Tuesday, March 22, 2016

AA 73, LAX -> SYD, Business Class

On my recent trip to Sydney, I decided to try something new, and fly on American Airlines, rather than my standard Qantas.

Why? I didn't really love my last few Qantas flights (lackluster service, lackluster seats), and, I knew that I liked the business class seats on AA (they are the same as Cathay Pacific, which I flew on to Hong Kong and onward to Tokyo).  So, even though it meant connecting in LAX, rather than flying direct, it seemed worth finally trying AA's international business class.  Oh, and did I mention, they have international wifi?

After some lounge hopping in LAX, exploring the First Class Qantas lounge (it really hasn't gotten any better), the Qantas Business lounge (potato salad still tasty), and the American Airlines Admirals Club (I'm addicted to that snack mix), it was time to board the flight.

Overall, I'm glad I decided to fly on American.  The seat was certainly better than on Qantas, the dinner was ok, I loved having wifi, but the service wasn't attentive nor even friendly.

The Aircraft

Boarding was a fairly efficient process, and we settled in to explore our seats.  As expected, I liked the seat.  In particular, I appreciated the fact that everyone had aisle access, and the well designed storage built into the seat.  A very functional and comfortable offering.
My Seat (and linens!)
Ojan and I were seated in 3J and 3G, in the small business class cabin of only 8 seats.  This cabin is directly behind the tiny first class cabin, and in front of the much larger business class cabin.  I of course picked these seats so that we'd have a fairly quiet experience, away from the galley, and sans foot traffic (since no business passengers could go forward into the first class cabin, and no first class passengers would be coming backward).  And indeed the cabin was quiet and a good environment for sleeping (or, at least, as good as we were going to get on an airplane).

I was really impressed with the bedding.  AA doesn't normally offer this level of bedding for Business Class, but, as part of the partnership with Qantas they are offering the same standards as Qantas, and thus we got multiple full size pillows and really comfortable comforters.  This is the best bedding I've had on any business class flight.
So much storage!
The seat had great storage, with space to stash my bags under the foot rest part of my seat, cubbies all over the place, and of course, large overhead bins too.

The TV screen was large and the entertainment system looked decent, but, since we had wifi, I never ended up using the TV.  The wifi worked shockingly well whenever I tried.
Bose Headphones.
Comfortable Bose headphones came in their own compartment.
Controls.
Easy to use controls, power, lighting.
Amenity Kit.
Standard amenities came in the amenity kit, already waiting for us on our seats: a low end eye mask and earplgus, socks, tissues, mothwash, toothbrush and toothpaste, lip gloss, and lotion.  The cases weren't particularly interesting, just gray, and unisex.
Pajamas.

Pajamas are not normally offered in American Airline's Business class, but, again, in keeping up with Qantas, they gave us the First Class Pajamas.  They were fairly comfortable.

The Food

Anyway, you are here to read about the food, not the seat and pajamas.  I know that.  So, without further ado, the food.  Short version?  Dinner was ok, breakfast was poor.

Dinner

The first meal served was dinner, served an hour or so after takeoff.  American allows you to order your entree in advance online, which both Ojan and I did.  The dinner didn't start out great, but I did enjoy my entree and loved the dessert.
Dinner Menu.
The dinner menu was as follows:

Canapé: Prosciutto Crostini with lime-infused cream cheese

Salad: Seasonal Greens served with your choice of blue cheese vinaigrette or balsamic vinaigrette

For Main Plates, we had the option of:
  • Grilled Beef Filet, lobster mac and cheese, tri-color carrots
  • Pan-seared Lamb Chops, creamy red skin mashed potatoes, grilled baby squash
  • Roasted Halibut, chimichurri, goat cheese and squash couscous
  • Mushroom Wellington, sautéed spinach, slow-roasted tomatoes, pine nuts
  • Mezze plate with hummus, baba ganoush, feta cheese, olives, pita
Dessert, Snacks.
Dessert:

  • Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream
  • Ghirardelli chocolate raspberry mousse
  • Hand selected local cheeses (Bear Flag Dry Montery Jack, Cypress Grove Purple Haze goat cheese, served with fruit accompaniments)

Mid-Flight Snacks

  • Wagyu beef sliders with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, Kettle chips (condiments available on request) 
  • Whole seasonal fruit
  • Kettle sea salt potato chips
  • White cheddar popcorn
  • ginnyminis oatmeal bliss cookies
  • Ghirardelli chocolates

Warm Nuts, Wine, Sparkling Water.
Meal service began with a beverage offering, served with warm mixed nuts.

