American Airlines Flight 83
Main Cabin Extra, Boeing 787-800
Sch. Dep. LAX 11:10pm Actual Dep. 12:30am
Sch. Arr. AKL 8:20am +2 Actual Arr. 8:55am
I was not looking forward to my 13 hours in coach on American on the flight from L.A. to Auckland. One it’s 13 hours, two it’s in coach, three it’s American. My only previous coach ultra-long-haul was on the vaunted Etihad, and on Etihad, coach is basically a step over steerage on a cargo ship. But I was pleasantly surprised on all three counts.
My time in Los Angeles was relatively low-key. Even though the friend’s house I was crashing at was less than 15 minutes from the airport, I rented a car with a super low rate at Thrifty of only $33 including all fees and taxes. The downside was no upgrade or going straight to the car like I would with Avis, Hertz, or National, but, $33. The wait for the shuttle wasn’t too bad, and though there was a bit of a line at the airport, it did make for some interesting people watching, including a guy who was listed in the computer as “DO NOT RENT. NO EXCEPTIONS,” and Chinese tourists whose car had been vandalized. My Nissan Versa was perfectly fine for one person and one day, and actually had more features, including a backup camera than I’d expected. A pro of such a tiny car was that my 33 miles of city driving required only a little over one gallon of gas before I returned the car.
I didn’t stay up very long after I got to my friend’s house, and worked pretty much all of the next day, with a break for In-N-Out Burger. I had a mediocre dinner with a friend before returning the car and heading to the airport.
I haven’t originated at LAX in over three years, and, despite it being my home airport for two years, I had forgotten how much of a zoo departures is. I got to the car rental return at 8pm, and didn’t make it through security until 8:45pm. Most of that time was in traffic on the shuttle, making it around the loop of terminals to American’s Terminal 4. Check-in actually took a while, as well, despite there being no line at the American Priority counter. I had been unable to check in online, and wondered if it was a similar issue to my trip to Copenhagen in September, where I couldn’t check in since the reservation was a one-way ticket. This wasn’t a one-way ticket, but my AA record locator only showed the outbound, as the return was on Qantas. Sure enough, that was it, and it took about 10 minutes to sort out, after which I zipped through Precheck.
There’s an Admirals Club in Terminal 4, but LAX recently opened a connector between Terminal 4 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal, which happens to be right next to the gate used for the Auckland flight. The only practical benefit is for Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald AA flyers, because you can access the far superior Oneworld Business Lounge or Qantas First Class Lounge. It’s a bit of a schlep, but I had plenty of time, so I went.
I had previous visited and reviewed the lounge as part of a Qantas business class trip in 2015, and it’s pretty much the same now. Since I had already eaten dinner, I only had dessert this time, but the food looked pretty similar to my 2015 visit. Also like my 2015 visit, the lounge started out super-packed, and started to empty out as flights started to board. One difference is they appear to have added a hot dog cart. Which is strange? Anyhoo, still a much nicer place to await a flight than an Admirals Club, beyond the light years ahead food and drink.
I had been able to reserve Main Cabin Extra seats in advance for free as an AA Platinum. And up until the day of the flight, the plane was showing lots of empty seats, including in Main Cabin Extra, and including the seat next to me. That got taken around dinner time, though, so I was not looking forward to the flight.
This was my first time on American’s 787. I’m not a huge fan. Although Main Cabin Extra has plenty of legroom, the seats themselves seemed short, and, with 9 across, they were quite narrow. I had had my pick of Main Cabin Extra seats, but somehow ended up with the worst window seat – a bulge in the fuselage cuts into the already narrow seat due to the nonalignment of the seats with the windows. So, beware row 11. I also ended up with a very large nonrev woman seated in the middle seat, who was going on and on to her boyfriend in the seat in front of her about how her tailbone was going to be sore and that the reason she flies as an FA regional jets is because she can’t sit for long periods. She also had no interest whatsoever in maintaining my personal space. As a larger guy myself, I am always hypersensitive to taking up too much space. There are ways you can sit that minimize spillage. She was not sitting in such a way, so her arms and body crossed over the armrests into my seat. Sigh, perfect for 13 hours.
Upon boarding, there was a pillow and blanket at every seat. The seats have personal in-flight entertainment systems, with both USB and A/C power plugs in the seatback. The options on the IFE were great, with tons of recent movies and TV. Which was good, because despite scheduled departure time coming and going, we hadn’t moved. I loaded up Ab Fab: the Movie, and about 20 minutes after departure time, the Captain announced a maintenance issue. (For some reason, this flight has a pretty bad on-time arrival performance of only 76% – bad even for American. It’s particularly weird given it’s a new plane.) Our departure time would be continually updated before we finally took off at around 12:30AM — 80 minutes late. Thankfully, my connecting flight on Air New Zealand was a “flexitime” ticket, meaning I could make free changes to any of the hourly Auckland-Wellington flights if I missed my connection.
Prior to departure, the flight attendants passed out headphones and menus. I’ve never flown AA ultra long haul before, so was surprised by not only the presence of a menu, but its contents. The food choices sounded pretty fancy for coach, with a fish, steak, and chicken option for dinner, a midflight snack of stromboli and gelato, and a hot breakfast. They actually sounded like the business class options. And when meal service began shortly after takeoff, I discovered it actually tasted as good as most business class meals, though not presented quite as nicely. The fish with basmati rice I had was tasty, and came with a garlic roll and a good chocolate mousse. The beverage menu was also better than standard coach, with not only beer and wine on offer, but a full range of spirits and even prosecco.
The service was pretty quick and I made my way through two episodes of the second season of Mr. Robot before trying to get some sleep in. I was remarkably successful, and slept about 5 hours before waking up just as the flight crew was coming down the aisle with snacks, about 6.5 hours into flight. No pictures since it was dark, but the stromboli tasted like a flavorless hot pocket, but the ice cream was quite good. There was also a juice/water/coffee service at this point.
I watched an episode of Blackish, and headed to the lav. In the galley by the lav, there was water, chips, and Milano cookies. And then I went back to sleep, waking about 90 minutes before landing. Breakfast came shortly after, and I watched a few episodes of Baskets. Weird show. The breakfast was pretty large for coach. The hot component alas was not very good – eggs, some sort of bacon or ham, a mushy hash brown, cooked tomato and mushrooms of sorts. There was also a berry cake/muffin thing, a Noosa yogurt, and a packet of granola. A lot of food.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the flight. The crew was pleasant at every interaction. The timing helped with the adjustment, as we took off late at night, and landed early in the morning (albeit two days later – but unlike on a transatlantic flight, it was long enough to have a full night’s sleep. Don’t get me wrong – my legs were in pain and cramping and the woman next to me being on top of me the entire flight wasn’t ideal, but I had been so fearful about the experience. And, given some of the experiences I’ve had in business class, I actually was better rested and felt no less pampered.