I’ve never flown Business Class for business.
Perhaps I might if this blog ever takes off. But since I’ve started ‘playing the game’, I’ve flown international business class (IBC) on American Airlines (AA) about 5 times now. How? Well, as an Executive Platinum (EXP) member, you get 4 free Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs) that you can apply towards your upcoming flights. My strategy is to buy the cheapest tickets I can in the class behind business, then apply the SWUs to get my wife and I in Business. So far, it’s been working out pretty great! I flew LAX-LHR for $555/person, essentially in Business! On a 12 hour flight!
Admittedly, the best business class experience I had was LAX-NRT to Japan. My second favorite would be a chance Dallas DFW-LAX flight on the 787 which was very modernized and refined, and a smooth ride too! This LAX-LHR ride ranks as my 3rd best experience. I can say that definitively because I also flew Business on the return, so I’ve had a second chance to confirm my first impressions. The problem with flying in higher classes like Business or First out of the UK is that you get hit with taxes and fees due to UK Laws. It came out to about an extra $99/person. Still, $669 in Business is a good price for LHR-LAX!
The business class seat is what you expect – lie flat seat, with a pillow and blanket, buttons to recline the seat and handy outlets right at your side. A remote pops out to control the entertainment screen, and a reading light is found right next to it. Alternatively, you can press a button on the remote to turn on the warmer-colored overhead light. A bottle of water is already there for you when you arrive, along with some Bose Headsets in case you want to use them.
In order to hear what you’re watching, you have to use the headset, because it is fitted to work with the three-prong outlet. There is also a port that reminds me of the kinds of ports you would see to plug your controllers into the Sega Genesis. I’ve always wondered what would happen if I plug one of those in. I might just try it next time.
The stewardess also handed out some newspapers. Figuring this might be one of the last experiences I might have holding paper news, I thought to try the Wall Street Journal.
The Sneaky Pics
I took a few sneak photos of what’s going on in First – Doesn’t look all that much different than business, to be honest. Sure, some more room, and I wonder what the food is like. But, from the looks of it, I don’t think I’m missing much between sitting in Business and being in first.
The Amenity Kit
I actually really like the Amenity Kit you get in AA IBC flights. You get a lot of things, some of which you will probably not even use. The kit comes with tissues, headphone covers, a toothbrush and a travel-sized tube of toothpaste. It also comes with a pen, some socks, some sleep masks, ear plugs, and a refreshing travel kit with mouthwash and other toiletries. The bag that it comes in is also nice for being a black faux-leather pouch. You also get a pamphlet about the company that designs this amenity kit too. All in all, it is pretty substantial. I’m glad they hand these out.
The flight attendants start you off with a pre-flight drink. I chose a champagne, which was in a plastic cup. Sure, in the shape of a fancy glass, but it was still plastic, unlike the custom made pre-flight champagne glasses on Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy. Seriously, I could have probably bought these at Party City. Perhaps AA did.
Eitherway, the actual courses fared much better. Apparently, the menu has been inspired by celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan of Food Network’s Chopped fame. I’ve always looked forward to hearing what Maneet had to say on Chopped. So, it was pretty cool that I had a menu inspired by her cooking too.
A whiskey and some nuts later, I received the salads. I must say that I actually like AA’s business meal presentations. I could probably go to some decent restaurant in LA or NYC and probably get a presentation like this. Of course, there are some limitations due to being on a plane, but given those constraints, they do a pretty good job. The southwest salad was good, it met my expectations of what a southwest salad should taste like, albeit being more corn than salad.
I tried the surf and turf. Admittedly, the beef did not look appetizing – lack of sear marks somehow don’t correlate to a tasty looking dish. Apart from that, I thought the meal was, okay. It wasn’t stellar or anything, my meat was cooked medium, the shrimp was just that, and the bed of Brussel Sprout succotash was okay. I thought the best thing on the dish was the sauce, actually. Savory and a bit spicy, it made up for the lack of sear marks on my steak.
The dessert was a chocolate mousse cake. It was a standard mousse, but a good end to an otherwise okay meal.
Breakfast was your assorted fruits, roasted potatoes, smoked chicken sausage, and an egg thing called a Broccoli and Red Pepper Strata. I had a biscuit with it. The sausage was probably the weakest thing on the menu. I didn’t get a lot of smokiness, if any, from it. The texture was more supermarket-brand-pack-of-sausage than anything else. I thought the Strata was decent, although I imagine it was supposed to be ‘poofier’ than it was. The potatoes were probably my favorite, although I’m used to a little more roasting on the potatoes than what was served. The biscuit wasn’t warm enough to melt the chilled butter given, and the melon in the fruit bowl was not too sweet, but at least chilled and refreshing.
Overall, an average set of meals.
Same seats, same amenities, same plastic cup of champagne.
This time, the menu was inspired by Michelin-starred chef Mark Sargeant, whoever that is. Let’s see what he had in store for us today:
The Return Supper
The Lemon-Pepper Salmon was actually pretty good. It was a cold dish like the salad, which did not bother me any. Unfortunately, the lemon salad dressing was still a bit frozen – I had to warm it up in the palms of my hands for it to thaw just enough to get something on my salad and some on the Salmon. The salad felt and tasted like a loose interpretation of a ceviche.
I thought I’d give the steak one more chance. This time around, I thought the steak was excellent! Tenderloin served medium-rare with bordelaise sauce, which was savory and a bit tart too. The potatoes, again, could have used a little more roasting, but was not a showstopper by any means. The tomatoes and spinach, however, were very good complements to the sauce. Overall, the presentation was a bit sloppy, but again, we’re moving 555mph 40000ft in the air here. Either that, or the airplane caterers don’t care much what’s in their food crates.
Any time I have a sundae on an AA flight, be it First Class LAX-BOS or here, it’s a ‘mastapeece’. They give you a good amount of toppings to choose from, and it almost always seems like it’s a little much for me to eat. I had this one with strawberry and chocolate sauces, some nuts for texture, and whipped cream. The Vanilla Ice Cream can sometimes come out a little hard, but fortunately it was soft that day.
The Return Breakfast
I knocked out for about 7 hours on the lie flat seat. Just in time for breakfast!
Breakfast took a complete 180 degree turn from the supper. This beef sandwich melt, while all in good intentions, was a salty, cheese-oily, mushy mess to eat. I’m glad they gave the chips for a textural relief, but even then, the sea salt just turns the meal into a salt bomb. All of this salt made the salted caramel chocolate dessert just too sweet to eat. I ate all of my fruit to get some relief, but mostly I was reaching for my bottle of water at this point. It suffices to say, I didn’t finish the meal.
Towards the end of the return flight, I got a good handshake from one of the senior attendants on the flight for being an Executive Platinum member. That pretty much sums up the experience for me. The LAX-LHR IBC product was par for the course for what I think a business class product should at least provide. It was a just transaction, like a firm handshake. Here’s my money, I just want a lie flat seat.
There were some high notes in the meals, and some low points. The inconsistency in food quality was a little annoying, but ultimately, I was comfortable in both flights. I received an adequate level of service, the Amenity Kits provided in spades, and I caught some sleep. Overall, I probably would do it again just to be comfortable, and only if I need to use some SWUs. I certainly would not pay full price myself, so I’m glad I used my SWUs at least.