Review: American A321T Business Class San Francisco – New York JFK

Review: American A321T Business Class San Francisco – New York JFK

American Airlines’ response to the the high level of demand for premium products between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco is their unique three-class Airbus A321 (“A321T”). They are the only airline that offers regularly-scheduled, multiple-daily-frequencies three-class service across the country.

The aircraft features a true First Class, Business Class and Economy (“Main Cabin” in American’s lexicon). I say “true” First because this is different than the old recliners you’ll find in First on most domestic flights (i.e. Virgin America’s First, Alaska, etc.). The closest rival may be JetBlue’s Mint Suite, but given that – as this review will show – I would rather fly American’s A321T Business than their best seat, they’re not a huge threat.

Qantas’ daily 747-400ER flight between Los Angeles and New York JFK (which features Business, Premium Economy and Economy) doesn’t count because you can’t buy tickets on the flights – you have to be connecting from or continuing on to Australia.

American’s A321Ts were originally referred to as the “A32B” but that code is also currently used for their new A321s that don’t necessarily have this configuration (just the classic recliner First & Economy). The way to tell (aside from the route, of course!) is by looking at the seat map. The A321T features ten First Class seats in a 1-1 configuration, 20 Business Class seats in a 2-2 configuration, 36 Main Cabin Extra seats and finally, 36 Main Cabin seats.

The First Class seat is the same reverse herringbone hard product found on American’s 777-300ER (Cathay Pacific regulars will recognize it immediately). Here’s an overhead shot:

First Class on AA’s A321T

I had flown Business Class on this equipment before (from LAX to JFK) and was impressed. The next two photos are from that trip, when I was seated in 7A. My mom was in 7C that flight, and we were both pleasantly surprised by the soft product.

 

As I mentioned, Economy is split between Main Cabin Extra and Main Cabin. The difference between the two is the amount of legroom (ding ding ding! Extra has more). Economy seats also have personal TVs and power outlets.

These aircraft feature American’s state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment, which has a fantastic user interface. It’s very easy to navigate and has great resolution and lots of entertainment options.

American A321T Business Class SFO-JFK

AA66
SFO-JFK
D: 07.20
A: 16.04
Business, 6A
Airbus A321T
N105NN

I arrived at the airport early to a queue-less Priority Check-in Desk and dropped my luggage. The TSA PreCheck line moved fairly smoothly, and I was sat at the Admirals Club at SFO’s Terminal 2 within minutes.

The lounge has more than what I would consider just the basics. In the mornings they offer sliced fresh fruit, oatmeal with fixings, bagels and toast (with butter and/or cream cheese). The coffee is also really good! They do offer more substantial food and beverages at a cost. Oneworld Emerald (OWE) members get a free beverage from the bar – in this case, I had been at a wedding until 4 hours prior so was happy to have a bottle of sparkling water.

Departure

Boarding began at 06.50. The gate crew called for Concierge Key members first (there were just a few of them) then Group 1 (only one of them), and then Group 2 (where I fell in, as an OWE flying in Business). They offered orange juice, prosecco or water off a tray once most people had boarded.

Really cheap, plastic amenity kits were handed out, as well as Flagship Business menus.

We pushed at 07.25 and had a relatively quick taxi out to Runway 28L, which struck me as odd because most East Coast-bound flights depart from the 1s. The cabin lights were darkened and the Captain said we were holding for a few minutes due to some irregular departure sequencing.

At 07.35 we began to roll down the runway when the pilots suddenly slammed on the brakes. We waited about a minute, then spooled back-up and had a regular takeoff. I had definitely forgotten how loud the IAE engines are. After we cleared 10,000 feet the Captain addressed the quasi-abort, saying our clearance for takeoff had suddenly been revoked, so they waited for the runway to be fully clear before throttling up.

The Seat

As I mentioned American’s three-class A321 Business is in a 2-2 configuration spread over five rows. On this flight I had selected Seat 6A, a bulkhead window seat. I was traveling alone and knew the flight would eventually be full, but I wanted the daytime views of departure from SFO, the American countryside, and arrival over Long Island. So I was ready to sacrifice my routine bathroom needs for the views.

