Review of American Airlines flight San Diego Chicago in Domestic First

Airline American Airlines
Flight AA644
Seat --
Aircraft Boeing 737-800
Flight time 04:15
Take-off 27 Oct 21, 09:30
Arrival at 27 Oct 21, 15:45
AA   #33 out of 67 Airlines A minimum of 10 flight-reports within the past two years is required to appear in the rankings. 507 reviews
KévinDC
By SILVER 398
Published on 24th November 2021

introduction


Welcome to a new pandemic-era series of domestic American Airlines flight reviews. In these two reviews we'll cover the domestic First class and Main Cabin Extra experiences on board American's recently refurbished 737-800s featuring the "Oasis" cabin, which has become AA's standard narrow-body cabin. 

The round-trip itinerary was originally booked in Economy, but I took advantage of an upgrade offer in the AA app 3 days before departure. Although all three of us–me, my spouse, and my 2 1/2 year-old son–have AA Platinum or above status and are technically eligible for complimentary space available upgrades on domestic flights, American's antiquated system can only process Elite upgrades with a maximum of two Elites in a reservation, so having 3 Elites in one PNR requires splitting the record to get on the upgrade list. Since splitting PNRs comes with a risk of being separated, I've never bothered doing that and forego potential complimentary upgrades. 

That being said, I was pleasantly surprised to see an upgrade offer at $150 per person several days before departure–a reasonable price for a 4h flight. I checked out the seat map before making a decision and saw there were 3 available adjacent seats in an otherwise full cabin. And they were in the last row, where I always prefer to sit, so I went ahead and accepted the offer right there in the app. 


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If you currently have, or are working up to, Elite status with AA, note that in-app upgrades are re-booked in 'C' fare bucket and you will therefore receive the associated 2 EQMs per mile flow; however, you will not receive additional EQDs for the upgrade fee. 

All this talk of EQMs and EQDs will be moot with the new "Loyalty Points" earning system in 2022! 


routing


reports in this series:


Routing

  • AA644 - Domestic First Class - San Diego ✈ Chicago - Boeing 737-800 You are here
  • AA1168 - Main Cabin Extra - Chicago ✈ San Diego - Boeing 737-800 Coming soon

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check-in & lounge


The morning of the flight, we made sure to get to the airport early as we had to park the car in remote parking with the SAN Economy lot still closed. Domestic air traffic is nearing pre-pandemic levels again so I hope they re-open the Economy lot soon. 

We arrived at Terminal 2 just under 2 hours before departure. 


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There was no wait at the Priority counters so we in and out in 2 minutes. 


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The car seat had to be dropped off on a cart for oversized items off to the side. Hmmm…let's hope it makes it! I've had more than my fair share of car seats not arriving on time over the years!


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Security was mostly calm–just a few people in the normal line and not a soul in the TSA Pre-check lane. 


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We were through to airside in a few minutes so we had plenty of extra time to head to the lounge before boarding. 

US carriers do not grant lounge access for First/Business class or US-based Elites on domestic flights, luckily the San Diego Airspace lounge is part of the Priority Pass programme–at least in the mornings, before the BA and LH European departures. 


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That's a lot going on there–I assume most of those signs are Covid-related.


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I hadn't been to this lounge in years as Priority Pass was not accepted until recently, but it hadn't changed much.


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The space isn't huge so it can get pretty crowded, but it was relatively quiet that morning, so we were able to find seating by the windows. 


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We had time to enjoy a few drinks with a nice view. 


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Like many lounges in the US, non-alcoholic drinks and a few beers and wines were complimentary, but most alcoholic drinks were considered "Premium," i.e. for purchase. Similar deal with food–there were some basics like fruit, snacks, cereals, and bagels for free, but any hot food was for purchase. 

The lounge mostly cleared out shortly after arrival, which made for a pleasantly quiet stay. 


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boarding


The gate was a short walk from the lounge. I believe this may be by design as the Airspace lounge was originally an American Airlines Admirals Clubs. 


