Review of American Airlines flight Chicago San Diego in Domestic First

Airline American Airlines
Flight AA1543
Seat --
Aircraft Boeing 737-800
Flight time 04:15
Take-off 25 Aug 22, 17:30
Arrival at 25 Aug 22, 19:45
AA   #40 out of 75 Airlines A minimum of 10 flight-reports within the past two years is required to appear in the rankings. 411 reviews
KévinDC
By GOLD 685
Published on 23rd September 2022

introduction


Hello and welcome to the second and final segment in this short series of flight reports taking us back home to Southern California after a summer spent with family in Europe. Unsurprisingly, we're once again flying with members of the oneworld alliance.
 
On this particular itinerary, we flew a mix of Iberia and American operated flights. In the past we've done flown several mixed itineraries with American and British Airways or British Airways and Iberia with varying degrees of success getting all the technology pieces to work together between the oneworld partners for things like downline check-in, Covid-related entry requirements, mileage accrual, and Elite status benefits. 

This would be the first time we'd be connecting between Iberia and American and it was far from the "seamless" experience one would expect from alliance and joint-venture partners, as we'll see in this review. 


routing


Flight reviews in this series


Routing


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ord transit experience


Spoiler alert: It was not fun.

Transferring from international flights within the US is never a pleasant experience as the US is one of the few countries that requires passengers collect all of their luggage on arrival at the first US point-of-entry to clear customs and immigrations, despite baggage being checked through to final destination. This is nothing new, so no surprise there.

Connecting between Iberia and American was made even more painful due to the lack of communication between the two airlines' technology platforms. As mentioned in the previous review, despite the MAD-ORD and ORD-SAN flights being booked on the same ticket, Iberia were unable to check us in for the AA-operated ORD-SAN flight when checking in in Madrid. There was no way to do it on either the Iberia or American apps, nor were AA customer service able to do anything over the phone or via Twitter assistance. We had no choice but to check in again for boarding passes in Chicago.

Luckily, we had a little over three hours between flights so it was doable. Though first, we had to collect our baggage and clear customs, as mentioned above.

As I detailed at the end of the previous review, arriving into O'hare's International Terminal 5 was a rude awakening (emphasis on the rude) as we were welcomed to Chicago by several screaming airport agents harassing anyone using the Global Entry lanes and demanding to see Global Entry cards despite the fact that these cards are only valid for use at land-border crossings. 

Upon explaining this to the agents, the response from every one without fail was "well, people cheat"…which is not even possible considering that non-members of the Global Entry programme absolutely cannot use the special dedicated Global Entry Kiosks.

Also, they couldn't have possibly been worried about people trying to skip the queue as there was none to speak of on either side.


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Just gratuitous rudeness for the sake of screaming at tired flyers coming off a long-haul flight…so much for "Midwest Nice."

Once in the immigrations hall though, we were sure glad to have Global Entry as it looked to be slow going!


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Of course, the one downside to speeding through immigration is that it makes the wait for baggage that much longer. And on this particular day, the wait was much longer than usual as bags from the KLM flight that arrived at the same time had jammed the baggage belt that was shared with Iberia.

Baggage for the Iberia flight was moved to a different belt, but by the time all was said and done it had been an hour since we'd arrived at the gate before our bags were collected. Again, thank goodness we had a 3-hour connection. Other passengers were understandably panicking as they were missing their connecting flights.

Once through customs, it's a short walk to the American Airlines baggage re-check belt where bags that are checked through to another destination are dropped off again. Again, because of the Iberia-American IT issues, the tags on our bags were not scanning despite being correctly tagged to SAN, so we were forced to go to the American Airlines transfer counters to re-tag our bags. 

We needed to go to the transfer counters to get boarding passes for the ORD-SAN flight anyway, but this just added to the inconvenience as we had to haul our bags around some more. And let me tell you, they weren't light or small considering we'd spent over two months in Europe!

Thankfully there was no wait at the Priority desk and the AA check-in agents were super friendly and helpful! Finally we were were on our way.

The opening of the new O'hare intra-terminal train since our last visit to Chicago was a nice consolation after that fun arrivals experience. It only took a few minutes to get between Terminal 5 and American's Terminal 3. 

Upon arriving at Terminal 3, we headed straight to the TSA Pre-check security checkpoint, which looked like yet another bucket of laughs!


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It wasn't too bad though, and the line moved quickly despite being so long.

We were airside in about 10 minutes.  


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I always enjoy walking under these flags at O'hare and I'll never not think of the film "Home Alone" when doing so!


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flagship lounge


With a little over an hour to kill before boarding, we headed to the lounge for a little rest after that unpleasant transit experience. 
 
As we were flying Business class on an international itinerary, we had access Flagship lounge, which as luck would have it, was right near our gate in Concourse H/K. 


