Tag Archives: American Airlines

New York to California: The Transcontinental Showdown

30 Jan

If you’ve recently embarked on a coast to coast trip, typically from New York to either Los Angeles or San Francisco, you’re likely aware of several things: there are at least 5 carriers offering point to point nonstop flights, these carriers are more than ever in a fierce battle to dominate, or at least, carve out a decent share of this highly trafficked and lucrative route and, premium (First and/or Business) travelers have never been so wooed — with cabin refreshes, fleet upgrades, chef designed cuisines, etc.

All trips aren’t created equal, however, and the class of flight still largely dictates what sort of experience you’ll have. While airlines have one after the other raced to raise the ante for premium travelers, sadly, when it comes to the Big 3 legacy carriers, American, Delta and United, coach class still remains a largely uncivilized affair. There have been some marked improvements, to be fair, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

JetBlue and Virgin America are the additional two carriers vying for the piece of the aforementioned pie. These two, in comparison to the big 3, are likely the better of the pack when it comes to overall customer experience for your average passenger in coach. JetBlue built a business on this but even it has broken ranks with the single-class one size fits all offering and split up the cabin, introducing a premium class, MINT, on these coast to coast itineraries, in an effort to compete with the  Big 3. It’s a swanky cabin that even spots a few ‘closed’ suites (yes these pods have doors that close for added privacy). It remains to be seen however if the customer experience in the back stays in tact or if this begins to slip with more attention focusing on those in the front. We’ll keep watch.

American Airlines arguably dominates these routes. At last count, there are about 13 daily flights making the trip from JFK to LAX. The carrier in the last year or so went through a (much needed) fleet upgrade, retiring it’s long overworked wide body 767-200s that made the trips, replacing them with brand spanking new narrow body Airbus 321Ts (T for Transcontinental). It remains a wonder to me why American opted to downsize the aircraft capacity (albeit adding more flights). Back to this point later. Ever since the inaugural flight, I’d been seeking opportunities to give the new aircraft a try. I’d been on the new 777-300 which was and remains a joy to fly so I wanted to see what the experience would be like on A321.

I booked two trips: one to LA and one to San Francisco in the hope that I could try both Business and Economy. My thinking was that on at least one of these trips/legs I’d get upgraded. As of this writing, I’m on my 3rd leg, the outbound to San Francisco, an upgrade is yet to happen. Picking up my earlier point about downsizing aircraft, it means there are now fewer premium seats to be had on any given flight, making it that much harder to score an upgrade. I hold Platinum status with American but that doesn’t seem to cut it on these routes. So far on these trips there have been Executive Platinum (level above my lowly grade it would seem in comparison) in coach, in fact, occupying seats beside me. If they can’t score the movement up then I suppose I haven’t got the slightest chance.

The flight is a 3-class service; the only carrier to offer such. First is a 1:1 configuration with all aisle access. The pods face away from the aisle offering a bit more privacy. They’re lie-flat beds and are reminiscent of Business Class seats you find on the 777-300s. Business class is a 2:2 configuration, all lie-flight and quite similar to what you’d find on United PS (who eliminated First Class when it refurbished its cabins) on these routes. Coach  sees the introduction of Main Cabin Extra (MCE) to match Economy Plus and Comfort on United and Delta respectively.

Power ports (AC outlets and USB plugs) at every seat is the most significant (complementary) addition to the coach experience in my opinion. It sort of ends there. Yes there are seat-back screens now for personal inflight entertainment (which is really just a parity thing since every other carrier has this) but even there, you have to reach for your wallet to watch any decent programming. There is a complementary section of American’s IFE but all you get is a few NBC shows that no one really seems to be interested in. For anything worthwhile it’ll cost you at least $5. Catering remains in the same deplorable state. Either an uninspiring turkey sandwich or tired looking salad for $10 or, you can get a handful of other calorie laden snacks for heavily marked up fees. The only thing that does not involve the swipe of a credit/debit card is your choice of non alcoholic beverage for roughly 6 hrs. This boggles the mind.

Delta by comparison (though far from being perfect) fares much better than American. It does expectedly cater to the premium traveler, too, but it hasn’t lost sight of those in the back of the cabin. For starters, at the very least, passengers get a choice of complementary snacks: Biscoff cookies, pretzels or peanuts. Secondly, food for purchase offerings are much more inspiring and worthy of a credit card swipe. I recently tried a chef-inspired wrap on one of these flights and it was quite tasty. And, if you happen to be seating in Economy Comfort, these bites are free. A commendable move and step in the right direction.

Bottom line: American has made some nice improvements overall. It has a highly competitive, perhaps arguably the best, premium product on these routes but it still falls glaringly short in its economy class offering. Of the Big 3, Delta does the better job holistically. I’m hopeful, however, that these carriers devote more effort to reassessing their current strategies as it pertains coach and upgrade the experience.

