American Airlines Airbus A321T Business Class New York JFK to San Francisco

American Airlines offers premium service on select transcontinental domestic flights. Flagship Business and Flagship First are a vastly improved offering, with similar seating and service to long-haul premium cabins, but on a narrow-body Airbus A321. Tried this on a recent trip from Europe to California and was impressed, but with some reservations.

This report is based on an evening departure (8:29 p.m.) from New York JFK, arriving in San Francisco at 11:51 p.m. I also took a Flagship Business overnight flight from Los Angeles to New York on the way back.


American Airlines Flagship Domestic Service

American Airlines stands out from completion with a premium offer on select transatlantic flights. Its normal domestic services operate as two-class flights, with economy class and first class. First class on these flights is better than that offered by European airlines, usually with seats arranged in a 2-2 rather than 3-3 arrangement. American Airlines’ flagship service goes one step further. This is offered on a fleet of specially equipped Airbus A321 aircraft, designated as the A321T.

Flagship Business offers wider elongated seats arranged 2-2, and Flagship First has larger 1-1 seats arranged. The service is offered on transatlantic routes, including New York JFK to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Orange Country, and Los Angeles to Boston or Miami. Prices can be much higher than standard first class flights, often in the thousands of dollars. My flight was booked as part of an international business class itinerary.

The Business cabin of the American Airlines A321T. Photo: American Airlines

Depart JFK and Flagship Lounge

American Airlines is based in Terminal 8 at JFK airport in New York (along with other aglobal airlines). Transatlantic partner British Airways is currently based in Terminal 7, but the two are expected to move into Terminal 8 together in 2023.

With many American Airlines flights, Terminal 8 is always busy. Flagship business passengers can use American Airlines Priority Check-in. There is a separate, much smarter Flagship First check, but it is not available for Business passengers. I arrived about two hours before an 8:29pm flight and only waited about five minutes to check in. Priority security is also offered. It took longer, but I finished in 15 minutes.

AA priority check-in at JFK Terminal 8. Photo: Justin Hayward / Simple Flying

The Flagship lounge is the first big difference with this A321T service. When traveling in normal domestic first class, passengers do not have access to the lounge. This is only available to status holders with other aglobal airlines. On these flights, premium passengers can access the excellent Flagship Business lounge in the main hall.

The Flagship entrance is separate from the other Admirals Club in the terminal. Photo: Justin Hayward/Simple Flight

The lounge was very busy at this time of the evening, but the layout and service offering was excellent. The Flagship Lounge is located on the level above the lobby, with beautiful large windows overlooking the airport, runway and Manhattan beyond.

America’s flagship show. Photo: Justin Hayward/Simple Flight

There are several different seating areas, including work areas, dining areas, and lounge chairs (near the windows). There is also a quiet room for those who want to rest or even take a short nap. Showers are also available – something I always appreciate before a long day or an overnight flight (many eastbound flights operate overnight).

Food and drinks are self-serve (in comparison, standard American Airlines lounges offer bar service). I had a hot meal from the buffet and it was of excellent quality. There was a good selection of wines, as well as premium liquors available on a self serve basis.

The cabin and seat of the A321T Flagship Business

The Flagship cabin uses the BE Aerospace Diamond seat, a reclined extended seat arranged in a 2-2 formation. There are five rows, offering 20 seats in total.

The seat is comfortable, with fabric and leather upholstery. As you would expect from a 2-2 layout on a narrow body, storage is limited. Space is maximized though, with a small shelf behind the seat (also with power outlets), a fixed table shared between the seats and a decent sized storage shelf below the screen. Above all, it’s big enough to take a laptop and a few other items – enough for a flight like this.

The flagship business cabin of the A321T. Photo: Justin Hayward/Simple Flight

The seat is obviously a huge improvement over a standard domestic first class seat. It’s more comfortable and, of course, a whole different experience if you plan on sleeping. However, you still have an adjacent neighbor and limited privacy. There is more room to get in and out, but when the aisle seat is reclined, it is very difficult for the passenger in the window seat to get out. I chose a window seat for my night flight home and felt trapped!

Flagship commercial service

American Airlines doesn’t just market a better seat for its Flagship flights, it also promises better service. This translates to higher quality meals and bedding and amenities kits more similar to what you’d expect on long-haul flights.

Pre-departure drinks were offered as soon as I boarded – water, juice or Piper-Heidsieck champagne. More drinks and meal service soon followed after takeoff.

You can make your meal selection in advance on the American Airlines website. I like this option. It guarantees your choice of route but also allows you to better plan the flight. If you know that the onboard meal is not what you want, for example, you can choose to eat more in the lounge in advance.

For this flight, I pre-ordered a prime rib dish. Other main choices were Asian style chicken, seared salmon, or spinach and ricotta pasta. Meals were well served, with separate courses of a salad based starter and a choice of dessert.

After the meal, there was no more service for the five and a half hour flight. Drinks were of course available on request, but there was no longer any pre-landing meal or snack service.

The strangest thing, however, was that the crew turned off the cabin lights as soon as the meal service was over. The cabin was not only darkened, it was completely dark. For an evening flight (and not at night), it was very strange. I had planned to do some work, but it was very difficult. Using the individual ceiling light was of course possible, but it wasn’t really enough – plus it would bother my neighbors – who all chose to watch movies in the dark! Same thing happened on my flight home – actually especially since the lights were also out for meal service. It was more understandable, and it was a true “red-eye” night flight and most passengers wanted to maximize rest.

Excellent entertainment system and WiFi

It’s hard to fault the entertainment system provided, especially for a relatively short flight like this. There’s a huge selection of movies and shows, and a few live TV channels. American Airlines offers excellent noise canceling headphones – the same as for international business class flights. There is also WiFi – paid and not offered free – but I did not use it on this flight.

Arrival in San Francisco

The flight went by extremely quickly – even with the lights off – and we arrived a few minutes early in San Francisco. We quickly got off the plane – and I took the opportunity to peek into the first class cabin up front.

Midnight is not the ideal time to arrive in San Francisco, however, if you need onward transportation. Public transport had just ended but there are still many flights arriving at this time. Trying to book a taxi or Uber took a while – but that’s not the airlines fault!

Did you travel on American Airlines’ domestic Flagship service – Business Class or First Class? Do not hesitate to share your experiences of the seats and the service in the comments.

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