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There are two checks of boarding passes to enter the Flagship lounge. One in the ground floor lobby, which is shared with the Admirals Club, and one coming off the elevator, as the Flagship lounge and Admirals Club are on different floors. We were welcomed by friendly agents in both areas.

Stepping into the Flagship lounge, there is a Champagne bar, right at the entrance where a glass is offered upon arrival. A very nice touch. 


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There are lovely views of the tarmac and downtown Chicago in the distance. 


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The Flagship lounge was rather quiet that late summer Sunday afternoon, so we were able to have a whole section to ourselves


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A nice view, a quiet space, and decent champagne make for a relaxing experience. 


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US carrier lounges have a reputation for being basic, and that's true of standard domestic lounges; however, American's upscale Flagship lounges offer an experience on par with most premium international carriers. 

There is a decent selection of fresh food, including multiple hot dishes, and some made-to-order options.  


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There's also a large selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. 


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What was meant to be a small snack became a bigger snack as there were several things I wanted to try.

A plate of charcuteries, garlic shrimp, and sushi and a made-to-order roast beef sandwich. 


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boarding


As our gate was the closest gate to the lounge, we only left about 2 or 3 minutes before boarding was scheduled to begin. 

We could see our aircraft as soon as we stepped into the concourse. 


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Boarding was delayed by just a few minutes due to the late arrival of the inbound aircraft and the gate agent made clear announcements.

It was refreshing not to see a passengers crowding the boarding area for once.


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Once the agent got the all-clear, we were good to go. Zone 1, comprising of First class and Executive Platinum members, was called right after pre-boarding and Concierge Key members. For those not familiar with American AAdvantage Elite status levels, Concierge Key is an invitation-only status (as seen in the George Clooney film "Up in the Air") and Executive Platinum is the highest "standard" Elite status level. 


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Since AA have standardised their domestic cabins over the last few years, all domestic narrowbodies have the same Collins Aerospace MiQ seats in domestic First class–these are the same seats found in long-haul Premium Economy. 


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All 737-800s and 737 MAX 8 have 4 rows of First class in a 2-2 layout with 38-39" of seat pitch. Since American's "Oasis" domestic cabin refurbishment and standardisation programme was completed in 2021, it is virtually impossible to tell a 737-800 and 737 MAX cabin apart. 


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The thinner seats and 38-39" of pitch make for a reasonably spacious cabin, but noticeably less roomy than the previous generation cabins, which more plush and had over 40" seat pitch. 


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Each seat is equipped with a 110v AV power outlet located under the central armrest. 


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There is also a convenient storage compartment below the armrest. 


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There is also a USB-A charging port in the seatback of each seat, along with an integrated tablet holder. A portion of AA's 737 fleet were previously equipped with individual entertainment screens, but all were removed as part of the cabin standardisation. RIP PTVs ☹

Though I wish the seatback screens had not been removed, they were never installed on a significant portion of the 737 fleet, so were a rare unicorn in their day. I can appreciate that American went for a consistent product across the fleet. 


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Seatback pocket contents. 


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Boarding wrapped up close to on time despite the late start and doors were closed. 


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the flight


We only pushed back a few minutes behind schedule.

I still find it weird seeing Southwest planes at O'hare, when they'd avoided large congested airports like ORD for the majority of their existence.  


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There's always a nice variety of traffic and lots of widebodies to see at ORD. 


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After a much shorter taxi than the inbound flight, we were on our way to SAN.


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Shortly after takeoff, the lead flight attendant working the First class cabin came through to introduce herself to each passenger and take food and drink orders.

A short time later, she returned with hot towels, something I hadn't seen on AA in over two years since the beginning of the pandemic.  


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warm nuts are once again served before meals on longer domestic flights. 


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I browsed the in-flight entertainment content before the meal was served.

The entertainment home page is also where one can buy in-flight Wi-Fi packages.


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Full-flight packages were $25, as expensive for a 4-hour flight as the Wi-Fi I'd paid for on the 9-hour inbound Iberia flight.


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I found the pricing to be prohibitive for such a short flight. However, American offer 30 minutes of free high-speed Wi-Fi for watching one ad. 


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The streaming in-flight entertainment is completely free and features a ton of on-demand content, including recent Hollywood blockbusters and a huge library of other films, TV series, documentaries, music, and Children's programming.



There are also several channels of Live TV available.


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When American Airlines brought back hot meals in domestic First class earlier this year, after two years of suspension during the pandemic, they also brought back the ability to pre-order meals online, which is very convenient. 

There were only two choices, whereas pre-pandemic it had always been three, but still an improvement over the past two years.  


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Short rib with green peppercorn sauce
Served with Gruyere and pimento mac n' cheese 
 


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Appetiser of garlic shrimp and salad


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The short rib was very tender and the mac n' cheese was original and had a nice spicy kick to it. 