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We got to the gate just as pre-boarding was beginning. 


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We were able to go right down as soon as they called boarding for group 1. 


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After all 737-800 cabins were updated to the Project Oasis standard in 2020, the cabins on the 737NG fleet are virtually indistinguishable from the 737 MAX. 


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The seats, layout, and overhead bins and panels are the same as on the MAX. You'd have to be a big airline geek to notice the older style sidewalls and squarer windows on some 737NG to know the difference. 

These newer cabins no longer have a true bulkhead wall between cabins to save space as part of the densification; however, the cabin separator is large and solid giving the feeling of a wall. Also, seats in the last row of First have extra material between the seats for additional privacy. 


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The First cabin is outfitted with Collins Aerospace MiQ seats, which are now found on most of American's narrow-body fleet and Premium Economy on long-haul wide-body aircraft. 

Each seat  has a USB port in the seat-back


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And an AC power outlet under the centre armrest. 


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Legroom is decent, but it's been noticeably reduced from the pre-Oasis days with 37-38" of seat pitch vs 39-40" previously 


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In what's become a standard service throughout the world on most airlines, disinfectant wipes were distributed during boarding. I used it on high-touch areas like the armrests and tray table; however, the aircraft appeared to be spotlessly clean, as has generally been my experience flying AA in pandemic times. 


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the flight


Though the flight was completely full–as seems to always be the case on domestic flights lately–boarding wrapped up early and we pushed back from the gate 5 minutes ahead of schedule.


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Taxi time was short, as usual at SAN.


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And we were off with some great views of the city and the bay on a clear day.


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Point Loma and the entrance to San Diego Bay


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Sunset Cliffs


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After climbing out over the Pacific ocean we made a sharp turn back inland. 


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Point Loma in the foreground, downtown San Diego in the centre flanked by SAN on the left and the Naval Air Station to the right


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Ocean Beach and Mission Bay


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Coronado, the Coronado Bridge, and downtown


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San Miguel Mountain, the highest point in the San Diego metro area at 2,569 ft (783 m)


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The integrated eye-level tablet holders and USB ports in the seat-backs are very convenient. Though, I'd prefer to have actual seat-back IFE, this is the next best thing


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The streaming IFE is available gate-to-gate and offers a large choice of movies, TV series, documentaries, music, kids programming, and even Live TV which includes news and sports channels. 


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The content is the same available on the long-haul fleet equipped with in-seat screens, but without the moving map feature. 


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While there's plenty of content on the streaming IFE system to keep the adults entertained, our 2-year-old prefers his own familiar cartoons on his tablet. Additionally, we always make sure to bring activities and toys to keep him busy throughout the flight. Keeping him occupied on flights is always key to avoiding any potential toddler meltdowns. 


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The in-flight service began as we overflew Lake Havasu on the California-Arizona border.


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Service began with drinks–I had a sparkling wine as usual.
This was just a few weeks before glassware began to be re-introduced on AA flights. 


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There were two choices available for breakfast: A sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich or a salmon, egg, and bagel plate. I chose the latter.


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While hot food has still not returned to premium cabins on domestic flights–except for premium transcons–the current multi-course fresh catering is a vast improvement over what was being served in late 2020 and even earlier this year. 

On a similar length flight in November 2020, I had a plastic-wrapped sandwich which used to be for sale in Economy and in January 2020, I had a boxed meal on a 5-hour transcon

Cabin crew came through regularly to offer refills and I was happy to oblige. 


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View of the First cabin in flight.


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One of the benefits of First class is that the little one has enough room to stretch his legs on longer flights without bothering any other passengers. I was happy to receive compliments for his good behaviour throughout the flight from several passengers and crew. 


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Cabin crew continued to check on passengers throughout the flight. I had another drink closer to arrival as I was feeling pretty dried out by the end of the flight. 


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arrival


With the early departure from San Diego, we were due to arrive about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. 