I do love the touch that serving nuts warm adds, always a signature American Airlines move.  The mix was mostly cashews and almonds, although I had a single walnut and pistachio in there as well.  The nuts weren't particularly seasoned, but, warm nuts really are nice.
Salad with Blue Cheese and Canape.
Next came our dinner trays, with the canape and salad already on them, along with silverware and butter.

The salad was soggy, the lettuce fairly wilted and not at all crisp.  The blue cheese I opted for was water, more like a vinaigrette?  Certainly not the creamy blue cheese I was hoping for.

The canape was a prosciutto crostini with lime-infused cream cheese.  It was tiny and not very good.  The crostini was hard, stale, crusty bread, and the prosciutto on top was entirely dried out and also very hard.

Bread was offered from a basket, white or rye, which I skipped.

The Vermont Creamery butter was cute, and a quality item, but seemed wasteful, as it was a lot of butter for each person.
Mushroom Wellington.
"Mushroom Wellington, sautéed spinach, slow-roasted tomatoes, pine nuts."

For my main dish, I pre-selected the vegetarian option, the Mushroom Wellington, since I don't like lamb or goat cheese, and wasn't really excited about airplane steak.

It was actually really quite good.

I'm not sure I'd really call it a Wellington, but, a tasty mushroom pie it was.  The puff pastry was very buttery, in a good way.  It wasn't crispy and flaky, but it really was good enough.  It had a full bottom crust and a lattice on top.  Inside was a roasted portabella mushroom, covered in a tasty mushroom/garlic/cheese layer.

This was surprisingly good, and I easily devoured it, even though I wasn't hungry due to my lounge excursions.  I'm a sucker for puff pastry.

On the side was the wilted spinach sprinkled with pine nuts on top, which was fine.  The roasted tomatoes were a bit of an odd side dish, but, they too were fine.

Overall, pretty tasty, and I'd get it again.
Lobster Mac and Cheese.
Ojan opted for the grilled beef filet, served with lobster mac and cheese.  I wasn't interested in the beef, but, I did ask him for a little bit of the mac and cheese, which he handed over on his bread plate.

It wasn't anything special, fairly mushy, not creamy, definitely overcooked.  Meh.  I was happy with my choice.
Ghirardelli chocolate raspberry mousse.
Dessert was a struggle for me.  I wanted both the mousse and the Ben & Jerry's ice cream (chocolate fudge brownie, one of the only chocolate ice creams I really like), but I also didn't want the caffeine from the chocolate so late at night (it was nearly midnight at this point, and I knew I needed to get to sleep ...)

I settled on the chocolate mousse, since it was more unique ... I can get Ben & Jerry's anywhere.  (I was also a bit sad that I wouldn't get a signature American Airlines made to order sundae ... I guess that is first class only?)  Also, um, I love puddings.

Anyway, the mousse was a wonderful choice, shockingly good.

A very rich, fluffy yet dense, chocolate mousse.  So rich.  On top was fluffy whipped cream, kinda like cool whip, and a single raspberry, and a dark chocolate spoon.  The base had chocolate cake.

If I want to nit pick, I would have liked an element with some crunch, but, overall, this was far better than I expected.  The serving was also huge, and... uh... I finished it.  (Let's not even get started on the fact that it was my 3rd dessert of the night ...)

Ojan looked over and saw that I'd consumed the whole thing and scolded me, I think mostly due to the amount of caffeine, and because he expected to at least get to try a bite.  Ooops.  It was too good to not devour!

Breakfast

Our second meal was breakfast, served about 2 hours before landing.  You could not order in advance, not even from a card at your seat to maximize sleep.  They woke everyone up for breakfast.  2 hours before landing is also further in advance that Qantas serves breakfast, so, overall, they really cut into our precious sleep time.  For that I was not a fan.

The breakfast also just wasn't substantial, or good.
Breakfast Menu.
For breakfast, the menu read:

Starters
  • Mixed berry smoothie
  • Fresh seasonal fruit
  • Greek yogurt
  • Pan au chocolat
Selections:
  • Traditional American Breakfast: Scrambled egg, Canadian bacon, roasted potatoes, herbed tomato
  • Continental Breakfast: seasonal fruit, organic yogurt, granola
Compared to basically all other business class flights I've been on, this was a pretty weak offering, with only a single hot option.  The menu looked a bit larger than it really was, as the fruit and yogurt from the starters section were the same as the continental.

