When American Airlines Flagship First Class Compares Poorly To Business Class On Other Airlines

About a month ago I came up with 6 reasons to fly American Airlines rather than Qatar Airways on the New York JFK – Doha route, now that American serves the routes.

  1. Fly America Act – government travel and you have to stick with a U.S. carrier
  2. Price – American is cheaper for a given trip
  3. Your corporate deal requires it – what are you going to do?
  4. To use systemwide upgrades – better to fly American business than Qatar economy
  5. American has premium economy – a great option for passengers not in a position to fly business
  6. There’s sometimes semi-decent web saver award pricing on American, useful for times when Qatar redemptions aren’t available

Qatar Airways is so obviously the better experience on average, but I thought that there were also edge cases worth considering.

Zach Griff does a head-to-head comparison of American and Qatar, but he doesn’t compare both airlines in business class, he compares American Airlines Flagship First class with Qatar Airways business, and finds American’s top product lacking in many regards. That undermines one case where ‘upgrades’ would justify choosing American over Qatar.

He begins noting that American Airlines has the better ground experience at New York JFK because of its Flagship First Dining room at JFK which Qatar business class passengers cannot access.

American Airlines Flagship First Dining, New York JFK

Griff also points out that Qatar allows American Airlines first class passengers to use the incredible al Safwa lounge in Doha, which previously hadn’t been accessible to partner airline first class passengers. I had not realized this. It’s ironic that American gets the nod here for better ground experience as the result of Qatar’s product, but this lounge isn’t open to their own business class passengers (except by way of buy up).

Qatar Airways al Safwa Lounge, Doha

He considers the seat to be a toss up between American Airlines first class and Qatar Airways business and Qatar to have the edge in on board soft product, service and food. That sounds about right overall, but I am not sure I’d give Qatar the modest edge to bedding, amenity kits and inflight entertainment that Griff does.

American’s first class seat was antiquated when it was introduced a decade ago, and it lacks storage space, but I’d take the less crowded cabin and more space per passenger despite the lack of doors over a QSuite if traveling alone. With a partner or a family the flexibility of QSuites configurations offers an edge.

There’s no question that American’s international first class is appalling in terms of service and food.

Griff’s review mistakenly claims that American no longer allow first class passengers choose when to have their meals, that “there’s technically no “dine-on-demand” concept in Flagship First,”

  • “Dine Upon Request” is literally a registered trademark of American Airlines.
  • Cabin crew aren’t always good about honoring the benefit, but it is “technically” available

I’d been told one time, when asked for a dinner order on an 11 p.m. departure, that I could not wait to eat until later in the flight and just sleep for awhile because they were going to heat all of the entrees at once. That was very un-first class, but a deviation from the official service.

He also says “there’s no turndown service” but that’s not correct either. Don’t expect it to be offered proactively, however it is supposed to be on request by the customer. There are some flight attendants that might meet this request with an eye roll, they’ve certainly expressed that view on message boards. But it’s not quite correct to say that there’s no turndown service as part of Flagship First on American. There is supposed to be – if you request it.

American should lean on its ground experience, providing Five Star service to everyone departure Flagship First Class long haul, demand better standards for Flagship First Class cabin crew as part of currently open union negotiations, and invest more in on board food.

The airline’s first class would be desirable, even with the current seat, and would no longer compare unfavorable to a partner airline’s business class. There is of course speculation that, instead, they’ll drop the product entirely.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 obvious answer is that subsidies for US airlines have run out and were intended to keep employees employed while Qatar has long received subsidies including employee relations laws that would never be tolerated at any US or European airline and certainly not at American.

    And, yes, American will probably ditch its first class. It hasn’t generated profits and won’t so there is no reason to continue to dump money into it. They simply have to decide when they can take the 777-300ERs out of service based on when they can get new interiors.

  2. Flew AA’s “Flagship” between OGG-DFW a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t a great experience. I would put it at the worst flight I’ve had in the last decade.

    1. AA downgraded the aircraft from a 777 to a 787 splitting my family (ok — first world problem).
    2. No pre-departure beverage. Kiddo asked for water and was told to wait until we took off and she started her service. Really?!
    3. My kiddo was sitting in the aisle across from me — I had to help him with his meal after everyone was served. FA told me to “get seats together next time and get out of my aisle.”
    4. The food sucked, literally, it was horrible. The steak was resembled a hocket puck..
    5. One glass of wine. One option. No one checked in to see if I wanted anything else. No top off’s.