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Ice cream for dessert. I'm still waiting for the ice cream sundaes to return. 


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While nothing fancy, everything tasted good. American Airlines seem to be good at doing elevated traditional US comfort foods.    

After the meal I spent most of the rest of the flight relaxing and watching movies.  Cabin crew were in the aisles regularly offering drinks throughout the duration of the flight. 


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Soon we began our descent over the California desert. 


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Beautiful sunset colours as we landed. 


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Landing in San Diego is always scenic, and it's especially beautiful during the golden hour. 


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I always choose seats on the left side on flights into SAN. The airport's central location makes for some breath-taking views of downtown.  


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Baggage was delivered quickly, unfortunately one of our suitcases had a huge tear through it, so we had to do a damaged baggage claim. We were very tired at this point after travelling for over twenty hours, luckily it went fast and we were on our way.
 
It was nice to be home after a long trip!


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See more

Verdict

American Airlines

7.8/10
Cabin7.0
Cabin crew8.5
Entertainment/wifi8.0
Meal/catering7.5

American Airlines Flagship Lounge - 3

8.3/10
Comfort8.5
Meal/catering8.0
Entertainment/wifi8.0
Services8.5

Chicago - ORD

7.1/10
Efficiency6.5
Access7.0
Services8.0
Cleanliness7.0

San Diego - SAN

8.4/10
Efficiency8.5
Access8.5
Services8.0
Cleanliness8.5

Conclusion

U.S. domestic travel can be unglamorous, but access to American's Flagship lounge on this international Business class itinerary made for a more premium experience.

Information on the route Chicago (ORD) San Diego (SAN)

4 Comments

If you liked this review or if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to post a comment below !
  • Comment 612249 by
    KLM777300ER SILVER 42 Comments

    Nice report as always Kevin! Those lounges look so much better than my Skyteam ones, I should maybe change alliance :)

    Shame about the booking system issues particularly with codeshares etc, I have had the same issue for years with KL AF DL - sometimes can't access seat maps etc due to them not communicating, very annoying!

    • Comment 612335 by
      KévinDC TEAM GOLD AUTHOR 5952 Comments

      Hi KLM777300ER thanks for your comments!

      Those lounges look so much better than my Skyteam ones, I should maybe change alliance :)

      Hah, the new AF lounge in CDG 2F looks amazing though from everything I've seen. There's always pros and cons to switching alliances. Being in a SkyTeam Hub, you'd have better pricing on itineraries most of the time, but without the convenience of non-stop flights for most destinations.

      I have had the same issue for years with KL AF DL - sometimes can't access seat maps etc due to them not communicating, very annoying!

      I used to also have issues like this with AF/DL/KL all of the time when I was STE+ but that was over a decade ago--it's 2022, airlines in all alliances and joint ventures really need to get their IT to connect correctly.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Comment 612349 by
    NGO85 SILVER 1754 Comments

    Hi Kevin,

    Thank you for sharing this FR! Overall, looks like a cleaner product than you’d find on a UA 737 and the catering looks good with a protein appetizer as well.

    requires passengers collect all of their luggage on arrival at the first US point-of-entry to clear customs and immigrations >

    One of the major reasons I avoid UA flights through EWR like the plague, would rather fly an intra-European flight versus a thin route from EWR.

    The Flagship Lounge still looks a step behind the Polaris Lounges (at least from my experiences in LAX/SFO). The lounge in ORD doesn’t have a dining room like JFK/DFW/MIA? That said the food is a large step up from an Admiral’s Club.

    Since AA have standardised their domestic cabins over the last few years >

    I find their cabins to be the most aesthetically appealing. The advantage of no IFE is no legroom obstruction.

    Thanks again Kevin!

    • Comment 612451 by
      KévinDC TEAM GOLD AUTHOR 5952 Comments

      Thanks for your comments!

      Overall, looks like a cleaner product than you’d find on a UA 737 and the catering looks good with a protein appetizer as well.

      It's definitely a much more consistent product than UA and their current hodge podge of cabins, though that will change once United updates all the cabins to the new "United Next" cabins with PTVs, AVOD, USB A/C, etc.
      Catering is pretty decent and I believe AA have done better than other US carriers throughout most of the pandemic, at least in premium cabins. In Y they are lagging as they were the last to re-introduce BOB and it's still very limited.

      The Flagship Lounge still looks a step behind the Polaris Lounges (at least from my experiences in LAX/SFO).

      The one in Chicago, I agree. The others I've seen in LAX, JFK and MIA are better (I've not seen DFW Flagship lounge yet, but will next month). Chicago is also the only Flagship lounge without a Flagship First Dining room.

      The advantage of no IFE is no legroom obstruction.

      Hah, true! Or less bulky obstruction anyway.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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