Review of American Airlines flight Los Angeles Washington in Domestic First

Airline American Airlines
Flight AA303
Seat --
Aircraft Boeing 737-800
Flight time 04:50
Take-off 23 Nov 19, 22:05
Arrival at 24 Nov 19, 05:55
AA   #52 out of 115 Airlines A minimum of 10 flight-reports within the past two years is required to appear in the rankings. 363 reviews
KévinDC
By SILVER 979
Published on 6th June 2020

introduction


Hello and welcome to this series of American Airlines domestic First class reviews. Note that these reviews are pre-Covid, with the flights taking place over the Thanksgiving Holiday week in November 2019–the current groundings having allowed me to catch up a bit on previously unpublished reviews. 

Obviously, airline service protocols within the US have temporarily changed in times of Covid, with greatly reduced food and beverage availability on board.  The current measures are, of course,  precautionary in order to avoid physical contact. Hopefully service levels will return to pre-Covid levels once the crisis has been contained.

________________________________________

As I'd mentioned above, these flights took place over Thanksgiving week, which is traditionally the busiest period of the year for domestic travel in the US. Normally, we avoid domestic US travel like the plague over Thanksgiving and have taken advantage of flight deals to far-away destinations each year for the past decade, including Brazil, Greece, and Peru just the previous three years. You'll find those flight reviews, and many more, on my profile page.

Having a kid changes everything of course, so this year domestic travel was finally in the cards over the dreaded Thanksgiving period. As we'd just moved to Southern California a few months prior, we headed back to DC to spend the holiday with family. Though flying domestically with a 10-month-old over the a busy travel week isn't ideal, having TSA pre-check and flying in a premium cabin help to make the experience a bit less stressful.

The best prices for the outbound trip were on the red-eye from LAX to IAD. An overnight flight with a baby might not sound like fun, but I've actually gotten to prefer red-eyes since becoming a parent for one simple reason–the baby sleeps….the entire flight.

He's generally a good sleeper on planes, but overnight flights are almost a guarantee of peace and quiet, in my experience. The one downside of travelling domestically with an infant is that US airlines don't offer bassinets on domestically configured aircraft (i.e. narrowbodies). 

We therefore selected seats in the last row of First, rather than the first row, had there been a bassinet. 


photo seatmap-lax-iad

Routing


Reviews in this series:


Routing

  • AA303 - Los Angeles LAX ✈ Washington IAD - Domestic First - B737-800 You are here
  • AA1899 - Washington DCA ✈ Las Vegas LAS - Domestic First - B737-800 Coming soon
  • AA1081 - Las Vegas LAS ✈ Los Angeles LAX - Domestic First - A321 Coming soon

photo 1-routing

check-in & lounge


We arrived at American Airlines' Terminal 4 about 3 hours prior to departure. While there was a long queue for the standard check-in kiosks and ticket counters, there was no wait for the Priority counters, reserved for passengers flying in premium cabins and those holding oneworld Sapphire and Emerald status. 

TSA pre-check makes for a smoother experience at security as we didn't have to remove liquids such as ready-to-eat baby formula from bags ourselves; however, those items' containers are tested by TSA officers after they pass throught the X-ray machine, which can take some time, especially if you have multiple containers, which is often necessary for transcons and long-hauls. 

A word of caution for new parents - Some TSA officers may not be aware that opening ready-to-eat travel formula containers will ruin the contents, which can only be used up to an hour after opening. If a TSA agent asks to open your sealed liquid baby formula to test the contents, do not hesitate to advise them of this fact and that it is not required to open a sealed container of baby food. This has happened to us on several occasions and is easily cleared up with a supervisor or a look in the procedures manual. As expensive as ready-to-eat baby formula is–it would not be acceptable to let it spoil. 


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As we still had over 2 hours before boarding, we decided to take the quick 10 minute walk over to Terminal 6 to head to the Alaska Airlines lounge. 


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At LAX, airside underground tunnels connect all terminals from TBIT to T8.  


photo lax-terminal-map

For those not familiar with domestic US travel, premium cabin passengers on purely domestic itineraries do not have access to airline lounges, unlike essentially everywhere else in the world. As major US carriers sell lounge access through annual Club memberships and day passes, they limit entry for domestic flyers–the only passengers able to access American Airlines lounges on domestic itineraries are holders of oneworld Sapphire and Emerald status from other frequent flyer programmes (i.e. not AA). 