    DFW-NY flight
    1. New A321. Reasonable seats.
    2. Pre departure beverage
    3. Nice FA.
    4. Reasonably good breakfast.

    I know it’s “Maui” and not the continental US but the flight was $4k each/rt. They can do better.

  3. When you fly QR, you are absolutely being wined and dined at the expense of what they do to their staff. They are an appealing organization and I’ve heard internal stories of prison – like treatment of flight attendants. Just remember thats what keeps Qsuites financially viable. Not that anyone redeeming points for Qatar cares.

  4. Tried Qatar twice in business, American business twice, BA first a couple of times,, each to and from the U.S. It’s too bad that the-non desert shits can’t compete. What a freakin’ pile of crap for the non-Arabs!

  5. It’s sad that AA can’t figure out the modest investment things that would make first differentiated.

    The union not even being willing to serve a soup and salad separately on a 6 hour flight gets to the level of nonsense that needs to be overcome

  6. My biggest thing about AA FF is that seat that turns into a real workstation. I’ve had my body clock off many times and flew EZE-MIA and a few other AA FF routes where I setup my laptop, threw on my headphones, and cranked out a crap ton of work just like I was in my real office back at home. I haven’t found a seat on any airplane that compares in that regard.

    Yes, I was the only passenger awake the entire night, and had the FAs just keep giving me coffee and snacks. Turned down my monitor brightness to be respectful to the rest of the cabin, but damn it’s amazing how much work you can get done when you have killer WIFI (nobody else is awake using up all the bandwidth) and a real workstation/desk on a plane.

    For that, I have a small place in my heart for those seats on those 777s. 🙂

  7. With the fly America act, you can fly on foreign carriers if there’s a U.S. airline code on it and if that carrier has won the city pair bid. JetBlue won the city pair bud for DC-Dubai. That puts you on the emirates nonstop flight iad-dxb. American has iad-Lhr, but what it actually turns out to be is AA code on the BA nonstops from Dulles. . I’ve taken those flights several times for government work since United lost the city pair.

  8. It’s not a fair fight and never will be. Labor laws just make it not competitive. Take todays AA planes and staff them with 1960s FAs….who got weighed before their flight and tell me there would be that huge a difference…besides the meals.

    I know the Live and Let Fly people like Matthew….who want their ” stewardesses to handjob them…both physically and emotionally…will never truly be happy with the big US3. But I’d rather take a cranky, past his/her/it or whatever FA than support the oil DBs whose airlines are a STATE SUBSITUY.

  9. Tim Dunn wrote: “And, yes, American will probably ditch its first class. It hasn’t generated profits and won’t so there is no reason to continue to dump money into it.”

    My response: Please show me proof. Don’t give me misapplied DOT data, but actual proof. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but you offered absolutely no evidence for your extremely strong assertion.

    And how do you or Mr. Leff know that service won’t be upgraded as conditions improve? I don’t know the answer, but apparently, both of you do. On the other hand, my rhetoric doesn’t imply that I want American to be liquidated.

  10. With regard to AA eliminating FF, Desert Ghost’s request for proof is fair. In the absence of proof, it is fair to characterize the suggestion as either speculation or an educated guess. It might well be that FF is a money-loser and the logical thing would be to let it go. But, who says that management is going to be logical or rational? (What the heck did Jeff Immelt do for GE?)

    To everyone, when COVID hit and AA suspended in-flight services, it reduced flight attendant staffing on Flagship flights — international and trans-con. In FF, it went from 2 flight attendants to 1. When in-flight services were restored, flight attendant staffing was NOT restored. So, when we ask why AA’s in-flight service is not so good, that’s a reason. While the union — I’m not a pro-union guy — fought for the restoration of staffing, AA management would not yield. Same workload, fewer workers. Something’s gotta give. So, the union asked for the number of touch-points to be reduced. This is why soup and salad are served together.

    On some flights, an FA from business class comes forward to support the first class FA. I always thank this person for doing so . . . and making the service level better . . . even if no one else in the first class cabin is aware of what’s going on.

