American Airlines Flight 132, New York-JFK to London-Heathrow Review
One of the best times to leave New York for a trans-Atlantic flight is after the rush hour period at New York’s JFK airport. American’s Flight 132 typically departs at 9:30 or 9:40 p.m., so everything from the security lines to the take-off queue is much lighter than one would find for a flight leaving at 6 or 7 p.m. My departure time was 9:35 p.m. and, when I arrived at American Airlines’s Terminal 8 at JFK at 8:30, there was only a handful of people checking in at the private first- and business-class check-in area, so I waited a mere five minutes.
Security lines were equally light, although there were only a few lanes open. American has a designated queue for first- and business-class passengers and I was quickly through security and at the gate, bypassing the Flagship Lounge since it was so close to departure time. I took advantage of the PriorityAAccess boarding lane, which allows first- and business-class passengers (as well as full-fare passengers and top-level AAdvantage program members) to board at any time.
As I entered the first-class cabin, flight attendants were in the aisles distributing beverages – a choice of champagne, orange juice, or water – newspapers, and menus. A crew member offered to hang up my coat and jacket and asked whether I wanted to be awakened for breakfast (I declined).
All JFK American Airlines flights to London Heathrow use Boeing 777 aircraft. In first class, this means the tried and true Flagsihp Suite, a comfortable swivel seat that, with the push of a button, becomes a fully flat bed. Seating is 1-2-1 for maximum privacy and each suite has a jumbo-sized tray table, a desk to the right or left of the seat (which has a reading lamp and power ports and is perfect for doing work), and lots of storage space. The Flagship Suite was introduced in 2000 and, while they are starting to look a little shopworn, are still very comfortable, especially as a six-foot bed.
Once we reached our cruising altitude of 37,000 feet, I pushed the bed button, spread out my comforter, requested a second pillow from a crew member, and I was out like a light. While I was sleeping, about half of the passengers in first enjoyed a complete meal service, which (according to the menu) included a smoked salmon and shrimp appetizer, chicken soup, and a choice of shitake crusted beef fillet, a salmon and halibut combination, or baked goat cheese. I did wake up mid-flight and enjoy a dessert, however.
After falling back asleep, I woke up a few hours later to hear china clinking and we were about 45 minutes from London and early! The purser brought me a complete breakfast tray despite the late hour, and I enjoyed a refreshing fruit platter accompanied by yogurt and tasty breads, coffee, and juice.
We arrived 30 minutes early and first-class passengers were allowed to deplane first. Clearing immigration, thanks to the dedicated lane for premium passengers, took five minutes and I was quickly on the Heathrow Express on my way to central London.
The flight and crew were first class and did everything to ensure passenger comfort. I needed to sleep more so than dine and this was easily achieved. The only area where there is room for improvement, and my colleagues at Executive Road Warrior have brought this up before, is the need to update the Flagship Suite offering, in particular, the bedding. American now has a partnership with British Airways, which provides similar trans-Atlantic service, gives each first-class passenger pajamas, slippers, a mattress that fits on top of the seat, Egyptian cotton sheets and pillow cases, and a wool blanket. American gives passengers a heavyweight cotton duvet cover and a pillow. Hopefully, the new partnership will influence American to update this aspect of the offering.
–Paul Riegler is Technology Editor of Executive Road Warrior.