Review: MCO to LAX – American First Class 737-800

Review: MCO to LAX – American First Class 737-800
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Image courtesy: American Airlines
 

This post is part of Project Pacific Circle, a journey of more than 25,000 miles from Orlando to Los Angeles, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan.

Along the way, I flew on some of the world’s best airlines and shared my thoughts on the ground and in the air. The cash cost for the airfare alone would have been well more than $17,000. Using miles and points, however, I knocked the cost down to around $500. Learn how to travel like I do with PointsAway: The Definitive Guide To Free Flights & Nights.

I’m already getting spoiled. As pedestrian as this flight was compared to the ones to come, I still enjoyed myself and discovered American has more to offer in their standard domestic First Class than I first thought.

First Impressions

My flight from Orlando to Los Angeles on American’s First Class was wholly unremarkable in most ways. The 737-800 operated for this flight provides just what you’d think of as domestic First Class.

Even if you’ve never sat in the front cabin, you’ve surely walked past First Class seats when boarding that are just like the one I had for this flight.

The seat’s a bit wider, with only two people on each side instead of three. The seat reclines a bit more, with substantial extra legroom. The seat materials are a bit nicer, as is the embroidered pillow and blanket waiting in each seat.

There are power outlets at each seat, though these only worked intermittently for me.

In the bulkhead row, or the one closest to the wall separating First Class from the plane’s entry door and cockpit, I even had two full windows all to myself, and the substantial overhead space reserved for First Class meant zero issue finding a place for my carry-on.

This is all nice, but doesn’t particularly separate the flight from others I’ve flown in premium seats, like a trip in Main Cabin Extra on Virgin America. What made this flight stand out was the service.

Food & Service

While Economy passengers were still boarding, our dedicated flight attendant made the rounds throughout the 80% full First Class cabin offering pre-departure beverage options of water, orange juice or champagne from a tray. Shortly after takeoff, a second round of drinks were offered, along with hot towels.

This early flight came with breakfast service. The menu included a tomato, leek and turkey bacon strata, smoked salmon with a bagel or steel cut oatmeal with a mixture of berries. I was given the option to preorder breakfast well in advance on AA.com, but chose to wait until in the air to make a decision. The strata was apparently gone by the time my order was taken, but I had decided on the humble oatmeal, anyway.

To my surprise, it was served with not only a mix of berries and brown sugar but an array of other fruit and a bagel:

Without asking for it, a carton of milk was quickly added to the spread, just in case I wanted to pour any in the oatmeal, which I did. Breakfast came along with actual utensils, which is still something of a novelty to me when considering how appalling the fork and knife situation can be past security in most airports and on most flights.

The breakfast itself was fine, though oatmeal’s admittedly tough to screw up. It was one of those meals that tasted better than it actually was, given its context as the first of many on this adventure and the friendliness of our attendant. After breakfast, bottles of water were distributed and additional drink requests taken. Dainty desserts, mostly consisting of chocolate in some form or another, were offered once breakfast plates were cleared.

Drinks were refreshed on a continuous basis and a set of snacks including chips and caramel corn was offered about an hour after breakfast, along with a selection of fruit. The kettle chips I took were fine and the plum I grabbed from the fruit basket was super juicy.

About an hour prior to landing, a selection of sugar and chocolate chip cookies were offered, along with small glasses of water or milk. Yum!

Nuts & Bolts

My seat boasted a number of features worth exploring.

A large table good for meals was concealed in the center console between the two seats, but a smaller tray perfect for holding just a beverage could be deployed from the front of the seat, near the power outlets. It was possible to have both of these trays out at once and to close or open either without affecting the other, which was handy for breakfast.

The seat featured a substantial recline, but moved forward in the process. This method meant it was possible to recline fully without impacting the passenger behind you.

Finally, a small cubby was found hiding under the arm rest, which turned out to be the perfect size for stowing my 15″ MacBook and iPad during the flight. Being able to keep them in easy reach despite sitting in a bulkhead seat was a nice surprise.

As mentioned earlier, American First Class features power outlets at every seat. I had difficulty keeping my MacBook’s power adapter from falling out of one, but the other worked fine for a while before inexplicably giving out. This flight featured only shared retracting displays in place every few rows rather than a seat-back display or video on demand system. Unfortunately, something broke with the system that the crew was unable to address in flight, so no movie was played.

I suspect that the effort to fix the video player somehow disabled the power ports, but it wasn’t a huge loss since I didn’t plan on doing much work on the flight. While Wi-Fi was available in-flight via GoGo, it was not offered free of charge to First Class and I didn’t feel like shelling out $7 for an hour of service when I didn’t really need it.

Final Thoughts

This was a good flight, but it served only to whet my appetite for the far greater treats to come. I’d still rank my Main Cabin Extra experience on Virgin America above this First Class with American, given the newer seats, consistently working power outlets, equally attentive service and personal video player offered in each seat.

However, it’s worth mentioning that that Virgin America flight was just half the length of this one, so it’s not really a fair comparison. The flight time of more than four hours seemed to fly thanks to having enough space to get some work done and the regular snack and drink service.

The crew did a fine job dressing up an aging hard product with good service, but I really hope that American’s new A321T begins flying this transcontinental route at some point in the future. That would be a tremendous upgrade, especially for passengers up front.

Total Cost

This flight was merely the first leg of a trip going all the way from Orlando to Auckland for in American’s domestic First Class and Fiji Airways’ international Business Class. The combined cost for all of these flights: $135.70 and 62,500 AAdvantage miles. By comparison, the cash rate for just this flight from Orlando to Los Angeles would have been $546.98.

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About PointsAway
Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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