A Recent Experience Proves American Airlines Should Keep International First Class

Following an enjoyable and memorable trip to Italy, I managed to fly on one of the very few aircraft operated by American Airlines that features an international first class cabin.  International first class has been widely phased out at American Airlines with plans to have the Boeing 777-300ER as the only aircraft to feature the airline’s Flagship First Class product.  American Airlines still operates a couple of Boeing 777-200s with the airline’s original Flagship First Class. However, this product will be phased out in the coming months as American completes their Boeing 777-200 fleet overhaul.

It’s widely known that US airlines are no longer interested in offering international first class.  In recent years, American, Delta, and United have all focused their efforts on their international business class products.  American Airlines has introduced a variety of new flat-bed business products, Delta recently unveiled their new DeltaONE product featuring enclosed suites, and United introduced Polaris Business.  Within the next year or two, it’s highly likely that American Airlines will be the only US airline to offer an international first class product.

I get that American’s international first class product isn’t close to the standards of Middle Eastern or Asian carriers.  I get that their product is substandard and doesn’t make much sense when American Airlines operates a solid international business class product.  For the longest time, I thought that international first class on US carriers was a complete waste.  However, my opinion has since changed.  After flying in American Airlines’ ancient Flagship First Class from Milan to Miami, I believe that US airlines can and should continue to offer international first class.  Here’s why.


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American Airlines’ Fantastic International First Class Lounges

American Airlines recently unveiled their highly-anticipated Flagship First Class tableside dining.  Tableside dining is available exclusively to passengers booked in international first class and flying on American’s Flagship transcon routes in first class.  Other bloggers were invited to partake in tastings of the debut of the menu.  From what I’ve heard, the food is phenomenal and the new service coupled with the airline’s fantastic newly redesigned lounges puts American’s Flagship First Class Lounges in line with foreign carriers.

New American Airlines First Class Lounge at JFK view of bar

The unfortunate part of American’s tableside dining experience is the lack of customers who will get to experience the service.  Removing international first class allows only a small handful of passengers to experience this new service.


American Airlines’ Comfortable and Spacious International First Class Product

On my flight from Milan to Miami, I sat in American’s original Flagship First Class product.  Yes, it’s extremely dated and isn’t aesthetically pleasing in the least bit.  However, the product is still exceptionally comfortable, spacious, and surprisingly functional.  The product is so ancient that I had to bust out the DC adapter to charge my devices.  Still, DC power aside, I honestly enjoyed the dated product.That’s not to mention that American’s new International First Class product is not only aesthetically pleasing but also has a premium feel to it.

For passengers lucky enough to find themselves on the Boeing 777-300ER, they’ll enjoy American’s latest Flagship First Class product.

American Airlines Old International First Class

American Airlines Old International First Class

American Airlines Old International First Class Bed

American Airlines Old International First Class Bed

Both the original and updated International First Class products feature a comfortable and massive flat-bed seat.  The seat can swivel around so that you can directly face the window.  Additionally, the flatbeds are wide, long, and very comfortable.  I managed to get roughly four hours of sleep (midday!) from Milan to Miami.  The updated product also features multiple power outlets, USB ports, a large entertainment system, high-tech seat controls, ample storage, and even a little vanity mirror.

The First Class cabin features an updated and enhanced version of American’s Flagship Suite seats. (Image: American Airlines)

American’s new Flagship First Class cabin reminds me a lot of Lufthansa’s First Class product.  Both products are open suites (and feature little privacy) however, are very comfortable and functional.


Tasty International First Class Cuisine

I flew American’s Flagship Business Class product from New York to Barcelona on the inbound leg of my trip to Italy.  Dinner was served on the flight and though it was tasty and filling, it wasn’t nearly as extensive as the service offered in Flagship First Class.  Both American and United have received criticism in the past for adding a soup course to international business class service dining and calling it international first class.  It appears that American Airlines has improved their international first class dining even though they’re set to remove the cabin from additional aircraft.

