Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: American Airlines Flagship First Class

The last segment of this review focused on American’s new Business Class on the A321T, but this time around, we’ll jump up front.

  • Introduction: Scoring and Considerations
  • United Airlines p.s. (757)
  • Delta One (757)
  • AA Business Class (A321T)
  • AA Flagship First (A321T)
  • JetBlue Mint (A321T)
  • Virgin America (A320)
  • Results and Summary

Hard Product

Due to Hollywood contracts, American is the only airline to offer a three-cabin first class service from coast to coast. With only 10 seats per plane in a 1-1 configuration, it’s about as private as you can get in domestic commercial aviation. It’s a similar to what’s offered by Cathay Pacific on its 777 long-haul business class, EVA’s Royal Laurel Business Class, and US Airways’ Envoy Suite.

Some people really love these seats for the ample armrest workspace and the angle away from the aisle, but I find them cramped and narrow for how much space they take up (You have to fully take the chair out of lounge mode to get up — even if you’re of normal size and agility), and I wish there were more places for devices and storage. Lavatory ratio is 10:1, so better than most business class offerings, though not quite as good as Virgin.

AA First Seat

While this is one of the most sought after seats in international business class, I find it a little narrow and cramped and the armrest working area a little awkward. You have to bring the seat nearly upright to get out. But many people disagree with me and highly rate this seat.

The cabin, as mentioned previously, is REALLY well done with very modern finishings, plenty of space for as many bags as you could think to bring on board and great soft lighting. The only downside is that the entire plane boards through door 1L, so that privacy only starts once the door closes. You get a parade of all 102 passengers while you’re sipping your pre-departure beverages.

Soft Product

I asked the flight attendants on both segments about the differences between business and first and they very matter-of-factly explained that the service is nearly identical, with first getting an extra appetizer, more privacy (so you’re really paying for the seat and exclusivity), and better flight attendant and bathroom ratios.

True to form, the food and drinks were about the same in quality between Business and First Class, with maybe a slight upgrade in wine quality. The amenity kit included the same lotion, lip balm, eye mask, and ear plugs from the business class kit, but in a nicer bag that also included socks and toothbrush/toothpaste.

When I flew Flagship First back in April, the product was still quite new so there was clearly some pride in the upgraded offering, though the service felt very unsure.

Ground Services

American steps up its already pretty good ground services in business to an even more exclusive experience with private, slick, flagship check-in areas at both JFK and LAX that drop you off at the absolute front of security.

AA Flagship Lounge New York

The JFK Flagship Lounge is pretty nice, though it gets really crowded in the afternoon likely due to Europe and South America departures.

AA Flagship Lounge New York Food

The food options in JFK were fresh and flavorful.


The LAX Flagship Lounge, by contrast, rarely gets crowded and has ample opportunity for celebrity spotting.


It also probably has the biggest selection of booze of any US carrier lounge I’ve ever visited.


There’s also a pretty healthy selection of food. If your arrive for a red-eye and the Flagship Lounge is already closed, the agents will give you vouchers that can be used for food on the menu at the adjoining Admirals Club.

The terminals are much the same, but with three cabin first you also get access to the Flagship First Lounges at JFK and LAX. The LAX lounge in particular is quite good offering a large selection of food and many drinks (even by international standards - put it on the level of a solid business lounge of a foreign carrier) while the JFK is similar, but tends to get much more crowded and worn down.


The WiFi, in-flight entertainment, headphones, and power ports are exactly the same in Flagship First as in business class. There was nothing different to report here.

Fleet and Operations

The same frequency of four flights to SFO and 11-13 flights daily to LAX apply here. There’s just a crazy amount of lift to LAX. Similarly, first class has the same mediocre on-time arrival issues as business class, maybe saving a few seconds. :)

Other than that, there are very few differences between business and first, making it hard to justify the extra cost in miles or dollars. However, award availability tends to be much better than business class, even though there are half as many seats flying. There is still lots of inventory — more than JetBlue or Virgin America — so in some ways it might be better to consider the cost of first class as a “last seat available” charge for business class with a few extra perks thrown in.

Overall Impression

AA Flagship First is a well-executed concept and clearly shows the carrier making strides in investing in its product. If you truly value privacy, this is about as exclusive as it gets, both on the ground and in the air. However, the experience compared with other premium offerings might not make it worth the extra cost for most people. Still AA First is making a solid effort and is strongly competitive with Delta and JetBlue overall.

5 Responses to “Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: American Airlines Flagship First Class”

  1. Does AA overbook J and then upgrade people to F on a regular basis when necessary? I think this would explain the fact that you can almost always find F award space, but rarely can you find J space.

    • I can’t speak with certainty, but given the fact that the difference in operating cost has to be tiny between J and F, I wouldn’t be surprised if high fare J flyers often get the seats upfront when the cabin is oversold. Remember, the hollywood contracts limits AA’s risk to offer the three cabin service, but it’s unlikely to be filled on any given flight. That’s why it can be useful to think of their F product as “last seat availability of J, with extra perks thrown in” vs. an incremental 7.5k miles worth of “premium value”

  2. I see that inventory for Business is pretty wide open. I booked an April 29 flight JFK-SFO way back in June 2014, and inventory in “C” was at 7 at that time (meaning 7 or more). No issues to upgrade us 4 in the Party :-)


  1. Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: Results and Summary - Travel Codex - March 30, 2024

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