I found myself needing to go to Los Angeles at the last minute for a business trip. Given that I was traveling on the company dime, I had to book through our client’s preferred carrier - American Airlines. I’ve had several negative experiences with American on this route and was interested to see how it would go this time. In this piece, I’ve written about both legs of the journey - a tale of two flights, if you will - as there were stark contrasts.
Given this was a business trip, we booked our flights utilizing our company’s corporate travel agent, and then selected our seats as usual on American’s website. I credited these flights to my British Airways account, as I do all American flights as British Airways is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards.
At Chicago-O’Hare, I arrived at Terminal 3 with ample time before the flight in order to have a cushion for rush hour. Once through TSA PreCheck, I made my way into the terminal and grabbed breakfast at Tortas Frontera on my way to the gate. The airport was calmer than usual this morning, so much so that I was even able to grab a coffee at the hidden Starbucks in the Eagles Nest, IYKYK, and wander around a bit - have I mentioned I love O’Hare during the holidays?
In Los Angeles, my colleague and I arrived at Terminal 5, utilized a kiosk to print our boarding passes and were on our way through TSA PreCheck in a matter of minutes. From there, we made our way to the Korean Air Lounge, which we had access to with our Priority Pass Memberships, to wait out our flight.
Boarding & Departure
Boarding to LA started promptly at 7:40 AM with PreBoard and Concierge Key holders, but it quickly spiraled into a mess of a process. Announcements were slim, a scanner was broken and lanes were not enforced; however, we still managed to close the forward door and push back 3 minutes early. After a long taxi typical of O’Hare in the morning, we began our bumpy climb to the skies and received a warm welcome from the cockpit and flight attendants.
Conversely, on the return flight, boarding in Los Angeles started at 11:40, both early and fast. Unfortunately, my colleague and I were in the lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal and left too late, so once we arrived Group 9 was already backed up on the jet way. I can’t fault American for this, but the cold gate agent and rude ramp attendant gate checking bags were less than a positive start. Additionally, the entire crew, except for one flight attendant, was cold and impolite to passengers - a sign of things to come.
Seat & Cabin
Although American is working to streamline their fleet, they currently have several configurations of the A321 on offer. The one that flew me both ways was one I am quite familiar with: 4 Rows of First Class in a 2-2 layout, a bulkhead followed by 6 rows of Main Cabin Extra in a 3-3 layout followed by Economy in a 3-3 layout.
For the flight out to Los Angeles, I was seated in 29F - a window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft with a great view of the wing. All economy seats onboard the A321, at least until American gives it the Oasis treatment, feature a standard 31” of legroom, which unfortunately is obstructed by entertainment boxes at each seat. An AC power outlet and USB port were also present. Each seat also has a standard sized tray table; I’m particularly fond of the hinge at the center for holding snacks and drinks.
On the return flight, I was seated in Seat 17A - a window seat on the port side of the aircraft. A Preferred seat given it’s proximity toward the front of the plane, an additional fee is charged by American. Upon settling in, I noticed that the tray table was FILTHY - yes, it earned those caps - and the recline button was sticky. It seems this aircraft wasn’t cleaned well between flights. Additionally, there seemed to be temperature control issues on this aircraft as several complained to flight attendants about the cold, but nothing was done, and on many occasions I witnessed other passengers layering on more clothing.
On the outbound flight, the first service started about thirty minutes after takeoff - first with meals for purchase, then snacks, and finally beverages. It took another half hour for this to reach the portion of the plane where I was. Service was pretty standard, although the flight attendant who served my row was far from polite when handing me my morning coffee - although admittedly, I am no morning person myself. About two hours later, flight attendants completed a second service where the crewmember who served me my Bourbon and Ginger ale was incredibly polite and genuine!
Service was roughly the same on the return flight, but the service really fell short. On snacks, all were offered cookies or pretzels, I requested Biscoff Cookies and was curtly shoved pretzels and when I tried to exchange the flight attendant made eye contact and kept walking. The same hiccups occurred with the drink service that followed. I ordered my signature Bourbon and Ginger Ale and was ignored. I then made eye contact with the same flight attendant who proceeded to advance the cart, I tried to flag her down again to place my order and was again ignored. Luckily, the sole light on this flight was the one polite flight attendant who witnessed this and politely asked what I needed - comping my beverage. No secondary drink service was provided.
Amenities & Service
This configuration of the A321 features what is quickly becoming an easter egg among carriers: a seatback entertainment screen! The screen on my flight to LA was clean, crisp and reasonably responsive with an array of content. There’s certainly no shortage of movies to watch on American! In addition, select episodes of some TV series, games, and music were available, as was an interactive moving map. As mentioned above, each seat also has its own AC power and USB plug, which would’ve been excellent for working, but, unfortunately, the WiFi was inoperable on this morning flight. Service from the crew onboard this aircraft was average - a pleasant surprise in my American experiences. The crew were efficient, if not particularly friendly, but the cockpit helped to portray a warmth to the cabin, and made it a pleasure to relax and take in the scenery out the window.
While the aircraft back to Chicago was exactly the same, it had major flaws. I had inoperable USB and AC power, a major problem given that I was needing to work on this flight. Additionally, over half of the aircraft had inoperable In Flight Entertainment systems which triggered several restarts until the crew gave up. This seems to be par for the course on American as this was the second time I’d experienced this issue on the A321. The real issue with this flight was the attitudes of the flight attendants, they were curt, rude, and unpleasant to virtually every passenger - myself included. It’s unfortunate as on a simple domestic flight, this can really make an airline stand out, and it did, but in a negative way for American. On the flipside, I thoroughly enjoyed the warm and hospitable announcements from Captain Whitney!
Prior to landing in Los Angeles, flight attendants made a pitch for the American Aviator Red card and moments later prepared the cabin for landing to some pretty superb views. We were on the ground about thirty minutes ahead of schedule and arrived at our gate moments later. Before long, we met up with our colleagues and were outside enjoying the warmth and sun while awaiting our car.
We arrived into a cold snowy Chicago right on schedule, and after a significantly short taxi we arrived at our gate. Unfortunately, we had to wait quite a while to deplane as the jet way was experiencing issues.
Overall, this story is par for the course of my experience with American - subpar. I was very pleasantly surprised by my outbound flight, which I’d consider average for economy, but then was very quickly reminded of my dislike of the airline on the return flight. Unfortunately, I’ve rarely had a pleasant experience with American, and more often than not, have had a solidly negative one. It’s a disappointment really, I want to love them, I love their brand, but in a market where Alaska Airlines is also an option, there’s no way I could recommend this flight to others. They’re “Going for Great!” as the saying adopted in 2013 goes, but there sure is a long long way to go before that’s a reality.