Washington, D.C. Stories and Tips

Flying to DC in First Class!

Flying above Long Beach Photo, Washington, D.C., United States

This is a review of first class service aboard American Airlines Flight 76, from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Washington Dulles International (IAD.) I filed this review under Washington DC, since that is our destination.

A little background first, I usually don’t ever fly upgraded when I’m by myself, in fact, I usually don’t care how many stopovers I make or how tight the connection. I'm a mileage hound, so more stops usually means more miles earned on the frequent flyer program. However, on occasion, when I’m with friends, I’ll purchase a flight and offer miles for upgrades. I’d rather do that than use the miles for a free flight, especially if the fare itself is on sale and rather cheap.

Los Angeles International Airport is a zoo. LAX is overcrowded, antiquated, and generally never my airport of choice. The redeeming factor is that American Airlines has a separate check-in area for business and first class, and AAirpass, a pre-paid fare program. We had to wait about 30 minutes to get our bags checked in and ticketed. Plus there is no baggage check-in fee for upgraded passengers. We had to press our way past the throngs of travelers crammed into the coach check-in area to reach the upgraded security line. Once past security, we were also amongst the first to board our plane, an older Boeing 757.

The first class seats on American’s 757 are simply wider versions of coach seats, except with two seats, the aisle, then two more seats, whereas the coach area is three plus three. The 757 is a two class configuration, with first and coach sections only, no business section. So our mileage upgrade bumped us up all the way to first. The seats are nice leather seats with electronic recline, and an adjustable footrest. There are power ports under all the seats, and very large armrests, which also serve as drink holders and hide our tray tables and a smaller, separate drink table. The seats don’t recline to a lie-flat position, but recline about 75 degrees back, with nearly matching angle from the footrest. A pillow and blanket, a rarity in coach, were on every first class seat.

Service started before we were airborne, as we were given a choice of orange juice, apple juice or water in plastic stemware. Once we were airborne though, our drink ware changed from little plastic stemware to nice glass tumblers and wine glasses. Instead of bagged miscellaneous party mix, we were given a nice assortment of warm nuts and pretzels served in ceramic ramekins. All drinks were complimentary, including alcohol. Since this was a morning flight, we were given a menu with breakfast choices. I chose the breakfast scramble of eggs, cheese, bacon, on top of breakfast hash. The other choices were oatmeal, cereals, and fruits. My breakfast came with a choice of croissant or biscuit, and a fruit salad, all served on nice gold lined china and glassware. As far as airline food, this was excellent. However on the ground, this would be considered only above average. I think the cooking process for airline meals leaves something to be deserved, but our meals hit the spot. Even after our meals, drinks kept flowing. About half an hour before landing, we could smell that our flight attendants were baking fresh cookies in the galley. A few minutes later, our flight attendants came out with fresh chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookies and milk or whatever else we wanted to drink. I felt sorry for those in the first several rows of the coach cabin, as the fresh baked cookie smell must have wafted back there. Maybe not.

In flight entertainment was via several hanging TV screens, showing various excerpts from CBS television shows. Since this was an older aircraft, there were no individual video screens. The skies were mostly clear, and we could see a lot as we passed overhead. The combination of scenic flight and on board entertainment, as well as comfort helped the flight time to pass quickly. In fact, we barely looked at our watches, hoping the flight would land soon.

Some would say that an upgraded flight isn’t worth it. We arrived at the same destination at the same time as the other passengers. The main differences are quicker check-in, quicker security lines, comfortable seats, excellent drink and food service. But the greatest benefit is feeling refreshed at the end of our flight, not being crammed into a narrow seat. Since we used miles for the upgrade, it was a nice treat.

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