Unfortunately, I only had the appetite for just two courses and the light meal offered prior to arrival.  Though I had just four courses, there was a total of nine.  In-flight dining in international first class on American is as follows:

  1. Pre-departure beverage of choice
  2. Small Plate (choice of two)
  3. Soup
  4. Salad
  5. Main Plate (choice of four)
  6. Dessert (choice of four)
  7. Mid-flight snacks (in galley or walk-up bar)
  8. Light Meal
  9. Cookies

No, it’s not nearly as extensive as what’s offered on Etihad or Lufthansa, however, Flagship First Class still offers passengers additional choices and added flexibility.  It’s also noteworthy that my flight from Milan to Miami featured lunch service.  Lunch service is typically the least thought out service offered on airlines.  Still, I enjoyed every plate on my flight.

From Milan to Miami I had the fresh and savory rose harissa hummus for my first course.  I passed on both the tomato soup and wedge salad.  For my main course, I had one of the tastiest dishes I’ve ever had in-flight.  I had the chanterelle-stuffed guinea hen.  The hen was cooked to perfection and was bursting with flavor.  Honestly, it is right up there with the lamb I had in Lufthansa First Class a few months ago.

Dessert, a warm chocolate brownie with caramel and vanilla ice cream, also hit the spot.  Finally, for my light meal, I had the barbecue beef sandwich with brie and sweet chili jam.  Though not very pleasing to look at, it was surprisingly tasty and the beef was tender.

It’s also worth noting that the beverage selection is more extensive in Flagship First Class compared to Flagship Business Class.  There were nine wines to choose from on this flight in addition to the extensive list of other alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, coffee, and tea.  On my flight to Miami to Milan, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle champagne was served.  A bottle of this champagne retails for roughly $130 to $150 a bottle.

American airlines International First Class Champagne

American Airlines International First Class Champagne

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how flavorful and well executed the meal service was in International First Class on American.


International First Class Service and Amenities Still Rivals Business Class

This is one of the larger differences between Flagship First Class and Flagship Business Class.  In international first class on American, passengers receive the following:

  • A mattress pad
  • Two pillows
  • A comforter
  • Pajamas
  • Slippers
  • Premium Cole Haan Amenity Kit
  • Arrival gift consisting or premium chocolates

In international business class, passengers receive a single pillow and comforter.  Additionally, turn down service is offered in Flagship First Class.  The amenity kits, though similar, are different.  The international first class amenity kit features 3LAB amenities which are more premium compared to CO Bigelow amenities offered in business class.  Moreso, the amenity kit itself is much larger and feels more substantial than the amenity kit offered in business class.

The service also felt more exclusive.  There were two flight attendants (possibly more) to serve a total of 13 passengers.  Both flight attendants were very attentive and super professional.  The purser was one of the better flight attendants I’ve had on a US carrier.  He was very personable and made it a point to go above and beyond.  Throughout the flight, he referred to passengers by their first or last names.  The service seemed more passenger-oriented compared to my experiences in American’s international business class product.


Overall

I know what many readers are still thinking, “But have you seen the Etihad First Class apartments?”  I understand that American’s international first class product pales in comparison to what’s offered on Etihad, Emirates, and Cathay Pacific.  However, if you’re going to be reasonable, the service, though offered in an ancient and antiquated cabin, was fantastic.  It was personalized, the food was flavorful, and there were noticeable differences between first class and business class.  So why doesn’t American Airlines continue to invest in their international first class and offer it on more routes?

The answer is profitability.  Corporate travel isn’t done in international first class so American and United would have to rely solely on super-premium passengers.  However, the possibility of winning over those super-premium passengers is slim to none.  Etihad, Emirates, Lufthansa, and other foreign carriers have done their damage.  US carrier cannot operate international first class profitably unless they can attract a niche group of customers who’d rather fly foreign carriers.

When was the last time you flew international first class on a US airline?  Do you think American, United, or Delta should work on offering an international first class product that can compete with foreign airlines?