When First Class is Really Coach

I don’t usually fly American. With the exception of an American Eagle flight booked as a Northwest codeshare in late 2004, I haven’t been on American metal in nearly two and a half years. And my review is this — American Airlines’ domestic first class can be summed up with a your choice of two words: either “ghetto” or simply “coach.”


One three of four flight segments, no pre-departure beverages were served. No coats were taken. The MD80 seats are incredibly worn and dirty. Pen markings are on display everywhere, and on one flight duct tape was holding the meal tray cover onto my seat.


The ‘meals’ they’re serving look like the food that used to be offered in coach. And by used to I’m not harkening back to the long-gone days at the beginning of the Jet Age, or offering fond remembrances of the regulated era. I’m talking about the food that was served in coach in 2002.


Flight one offered pizza or a roast beef sandwich as a ‘snack’. The pizza was small and despite the description as “Uno’s Deep Dish” it was actually more like an English Muffin Toaster Pizza or something that would be microwaved out of the freezer from the Schwann truck. “Dessert” was a shrink-wrapped package of cookies.


Flight two I had the chicken breast. It was the length of my index finger. Dessert was an ice cream sundae with freezer burn.


Flight three brought chicken strips or pizza again. This time I tried the chicken strips, served with overdone pasta beneath congealed sauce. There was a hair in my salad.


Flight four was pizza or roast beef (surprise!).


On each flight someone reclined their seatback all the way into me. I couldn’t take out my laptop, hence nothing was written to post over the weekend (sorry!).


Changing planes in Dallas I watched luggage truck after luggage truck drop bags on the tarmac, and no one came to collect them. At one point there were half a dozen errant suitcases strewn about, having fallen off the tops of trucks.


True, domestic first class isn’t generally anything to write home about. I’m really looking forward to my first class flight on Qantas next month, at least by comparison. Northwest offers an even tighter pitch on some of its aircraft. America West food is probably worse. USAirways isn’t any better. Frankly, though, I haven’t ever seen anything this bad up front on either United or Continental.


One interesting sidenote. US domestic airlines insist on calling their premium cabin ‘first class’ whereas in most of the world a slightly bigger seat and a meal of some sort would be called ‘business class’. Believe it or not, that terminology can have consequences. If you wanted to redeem British Airways miles for a domestic flight in business class, it would be 50,000 points. But since American and Alaska call their cabins ‘first’ British Airways requires 75,000 points for the flight. One of the stranger things out there, thus I can’t imagine domestic US premium class travel is a frequent redemption choice for BA miles.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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