Pimp My Flight

19 May

It’s been interesting to read about, and experience some of the transformations going on in the world of commercial aviation lately. It’s really exciting times because it means a better overall flying experience for the consumer–especially those of us stateside who’ve gritted our teeth through subpar service for so long. I’ve had some truly cringe-worthy experiences flying cattle, I mean, coach class; those truly unfortunate times coveted seats upfront was just not an option. And, it’s been sometimes embarrassing when a gentleman or lady, seated next to me, clearly a foreigner not used to how we here have gotten used to roughing it, request an alcoholic beverage when those proverbial carts come rolling down the isle, only to find themselves in a complete state of bewilderment moments later when the Flight Attendant declares: That will be $7, please.

Times appear to be changing though. It seems the folks over at our familiar carriers, those we’ve taken to affectionately (or not) referring to as ‘legacy’ carriers’ are trying to spruce things up–a certain bounce seems to be pep in their steps. American’s going through a systemic fleet renewal (a long overdue overhaul) with the introduction of the stretched 777-300ER, including luxuries like power ports (at every seat) International Wi-Fi, walk-up bar for premium customers, and one of the better In-flight Entertainment systems out there. Delta’s sprucing up its planes and has announced orders for the latest version 737-900 and Airbus variants to be delivered in the next couple years. And, United is going through it’s own retrofitting process as well and is the only US carrier to have the 787 Dreamliner airborne.

Premium cabins are also seeing a transformation, too; not that these customers have had much to gripe about, to be fair. The meals have remained and the open bar, never threatened. However, more perks are being rolled out. 180 degree lie-flats have become commonplace, even domestically on coast to coast NY to LA/SF flights, with even the likes of jetBlue jumping in the game. I suppose defeats the whole notion of being a discount operator. Still, it’s a high revenue generating route so one cannot be overtly critical of their desire to want a piece of the pie. American offers the only 3-class service on these routes (the first class cabin is a replica more or less of what you’ll find in International Business in their new cabins). United’s PS service is an all new retrofitted two-class configuration.

Though by some accounts we’re still lagging behind some international carriers, we seem to be making some great progress. We’ll be watching and sharing our thoughts as these developments continue to unfold. Have some thoughts? Do share–would be great to hear about other experiences.

Between Business and Economy, A New Class Emerges

11 Apr

It’s commonly referred to as Premium Economy or Economy Plus/Comfort or Main Cabin Extra (locally) though it’s not entirely a new phenomenon. In some form it’s been around for years albeit limited to a number of airlines and serving as an additional revenue generating offering especially for airlines with just two-class configurations.

These days though, just about every major player’s onboard (pardon the pun). It’s growing increasingly popular and really beginning to carve its niche as a third or, indeed, fourth class, targeting a specific demographic – the leisure traveler who can afford to do a bit of splurging for just a bit more comfort and finesse. Though, perhaps, one may take the cynic route with the view that the situation in coach has just gotten so horrendous that it’s likely the only more decent way to fly as opposed to having to shell out the cash or premium miles for that business class seat.

It’s a bit of a wild west however in terms of these class of seats. There doesn’t appear to be too much consistency with the offering though I believe we’re starting to see some themes emerge as airlines become more competitive. Sadly however, domestic carriers still lag a bit here. In fact there isn’t really such a thing as Premium Economy this side of the Atlantic yet (with the exception of Air Canada on select jets). Most of the players here have decided to stick with simply bolstering the pitch of seats at the forward section of their Economy classes.

United has Economy Plus, Delta, Economy Comfort and American, Main Cabin Extra. All offering these seats at an extra cost to your average traveler. American is taking the lead however in creating a completely separate Main Cabin Extra cabin and the best pitch of the 3 carriers, 36″, on its new 777-300ER jet (retrofitted B772s arriving in the next few months will feature these seats, too). The best I’ve seen on Delta and United is 35″ in a similar class. The perks ends there though, no addnl. frills, with the exception of Delta that offers free alcoholic beverages on coast to coast flights – a nice touch and point of differentiation.
With rising competition however and the general state of the aviation industry on a healthier projection, I anticipate things will continue to progress in the right direction.

The brighter spot lies with Asian and some European carriers. On average we tend to see seat pitch at 38″ and wider widths. A couple clear standouts though are both Japan Airlines and Air New Zealand at an impressive pitch of 42″ offering exceptional cabin comfort.
The perks go on: Pre take-off champaign, better catering (British Airways touts Business Class meals), larger screens for In-flight Entertainment and Priority Boarding, etc., including, in a few cases, lounge access.

All these come with a premium though (up to $300 one way depending on the route) and at some point, one may wonder is it truly worth it? Curious to learn about experiences others may have. It’s a trend I’ll continue to follow.

Lan Airlines US

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