Good Advice Tried and Tested

American Airlines MD-80 / B767-300 Business class

04/10/2012

CHECK-IN I arrived at Albuquerque airport at 1215 and headed for the AA check-in desks between United and Continental where there was one for First (domestic business class) and two for bag-drops. For those who haven’t already checked in online, there are self-service kiosks. (I noticed a sign saying to declare firearms before doing so.) There were only a couple of people ahead of me and within a few minutes my cases had been through-checked to London. I had printed out my boarding pass the night before and also had it sent to my iPhone, but as with the outbound flight staff were unable to scan it on the screen. (To read the review, click here.)

It was a short walk (three minutes) to security following signs to Gates A, B and C. I tried using my mobile boarding pass again, but the security officer had never even seen one before and although he did try scanning it repeatedly it didn’t work. He was very friendly though and made a few jokes, which made a change from the sour-faced officers one often comes up against. I then went through security, which was very quick as there was no line – liquids out, shoes off, laptops out, and a full body scan. I was held in the booth for a minute or so while they waited for confirmation that I was clear, and then collected my belongings from the conveyor belt on the other side.

By 1250 I was airside, and as there was no lounge, I was advised to head to the observation deck in departures where I could relax and enjoy the view of the runway and make use of the free wifi (no password required). There were no announcements so I had to keep an eye on the screens for the status of my flight.

BOARDING My flight was departing from Gate A1 close by and as my plane didn’t even land until 1355, there was some delay for boarding. At 1410 priority passengers were called and embarked via a separate lane across an airbridge. Those in economy were then called to board in six groups from the back of the plane to the front.

THE SEAT I was in business class, which is configured 2-2 (A-B, E-F) across rows three to six (rows one and two do not exist). Seats are upholstered in navy blue fabric and leather, with a small drinks table that slides out of the middle armrest and a pocket on the back of the seat in front with a blanket slipped inside. The product has a pitch of 38-40 inches (96.5cm-101.5cm), a width of 19.5 inches (49.5cm) and a recline of 25 degrees – seven degrees more than in economy.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? There is less legroom in row three because of its proximity to the bulkhead so avoid these seats if you are tall. Otherwise they are all much the same. If you are travelling in economy, avoid middle seats E as the plane is configured 2-3.

THE FLIGHT Everyone was on board by 1440 and at 1445 the safety video was played. The plane, an MD-80 (also known as an S80), pushed back at 1455 and pretzels and drinks including free alcohol were offered at 1510. In economy, soft drinks are complimentary and alcohol is available at US$7 for spirits and US$6 for wine or beer.

ARRIVAL We landed at 1610 (1710 local time in Dallas Fort Worth) and taxied for some time to the stand at Gate A16. The captain announced which gates transfer passengers had to head to before disembarkation took place via an airbridge.

THE TRANSFER Once off the plane at 1730, I took the Sky Link shuttle to Terminal D where duty-free is available and bought some tequila to take home. I had about three hours to kill before the departure of my flight to London so was glad to be able to make use of the lounge.

THE LOUNGE There are four American Airlines business/first class lounges at Dallas, one in each terminal. The one in Terminal D is by Gate 24 and offers floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the runway, plenty of comfy seats, a smoking room, a family zone, six showers, 20 PCs, two conference rooms for ten delegates in each, wifi, magazines, recliner chairs and a manned bar.

All guests get a voucher for one free alcoholic drink but meals are at a fee – options included cobb salad for US$10, quesadillas or pizza for US$8 and panini for US$9.50, while a glass of pinot grigio will set you back US$9.50 or a beer US$5. Tea, coffee and iced water, savoury snacks and apples were, however, free but compared with business class lounges with many other airlines, this seemed to be a very meagre offering. There are no announcements in the facility so I kept an eye on the screens that were dotted around.

BOARDING Boarding started on time at 2030 from Gate D22A with first and business passengers given priority, followed by top tier AA/Oneworld customers, and then economy class passengers in groups from the back of the plane to the front.