That being said, I was in possession of some unused day passes to the Alaska Airlines lounge that I had received as part of my MVP Gold 75K status welcome package earlier in the year.  

I could have entered the Alaska lounge with priority pass, but as is often the case at LAX, there was a long wait-list for entry for Priority Pass members, while there was no wait for Alaska First class and lounge pass/membership holders. 

I was a bit surprised that the lounge was so empty upon entering, considering the long Priority Pass wait-list.  


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I've read about others having similar experiences here at LAX. I'm certainly glad I had these lounge passes to burn before the end of the year and definitely won't complain about the peace and quiet. 

The Alaska lounge is on the small side, but it's well designed and pleasant. The food offering is a bit above average by US lounge standards. There were some hot soups and artisanal breads, which I enjoyed. 

I had a clam chowder, that I found to be decent.  


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Note for parents of small children: There is no children's play area, as the lounge is on the small side, but there is a changing table in the men's room, which is not a given in all lounges.


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Boarding


After a pleasant stay in the Alaska Lounge, we headed to the boarding gate about 15 minutes before departure. 

The American terminal was decked out in Holiday decorations.  


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We had perfect timing as we were waved over to the podium to pre-board, right as we got to the gate area. In my experience flying AA with our infant son, we have usually been able to pre-board without specifically requesting it. However, technically the official AA policy states that families with children under 2 years old should request pre-boarding at the gate. I had a weird experience with this on the return flight, which I'll cover in the next review. 


photo aa-boarding-order

As if often the case on domestic flights, which usually have tight turnaround schedules, the agents boarded First class literally 2 seconds after us, so by the time we messed around with folding up the stroller, the mad stampede was overtaking us. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see that we were on one of the newer 737-800s with Boeing Sky Interior that was equipped with in-seat entertainment.  


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It's such a shame that these seats, which are only a few years old, are being ripped out and replaced with new, less comfortable seats without in-flight entertainment as part of American's "Project Oasis" cabin densification programme. IFE is always appreciated on longer transcontinental flights like this, and these seats are much better padded than the newer seats. 

This older less-dense configuration, naturally has a more generous seat pitch at 39-40" vs only 37-38" for Oasis cabins. 


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View of an A321 and TBIT from the window.


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Pre-departure beverages were offered, with a full choice from the bar. I had a sparkling wine, which was served in a plastic cup per standard protocol on domestic flights. While plastic cups aren't very clAAssy, all US carriers do this on the ground for domestic flights–glass is used once in the air. 


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the flight


Despite a full flight, boarding was completed on time with doors closed a few minutes prior to departure.
  
A wingleted A321 pulled into the gate as we began to push back. 


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I imagine it's been a few months since TBIT saw this much action.


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Cabin lights were turned off for departure and the cabin was bathed in pleasant blue mood lighting. 


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The safety video played as we taxied to the departure runway.


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As usual for LAX, we took off facing west, climbing over the Pacific Ocean.


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Before making an immediate turn heading east toward our East Coast destination.


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San Pedro, the Port of Los Angeles, and Long Beach from left to right.


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Overflying the LA basin at night never ceases to amaze me. The never-ending sea of lights stretches to the horizon.


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Cabin crew were in the aisles shortly after takeoff taking drink orders. I had another California sparkling wine (no champagne on domestic flights), which was served with warm nuts.


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I was pleasantly surprised to be offered a light fresh meal on such a late departure. There had been no food until breakfast on the last few red-eyes I'd taken from the West Coast. 

The light meal was composed of charcuteries with artichokes, olives, some crudités, and hummus along with a small chocolate. I found the quantity to be perfect for the late hour, especially as we'd eaten a bit in the lounge.


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The IFE had a great selection of films, series, documentaries, and music. 


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Though with so little time to sleep on a short red-eye, I put the IFE on the moving map and slept most of the way to DC.


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I woke up with only 19 minutes left in the flight as we were beginning out descent over West Virginia. 


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A full hot breakfast was served, but I opted to keep resting my eyes. Nevertheless, I was impressed that two fresh meals were served on a short 5-hour overnight domestic flight.


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The mood lighting on newer 737s is much less harsh in the early morning hours than the lights on older aircraft.


