US airlines typically lag behind some of the more prominent international airlines in hard product (seats, amenities). While many would also say we’re behind in the soft product (service) as well, that’s enough for another post (I neither agree nor disagree).
American Airlines recently started flying the 777-300ER on some of its most premium routes. Alongside the extended range of the aircraft (making routes like DFW-HKG possible), they reduced the size of the First Class cabin from 16 to 8 seats and expanded Business Class from 37 to a whopping 52 seats. As part of this expansion they changed the business class seat from the not-quite-lie-flat seat in the 777-200 to a newer seat that is also used by US Airways, Delta, and Cathay Pacific. It’s called the Cirrus seat and is in a reverse-herringbone configuration.
I recently had the chance to review American’s Business Class experience on one of its longest flights, DFW-HKG nonstop. Having done two complete roundtrips on this route in coach earlier in the year it was pretty much a Godsend to have my upgrade clear me into Business Class.
I waited at the gate, excited to get into the cabin a bit early and grab my typical amount of pictures (approx. 800) to give you the most in-depth review possible. Here was a picture I got of our plane waiting at the gate.
The more astute and detail-oriented reader will point out that there is in fact no plane waiting at the gate. You are indeed correct, and this caused a delay in boarding. Eventually the jet showed up, but the air conditioning didn’t work (which isn’t great news on a 16.5 hour flight), so we had to find another jet. Conveniently enough another 777-300ER happened to pull in to the gate next to us from LHR. After a bit of crew shuffling (as one crew timed out and other crew thinking they were going to London only to find out as they walked onto the jet they were going to Asia) we finally got to board. It’d be easy to be frustrated at American (many were) but I was impressed with how many supervisors showed up to keep everything under control and get a plane safely into the sky as quickly as possible.
Anyway, because of all the fracas above we boarded incredibly quickly and I didn’t have much time to get pictures. I did the best I could though. Back to the Business Class seat.
As you can see above, the seat is at an angle. Across the cabin it runs 1-2-1 with the two middle seats angled toward each other. American’s iteration of this seat is incredibly private, to the point that if you and your traveling partner are sharing the two middle seats you’ll need to lean forward to speak to each other. As I was traveling along I enjoyed the privacy. You’ll also notice that there’s no window next to my seat. You’re correct. Don’t sit on row 11, especially if you’re a nervous flyer like me and like looking out the window to make sure the turbulence isn’t because a wing has fallen off.
The seat is nice enough, definitely not the most comfortable seat I’ve ever been in but it lies completely flat and there’s a surprising amount of storage around it.
We quickly made our way into the sky and I settled in for the “quick” 16.5 hour journey to Hong Kong. I had heard mixed reviews on the catering and was keen to try it out for myself. American recently debuted some new catering items, but they’re only for domestic flights (aside from some of the wine options). Rumor has it international catering is next.
My meal started with mixed nuts, an American staple. I requested my normal drink called the Dragonslayer (it’s just Bailey’s on the rocks, but I’m a guy with a beard and I feel like calling it a Dragonslayer minimizes some of the “ordered a Bailey’s on the rocks”ness)
After the nuts was an appetizer and side salad, which wasn’t bad aside from the glop of dressing.
Many people have criticized the food on the 777-300ER but I give credit where it’s due: American uses Kerrygold butter, some of the finest in the world! As a Kerrygold enthusiast I gave American 3 points for this.
Then we moved on to the entree. I had heard mostly negative reviews about the steak, but forged ahead and ordered it anyway, for my readers who empathize with my search for a great airline steak.
The steak came with some sauteed spinach and au gratin-ish potatoes. Somehow this all combined to leave a pool of water in the bottom of the serving tin. It wasn’t an insignificant pool of water either, I almost felt like I needed a lifeguard on duty to eat it. The steak was overcooked and not very flavorful. There was a lot of flavor on top of the steak but it was clearly to mask a substandard offering. I really hope American can become industry-leading when they revise their international catering, this entree was anything but. You all know I’m a fan of American and am very loyal to them, but this entree just wasn’t very good.
After dinner, the most amazing thing happened: I set the seat into lie-flat mode and passed out for 10 hours. I don’t get very much sleep at home (2-4 hours a night), so to get this amount of sleep on a plane was simply unheard of. The pillow provided by American alongside the very nice blanket made for an incredibly comfortable sleep. I’m about 6’1″ and pretty
heavy muscular and had no problem stretching out and relaxing.
I awoke over China and was shocked that there were only 3 hours left on the flight. I watched a few TV shows and then breakfast was served.
Remember above how the steak wasn’t very good? The breakfast was AMAZING. I’m from the south, and the breakfast was one of those southern-style recipes where you kind of throw everything together in the same dish and for whatever reason it just works.
It was chicken sausage and potatoes on top of scrambled eggs on top of an open-faced biscuit. Absolutely fantastic and I scarfed the entire thing down in about 9 seconds.
The answer to the question
So, is American’s 777-300ER Business Class the best in the sky? It depends on how you define “best”. When I’m flying there are certain “goals” I have, depending on the cabin class I’m in:
- Economy cabin – survive the flight
- Main Cabin Extra/Premium Economy – survive the flight with a bit more booze, rest if possible
- Business Class – get some sleep
- First/Suites/Apartment Class – double-fist bottles of champagne
The Cirrus seat was absolutely perfect for getting a great amount of rest. It’d be hard to find any product that beats it, honestly. If your priority/goal for Business Class is to get the most sleep possible, then American Airlines 777-300ER is world-leading. Singapore has a great Business Class but I don’t find their seats as comfortable. The Middle East Three (Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar) all have great Business Class seats, but in my opinion they just don’t provide the privacy that American does.
All in all, American has a winner of a seat. It’s time to upgrade the catering to match a superb hard product.