American Airlines Airbus A321T Flagship Business Review [JFK to SFO]

Flagship Business can often be into the thousands of dollars. Image Credit: American Airlines

You’d be hard-pressed to find one-way to London from the East Coast (a flight that can take less time than my JFK-SFO flight) for anywhere close to $568.

I could, of course, have used Avios, but then I wouldn’t have earned the 140 Tier Points I needed to make sure I made Gold elite status with BA.

Bottom Line: Check out our guide for everything you need to know about American Airlines Flagship Business and Flagship First — 2 of the most luxurious ways to fly across the continent. 

So, that said, I went ahead and paid $568 for my one-way flight.

Flagship Business (and Flagship First) passengers are able to select their meal option in advance so as not to be disappointed on the day.

I always try to eat as healthy as possible when traveling, so I went for the grilled sea bass.

American Airlines’ online advance food selection page. Image Credit: American Airlines

Checking in at New York (JFK)

There’s no mistaking which airline has its hub at JFK’s Terminal 8.

All American Airlines flights at JFK operate from Terminal 8.

I arrived at JFK at 1:40 p.m. after a fun last evening in Williamsburg with friends  — well in advance of my scheduled 5 p.m. departure.

I followed the signs for check-in at the first entrance door I came to nearest the top of the ramp to the drop-off area.

One of the entrances to JFK’s Terminal 8.

I then filtered right in the direction of priority check-in alongside the cordoned-off construction area.

A staffer was on hand close to the entrance to help passengers should they need it.

Self-service check-in to the left, priority check-in to the right.

I was definitely expecting the terminal to be busier.

Welcome to Terminal 8.

I spotted the priority check-in area a little further down on the right.

Priority check-in.

As a Flagship Business ticket-holder, I was eligible to use American’s dedicated priority check-in. I would also have been eligible if I’d been flying economy thanks to my British Airways Silver status (Oneworld Sapphire).

Priority check-in eligibility.

Next door to priority check-in was the temporary Flagship First check-in area.

Temporary check-in for Flagship First.

As nobody was in line, I had to wait less than a minute for a check-in agent to free up.

First in line.

My bag was weighed and tagged and I was handed my boarding pass in no time.

See you in SFO.

I was shocked by the lack of line at security.

Where was everyone?

There was a slight hold up due to angry security staff taking no prisoners with people passing their items through the security scanner incorrectly.

Rules for security scanning change from airport to airport, so it’s no wonder people get confused.

JFK Airport

Even with a slight delay, I made it airside after less than 25 minutes of arriving at the terminal.

A big apple for The Big Apple.

I loved the trip down American Airlines’ logo memory lane on the short walk across to the lounge.

American Airlines’ logo across the ages.

New York JFK Flagship Lounge

The entrance to American Airlines’ Terminal 8 Flagship Lounge is directly opposite where you enter the departures area after clearing security.

You can’t miss it.

I showed the lounge agent my boarding pass and proceeded left into the lounge.

The entrance to American Airlines’ Flagship Lounge at JFK.

I was greeted with an offer of a glass of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne. I obliged; it was a Saturday afternoon, after all.

I do enjoy Champagne on arrival.

I intended to get some writing done for a couple of hours before my flight. Instead, I was approached by a keen frequent flyer who recognized me from articles I’d written. We sat and talked about all things mileage runs and status until it was almost time for me to board.

It was an absolute pleasure and it’s little moments like that when I appreciate my job more than ever.

He even asked a staff member if he could invite me into the Flagship First dining area but, as per the rules, it was a hard no.

Blue skies, bubbles, and planes.

The food options available in the lounge were plentiful. I was rather hungry and devoured about 4 or 5 of the winter citrus roasted chicken legs, as well as some vegetables.

The Flagship Lounge menu.

The lounge was perfectly situated to watch my aircraft roll down the apron.

American Airlines N101NN arriving onto stand.

It parked downstairs at gate 12, right in front of where I was sitting.

My ride to SFO.

As it happens, the lounge is a great spot for getting a glimpse of all kinds of American Airlines aircraft as the apron it looks out onto is pretty much exclusively used by American Airlines.

An American Eagle returning to the nest.

For everything you need to know about the Flagship Lounge at JFK, including entry requirements, check out my colleague Stephen’s full review.

Boarding at JFK

As I arrived at the gate later than I usually would, boarding had already started.

Gate 12 at JFK.

A little frustrated with myself for not being among the first on board to get empty cabin photos, I made my way to the line where boarding group 4 had just been called.

POV: Boarding with Group 4 when you’re actually Group 1.

On Board American Airlines Airbus A321T

10 minutes after I joined the line to board I was sat in 6A with a welcome drink of yet another glass of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne.

Out of office mode: On.

A further 10 minutes went by while the rest of the passengers boarded and we pushed back from the gate at 4:55 p.m. — 5 minutes ahead of our scheduled departure time.

Ciao for now, New York.

We took off in a northwesterly direction and then looped a full 360 degrees around passing south of JFK before heading northwest.

The route we took when departing JFK. Image Credit: FlightRadar24

As such, we were spoiled with views of JFK from the port side of the aircraft.