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We actually landed even earlier and made it to the terminal 20 minutes ahead of schedule but we were blocked by traffic in the alley and lost all the extra time as we waited. In the end we got to the gate exactly on schedule. 

Pink Ribbon flags out in the terminal for October Breast Cancer Month. 


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Being that Chicago O'hare is a major AA hub, there are many baggage belts, but for some reason all of the flights arriving around that time were on Claim 6 with us. 


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It took a half-hour for bags from our flight to start coming out. I don't know why AA consistently does so poorly with baggage delivery when Delta and Alaska seem to have no problem doing it in 20 minutes or less. 


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See more

Verdict

American Airlines

7.8/10
Cabin7.5
Cabin crew8.5
Entertainment/wifi7.5
Meal/catering7.5

Airspace Lounge

7.0/10
Comfort7.0
Meal/catering6.5
Entertainment/wifi7.0
Services7.5

San Diego - SAN

8.8/10
Efficiency8.5
Access9.0
Services8.5
Cleanliness9.0

Chicago - ORD

8.0/10
Efficiency7.5
Access7.5
Services9.0
Cleanliness8.0

Conclusion

While I miss the more spacious older cabins, the vast majority of AA 737s didn't have PTVs prior to the Oasis refits. It was always a rare unicorn to catch a flight with the in-seat IFE. In this regard, the new cabins offer a much more consistent and predictable experience and the seat-back USB and eye-level tablet holders are an improvement.

Though the bulkhead wall is gone, the last row of the First cabin offers much better privacy than Delta or Alaska, which both have smaller cabin separators that don't reach all the way down behind the seats.

I like salmon so I was happy with the catering, but I am looking forward to the return of hot meals. Glassware has returned to most flights as of November 2021.

Cabin crew were friendly and proactive.

An overall good experience with the only major downside being the long wait at baggage claim.

Related

4 Comments

If you liked this review or if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to post a comment below !
  • Comment 587558 by
    Chibcha 448 Comments

    AAs premium cabins look so plasticky and cheap :/ at least service seemed "decent".

    Great views on takeoff, thanks for sharing!

    • Comment 587655 by
      KévinDC TEAM SILVER AUTHOR 5589 Comments

      They definitely look more plasticky than the previous cabins. I think that's mostly because the cabins are so new. I find them to just mostly look just clean but boring.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Comment 587922 by
    YGeorgeW SILVER 195 Comments

    Thanks for the report Kevin!

    The lounge mostly cleared out shortly after arrival, which made for a pleasantly quiet stay.

    Small looking lounge, but I like the decor.

    The First cabin is outfitted with Collins Aerospace MiQ seats,

    These have a decidedly un-premium, uncomfortable look about them.

    There were two choices available for breakfast: A sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich or a salmon, egg, and bagel plate. I chose the latter.

    - I know people emphasize the hot meals, but I'd take this salmon, egg, and bagel plate over the nasty chicken sandwich I got last time on an UA flight of ~3 hours.

    • Comment 588045 by
      KévinDC TEAM SILVER AUTHOR 5589 Comments

      Hi George, thanks a lot for your comments!

      Small looking lounge, but I like the decor.

      Me too. It's cozy without being cramped...that's especially thanks to the huge walls of windows with great views of the tarmac

      These have a decidedly un-premium, uncomfortable look about them.

      They're definitely a downgrade from the previous F seats which were much more plush and had more pitch and much more recline. I especially liked the ones on the 737s equipped with PTVs...RIP 😢

      I know people emphasize the hot meals, but I'd take this salmon, egg, and bagel plate over the nasty chicken sandwich I got last time on an UA flight of ~3 hours

      Credit where credit is due, the salmon is kinda fancy by AA standards so yeah, it's better than a dry nasty sandwich, but as a longtime AA flyer, I remember meals on flights like this having much more generous portions when they were hot meals. Nevertheless, I love salmon so I was happy with it.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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