This review is by regular contributor Ed. You can review the first part of his journey with British Airways in First Class here.
Returning home from my Azul A350 review trip was no more direct than the routing on the way out. I ended up flying from Orlando Airport to Chicago O’Hare, onwards to Philadelphia and then finally back to Dublin. Two of the three of these flights were on American Airlines 787s, both the 787-8 variant, the smallest variant of the type. This review covers both of these flights as the onboard hard product was identical.
Pre-covid there were routes in the US that had regular widebody service, though these tended to be longer high-value routes or between hubs to allow for the repositioning of aircraft. The pandemic introduced a higher number of short-haul wide-body flights as airlines tried to keep crews current and planes flying, plus fly leisure passengers to areas like Florida for holidays due to the warmer weather and difficulty crossing borders. Whilst these planes are being redeployed to long-haul routes again, there are still opportunities to fly them domestically in the US if you know where to look.
In this post:
The booking for this trip has been covered in a previous article from the start of this trip, see here, so I won’t cover it again except to explain that the 787s do not feature First Class and so whilst my outbound trip was in the First cabins the return was in Business, allowing me to compare AA First with their Business offering.
Trying to check in at Orlando Airport was an interesting experience as the self-check-in kiosks couldn’t actually read passports. I, therefore, had to find a check-in desk to get my boarding passes. There was a relatively long queue at the priority desks and peculiarly, the passengers in front of me appeared to be checking in their bags inside a locked metal cage. Once I got to the front, the agent was friendly and quickly printed my three boarding cards before stapling them together. This seems to be quite common in the US, certainly, it’s the only country where I have had this happen rather than just being given the tickets individually which I think I prefer but that is an incredibly minor gripe.
As with many US airports, there was also no fast-track security queue which left a very long standard queue. Many people were watching the football on their phones to pass the time. Once past the TSA ID checkpoint and scanners, I proceeded to the monorail which takes passengers out to the remote parts of the terminal where the boarding gates actually are.
There, I found my 787 to Chicago. I didn’t actually notice initially but the nose was covered in speed tape (which many people mistake as standard duct tape). I only found out after the two men next to me discussed how the nose had been heavily damaged in hail and that was the patch-up. I had just thought it was the sun reflecting off the nose beforehand!
Having got off my connecting A321, I made my way to the gate, which typically, seemed to be at the opposite end of the terminal. On the way, I passed a British Airways Lounge, but sadly, its opening hours corresponded with the respective BA flight that had already departed. As I was a domestic passenger, there was no security to proceed through, which was nice. On the plus point, this 787 had no speed tape which was nice.
The cabin is slightly odd on the 787-8s in that there are five rows of seats, each four abreast in a 1-2- 1 configuration but every other row faces backwards. This in itself is not a bad thing, but the forward-facing seat and the next rear-facing one share some form of metal bar in the middle, which means when your neighbour adjusts their seat or gets up, your seat will move and rock, which is relatively disconcerting when you are otherwise in a standard reverse herringbone seat. For a transatlantic-equipped aircraft, I was rather surprised at how small the cabin was, with only 20 seats. I think American has realised their mistakes and the next generation of cabins with similar seats to the Club Suites, currently being introduced is decidedly larger.
This seat has relatively limited storage, with a rim forming a cubby under the footrest and a magazine holder with accompanying “No Stowage for Take Off” labels. In this magazine holder, there were two USB chargers and below it were two plug sockets, only one appeared to work.
Next to this was a touchscreen to be used to control your seat and the retractable controller, also with a touchscreen. Above were two air vents and two lights per passenger.
Interestingly, there are fewer overhead bins than it looks as only half of those above the middle seats function. The front half are actually just panels, not bins, because there is a crew rest module there instead.
Unfortunately, on the domestic flight, one of my armrests was inoperative, but they worked on the long-haul flight. When reclined, with the armrests up, the seat is very tight across the torso so the armrests should be put to the down position for sleeping even if it does expose you to the aisle slightly more.
Sadly for tall people like me, the length of the seat, when reclined felt quite tight, and I found my right arm kept getting caught under the armrest with the table. It’s not the largest or most comfortable seat for Business Class but was good enough for both of these short flights.
On the domestic flight, I was pleasantly surprised by the meal service. Carriers in the US provide far less catering on average than in Europe, with many flights relegated to a snack basket. This flight was long enough to provide a full meal. There were two choices of main course either pasta tortellini or a chicken salad. I went for the warm option.
It was a very nice meal, though the carrots with the hummus did look a bit past it. The pasta was nice and the cookie dough brownie was very tasty!
With my meal, I had asked for a Dr Pepper but got the diet version which tastes worse in my opinion. I also had an unintentional second drink when I was sprayed by the can being opened for my neighbour, luckily not too much. I ordered a second can, this time emphasising the normal variety, after my main course which was delivered with the offer of extra ice to replace that which had melted from my first drink, a nice touch I thought.
On the long-haul flight, I skipped the meal services given how short the flight was but the menu was very similar contents-wise to that of First, but it was an actual menu this time, which further reinforced how bad the photocopied one in First had been. Whilst I was semi-dozing, I kept an eye on the service. Considering how short the flight was, it was incredibly slow.
My post-take-off drink only arrived once we were on the cruise, I was happy, though, that they kept passing through offering more drinks with two refills done before the first meals came out. These meals were served with the aid of trolleys and served on trays. The only difference from First was the addition of the trolleys rather than walking trays out to individual passengers.