Compare this to the Qantas offering I normally get on the same LAX-SYD route for example.  On Qantas, the menu starts with a smoothie, fruit salad, and muesli, which is basically the same as on AA (although the muesli is offered with multiple milk options or yogurt), plus multiple types of baked goods and spreads, and THEN you get a hot entree, picked from basic scrambled eggs or fun selections like french toast or pancakes.  And, on Qantas, you order breakfast in advance on a card, and it is brought out individually as the FAs see you wake up.

Or compare to Air New Zealand, the other route I've taken to Sydney (via AKL).  Air New Zealand also didn't have advance ordering, but, the menu was again far more sizable, starting with a smoothie, fruit salad, yogurt, granola or cereal, croissants and other baked goods and spreads, all served as a first course, offered from the cart, and THEN continuing to four different hot options, including scrambled eggs, poached eggs, french toast, and a bacon and cheese bagel, all of which also came with additional sides.

Anyway, on AA, breakfast service began by the FAs suddenly showing up with trays in their hands, and then looking annoyed that no one had their tray tables out ready for them.  Trays were plopped down with barely a word.  Ojan was brought the eggs, even though he asked for continental.
Continental Breakfast, sans fruit.
When my tray arrived, it had a pot of yogurt, a tiny bowl of granola, and, a fruit platter with melons.  Sigh.

I immediately flagged down the flight attendant, reminded her that I was allergic to melon, and she asked if I could just eat around it.  Sigh.  Would I have mentioned this when I first got on the plane, double checked again before breakfast service, and then brought it up now if I could just eat around it?  Double sigh.  In the end, she just took that one plate away, leaving everything else, and assuring me that it had all been wrapped up, so there was no way anything else was contaminated.  Compare this to my Qantas flight, where the FA somehow created me a custom fruit plate ...

So, after taking away the fruit, I had a container of yogurt, and a laughably small portion of granola.  This was the "Continental Breakfast" after all, I had turned down the starter smoothie, and it seemed pretty clear that the duplicate yogurt and fruit mentioned under the starters section were not really options.  This was a very meager breakfast.

The yogurt was Uptown Farms brand, blueberry Greek yogurt, fat-free.  Like most fat-free yogurts with fruit, it was way, way too sweet.  It wasn't creamy, thick Greek yogurt.  It was not good.  (Side note: meanwhile, in economy, they had Noosa yogurt, perhaps my favorite brand ever.  Not fair!)

The granola was standard granola, with nuts and raisins, slightly sweetened.  It was fine, but honestly, I don't know if you can see from this photo how tiny the portion was, but it was literally about 2 spoonfuls, I think intended to be sprinkled onto your yogurt, as no milk was offered.
Continental Breakfast - Fruit + Pan au Chocolat + Coffee.
After a while, when I was beginning to wonder if coffee was also not going to be offered, a FA came by with coffee, and a basket, saying, "Roll?"  I looked up, confused why we'd be getting rolls, and wondering where the pan au chocolat listed on the menu could possibly be.  I looked into her basket, and saw that it contained what sure looked like chocolate croissants to me, albeit very small ones.  I said sure, and 2 mushed, tiny chocolate croissants were plopped down on my plate.

They were mushed, sorta flattened out.  The outside was hard and stale.  But they were warmed up, so, the chocolate inside was warm.  But really, not very good.

And that ... was meal service.  So, from the Starters, I turned down the smoothie, and took the pan au chocoolat.  The fruit and yogurt mentioned there didn't actually exist, as they were part of my continental breakfast.  And without the fruit, this was really much of a meal, at all.

My grumpiness over this meal continued as I could see into first class, where they had pancakes (!) in addition to the scrambled eggs or continental options, and ... pecan sticky buns.

I knew this wasn't enough food for me, so I asked a FA if there was anything else I could have.  I said that I'd even take something from economy, or leftovers from earlier (chocolate mousse for breakfast seems legit to me!), but, she told me no, the only thing left was apples.  Let's just say, I got off the plane, and went straight for food.

Oh, and no coffee refills were ever offered.  I waited until the plates were being cleared away, expecting an offer at that point.  No dice.  No final, "can I get you anything else?"  Nothing.  On my way to the bathroom I stopped at the galley to ask for more coffee, and the FA looked at me and said, "Um, ok", and just glared at me.  Was I really that crazy to want two cups of coffee?  Sigh, the service.

Breakfast, and the service in general, were a real let down, if you couldn't tell.
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