Shortly after departing JFK.JFK from the air in all its glory.

Flagship Business Seat

I picked this plane for a reason, as it’s the only aircraft that operates American Airlines’ Flagship Business product on the route from JFK to SFO.

As the Airbus A321T is just a narrow body, there’s less space across the rows for seats. American decided to fit their domestic A321Ts with a 2-2 configuration in business class. Other airlines, such as JetBlue, opt for 1-1 configuration in business class on some of their narrow-body aircraft.

Not having direct aisle access from a business class seat on a flight of almost 6 hours can be bothersome — not for me as a window passenger, but for the man next to me who insisted on moving his feet off his footrest rather than letting me step over his legs as I told him I was more than happy to do.

Waiting for me at my seat was a blanket and pillow.

Welcome to seat 6A.

A bottle of water and a Shinola amenity kit were stashed in the storage area over my left shoulder.

I much prefer fabric seats like this rather than leather ones.

Seat 6A.

The storage area was also home to a universal power outlet, as well as a USB port and a headphone jack.

Power outlets, Shinola amenity kit, and a bottle of water.

A wide shared console with a table area on top made for a sense of separation between myself and my neighbor. While we weren’t on top of each other, the seats have little-to-no privacy.

Separation console.

The tray table for my seat was stored within the console and was easy to pull out.

Easy-accessible tray table.

The table could be left folded in half for just setting down a drink.

The tray table folded in half.

It could be fully extended for eating or working with a laptop.

The tray table fully extended.

As for legroom, I had plenty. In fact, I could barely reach the footrest.

I’m not even that short!

The best thing about this seat is that it reclines into a fully-flat bed. Not so essential for my late afternoon flight chasing the sunset, but definitely a bonus for those taking this flight in the opposite direction overnight.

Seat 6A fully extended.

When the seat was fully extended, I found storing my possessions a little fiddly as I had to cram everything into the storage way up high from where I was laid flat.

I treated myself to a quick nap.

A second, thin storage area was underneath the IFE monitor directly in front of me.

I spy more storage.

This storage was only suitable for things like a laptop, a thin purse/wallet, the Bose headphones that come with the seat, and an empty water bottle that hadn’t been cleaned away from a previous passenger. I’ll accept no excuses for this either as this was the aircraft’s first flight of the day.

No excuses for litter.The perfect spot for laptop stowage.

Flagship Business Cabin

The cabin with its 2-2 configuration looks a little cramped.

The A321T’s Flagship First cabin during boarding.

Once we were airborne and the lights were dimmed low, the feeling changed from cramped to cozy.

The Flagship Business cabin mid-flight.The Flagship Business cabin from the back.

Food and Beverage

I couldn’t wait to peruse my first ever Flagship Business menu when it was handed to me before take-off.

Roasted beet and goat’s cheese timbale was the only option for the starter. This would be accompanied by a baby spinach and kale salad as well as “gourmet” bread.

For mains, I could have chosen from gorgonzola-crusted beef filet, braised chicken cacciatore, grilled sea bass, or porcini tortelloni.

And for something sweet to finish off, I had the choice of American’s traditional ice cream sundae, a classic lemon tart, or a gourmet cheese board.

I noticed that orders seemed to be taken from the back of the cabin first rather than the front as I’m used to. I wondered if this was because there were AAdvantage elite members with higher status than my British Airways Silver status.

First to arrive — around 30 minutes into the flight — was a(nother) glass of bubbles that I’d requested as my first drink along with a helping of warm nuts.

First drink and nuts.

This was kept topped up until I didn’t fancy any more.

Free-flowing bubbles.

A tablecloth was then laid on my tray table.

It’s the little touches like this that make all the difference.

My starter and salad arrived 30 minutes after my first drink.

James, the purser, asked if I’d like dressing with my salad or just plain, which was a nice touch as I prefer my salads to not be swimming in calories.

The colorful salad and starter.

I’d completely forgotten I’d pre-ordered the sea bass, but was very happy that I did as it was a flavorsome, perfectly thick-cut piece of fish. I think I even said “wow” aloud after my first bite.

The accompanying veggies were equally well-cooked and tasty.

10/10 for the sea bass

It was only when I’d finished eating that I realized the amount of grease and oil that was left in my dish.

Well, they had to cook the fish somehow…

As I wasn’t tempted by either of the sweet options, I settled for the not-so-gourmet cheese board. It should have been called a gourmet grape board given there were 8 grapes and only 3 small pieces of cheese.

The least gourmet cheese board I’ve ever seen.

Even though it’s an almost-6-hour flight, American doesn’t serve a second meal on this flight. Instead, Flagship Business passengers are offered classic warm cookies around 45 minutes before landing.

The American Airlines cookie.

A snack basket was displayed in the forward galley should hunger strike between the meal service and end-of-flight cookie.

Snack basket.

Soft drinks, beer, wine, spirits, and Piper-Heidsieck Champagne were on offer to drink.

As it was Saturday night, I stuck to the bubbles as my choice of sundowner.

Saturday nights are for Champagne sunsets while a mile high.

