When American Airlines Flagship First Class Compares Poorly To Business Class On Other Airlines

About a month ago I came up with 6 reasons to fly American Airlines rather than Qatar Airways on the New York JFK – Doha route, now that American serves the routes.

  • Fly America Act – government travel and you have to stick with a U.S. carrier
  • Price – American is cheaper for a given trip
  • Your corporate deal requires it – what are you going to do?
  • To use systemwide upgrades – better to fly American business than Qatar economy
  • American has premium economy – a great option for passengers not in a position to fly business
  • There’s sometimes semi-decent web saver award pricing on American, useful for times when Qatar redemptions aren’t available
  • Qatar Airways is so obviously the better experience on average, but I thought that there were also edge cases worth considering.

    Zach Griff does a head-to-head comparison of American and Qatar, but he doesn’t compare both airlines in business class, he compares American Airlines Flagship First class with Qatar Airways business, and finds American’s top product lacking in many regards. That undermines one case where ‘upgrades’ would justify choosing American over Qatar.

    He begins noting that American Airlines has the better ground experience at New York JFK because of its Flagship First Dining room at JFK which Qatar business class passengers cannot access.


    American Airlines Flagship First Dining, New York JFK

    Griff also points out that Qatar allows American Airlines first class passengers to use the incredible al Safwa lounge in Doha, which previously hadn’t been accessible to partner airline first class passengers. I had not realized this. It’s ironic that American gets the nod here for better ground experience as the result of Qatar’s product, but this lounge isn’t open to their own business class passengers (except by way of buy up).


    Qatar Airways al Safwa Lounge, Doha

    He considers the seat to be a toss up between American Airlines first class and Qatar Airways business and Qatar to have the edge in on board soft product, service and food. That sounds about right overall, but I am not sure I’d give Qatar the modest edge to bedding, amenity kits and inflight entertainment that Griff does.

    American’s first class seat was antiquated when it was introduced a decade ago, and it lacks storage space, but I’d take the less crowded cabin and more space per passenger despite the lack of doors over a QSuite if traveling alone. With a partner or a family the flexibility of QSuites configurations offers an edge.

    There’s no question that American’s international first class is appalling in terms of service and food.

    Griff’s review mistakenly claims that American no longer allow first class passengers choose when to have their meals, that “there’s technically no “dine-on-demand” concept in Flagship First,”

    • “Dine Upon Request” is literally a registered trademark of American Airlines.
    • Cabin crew aren’t always good about honoring the benefit, but it is “technically” available

    I’d been told one time, when asked for a dinner order on an 11 p.m. departure, that I could not wait to eat until later in the flight and just sleep for awhile because they were going to heat all of the entrees at once. That was very un-first class, but a deviation from the official service.

    He also says “there’s no turndown service” but that’s not correct either. Don’t expect it to be offered proactively, however it is supposed to be on request by the customer. There are some flight attendants that might meet this request with an eye roll, they’ve certainly expressed that view on message boards. But it’s not quite correct to say that there’s no turndown service as part of Flagship First on American. There is supposed to be – if you request it.

    American should lean on its ground experience, providing Five Star service to everyone departure Flagship First Class long haul, demand better standards for Flagship First Class cabin crew as part of currently open union negotiations, and invest more in on board food.

    The airline’s first class would be desirable, even with the current seat, and would no longer compare unfavorable to a partner airline’s business class. There is of course speculation that, instead, they’ll drop the product entirely.

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