I do not recommend 6E and F because the lights of the Business Class bathroom – which is right in front of seats 6A and 6C – shines bright into that pair every time someone opens and closes the door. We got some of the reflection off the wall opposite the lavatory and could kind of hear the toilet being flushed, but it’s not nearly as bad as that direct hit.

If you look at the next two photographs, you can see the difference in “footroom” between the bulkhead window seat, 6A, and a regular window seat (in this case 7A). The aisle seats (C and D) are even more restricted.

Bulkhead, 6A
7A
Great shoulder space and the headrest is adjustable
Plugs, storage and water bottle over your shoulder (like a Continental soldier)
Center console with handheld IFE remote, seat functions and tray table

I find the seat very comfortable for sitting, reclining and sleeping. The seats are all forward facing but are angled slightly towards the windows in parallel, so you’re not having to stare into shared space as you would with certain other hard products.

The Meal

Breakfast orders were taken at 07.50 – fifteen minutes after wheels-up. The options were as follows: Scrambled Eggs with cream cheese, chives, chorizo oats, chicken sausage, Cotija cheese, cilantro crema; Cheese Blitnz with crème anglaise, grilled pineapple, berry compote, herbed chicken sausage; or Steel Cut Oats with brown sugar, ginger snap crumble, plums. There was also a selection of breakfast breads on offer and a passion fruit tart for dessert.

 

At 08.00 hot towels were distributed, followed by table cloth settings and the first round of drinks. I had a sparkling water with lemon in a heavy rocks glass (the kind that feels good in your hand) and a mini biscuit.

The scrambled eggs were very good and the service was fast. They didn’t offer me bread but there was a plate w butter for it. They did come ask if I’d like anything else to drink.

I cannot express how much I appreciated the crew’s efficiency. They were fast and professional. The breakfast service was quick enough that you had plenty of time to sleep or work the rest of the flight. 

After breakfast, I had three hours of relatively deep sleep. The crew placed a variety of snacks and whole fruit on the bulkhead, which compelled our fellow passengers to loiter near us after exiting the bathroom.

Bubbles: Bottega Il Vino dei Poeti Spumante Prosecco (Italy)
White Wine: DeLoach Vineyards Heritage Reserve Chardonnay (California); E d’Emilie Réserve Spéciale Blanc, Côtes de Gascogne (France)
Red Wine: Baddaginnie Run Merlot, Strathebogie Ranges, Australia; Venta Morales Tempranillo, Vine de la Tierra de Castilla (Spain)

The Arrival

The crew kept the service up despite some turbulence over the Midwest. An hour and fifteen minutes from arrival, they brought freshly-baked – on board – snickerdoodles and chocolate chunk cookies. Naturally, I couldn’t pass it up – and it was certainly calorie worthy. The snickerdoodle simply melted in my mouth. Perfect.

Shortly thereafter the crew offered passengers glasses of the Bottega Prosecco with berries.

Prosecco with berries pre-arrival
Freshly baked snickerdoodle

I didn’t interact much with the crew but they were very pleasant and always smiled when I did. The Captain came on at 15.05 and said we had 30 minutes until touchdown.

We had a very odd approach, and the last couple minutes we were descending over the Atlantic, then at 1,700 feet we spooled backup and reached 1,800 feet, then re-commenced descent, eventually landing on 31R at 15.42. All in a day’s work…

We were on stand 6 minutes later, but the American gate agents at JFK didn’t open the door 15.56.

The Cheatline

I really like this product – the IFE is great, the service is friendly and efficient, and the seat is comfortable for long treks across the country. Given a choice between flying American’s A321T Business versus JetBlue Mint (even in a suite), I’d take this any day of the week. And I’m sure the true First is even better!

Seat: 8.5/10
Service: 8/10
Food: 8.5/10
Spirits: 7/10
Overall: 8/10

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