Flying Main Cabin Extra One Way and First Class the Other on an American A321 (Trip Report)

About a month ago, asked if I’d be willing to come speak at an event they were holding for a small group of folks at American. The topic? Anything about the customer experience. I’m picky even when it comes to paid speaking opportunities, but this one sounded like fun, so I was in. Even better, they let me book my own flights. That meant I could have flown a regional flight on United or Delta, but this was an event for American. I wasn’t going to fly anyone else.

The tickets were cheap (thank you Southwest, Spirit, and Virgin America). The total was a mere $194.20, but Salesforce was kind enough to let me add on Main Cabin Extra both ways for $74.97. Then a couple days before travel, someone at American upgraded my return into First Class. This was a good opportunity for me to try out American’s new domestic First Class, something I had yet to experience. Little did I realize that the upgrade from American came with some VIP treatment in regards to food service. Regular readers know I don’t like getting any special treatment, but all I can do is continue to write an honest review and disclose everything. So to be completely clear:

[Disclosure: American upgraded my return flight to First Class and arranged for ice cream sundaes onboard even though the flight time wouldn’t normally have dictated it.]

Now, let’s get back to the trip.

I headed to the airport far too early for a 7am flight, but I wanted to check out the new connector between American’s Terminal 4 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal (written up here). I parked at Quikpark, took the shuttle, and was through security with more than an hour to spare. After checking out the connector, I headed to my gate where boarding had begun.

Boarding American LAX

March 3, 2016
American 2453 Lv Los Angeles 705a Arr Dallas/Ft Worth 1206p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 49A, Runway 25R, Depart 6m Early
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate C11, Runway 36L, Arrive 5m Early
N119AN, Airbus A321-231, Ugly flag colors, ~90% Full
Seat 10A, Main Cabin Extra
Flight Time 2h30m

I don’t think I’ve been in Main Cabin Extra before, though I assumed it was just like every other extra legroom section on any other airline. I had looked on the seat map and chose seat 10A since that is the last row before an exit door. It reclines fully, and I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone behind me. That wasn’t a good plan.

Weird Row 10 Gap American A321

Once I sat down, I realized something was a little off. It took some exploring, but I figured it out. Because of the position of the exit door, row 10 is shifted over into the aisle by a couple inches. That means you’re just far enough away to make resting on the window uncomfortable. (And the only window is forward, it’s just a wall right next to your head.)

Window Ahead A321

Further, that meant the TV screens were offset, so I found myself leaning to the left. I wouldn’t recommend that row.

We pushed back early and headed to the runway. It was a nice morning to fly.

High Clouds

There was a consistent thin cloud layer that we sat in the entire way until we hit the Texas border. I hate when I don’t have a good view.

I played around with the new free entertainment options. Most of the free stuff was older, but I settled on an unlikely suspect. My wife found out just a few days ago that I had never seen The Sound of Music, and she couldn’t believe it. Sure enough, it was on the system so I went for it. That is one long movie, and I couldn’t finish it. I figured I’d pick up the rest on the way home.

We had some light turbulence much of the way, but kudos to the crew for never turning the seatbelt sign on. It was never really bumpy, but most crews in the US would flip that switch the second there was a ripple.

Toward the end I went to use the restroom and realized that even having more legroom with American’s slimline seats isn’t enough to squeeze out of the window seat without bothering anyone. Because the seats are much bulkier up at the top, you just can’t squeeze by. (Or, uh, I couldn’t squeeze by.) The guys next to me didn’t seem too happy about that.

DFW Airport

Once back at my seat it was time to descend. Winds were howling in Dallas, so it was a bumpy ride in, but it was beautifully clear and you could see forever. We landed pretty early so we had to sit in the penalty box for a few minutes. American puts A321s (along with 757s and 737s) at Terminal A for the most part, but they must have been out of gates. They parked us in Terminal C this time surrounded by MD-80s. I love that sight. So sad they’ll be gone from the fleet within a couple years.

American MD-80s Terminal C

The talk went well, and it was great to get a chance to chat with some of you guys after. (At least a few people said they were regular readers, so howdy to you guys.) I may not work for an airline anymore, but I do need my fix every so often.

That night, I had booked myself at the Hyatt Regency at DFW. The newer, way better Grand Hyatt was sold out a couple weeks in advance, so I figured I still couldn’t turn down the chance to stay at the older property. If a hotel is on the airport, I’m usually in. That was a mistake.

