Delta has the best FAs

  40. I don’t doubt your word; I’m certain you’re lying.
    The only question is why?

  41. I flew AA business from sfo to jfk and had all around horrible service. The gate agent made me check my carryon even though the overhead bins in business class were 80% empty and I was one of the last ones to board. The only other items I was bringing on board were a garment bed and a 4×4 pouch. The only time i was offered a drink i asked for a beer and the FA had no idea what flavor was on board and the menu said to ask FA for the flavor. After I asked to hang my garment bag I had to go and hang it myself since the FA never came to get it. On the way put of the plane I ended up holding up the whole line since I couldn’t open the hang ij my closet and the FA was standing right there spacing put. I flew jet blue mint on the way there and AA J is incomparable. I also flew 3 flights on alaska and had night and day service compared to AA J. If AA doesn’t step it up there quartly loses will continue. I dont understand why any corporations still use them.

  42. @Ron

    It’s a pretty funny assumption that you make most mileage flyers are the ones trying to board first to be seen , I actually went to board when most of economy was boarded already and then had my bag taken away for no logical reason and screamed at by a agent for boarding when the other agent told me to do so. whatever we do you just make an excuse why aa can’t be wrong and its always the peoples fault. Logic should tell you when enough people complain about the same service you would think there’s something to it, but it dosnt sound like you have any logic or you’re one of the flight attendants which equates to the same thing.

  43. once you realize that @ron is one of “Dougie-Poos” paid trolls, you can automatically disregard any of his comments as “official company crap!” It’s not even worth discussion. Acutally, it’s a good, easy job if you can get it, requires no original thought, just “cut and paste” and resend from @ron.

  44. Having flow this product over the years, I have definitely seen a decline in service in the International Market. We frequently fly (at least 2X/month) the transcon btwn LAX-JFK, which is wonderful, although again, the service can be spotty and I’m beginning to hypothesize that this is dependent on the base of the crew.
    With respect to the International product the 777 was originally a 16 seat first class cabin which has been decreased to an 8 seat cabin, sadly with worse service than before. I had commented previously on our last LHR-JFK flight where the purser couldn’t get wine orders or meal orders correct, had people making up their own beds and in general giving service not worthy of coach travel. Additionally, when they shrunk the cabin from 16 to 8 seats, while they continue to hold passengers back to allow the front of the plane to disembark, there are now two rows of business class customers who depart before the first class customers – and frequently those rows proceed up to the front during the flight to use the rest room facilities – rather bothersome when one is trying to sleep on a long flight.
    We leave later this week LAX-LHR and are on a BA operated flight, which not only has better food, bot considerably better, professional, pleasant flight attends to serve. We did book under an AA flight number, which cost slightly more, but the substantial discount in award miles and EQDs earned under a BA flight number made it worth the extra $$s for EXP qualification, although the perks of that level have also declined significantly, and if one is not Concierge Key, doesn’t seem to make much of a difference anymore. Welcome to the world of UselessAir…

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