    Desert Ghost, I fly FF several times a year and I talk with the FAs about their overall workload and work environment. Staffing — and hence service level — is absolutely NOT going to return to pre-COVID levels. The union has surrendered on the issue. Gary is correct in his assertion about quality levels not returning.

    Now, in a commoditized market, the competition is over cost. In a differentiated market, the competition is over quality. AA management’s actions over years and years clearly demonstrate that its focus is on cost — period. This is the fundamental reason why AA service levels will not increase. It competes on cost and not quality. Management’s decisions are not consistent with a company aspiring to be a premium quality provider.

  11. I agree with everything said except for the AA 1st class seat comparison with the QSuites.
    I’ve flown both several times and the QSuites seat is the most overrated seat ever.
    The seat is tight and feels claustrophobic.
    A comfortable seat to get a good night of sleep is main the reason I travel First/Business class so although Qatar’s catering and service is superior to AA, I would never trade AA 1st class for Qatar QSuites.

  12. While I enjoy browsing TPG for the pictures of flights and hotels, the reality is the reviews have gone way downhill. No credible reviewer would compare international first with international business. Do TPG writers even pay for these flights anymore? It seems like they get a lot of comps, judging by how many inaugural flights they score or special access to new product launches. Much more than other bloggers and even much more frequently than previous TPG writers a few years go.

  13. American Airlines is not known for having great anything. Why an apples to oranges comparison? Qatar is in a completely different class entirely. A lengthy comparison ibetween the two was not needed when one knows the huge difference in product. It is a curious article though.

  14. FNT, the TPG writers seem to be far less seasoned than the writers we know and love.

  15. regarding the “proof” that AA MIGHT eliminated first class, Gary and I do agree that there has been enough said about FF by AA execs to indicate that it is not LIKELY not long for the world.
    Add in that DOT data AT AN AGGREGATE LEVEL, shows that AA does not generate the revenue premiums to justify FF – or else they get less in businss and economy cabins than DL and UA, both of whom walked away from first class.
    The carriers that have class-leading and widespread first class are carriers with very low labor costs relative to European and Japanese carriers OR have sufficient market dominance in their home countries to financially justify international first class even on a limited basis.
    AA has none of those, AA execs know it, and Isom is determined to quit doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results – the definition of insanity.
    I have no idea if AA can turn around its labor issues esp. w/ respect to consistent premium cabin delivery but that is a widespread problem throughout US service industries and increasingly worldwide except where there is strong enough coercion by the employer.
    If you cannot deliver a consistently good product including high service levels, you won’t succeed in getting people to pay for it at levels necessary for it to be profitable.
    If AA is moving forward w/ more premium seats on its B789s and since DL is rumored to be expanding its D1 cabin on its A350s when they get all new interiors in the next few years, then it might be that US carriers have figured that they can get enough people to pay for business class – which is a much higher quality product that US airlines have ever offered – but not anything beyond that.

    And another factor that AA has to fix is that their 777-300ERs, the heart of their international FF product, have unsustainably poor economics because of the very low number of seats on those aircraft. The 777 is the most fuel inefficient aircraft in its class regardless of whether it is a 200ER or 300ER but when you put so few seats on the aircraft – AA has 40 less than UA – the economics just don’t work. While AA and UA will have their 777Ws for a long time, AA has to put enough seats on the planes to cut their losses – and less than 310 seats won’t cut it at the average fares AA gets and at AA’s costs.

  16. I follow several flight/travel review websites and sometimes wonder if these people ever pay for anything. Once on board , a few of them (we all know who they are) then expect to be treated like heads of state. It’s hard to figure out how someone can have enough points/upgrades accumulated to take 30 or 40 international first/business flights a year. This is just one of many problems I wish I had.

  17. I had my Doha to JFK flight on QR two weeks ago, booked in Qatar suites, flipped to AA business class.

    For me, no comparison. Food, service, seat on AA doesn’t come close to that on Qsuites. Enough said.

  18. Flew LAX -LHR in January on AA biz class. Seats were good however the service was by far the worst i have experienced in a long time. It felt like economy class on all levels. If i have the choice I’ll never fly AA again…

  19. It’s American: the worst of the 3 US carrier, and a national shame but it kind of represents the state the US is in right now.

    No, it won’t improve and they won’t listen to you.

  20. Just wondering. How often do they clean the seats in the Flagship dining room?

    A real class act. Does anyone tell her sit up, when acts like a child.

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