I flew American Airlines international business class for the first time. Here are the things that surprised me.
Alison Millington / Business Insider
- I recently flew business class for the first time on an American Airlines flight from London to New York.
- The seat was more comfortable and private than I imagined, but the food wasn't quite as luxurious as I expected.
- Here are all of the things that surprised me, and why I think people really splash out money or miles to fly business.
I wish I'd been smarter with air miles so I'd never have to fly long-haul in economy class again.
That's what I found myself thinking as I settled into my first-ever business class seat on a recent American Airlines flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK.
As a pretty frequent traveler across the Atlantic - I'm a Canadian living in London who makes the trip home regularly - the idea of splurging on a first or even business class ticket has always seemed beyond me, especially as I've only been properly collecting miles for under two years.
However, when I was offered an upgrade from economy to business class at the gate as I was boarding my eight-hour flight to New York, I jumped at the chance (despite the fact I was travelling with my boyfriend who, having booked separately, didn't have the same option).
We took turns in the upgraded seat to see what flying long-haul in business class is really like - and there were a few things that surprised me.
As my upgrade happened at the gate, I can't tell you what the business class lounge or priority check-in is like. As an economy passenger, I checked in on a screen (which took a while and involved more steps than most airlines) then took my bag to bag drop.
Here's what the seat, one of 52 business class seats on board the Boeing 777-300ER, looked like when I boarded. There was a proper pillow and duvet waiting on it.
Here's a better indication of pillow fluffiness and blanket thickness.
I was surprised by how spacious the seat was – I could fully stretch my legs out and they still didn't hit the bench at the other end. I also couldn't believe how many empty seats there were around me.
I felt unprepared for a photo shoot in jeans and trainers, but at least I was comfortable.
A friendly flight attendant came around with the option of juice, water, or Champagne while we were still at the gate. I opted for Champagne, because business class.
I then took the opportunity to check out my surroundings. The seat was comfortably roomy at 20.5 inches wide with a more luxurious headrest than I was used to.
I couldn't figure out what this little bench was for at first, but I quickly realised it was there to complete the transformation of my seat into a full lie-flat bed — which I did later in the flight.
To the left of my head was the TV remote, light, plug, USB port, and seat controls, which I admit I didn't really take advantage of. However, they offered the ability to recline the headrest, prop up the footrest, or slowly turn the seat into a fully lie-flat bed.
There was a really handy compartment to the left of my feet, below my pull-out tray table, which I quickly filled with books, headphones, and my purse.
To my right was a magazine holder.
Business class passengers get Bose headphones to use during the flight, which is certainly a perk vs. economy class — though you do have to give them back, which I wasn't 100% clear on until the end of the flight when a flight attendant ask for them.
They were really comfortable and made movie-watching more pleasant than the little earbuds, though.
It didn't take long for the cabin crew to ask for my dinner order — the menu was waiting for me beside my window.
There was a small plate, a salad, a choice of four mains (though the chicken wasn't available), and a choice of desserts. I ordered the Mediterranean-style lamb.
I then checked out the TV, which pulled out from the wall to my right in front of me. It was a good size, and made for much better movie-watching than economy, though I found the touch screen didn't work that well and I was better off using the remote (which was not an issue in the economy seat, oddly enough).
There was WiFi available, but it took a few hours for me to get it to connect. It also wasn't free — and wasn't cheap — so I didn't bother with it.
I was at least an hour into the flight before I realised there was another compartment to my left. Inside there was a mirror, a little popup shelf (helpful for makeup application), a water bottle, an amenity kit, and the plug for the Bose headphones (I hadn't been able to figure out where to plug them in until this point).
The kit was a blue leather pouch that contained a pen...
...Hand lotion and lip balm...
...Toothbrush and paste...
...A giant eye mask...
...As well as tissues, mouth wash, and ear plugs.
Before dinner was about to be served — which was much earlier in the flight than it was for economy passengers — a flight attendant set my tray table with a table cloth, napkin, and some nuts.
They also asked if I'd like any wine — there were two whites, two reds, and a dessert wine on the list, as well as Champagne. I opted for a glass of the Albariño, which was very nice.
There were other drinks available to order throughout the flight, including spirits, liqueurs, beers, siders, soft drinks, and coffees and teas, though I noticed that instead of flight attendants regularly coming around to take orders, passengers had to push their service button or get up to ask for them, which was surprising.
Some of the beverages were available to browse through on the entertainment system, though you couldn't order via the screen.
A selection of warm bread rolls were brought around, which were delicious. The starters — marinated heritage carrots and a red chicory salad — were beautifully presented on real plates with real cutlery.
The lamb — which came with a potato gratin, tomatoes, and a container of pesto — was tough and chewy, and the rest of the dish also didn't have a ton of flavour, although it was piping hot. I didn't eat much of it, though it was nice to be eating off a real plate.
It was also nice to have much more space while eating than in economy, with a full shelf to my left where I kept my other belongings. I watched "Crazy Rich Asians" during dinner and felt pretty at home.
The dessert, a slice of chocolate orange cake, was definitely the highlight. It was light and delicious, and I polished it off in no time at all.
I finished my glass of wine (the portions were huge) while looking out at the stunning sunset over the clouds, since I had a window seat, instead of one in the centre of the cabin.
After the meal was cleared away, a selection of snacks — like chocolate bars, chips, fruit, and sandwiches — were put out in the galley that business class passengers were welcome to choose from for a few hours. There were also plenty of mini water bottles on hand.
I handed business class duties over to my boyfriend after the meal, who didn't take many photos, and instead fell asleep in the lie-flat bad. However, he did tuck into the light meal he was given about an hour or so before the end of the flight.
Before landing, we switched back. I made sure to check out the business class bathroom. It was a bit more modern-looking than the ones in economy.
It also contained nicer products like toner and moisturizer, and had a full-length mirror.
I also made sure to try out the seat in lie-flat position. It was really cozy with the duvet and pillow, and I definitely could have slept well here.
The view as we started our descent into JFK was impressive. It was nice to see the lights without having to crane my neck or ask a neighbour if we could open the blind.
As I came to the end of my first business class experience, I felt less drained than on a normal economy flight thanks to being more comfortable. While the food was perhaps not as luxurious as I had imagined it would be, the seat was so great that I didn't care — and Champagne and nice wine were certainly a plus.
I now understand that it's the privacy, quiet, and comfort of premium cabins people are splashing out for when they travel — if they have the money or the miles, that is.
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