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Flying on American Airlines’ 787-8 From Auckland

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Flying on American Airlines’ 787-8 From Auckland

Flying on American Airlines’ 787-8 From Auckland
April 15
08:00 2017

New Zealand is a truly wondrous country. It’d be a great place to ride out an apocalypse. However, given that it seemed America and the rest of the World had remained intact over my vacation – I had to return home.

Auckland’s airport is nowhere near the CBD. It’s in Mangere. For reasons beyond me, there’s no highway to Jean Batten. This means most of the journey must be conducted on often residential surface streets.

Apparently, the local residents also voted down the construction of a rail line. As airport commutes go, I would say that it stands firmly between trying to get to Domodedovo at peak times or trying to drive to Sea-Tac almost any time there’s been a minor car accident. It needs improvement, but almost all airports do in that department.

My local friend recommended taking a bus, but I always find it awkward when I have baggage. Also, it would have been no faster. Nevertheless, Jean Batten is a clean and charming (if leaky) airport.

Check in was a breeze. Even better is the AA iPhone app that allows passengers to track their bags. It also updates quite quickly. In the rare instances when I actually take more than cabin baggage, the amount of peace of mind that provides a simple “your bag is over here” message is surreal.

American Airlines uses the Qantas lounge in Auckland. The caramel chocolate cake is good, but it could certainly use more power points!

After about an hour in the Qantas Club, it was time to walk to gate nine and get on board.

American Airlines 787-8 Seat 6A – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Cabins always look much more inviting during the day. At night they just serve to remind me that I have at least another hour before I can fall asleep without being prodded awake.

American Airlines’ 787 debuted with a bespoke seat designed by them in collaboration with Weber. Unfortunately, Zodiac purchased Weber. Long story short, the remainder of American Airlines’ cabin refurbishment program and non 787-8 deliveries will have B/E Super Diamonds. AA dodged a bullet with Zodiac’s failing. There are obvious and glaring fit and finish issues.

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But to cut to the chase. This is not a good seat.

It looks very nice, and it makes great use of space whilst providing a direct-aisle-access product. Having said that, I was very pleased this was an award redemption.

It is as if the seat was designed by people who had never sat on an aircraft; premium cabin or otherwise, the design choices are bewildering.

There is the, oft-discussed, issue of a super-majority of seats being connected to another seat. The result of that being akin to a mule kicking you should the other passenger do so much as sneeze. I learned that the hard way on the way down. I was very glad to be disconnected in 6A for the reviewed portion of my trip. Had I not been, I suspect most of my notes would have been poorly scrawled obscenities.

Then there is the fact that many seats leave you staring dead-eyed at another passenger’s face. I have never understood the fascination some airlines have with seeing or being seen. This was a seat that was clearly designed for privacy, so staring perplexedly at the person across from you eating a salad is a mystifying oversight.

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The controller for both the IFE and the seat itself are both above eye-level. This makes it exceedingly unpleasant to manipulate either whilst lying down. Actually, it makes it a bit egregious to manipulate whilst seated.

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The seat in and of itself is ridiculously narrow. I know sources claim it is between 21 and 26 inches wide. Maybe at head level? Where it actually counts, in bed mode, it is perilously tight. Especially at the footwell. We’ll come back to that.

If you wear spectacles, as I do, there is nearly nowhere you feel comfortable putting them. In fact, in terms of storage for any item; this seat is woeful.

In terms of the connectivity, I would appreciate the multiple USB and 110V power outlets – but due to its minuscule width, I am not sure how I could have any more than a laptop and my iPhone plugged in without being crowded out by devices. It looks like serious business, though.

We know this seat was clearly designed by the competition as no one would suggest this design would raise yields. AA probably spent a lot of money on designing this turkey. If Zodiac hadn’t failed, AA flyers would be stuck with this for at least a decade.

It’s not all horrors that only the top tier frequent flyer really cares about. The view is unreal!

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Now that we know the seat is seriously not worth your EQD, let’s talk about what actually made this a very good flight on American Airlines: The crew and the catering.

AA’s really stepped it up there. Yeah, I’m not kidding. I say this as someone who non-ironically has a shrine to Richard Anderson in his model cabinet. AA really meant it when they said they were going for great.

When the Customer Service Manager Terri came by to welcome me, it wasn’t forced. In fact, everyone on her team was exceedingly genuine. A massive change since the last time I flew AA in a premium long-haul situation where I described the flight attendants as skittish and perhaps a figment of my imagination.

AA’s partnership with Cole Haan for amenity kits shows up in fun places, like the highlights on the pajamas (Which, also got more comfortable.)

The amenity kits themselves were also quite nice, as they remind me of my shoes. I am vain enough for this to thrill me.

What really blew me away, though, was the attention to detail and massive uptick in innovation and quality of the catering. Gone are the sauceless roast chickens with stogy “risotto.”

Lunch was a three-course meal I actually wanted to eat.

Firstly, I must laud AA for doing something other than a smoked-fish starter. They are played out. I also dislike most seafood.

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This was a lovely, chilled, lamb.

It was even still medium rare!

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The main was, again, lamb. I had preordered it. This lamb was also hot, and therefore reheated in the ovens. It tasted great, but it was far overcooked. The lamb was served with something that was described as a cassoulet.

It was great, but it wasn’t a true cassoulet. The beans were a little too al-dente.

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Also, gone are the days when only a mere ice-cream Sundae is your premium dessert choice. I had a chocolate mousse with a generous quantity of alcohol next to it to try and hasten some slumber.

The caramel was a little too liquid, but it was still the best dessert I have ever had on American Airlines.

However, I needed to wrap up an episode of Suits on the good quality IFE. On my flight down, the screen was quite vibrant and in good condition. On this flight, it looked like there was some sort of strange calibration or signal issue. Even with the windows fully darkened, the entire cast appeared to be caught in a shadow. This made watching the, terrible, Suicide Squad over lunch problematic for reasons beyond the movie’s pacing.

As I reclined my seat, following the orders of making sure my feet were firmly on the ottoman, the screen appeared further washed out. Worse, the screen does not tilt. I took it as a sign that I should lie down.

Remember before how I said that the seat is wide enough whilst seated, but not so whilst couchant? Buckle up. I have much to say.

First, a question. When they were testing this seat, connected or otherwise, did anyone ever lie in it? Those of you who know me know that I have the stereotypical build of a helicopter pilot. I am not a large man, save my gut.

If I felt oddly hemmed in, imagine an average person? It is beyond challenging to get comfortable and stay that way. Like being able to move your feet? Yeah, not in that footwell.

To sleep, forget about sleeping on your side. You must lie, face up, with your arms by your side. Eventually, I passed out. But I can sleep on anything. I must also mention that the pillow, while better than British Airways, is a tiny bit lacking. It’s tiny. Maybe if I was given two?

When I awoke, by changing cabin light. It was time for breakfast.

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Again, it was way above what the “old” American Airlines used to serve. They also managed to brew the tea correctly.

We landed in Los Angeles only two minutes before customs opened. Ending what was an interesting experience.

So, there you have it. This flight was a real mixed bag. The seat is uncomfortable and falling apart, but the service was fantastic. Still, if you are a Oneworld person and want to go to NZAA it is far more convenient than a connection in Sydney.

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Bernie Leighton

Bernie Leighton

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1 Comment

  1. Rick Putnam
    Rick Putnam April 15, 21:31

    Very interesting critique. Thanks.

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