Hello and welcome to the final segment in this new series of Covid-era flight reviews. In the previous set of reviews, I covered my first flights since the beginning of the pandemic, which took me round-trip between France and Southern California to sign on a new home at the end of 2020. Those 4 American Airlines premium cabin reviews can be seen here.
In this series of flights we'll be flying back across the Atlantic from Toulouse TLS for our move back to the US. This review will cover the last leg of the series, a domestic US transcontinental flight between CLT and the final destination of SAN. This flight would be my first experience on a refurbished pre-merger US Airways A321 with the new "Oasis" interior.
We'd routed the transatlantic flight to New York as there were more options to NYC in those times of very reduced long-haul schedules, and we had family to visit up and down the East Coast after a year away in France.
After a few days' road trip, the last flight in our move back to Southern California was booked from from Charlotte, NC.
The morning of the flight we drove up to Charlotte, NC from Charleston, SC. As it was only a 3-hour drive, I didn't find it worth the hassle, or extra price, to take a connecting itinerary originating in Charleston - CHS. In my pre-child days, the AvGeek in me would have been happy to take an extra flight, but these days flying with a toddler, the more direct, the better.
We arrived at CLT about 2.5 hours before departure to return the rental car.
There was no wait at the totally empty Priority check-in section. A very friendly AA agent played a game of hide-and-seek with my son, who had a blast running around.
Little did they know he's a veeeery fast runner for a (almost) 2-year-old! 🤣
We had a good laugh and I appreciated that all the running around helped to spend some of that abundant toddler energy prior to boarding!
Security was relatively quick given we all have TSA pre-check, though it's never super fast when flying with very young children as each milk/formula container has to be checked. Nevertheless, I'll take the pre-check experience over standard security any day as there's no need to remove shoes, belts, computers, liquids, etc.
Coming out from the security checkpoint we arrive in the central Atrium. It's a large, open light-filled space with some shops and restaurants as well as a very Southern and unique feature of CLT, rocking chairs.
The atrium area was pleasantly uncrowded–so the little one was able to run around and tire himself out a bit more. This was in the pre-mass-vaccination days before domestic travel really rebounded.
As many of you know, Domestic First class tickets don't come with lounge access in the U.S. and AAdvantage Elite status only gives lounge access on international itineraries. Luckily we have Priority Pass and were able to get 1-hour free at the Minute Suites.
I like the concept of Minute Suites when travelling as a family as it's private and much quieter than a lounge. Hanging out in airline lounges with a super energetic toddler isn't even remotely relaxing, so I appreciate transit hotels and Minute Suites for the ability to have a little peace and privacy in airports.
It wasn't only moving day for us that day!
By the time our hour at the Minute Suites was up, it was time to head to the gate for boarding.
I'm sure CLT hasn't been this empty in months.
Arriving at the gate, we were surprisingly waved over to pre-board by the gate agent, without having to ask. A very nice gesture! After several inconsistent experiences with asking to pre-board with an infant in lap while flying AA Domestic First class, I'd stopped bothering to ask as it seemed I got a different answer every time since technically AA doesn't have an explicit policy for pre-boarding babies in First class, only in Economy.
Although my son was still under 2-years-old at the time, I'd gotten him a seat on this flight, like on the previous flights, as he was getting too big to sit on my lap for hours.
I knew that we'd be on an A321 with new cabins as there were 5 rows of First class on the seat-map–un-refurbished A321s only have 4 rows of First.
Walking onto the aircraft, the cabin certainly looked and felt brand new.
Having previously flown AA's A321neo in First, there was virtually no difference in the cabins.
The refurbished "Oasis" A321s have the same Collins Aerospace MiQ seats as the A321neo, 737-800, and 737 MAX 8 fleets. This is also the same seat model used for long-haul Premium Economy on widebody jets.
Each seat has power under the armrest. Seats in the bulkhead row have AC power only, while seats in other rows have USB ports as well. Having any kind of power source is a big improvement over the old A321 cabins.
Sanitising wipes were distributed during boarding.
It's no secret that AA's "Oasis" retrofit program was part of an overall cabin densification plan, which means there are more seats on planes with the new cabins and therefore some seat pitch was lost in each cabin–this is more pronounced on the 737s, however.
That being said, though the first row has noticeably moved closer to the bulkhead wall, there are cutouts at foot level which allow legs to be fully extended. The cutout makes all the difference on a longer flight–I've often lamented the lack of legroom in the first row of Domestic First on many Delta jets, where the seats are too close to the wall with no cutouts for feet.
Boarding went quickly as the flight wasn't completely full and we pushed back a few minutes early.
At the time there were still lots of parked aircraft, which have since mostly been re-activated.
Taxi time was short and we were off the ground in a few minutes.
My son was content to play with his toys and watch cartoons for most of the flight. I know children in First/Business can be a controversial subject–luckily my toddler is used to flying and always well-behaved.
Meals were served about 45 minutes into the flight. Per the current pandemic-era service protocols, on longer non-premium domestic routes a fresh cold meal is served.
The box was composed of fresh salad with goat cheese, crudités with humus, fruit, charcuteries, and a brownie. While certainly a downgrade from pre-pandemic hot-meals, it was an overall well-rounded offering for a cold meal with generous quantities.
Drink service was a choice of full bar–the only difference from pre-pandemic times was that the lack of real glasses.
As part of the cabin refurb programme, AA have been removing in-seat TVs from narrowbody aircraft that had them to offer a consistent product across, the domestic fleet. Though I much prefer seat-back entertainment, AA offer free streaming IFE to personal devices on all flights.
Wi-Fi is also available for a fee
The streaming IFE content is quite good with basically the same films, series, and music available on widebody in-seat IFE.
At the time (January 2021), there were 2 Live TV channels available: Bloomberg TV and beIN Sports.
Both live channels worked perfectly well.
Unfortunately, it seems AA quietly eliminated the beIN sports channel in April 2021.
Flight attendants came through the cabin regularly throughout the flight to offer more drinks, and I was happy to oblige.
The 5h flight went by quickly and we arrived at the gate ahead of schedule.
Home Sweet Home!
Over the last several years, I've made my opinion of project Oasis clear--I don't like it...for the 737s, anyway. I find it a shame that AA decided to rip out PTVs from domestic aircraft and squeeze in more seats in both cabins, reducing legroom. This downgrade of the product has mostly negatively impacted the 737-800 fleet. For the pre-merger US Airways A321 fleet, which never had PTVS or power, unlike the PMAA 737s, the Oasis cabins have actually been an upgrade with the addition of power and tablet/phone holders in both cabins.