When I arrived well after midnight, I asked for a room with a runway view. The agent at the desk said that was no problem and asked if I had a floor preference. I said it didn’t matter as long as I could watch airplanes in the morning. I walked into my room on the 3rd floor and the next morning saw this:

Runway View Hyatt Regency DFW

Yeah, that sucked. I hadn’t paid much attention the night before because I was exhausted after a very long day. But this meant I just didn’t bother sticking around in the morning. Sorry for straying, Starwood.

Path From Hyatt Regency DFW to Terminal C

I walked over to the closest terminal (C) and it is one crazy walk. You go through a couple garages and there are a lot of stairs going up and down and back up. If anyone can’t do stairs, take a shuttle (or stay elsewhere).

I had some time until my flight, so I decided to walk to my gate in the A terminal. This picture on the way could have been taken 30 years ago.

Retro American Terminal C DFW

Terminal C is like the land that time forgot. (And I mean that in a good way.)

The walkway from C to A is strange. There are people movers, but they don’t work. The tracks have been carpeted over to, I guess, make it more comfortable to walk on.

Carpet Covered Moving Walkways DFW

Over at A, I saw the remains of the renovation project in progress (only the Seth Miller Wandering Arameanlast few gates remain). I’m not much of a lounge person, but when I got my US Airways Mastercard last year it came with a lounge pass. It expired the following week, so I figured I’d use it. I went up to the Admirals Club near gate A23 and looked around. I know this was designed long ago, but to me the cardinal sin of any club is not having views of the operation. This club has its back to the action; the windows face the parking garage. I walked around until I saw an almost empty room. I looked at the one person there and did a double take. It was Seth Miller from , exhausted after coming in from Southeast Asia and waiting for his last leg home. We sat for a few minutes and caught up. Then he headed off to his flight and I did the same.

When I got to my gate, boarding had begun so I just got in line.

March 4, 2016
American 2241 Lv Dallas/Ft Worth 955a Arr Los Angeles 1117a
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate A14, Runway 18L, Depart 4m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 48B, Runway 25L, Arrive 9m Early
N140AN, Airbus A321-231, Ugly flag colors, ~100% Full
Seat 2F, First
Flight Time 2h48m

I took my seat and within seconds felt that the padding was pretty worn. It wasn’t all that comfortable because of that, and I was surprised. But once beyond that, I looked around and thought it was put together nicely. The tray table is in the armrest and there’s also a little cup tray that folds out for drinks.

Trays American First Class

Further, there’s a little tray that comes off the back of the armrest in front and a little slot for a tablet/phone/laptop under your own armrest, so there are a lot of places to put things.

American Power Console

At the bottom of the center console are a bunch of power options along with the headset jack. (It took me some time to find that one.) But most glorious of all was the giant TV screen sitting in front of me.

American A321 First Class TV

The flight attendant serving our cabin was named Ok (that must be hard with everyone using your name in regular speech all the time), and she was very friendly. Something about her smile and demeanor really just made for a pleasant flight. Once in my seat, I took my suit jacket off. She grabbed it and offered me a drink. I just had water.

We again pushed back early (US Airways management is clearly having an impact) and headed to the runway for departure. We were up into the brilliant sunshine in no time, but soon after we once again found that same high cloud layer as the day before. This time, however, we cruised just below it for the first half of the flight. In the meantime, I flipped The Sound of Music back on and finished it up. It’s really easy with this system to just scroll back to where you left off.

Ok came around and asked if I wanted the Asian chicken salad or a lasagna of some sort. I went with the salad and had more water to drink. The water came out with some warm nuts.

Water and Nuts on American

Then the meal followed. The salad was fine.

American Asian Chicken Salad

I wasn’t starving, but it did the trick. Once that was done, it was time for the best part. Mmmm, hot fudge sundae.

But wait, hot fudge sundae? For flights of this length, I’m pretty sure the dessert should have been a warm cookie. Hot fudge sundaes don’t come out until you get to transcon distance. Sure enough when I got back I found out that the person who had upgraded my return had also arranged for catering to board the sundaes. My first thought was… “wow, I can’t believe they have the ability to alter catering like that.” It’s far more flexible than I expected. Then I felt guilt for enjoying that sundae so much. But hey, it is what it is. And it was delicious.

Ice Cream Sundae

Once the movie was done, I pulled out my laptop to work on some posts (including this one). I didn’t bother with internet since I knew I’d be more focused doing it offline. It got a little bumpy and the seatbelt sign came on, but we must have burned off enough fuel to climb over the clouds and it smoothed out.

The cloud layer was thin enough that it parted a few times, including at the perfect spot where I could see the red rocks of Sedona down below.

Sedona From Altitude

Once over California, it wasn’t long before we began our descent. We landed and I was out of the terminal and on my way in no time.

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