Cleanliness

Other than the stray empty water bottle that had been leftover from a previous flight the day before, I didn’t notice discrepancies in the cleanliness of the aircraft during my flight.

Amenities

The most exciting amenity for me was the set of Bang & Olufsen headphones that actually canceled out all other noise.

I was told before take-off that headphones would be collected around 40 minutes before landing as they’re absolutely not to be taken off the aircraft with you.

American Airlines signature Bang & Olufsen noise-canceling headphones.

Shortly after take-off, a flight attendant made a PA explaining that there were issues with the Wi-Fi and that they were going to try to fix it ASAP.

It wasn’t able to be fixed, so we were without connection for the duration of the almost-6-hour flight.

No Wi-Fi on this flight. P.S., I have now cleared up my desktop after getting the shocked faces of friends who’d seen what a mess it was.

It was the weekend, anyway, and no Wi-Fi meant more time checking out the Thales 3D maps.

3D Maps.

I tracked our progress across the continent.

The route from JFK to SFO.

But before the sun eventually went down, I passed my time taking in these incredible views over the U.S. and Canada.

Somewhere over the American/Canadian border.A very frozen Lake Erie.

The IFE system was stocked full enough of films and shows to keep me entertained during the flight. I imagine the reason I couldn’t get Apple TV+ to work was because of the kaput Wi-Fi.

Apple TV+ would have been nice if it had worked.

I went for the easy-watching, laugh-a-minute “Trainwreck.” Navigating the IFE using the touchscreen was glitchy and sluggish so I resorted to the hand-held control.

You’re not allowed to judge my choice of film.

It was located low down on my right.

The home of the remote console.

I loved the plumpness of the Casper pillow that was offered in addition to the Casper blanket (not pictured).

Casper bedding.

The Shinola amenity kit came with the goodies you’d expect from a business class flight: flight socks, an eye mask, ear plugs, a dental kit, moisturiser, and a tiny pen. Why are they always so tiny?

Contents of the amenity kit.

Bathroom

The bathroom was situated just in front of my row next to the galley and was reserved for Flagship Business passengers only. It was on the small side, which is to be expected on a narrow-body aircraft like the Airbus A321T.

Inside the bathroom.

In terms of bathroom amenities, these were very basic for a business class bathroom: just regular non-branded soap from a faucet-like dispenser and a box of tissues.

Restroom sink.

There was a power outlet (for shaving?)…

Does anyone actually shave on planes?

…and a fold-down platform for diaper changing.

Baby changing facilities.

Service

The service absolutely met my high expectations of Flagship Business class. Here’s why.

When I boarded, James — the cabin crew lead for Flagship Business — asked if I was familiar with the seat and where all the power outlets were. I’d never been asked this previously so it took me pleasantly by surprise.

We were also offered a welcome drink of either water, orange juice, or Piper-Heidsieck Champagne.

I’ll have the whole tray, please.

Naturally, I went for the bubbles.

I also really appreciate a hot towel service, so was happy when these were handed out.

These should have been renamed “scalding” rather than “hot” towels.

I couldn’t fault the proactiveness of James who made sure my glass was never empty, meaning I never had to ask for a drink (other than water).

When James came to clear away my tray I told him that the meal was amazing. He replied with a “yeah, yeah” which I thought to be rather standoffish but I figured he may have just misunderstood what I’d said what with the noise of the engines, the muffling of the masks, and my British accent.

A couple of hours later, I popped into the galley to chat with James and a couple of other crew members who were more than happy to have a chat and take a quick selfie.

Thank you to James and the rest of the crew for a great first Flagship Business experience.

COVID-19 Protocols

At the time of my flight, mask-wearing in airports and on flights in the U.S. was still mandated by the CDC. To that effect, regular announcements were made throughout the flight to remind passengers to wear their masks unless eating or drinking.

Arrival

Thanks to my position towards the main exit door of the aircraft, I was swiftly off the plane and into the fancy new Harvey Milk terminal at SFO at around 8:20 p.m.

It was an unexpectedly impressive welcome to the city, and a far more beautiful one compared to the last time I landed at the airport 10 years ago.

I walked through the terminal, which felt more like a fancy shopping mall, quite literally mouth agape at just how spectacular the space was. There was even a Harvey Milk exhibition curated by SFO Museum.

It felt like a long wait between getting off the plane and being reunited with my bag at 9 p.m. but it was also already midnight in New York, so I was pretty tired.

Waiting for my case at SFO’s Harvey Milk Terminal.

Final Thoughts

I was very happy I’d decided to splash out a little on my transcontinental flight between New York and San Francisco.

I know it’s not classed as a long-haul flight, but at almost 6 hours and with a 3-hour time difference, it felt pretty much the same as my flight over to the U.S. from London (LHR) to New York (JFK).

Having a lie-flight seat meant I was able to get some proper shut-eye and I really enjoyed the food. My glass of bubbles was constantly topped up.

While I couldn’t fault the crew at all with their service and professionalism, it just felt a little cold compared to other airlines. For example, it was poles apart from the crew I had on my JetBlue flight.

When all’s said and done, I would absolutely recommend booking American Airlines Flagship Business if it operates on your desired transcontinental route.

Thank you for the sunset ride, American.

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