American Airlines Flight 116, New York-JFK to London-Heathrow
The American Airlines terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport never seems crowded, even when it’s running at full tilt, thanks to its airy and open design that keeps passengers moving without long waits. American offers a quiet, dedicated first class check-in and I only waited two minutes before I was in front of an agent who cheerily greeted me and handed me my boarding pass, wishing me a pleasant flight. A dedicated priority line for first- and business-class passengers meant that the wait for security was also about two minutes and soon I was airside.
I arrived very close to the departure time so I bypassed the Flagship Lounge and went straight to the gate, where boarding had already begun. American offers PriorityAAccess, which includes a priority boarding lane at the gate. First- and business-class passengers (as well as full-fare passengers and top-level AAdvantage program members) can board at any time, bypassing what could be a long queue.
Navigating time zone changes is a constant challenge for the business traveler and nothing puts one’s circadian rhythms more to the test than transoceanic flying. Before trans-Atlantic flights, I typically rise a few hours earlier for a few days to jumpstart my time shift. But the real secret is in what flight I take.
As someone who does not fall asleep easily on aircraft, regardless of the comfort of the seat or bed, there has to be a strategy. Mine is to take American Airlines Flight 116, a flight that leaves shortly before midnight most days, to London Heathrow. I do this because the departure time most closely matches my own bedtime (and most others’ as well) and this has allowed me to sleep comfortably during the flight.
American uses Boeing 777 aircraft for its London Heathrow flights and these planes feature American’s Flagship Suites in first class, a seat first introduced in 2000. Each suite features a swivel seat that transforms into a fully flat six-foot bed, a privacy screen (the configuration is 1-2-1 so the privacy screen is only needed for the two middle seats), a large tray table, a separate desk with lamp, power ports, and something I discovered when the Flagship Suite was first introduced: drop-down armrests that create more sleeping space.
Flight attendants were handing newspapers and offering pre-departure drinks but sleep was clearly on most passengers’ minds. Service is less elaborate than on the earlier flights and many passengers, including myself, partake in only a snack (I had the soup, which was good, accompanied by bread and a single glass of wine). The cabin was darkened quickly; I had changed into my sleeping clothes before we even pushed back. Once we were at our cruising altitude, for this flight 33,000 feet, my snack was served without any wait. My tray was promptly removed (although the pursuer did try to tempt me into dessert), I pressed the “bed” button, lined up the duvet covers (one below and one above me), took one last drink of water for hydration, and that was all I needed to fall asleep.
During taxi, the purser had asked if I want to be awakened for breakfast and I declined. As a result, I was able to sleep for a five hours on this trip and awoke quite refreshed (and I still had a few minutes to enjoy yogurt, a croissant with marmalade, and coffee).
Soon we were on the ground at Heathrow, right on time. First-class passengers deplaned immediately and I was through immigration and past customs fairly quickly. A short time later I was on the Heathrow Express and soon thereafter comfortably ensconced in my hotel room.
American Airlines flight 116 is tailor made for business travelers who prize sleep above everything else. The crew did everything in its power to provide a high level of service while allowing passengers to enjoy maximum sleep time. I arrived refreshed and ready for meetings that very day.
One specific area, however, need improvement and it can be very easily resolved: the Flagship Suite’s bed or, more specifically, the bedding.
British Airways provides each first class passenger with cotton pajamas, velvet slippers, a quilted mattress that fits the form of the seat as a flat bed, a wool blanket, and Egyptian cotton linens. By contrast, American gives you a cotton duvet cover (which is sometimes a bit too heavy and warm) and a pillow. I “borrowed” a second duvet cover to make the seat more comfortable as a bed but, had the cabin been full, that wouldn’t have been possible.
With minimal cost, American could maximize its considerable investment in the Flagship Suites (I have been told that each suite originally cost near $100,000 each), and make its midnight express truly exceptional.
–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.