Hello and welcome to a new short series of Flight-Reports,
It was time for my annual pilgrimage home to the motherland, but this year the choice of airline and routing was a bit more difficult than past years. OpenSkies would have been my first choice, unfortunately, this lovely boutique airline was due to cease operations at the beginning of September 2018 so I would have only been able to take OpenSkies on my outbound flight. I'd flown OpenSkies several times in the past and I was saddened to learn that one of my favourite carriers would cease to exist. As a French expat and oneworld flyer in the U.S., I liked OpenSkies for its perfect mix of what I like about British Airways but with French flair and elegance. *sigh* Au revoir OpenSkies ! ?
Living in Washington, DC, there are no non-stop oneworld options to France and I generally prefer to avoid connecting at Northeast U.S. airports in the summer unless I have time to build in a long layover to minimize risk of missing connections. With AA's Philadelphia hub being about 2 hours up I-95, I looked at non-stop flights out of PHL and found a good deal in Premium Economy. I'd been wanting to try AA's new Premium Economy and often find this class of service, positioned between Business and Economy, to be the perfect for short transatlantic flights.
The drive up from D.C. took about 2.5 hours with quite a bit of beach traffic causing back-ups on the interstate despite being well outside of rush hour. Still, 2.5 hours isn't too bad considering that driving to PHL eliminated the possibility of misconnecting on a DCA-PHL-CDG itinerary.
After parking the car in the long-term parking lot, we took the shuttle to international Terminal A. Check-in was quick as there was no queue in the Priority lane.
I'd requested a wheelchair to get to the lounge and gate as I'd been released from the hospital a week earlier after spending 10 days due to ruptured appendicitis. There was no TSA Pre-check on the Terminal A - East side, but getting through the "regular" security lane was quick with the wheelchair service. I'll remember to check in on the Terminal A - West side for TSA Pre-check next time.
As the British Airways lounge was on the way to the gate, I asked the wheelchair attendant to take us there instead of the Admirals Club. I figured the BA Galleries lounge would be a bit nicer than the Admirals Club. The AA lounge experience in PHL will be upgraded in 2019 with the opening of a new Flagship Lounge in the A Terminal.
Note that my access to lounges comes through my AA frequent flyer status; Premium Economy tickets, without oneworld status, do not qualify for lounge access.
The PHL BA Galleries lounge is a bit smaller than the BA lounge back home in DC, probably since there are less BA flights at PHL, but it was pleasant and relatively quiet.
The food options were the usual finger sandwiches and crudités. There was a dining room with hot dishes for Club World and First passengers.
There is a decent selection at the self-serve bar
A few finger sandwiches for a pre-flight snack
Champagne was not available at the self-serve bar but, like in many other Galleries lounges, could be requested from an attendant.
The BA Galleries lounge also serves Qatar Airways passengers. The lounge emptied out rather quickly after boarding for the Qatar flight was announced.
As I couldn't walk too well due to my recent surgery, I decided to leave the lounge extra early to try to make it out to the gate in time for boarding. I didn't really feel like bothering with calling for a wheelchair again and figured I could walk with enough time, but as I walked past the reception desk, the lovely agent insisted she call for assistance as the gate was quite far. An electric vehicle showed up within minutes to take us to the gate, which did turn out to be pretty far at the very end of the A-West concourse.
We arrived at the boarding gate about 10 minutes before boarding was due to begin but there was no aircraft parked at the end of the jetbridge. Oddly, the flight was still showing on time. It was only about 10 minutes after boarding was supposed to begin that agents announced that our aircraft was delayed coming from the hangar. Boards were still showing on-time; however, it was clear that the flight would not be on time.
The aircraft finally pulled up to the gate a few minutes before scheduled departure time…and the boards were still showing "on time"…riiiight.
Boarding finally began at 9:20 PM, 5 minutes past scheduled departure time. I was able to pre-board and was one of the first people on board.
Cabin crew were still preparing the cabin, placing menus on the seats.
I had selected seats in the first row of Premium Economy as they have leg-rests and it is easier to get out of the window seat as there is no seat in front that can recline.
The Premium Economy cabin on the A330-200 is small and intimate with only 21 seats configured in a 2-3-2 layout over 3 rows.
American's new long-haul Premium Economy seats are the same seat model as those introduced in Domestic First class on retrofitted pre-merger US A319s and some retrofitted older pre-merger AA 737-800s (without IFE).
The second and third rows of Premium Economy have large IFE screens in the back of the seat in front whereas the first row has the IFE stored in the armrest.
Pre-placed on the seats were a packaged pillow, blanket, amenity kit and noise-cancelling headphones. The bedding from Casper is of good quality.
Side view of the first row showing the leg space
Good legroom in the bulkhead row
Let's have a look at the contents of the package found on the seat.
A small amenity kit from Cole Haan containing an eye-mask, socks, toothbrush set, earplugs, a AA branded pen, and a $100 discount coupon for Casper mattresses.
Decent noise-cancelling headphones for Premium Economy, though obviously not as nice as the Bose headsets available in Business or First.
On the side of the center armrest we find the In-flight Entertainment remote and seat controls with 3 buttons for recline, leg-rest, and foot rest.
Printed menus were also pre-placed on the seats.
The menu cards are in English and French
Another nice feature of AA's Premium Economy is that, like in Business and First class, meals can be pre-ordered on AA.com.
