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the Thanksgiving Holiday week in November 2019–the current groundings having allowed me to catch up a bit on previously unpublished reviews.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.
This review will cover the 1st leg of the return trip. The best prices between LAX and WAS had us connecting in Las Vegas for the return–the savings were significant enough to choose the connecting itinerary over the non-stop flight.
In case you missed the previous review, you'll find a link below.
Reviews in this series:
As mentioned in the previous review, domestic First/Business class travel within the US does not come with lounge access, except for a handful of "Premium" transcontinental flights (e.g. NYC-LAX/SFO). Also, unlike IAD, there are no Priority Pass lounges at DCA–we therefore only arrived at the airport a little over an hour prior to departure to drop off the baby's car-seat at the Priority counters.
The B/C security checkpoint was a mess, as expected for the busy Thanksgiving holiday weekend, though the rest of the terminal was quiet at this early hour.
Luckily, there was no wait in the TSA Pre-check queue, and we were through security in minutes despite the additional screenings involved with flying with a baby (i.e. testing of baby formula containers).
By the time we arrived at the gate, it was now daylight out and we could check out or ride to LAS.
As I'd been previously told by AA gate agents that pre-boarding with an infant was not automatic and needed to be requested, I presented myself with my son at the podium for pre-boarding.
The gate agent responded, "you can board with Group 2" without even looking up to acknowledge me or look at my boarding pass.
I was taken aback and showed the agent that I held a First class ticket–which is Group 1–to which he curtly replied "Well then you're all set to board in Group 1." At this point I was annoyed and said…"well, that's not really pre-boarding, now is it?" to which he just shrugged his shoulders.
AA's inconsistent pre-boarding policy is very annoying. Technically, it appears that there is no official policy, as the AA website stated that "early boarding" may be requested–a distinct difference with pre-boarding. The boarding order policy also fails to mention where "early boarding" falls. As I've experienced in the past with other carriers, namely Delta, the pre-boarding policies just don't take in to account families flying with infants in First or Business class.
This is not a huge deal, but pre-boarding can definitely alleviate stress for parents of very young children and this is an area that needs clarification, in my opinion.
In the end, the agent did the right thing and called us over out of the Priority queue to pre-board right behind a customer with a wheelchair–passengers with mobility issues certainly should board first.
I appreciate that the agent rectified the situation and made sure to thank him for his assistance.
Upon boarding, I was once again pleasantly surprised to discover we were on an increasingly rare 737 equipped with in-seat entertainment. So that made 2 of 2 flights so far on this trip!
The seats on these IFE-equipped 737s are much more plush and comfortable than the newer First class seats…these aren't even old–it's such a shame to see them being ripped out along with the seat-back screens!
The boy checking out his seat for the next 5 1/2 hours/
No doubt that DCA is an AA hub, with flAAg tAAils everywhere.
In addition to personal screens, each Domestic First class seat features individual USB and power outlets.
The 40 inch (102cm) seat pitch on these 737s in the older configuration is among the most spacious for a domestic First class cabin. Sadly, cabins are being densified as part of the ongoing "Project Oasis" and bringing pitch down to a more typical 37-38 inches.
Shortly after settling in, pre-departure drinks were offered with a full choice of the bar.
As it was only 8AM I had a healthy breakfast drink…a mimosa.
Boarding of this very full flight was completed on time and doors were promptly closed for departure.
The safety video played as we awaited to push back from the gate.
Delta A321 taking off as we push back from the gate.
Today's route….pretty straightforward.
Taxiing past Terminal B/C
Lining up at the end of the runway.
As always, taking off to the north offers great views of DC from the right side.
The Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Tidal Basin, National Mall, Smithsonian, and Capitol Building can all be seen as we climb.
Downtown DC with the Ellipse and White House towards the center of the photo.
The Lincoln Center and the Watergate as we follow up the Potomac River.
The French Embassy and Georgetown Hospital.
The National Cathedral
Bethesda, the National Institutes of Health, and Chevy Chase, MD
Climbing above the clouds.
The in-flight entertainment offers a large selection of films, TV series, documentaries, music, and games. Plenty to keep one occupied on a 5-6 hour transcontinental flight like this.
The in-flight service began with drinks as we levelled out at cruising altitude.
Shortly after, breakfast was served. There were two options, as usual. I went for the omelette and sausage in a spicy Chipotle sauce. I don't remember what the other option was, but knowing AA, it was probably steel cut oatmeal…that seems to always be one of the options on breakfast flights.
Though breakfast is never too exciting on planes, I liked that the sauce had a spicy kick to it and just the right amount of seasoning–a nice change from the usual bland domestic F options.
One thing AA always does right, warm biscuits.
FAs came through the cabin regularly offering drinks and made a pass with the snack basket as we got closer to landing.
The little one slept most of the way once again, which made for a relatively relaxing flight.
Though I'm not a fan of people having their dogs outside of their carriers, this guy was very well behaved throughout the flight. I assume this was an "emotional support" animal as it was allowed to be out of the carrier, unlike standard pets-in-cabin.
The kid woke up for a bit as we flew over the Rocky Mountains. I entertained him with the Lion King…
As I entertained myself with the gorgeous landscaped outside.
As we approached LAS and the desert southwest, the scenery changed drastically.
We were treated to beautiful views of Lake Meade as we made our descent.
I always love flying over the Western US. Not only is the scenery beautiful, but the skies are usually very clear, making it easy to enjoy the views.
Lush green golf courses in the middle of the desert…only in America!
Las Vegas suburbs that appear to stretch to the horizon…very Los Angeles-esque
And to end a scenic flight, we land at McCarran with views of the famous Las Vegas strip
I hadn't expected to see an El Al 787 in retro livery in LAS
Welcome to Vegas! Too bad we won't be staying this time….though, it probably wouldn't be any fun with a baby, hah!
Thanks for reading!
Having flown this route several times, I've had both pre-merger US metal (A319/A320) and pre-merger AA 737s, but this was my first time getting a IFE-equipped aircraft on the route, which certainly made for a more pleasant 5h flight. Cabin crew were pleasant and efficient and catering was decent--nothing fancy, but I enjoyed the bold tastes. It certainly beat the cheap fruit and cheese plates and sandwiches they're serving in domestic F these days.