The IFE onboard the 787 is very similar to that found on the 777. It is very outdated. Whilst the selection of films and TV shows is quite good, scrolling through to find anything is nigh on impossible which the screen lagging and jumping around, meaning you are lucky to click what you want. The user interface feels at least a decade past its prime and, continuing the 777 theme, it thought we were going at 93kph whilst we were stationary on stand. I was able to continuing watching Person of Interest from where I had fallen asleep aboard the 777. Annoyingly, even if you just pause the video you are watching, the system will play another set of adverts before allowing you to resume.
I again didn’t bother with the Wifi given the cost seemed excessive for the short haul flight as there was no discount compared to a long haul one (at $19.99 for a circa three-hour flight) and the second the flight was so short and I needed my shuteye to have any chance of making it through the next day.
One of the most annoying things that happens on US domestic flights is that there will inevitably be a credit card pitch. The airline’s frequent flyer programme is regularly more profitable than the actual flying and so they are very keen to sign up members to the credit cards. I have no problem with this in principle but they are very invasive. The service on board stops to have a very long announcement made that interrupts the IFE system as well as actual videos that were played promoting the credit card offering.
The napkins with drinks were also printed adverts. Once the announcement was finished cabin crew would pass through the aisles with application forms so you can take part in “today’s special offer for extra points” (it’s always the same). This song and dance is rather annoying as you are captive to the sales pitch. but even more so for foreign passengers like me who couldn’t apply even if we want to. I understand crew get commissions from these applications but it really lowers the tone of what was otherwise really quite a pleasant flight.
On the short haul flight, American only provides cheap earbuds, that I assume are normally given out in economy on long-haul flights but for the long-haul sector we were given the same Bang and Olufsen headphones as I had had on my 777 flight in First Class.
Descending into Chicago, the crew came over the PA to tell us all to set up our seats and tray tables for landing and then immediately had the IFE tell us exactly the same thing which was another annoying interruption to the video I was trying to watch.
This was my second time in Chicago O’Hare without actually stopping to visit Chicago, the first had been a four-hour stopover after the first SAS A350 flight where I immediately turned round and flew back to Europe on the same aircraft.
This time the airport was set up for Christmas and I had a novel and nostalgic experience when I walked out into the massive terminal area that the McAllister family run through in Home Alone. I had trouble finding the lounge and had actually walked past it as the signs weren’t all that clear but this detour was worth it to see the area that featured in the film.
I spent some time in the lounge once I had found it and was handed a laminated card that allowed me into the Flagship Lounge.
I have to say, whilst the lounge was very busy, I thought the food selection was very good and even included oysters! Sadly I had to head for my A321 after not too long and experienced the oddest flight of my trip with a disinterested, confused and barely awake flight attendant who wore airpods the entire flight and had a seatmate with two dogs in the seat area.
I slept soundly until about 75 minutes before arrival into Dublin when the crew elected to turn on all of the lights in the cabin on full brightness which I thought was poor given how short the flight is. I rolled over to go back to sleep and declined breakfast as I wanted every minute of sleep I could get. I was woken again by a cabin crew member standing over me, picking up the headphone case and saying “I’ll take that” without even so much as a “Good Morning”, I foolishly assumed she was just taking the case but she also wanted the headphones too. A full 30 minutes prior to landing. BA used to do this a long time ago but realised it gave off the wrong impression when you are effectively telling your paying passengers “We think you might steal these”.
It meant the IFE is unusable for the final part of the flight without even the offer of the little earbuds to use. It turns out this used to happen even in First Class but I had been lucky enough to experience their new service flow where you can keep them until you have actually arrived on stand. I was offered another bottle of water before landing though which was appreciated as I have been told you really should drink about 500ml of water an hour on a flight.
Once we had landed, the cabin crew gave their welcome announcement but got the local time more than two hours wrong which was a first for me. We arrived on the stand and headed for passport control (which it turns out even domestic flights from Donegal go through as I found out last year).
I landed myself and went to check in for my BA CityFlyer flights home only to find half the terminal had been evacuated for a fire alarm. Arrivals only though, Departures was still fully packed. As an aside, I tried to switch to an earlier flight but ended up not being able to, despite speaking to three different agents at the Dublin desks and a phone agent. It turns out Dublin check-in agents lost the ability to change bookings at some point during the pandemic and so you need to phone BA.
More interestingly though was that whilst you can swap to earlier flights in the day for single legs for free, a big selling point to fly with BA, connecting flights you cannot. I feel this is a slightly odd system given connecting flights mean you have gone out of your way to fly BA rather than flying directly home but also the flight I would have swapped onto had plenty of seats available and would have departed four hours before my booked flight giving them four extra hours to sell said seat before the opportunity was lost forever. I needn’t have worried in the end though as the earlier flight got cancelled anyway in true BA style.
Overall, I quite like the AA B787, particularly on the domestic routes. I find AA has a remarkably small business cabin on these aircraft, and the layout is a little odd with the rear-facing seats that move you when your neighbour gets up. I still find it incredible how strictly American guards its headphones though.
Whilst the seat is much smaller than the First Class offering, the meal service is not much different and neither is the service, though it depends very much on individual crew members. That being said, I will still take odd routes to get to and from my destination to fly on different and special aircraft types!