We finally pushed back at 10:20 PM, over an hour late.
Luckily at this late hour, the Transatlantic departure rush was winding down and the taxi time was short.
The safety video played during taxi
We took off at at 10:28 PM
With a flight time of 7 hours and 12 minutes, we'll be landing close to noon so it doesn't look like we'll make up any of the delay.
As mentioned earlier the first row of Premium Economy is equipped with full leg-rests, while other rows have pull-down foot-rests.
The IFE is available in several languages and has good content including movies, TV shows, and an extensive selection of music, which is convenient for relaxing before sleep on red-eyes.
Notice the outside Air temperature displayed 14502 degrees Fahrenheit…apparently we'll be flying to Paris via the surface of the Sun ^^
The dinner service began about a half hour into the flight as we were just north of New York City.
Petite Kale Salad orange, pomegranate, feta
Grilled beef short rib chimichurri sauce, twice-baked potato
Overall the meal was tasty and visually well-presented. The dinner was more on the premium end of the catering spectrum for Premium Economy, resembling an upgraded version of domestic First class catering.
What felt a little less premium, however, were the plastic cups used for the drinks…a curious choice that contrasts sharply with the main dinner tray.
By the end of dinner we were over the Canadian Maritime Provinces and heading towards the open ocean.
A little nightcap before trying to catch some sleep.
Still more than 5 1/2 hours left in the flight–plenty of time for a few hours of sleep.
I put on A Wrinkle in Time and went to sleep. I don't remember much about it as I fell asleep about halfway through, except that it was visually stunning and that Oprah Winfrey was a gigantic spirit from a parallel universe ^^
I slept a good 3-4 hours and woke up as we were overflying Ireland. Breakfast was served shortly after.
Breakfast consisted of a fruit plate, yogurt, and a tiny warm cinnamon roll–I think it shrank in the dryer :-P
Again the meal was served on china with metal cutlery, like Business class, but again the drinks were served in plastic cups, like Economy. It is worth noting that, while many carriers serve the same breakfast in Premium Economy as Economy on TATL flights (e.g. BA and AF), AA makes an effort to offer an upgraded second meal.
It was a beautiful morning over the North of France.
Maybe it's an expat thing, but I always get a bit emotional when I see home from the air after a long time away.
Swinging back around to the west to line up for landing.
We landed on the North Runways, which meant we'd have a long taxi to Terminal 2.
On the bright side, that means there'll be lots of good planespotting on the way :-)
Singapore Airlines A380 at Terminal 1
EVA Air B777-300ER
Two Aegean A320s parked at Terminal 1
A beautiful Air Tahiti Nui A340-300. Looking forward to seeing their new Dreamliners in real life.
A Thai Airways A380 in the distance parked at one of the T1 satellites
The A380-party continues with one of several Emirates A380s serving CDG daily.
China Eastern B777-300ER - can't say I'm a fan of this bland livery.
Air France A319
Air France A320 with winglets…I mean sharklets ^^
Terminal 2E with AF and SkyTeam partner birds–just one of the many concourses making up the massive Air France hub
Taxiing past Terminal 2C on the way to 2A with a Jet Airways A330 and Rossiya A320 parked at the gate.
That's a sexy livery
Ummmm….why are we turning away from Terminal 2A?
Ah…we're parking at a hardstand. I don't usually have a problem with that, but we're already over an hour delayed and deplaning from a hardstand will only add to the delay.
One thing I do like about deplaning on the tarmac are the good aircraft views :-) #AvGeek
The good thing about being in the first row of Premium Economy is that we were right by the door to deplane quickly. The air-stairs were large, which was good since I wasn't walking too well after surgery.
The bus filled up quickly and it was a short trip to Terminal 2A international arrivals.
There was a silver lining to being delayed over an hour, we had missed the big Transatlantic arrivals rush so immigration was completely empty. We were through in less that a minute.
Of course that meant we had to wait for our bags, which were estimated to be dropped at 12:20, but in the end they were already being loaded by 12:15.
The worst part was the wait at the Hertz car rental counter. Due to a security issue in one of the other terminals all passengers were re-directly to the Terminal 2A/C counter. It took an excruciating 2 1/2 hours to pick up the rental car.
Between the flight delay and the delay at Hertz car rental, we had wasted much of the day…Happy Birthday to me! Yes, it was my Birthday. But at least we were reasonably well-rested and the flight had been enjoyable.
Thanks for reading!
British Airways Galleries Club
Philadelphia - PHL
Paris - CDG
I'd been looking forward to trying American's new Premium Economy and I was not disappointed. The cabin was sleek and modern and the seats were comfortable and spacious. Being in the front row made for an even better experience with more space and leg-rests. The crew were friendly and attentive though it seemed they were not yet used to Premium Economy service protocols as the meal and drink services seemed awkward and unorganised at times. The IFE was brand new and modern with nice resolution and colour--the content was also quite good and available in several languages. The catering, served on china with metal cutlery, generally felt premium and resembled domestic First class meals; however, the use of plastic cups instead of real glasses seemed odd and out of place.
I've flown long-haul Premium Economy on several other carriers, including Air France, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic, and American Airlines Premium Economy offered one of the more premium experiences.
Aside from the one hour delay, it was a very pleasant flight. Overall I was definitely impressed by American's new Premium Economy.
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