THE SEAT I was in my seat (2A) by 2040 and given a choice of juice or champagne (Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Réserve Particulière). The B767-300 is configured 2-2-2 (A-B, D-G, H-J) across rows two to six in business class, as opposed to 2-3-2 on the B777-200 that I flew out on. Economy on the B767 is 2-3-2 (A-B, C-E-G, H-J) but on the B777 economy it is 2-5-2, so beware of these differences in configurations when booking as they could make a significant difference to your comfort in whichever class you are flying. There was no first class seating on this 300 version of the B767 – the B767-200 has first class in a 2-1-2 layout.

Menus, a pillow, soft grey quilted cotton duvet and Bose headphones were on the seat when I arrived. As I was directly behind a bulkhead, my seat felt more cramped than the other ones in business class, and the man sitting in the next to mine had to get up to let me into my window seat. However, there was space built into the lower portion of the bulkhead for stretching your legs into and storing baggage or shoes.

The forward-facing angled lie-flat business class product looked quite old. It has a pitch of about 59 inches (150cm), a 20-inch width (51cm), a recline of 171 degrees and US power ports. A 10.5-inch IFE (in-flight entertainment) screen was mounted on the wall in front of me, plus a larger one above it. A tray table also folded down from the bulkhead, while in other rows they are fixed in the back of the seats in front.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Avoid business class seats in row two as they feel more cramped – particularly the window seats as it is quite an effort to step over the person next to you to get in and out – and you might suffer some disturbance from noise and light from the galley. Those in the back row (six) may also experience noise from the economy cabin. I found that having three screens on the bulkhead in front of me was off-putting when I was trying to focus on my own personal screen as I kept glancing up at the larger shared one above. The other seats are all much the same in this cabin.

THE FLIGHT Dinner orders were taken at 2110 and landing cards for non-UK residents given out. The plane took off at 2150 and flight time was estimated to be eight hours 35 minutes. Hot towels, drinks and an appetiser of nuts or marinated cheese were served at 2210. At this point I noticed there was no amenity kit provided (as with the outbound flight in first class – although my fellow passengers did have them) so I asked a member of crew who told me they had been confiscated by customs for the whole week. Fortunately I had packed the kit from the outbound flight anyway, so was able to brush my teeth after dinner and use the moisturiser provided.

The evening meal was served at 2230 while I was watching a film on the audio-video on-demand (AVOD) entertainment system. As I had pre-ordered a vegetarian option I did not have a choice of what to eat, and was served a salad with balsamic vinaigrette, a portion of fruit, and chickpea curry with rice and broccoli – not very inspiring and the kind of thing I am usually served in economy class.

The options listed on the menu sounded better though, with mains being Boursin-crusted beef fillet, lamb shank with ale and tomato sauce, and red Thai curry chicken. There was also a tasty-sounding vegetarian cheese tortellini with Romano sauce but as I had booked a special meal I was not able to have this instead. Dinner was completed by either a cheese board with grapes and Ancho Chile Caciotta and Sage Derby, or AA’s famous ice cream sundae, which was of a generous size. Wines were Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Merlot, Fabre Montmayou Malbec Réserve, Willm Pinot Blanc Reserve, and Conde de Valdemar Blanco Fermentado en Barrica, plus Emilio Lustau sherry and Graham’s vintage port.

At 0030 I reclined the seat, which was surprisingly comfortable and supportive, as far as it would go and managed to sleep quite well until 0500. A short while later the breakfast service began, and headphones and IFE screens were collected. I was asked how I like my coffee and it was served in a mug but it was still of the rather unpleasant filter variety. To eat, there was strawberry yoghurt, biscuits, fresh fruit (pineapple, blueberries and strawberries), and cinnamon French toast with jam, which was quite nice, if not a little sweet for my liking.

ARRIVAL The plane landed in London Heathrow at 0625 (1225 local time) and there was a short delay before disembarking. Getting through passport control and into luggage reclaim was fairly painless but I came close to exiting the airside area without one of my bags –fortunately I remembered just as I was walking through the green channel and so was able to turn around and go back for it.

VERDICT My poor vegetarian special meal, the lack amenity kits and almost no free food or alcohol in the lounge – some of the primary perks of paying extra for business with most airlines – detracted from the experience somewhat. But overall it was a decent flight with an angled lie-flat business class seat that, although a little out of date, was surprisingly comfortable for sleeping on nevertheless.

PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Albuquerque started from £3,154 in March. 

CONTACT aa.com

Jenny Southan