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The soft lighting permitted the baby to continue sleeping for the short remainder of the flight. 


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We arrived to the gate a few minutes early–deplaning into Concourse B made me feel home. I'd lived in DC for so long and this was "my" airport (along with DCA) before moving to the West Coast. 


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Home Sweet Home and a beautiful sunrise. 


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Thank you for reading and feel free to leave questions and comments below. 

See more

Verdict

American Airlines

8.0/10
Cabin7.0
Cabin crew8.0
Entertainment/wifi9.0
Meal/catering8.0

Alaska Lounge - 6

7.6/10
Comfort8.0
Meal/catering7.0
Entertainment/wifi8.0
Services7.5

Los Angeles - LAX

8.0/10
Efficiency8.0
Access7.5
Services8.5
Cleanliness8.0

Washington - IAD

8.4/10
Efficiency8.5
Access7.5
Services8.5
Cleanliness9.0

Conclusion

I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with the decent level of service on this short domestic red-eye flight. I've taken these types of flights many times in Domestic First, but had never seen 2 meal services, much less on a non-"premium" route (i.e. not NYC-LAX/SFO).

The cabin crew were pleasant and accommodating, serving our meals separately as we couldn't both eat at the same time while holding the baby. They came through the cabin regularly to offer drink refills. I also appreciated the expedient service on such a short flight with little time to sleep.

An aircraft equipped with in-seat on-demand entertainment, streaming entertainment, and Wi-Fi...pretty close to perfection. Free Wi-Fi would have made for a perfect score here.

Though the seats are comfortable and spacious with good recline and padding, LAX to DC is only slightly shorter than LAX to NYC, which features full flat seats. Delta flies internationally-configured 757s with full flat seats on the LAX to DC route, so AA falls short of the competition here.

Nevertheless, a very pleasant flight...and to think, I used to hate red-eyes!

Information on the route Los Angeles (LAX) Washington (IAD)

8 Comments

  • Comment 555723 by
    NewYorker SILVER 107 Comments

    Hi Kevin, and thanks for this report. That's actually my first time seeing the renovated Alaska Lounge at LAX. When did they do the renovations? I was there in 2016, and it wasn't nearly as nice. AA's pre-Oasis 737s with BSI look to be a pretty comfortable ride, though not necessarily my first choice for a redeye transcon. It sucks that SFO/LAX - IAD aren't premium routes, even on UA, though they fly 1-2 daily 777s from both airports to IAD. It's very impressive that AA offered two meals (well, a snack and meal) on such a 'short' domestic redeye. I didn't even think that airlines offer that on premium transcon redeyes. Thanks again for sharing, and I'm looking forward for the next two reports!

    • Comment 556008 by
      KévinDC TEAM SILVER AUTHOR 5319 Comments

      Hi NY, thanks for your comments!

      That's actually my first time seeing the renovated Alaska Lounge at LAX. When did they do the renovations?

      Yeah, it looks really nice compared to how it was before! I remember seeing signs about the renovations the last few times I was at LAX before this trip so I think it re-opened shortly before

      AA's pre-Oasis 737s with BSI look to be a pretty comfortable ride, though not necessarily my first choice for a redeye transcon

      Definitely not the best choice for a red-eye transcon, but there isn't much of an option to DC, except for the one DL flight with full flat seats

      I didn't even think that airlines offer that on premium transcon redeyes.

      I didn't either. I feel like this was AA experimenting with improving service on redeyes and I liked it!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Comment 555802 by
    757Fan 593 Comments

    Looks like a good flight with AA on the red-eye. I didn't realize that AA serves a meal on the red-eye flight, but looks quite good as you said especially for a late night snack.

    I am looking forward to when my wife and I can travel with our son - who was born 2 months ago. It will definitely be a new experience for us traveling with a newborn. It looks like your son is always a trooper!

    ~Matthew

    • Comment 556009 by
      KévinDC TEAM SILVER AUTHOR 5319 Comments

      Hi Matthew, thanks for your comments!

      I didn't realize that AA serves a meal on the red-eye flight

      Me neither, this was my 1st time seeing this type of service. Hopefully they will continue!

      I am looking forward to when my wife and I can travel with our son - who was born 2 months ago.

      The biggest advice I can give is bring lots of toys! The older they get, the more they need to be entertained. Up to 6 months, they're generally easy, but after that kids get easily bored and toys/books, and especially teething rings and cookies will save you some whining and crying :)

      It looks like your son is always a trooper!

      Thanks, he usually is! But when he isn't, it's usually because of teeth and distractions help, haha

  • Comment 555903 by
    ISTFlyer GOLD 279 Comments

    Hi Kévin and thanks for this report,

    - The Alaska Lounge seem better than the AA Clubs in LAX in terms of the furniture and design. It's also nice that you enjoyed the food over there.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see that we were on one of the newer 737-800s with Boeing Sky Interior that was equipped with in-seat entertainment.

    - I pretty enjoy these IFE system equipped aircraft on AA flights and I find it ridiculous that they are changing these seats with the new project Oasis ones.
    A full hot breakfast was served, but I opted to keep resting my eyes. Nevertheless, I was impressed that two fresh meals were served on a short 5-hour overnight domestic flight.

    - Interesting, two full meals on an AA domestic flight. That is amazing. However, I find the aperitif service a bit unnecessary as it's time-consuming and it minimizes the sleep, especially on short red-eyes.

    Also with the current deals of $299-$369 on Domestic First trans-con itineraries ( both AA and DL has it ), this report has given me the intention to fly AA DF when I find a deal that would suit my schedule.

    Once again thank you and hope to see you in the next reports of the series. Take care.

    • Comment 556010 by
      KévinDC TEAM SILVER AUTHOR 5319 Comments

      Hi ISTFlyer, thanks for your comments!

      The Alaska Lounge seem better than the AA Clubs in LAX in terms of the furniture and design.

      I agree it's nicer than the regular Admirals Clubs, though much smaller. The Flagship lounge is better though.

      I find it ridiculous that they are changing these seats with the new project Oasis ones.

      I've literally been mad about this for like 2 years hahaha. Unfortunately, several premium carriers, like EY have done the same on some narrowbodies.

      However, I find the aperitif service a bit unnecessary as it's time-consuming and it minimizes the sleep, especially on short red-eyes.

      I like to have the option. For those who want to sleep, they can wait until breakfast. For me, I wanted to eat before sleeping and then skipped breakfast.

      Also with the current deals of $299-$369 on Domestic First trans-con itineraries ( both AA and DL has it )

      LAX-WAS often runs sub-$800 in Domestic F and transcons aren't too impacted by the Covid service reductions, which are most noticeable on flights under 4h

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Comment 556508 by
    jish.b SILVER 285 Comments

    Lucky you getting through Thanksgiving 2019 without an issue. Please stay tuned when I get to my Thanksgiving reports (hint - winters in the midwest :D )
    I quite like American's pre-Oasis 737s. Love having a seat back IFE - although I believe they put the Oasis project on hold even before COVID-19 hit us.
    Decent offering in AA's first class too, as you pointed out very good given the timings of the flight.

    • Comment 556769 by
      KévinDC TEAM SILVER AUTHOR 5319 Comments

      Hi Jish, thanks for your comments!

      Lucky you getting through Thanksgiving 2019 without an issue.

      Haha yes, it wasn't as bad as I'd remembered, mostly because pre-check helped a lot!

      I quite like American's pre-Oasis 737s. Love having a seat back IFE

      Me too! This was the best domestic product of the legacy carriers...
      Alas, it was too good to last...kind of like "More Room Throughout Coach" in the early 2000s.

      although I believe they put the Oasis project on hold even before COVID-19 hit us.

      It was put on hold for a while over the busy summer season 2019, but then started up again in October, I believe. One of the main issues was that there were a lot of complaints about insufficient separation of the cabins (just a curtain behind F, as opposed to a wall before), insufficient padding of F seats, insufficient storage under seats in F, and tight pitch in F, especially in the first row. Unfortunately, AA are not backing down from Project Oasis, which as I mentioned, has started up again...a few months ago, they introduced "Project Kodiak" which aims to fix the issues with pitch, storage, etc for the F cabin, but that's it. So not only will Project Oasis continue to go forward, some planes will actually go trough retrofits TWICE--once through Oasis refurbs and then Kodiak refurbs until those can start to be done at the same time...pure madness and so disappointing. Yes, even in times of Covid the refurbs are underway as we speak from what I've heard recently.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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