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American Airlines Flagship First Transcontinental — A321T from SNA to JFK

American Airlines offers their premium Flagship First product — which is typically reserved for international flights — on a handful of domestic transcontinental flights. One of those select flights is on the A321T from Orange County (SNA) to New York City (JFK), and that’s what we’re going to review today.

In this post, I’ll share my experience flying American Airlines Flagship First. I start with the lounge at SNA, explore the full details of the seat, and recap my experience with the onboard service. Then, I wrap up with my general feelings on this product, and how it compares to other options.

Other American Airlines Flight Reviews

Before we dive into the Flagship First experience, here’s a quick look at some other flight experiences on American Airlines.

About American Airlines Flagship First

American Airlines offers a wide variety of travel classes and fare categories — as many as 8, though never are they all offered on the same flight. As far as premium cabins go, American Airlines has four main offerings that vary based on the route.

  • Business Class: This flight class is only available on shorter international routes to a variety of destinations in North and South America. When Business Class is offered, it’s the highest level of service on the plane. These seats are larger and more spacious than Main Cabin, but do not lie flat.
  • First Class: This is the highest level of service on most US domestic routes, excluding select transcontinental routes. When standard First class is offered, it’s the highest level of service on the plane. Again, these seats are larger and more comfortable than Main Cabin, but they do not lie flat.
  • Flagship Business: This premium Business Class offering is available on select transcontinental domestic routes and longer international routes. When it’s offered, it will usually fall just behind Flagship First and in front of Main Cabin Extra, though sometimes it’s the most premium seat on select routes. These seats do lie flat, and passengers receive lounge access.
  • Flagship First: This is American Airlines’ most premium flight experience. It is available on select transcontinental domestic routes and longer international routes. The seats lie flat and offer the most spacious seating arrangement. Passengers will also receive lounge access.

Flagship First is the airline’s most premium offering, and it is different from American’s standard First class offering. Flagship First offers more perks and comfort, including an improved food and beverage selection and the newest and nicest seats that American Airlines has to offer.

To alleviate some of the confusion, First and Flagship First will never be offered on the same flight. The American Airlines website also clearly indicates when a ticket is Flagship First vs standard First. In addition to the fare title, you can look at the list of what’s included. Flagship First will list a lie-flat seat and lounge access, while standard First will just say something along the lines of “most comfortable seat.”

What’s Included with American Airlines Flagship First (Domestic Transcon)

  • Priority check-in: A dedicated Priority lane is available to premium class passengers, including Flagship First. This lane will yield a shorter wait to check in and/or check your bags.
  • Priority security: At some airports, there is a Priority security lane available for Flagship First passengers. It’s a shorter queue than standard security, but it’s still the standard security experience (e.g. take off your shoes, take out your liquids, etc). If you have a premium security membership — like TSA PreCheck in the US — that is usually better than the Priority lane.
  • Extra checked bag: Flagship First passengers are allowed up to three complimentary checked bags. This is typically one more than what is complimentary in even Flagship Business.
  • Lounge access: Flagship First passengers will always receive lounge access. This includes the Flagship Lounge at select airports, Admirals Club at most others, and partner lounges where American doesn’t have a dedicated lounge.
  • Lie-flat seats: Flagship First is only offered on updated 777 and A321T planes, and all of these planes have been equipped with American’s premium lie-flat seat. (Disclaimer: Unforeseen plane changes or technical issues onboard may alter the exact product available.)
  • Seat selection: Advanced seat selection is always available with Flagship First. You can choose your seat when you book and modify it anytime to any available seat.
  • Priority boarding: Flagship First passengers can board with Group 1, after pre-boarders and ConciergeKey members.
  • Premium food & beverage: All Flagship First flights include at least one meal, which you can pre-order online in advance. You’ll also receive complimentary beverage service (including alcohol) before take off and throughout the flight. Snacks are also available throughout the flight.
  • Priority baggage claim: Priority bags are the first onto the baggage carousel after the flight. You can get your bag and get on with your day as quickly as possible.

What’s Not Included with Flagship First (Domestic Transcon)

  • Free wifi: There is wifi available onboard (usually), but you will have to pay for it, even in Flagship First.
  • Arrivals lounge: You will have access to the lounge at your departure airport, but not at the arrivals airport. The one exception to this rule is at London Heathrow, where American Airlines does have an arrivals lounge for Flagship First passengers.
  • Doors: The seats are plenty spacious, and they are semi-private with tall dividers, but there are no closing doors to the seat area in Flagship First.
  • Turndown service or pajamas: The bed was easy to lay down, with the touch of a button, and bedding was provided. Flight attendants were available to assist, but they did not offer full turndown service. On the transcon flight, no pajamas were provided.

Booking American Airlines Flagship First

While you can book premium cabins on third party sites, like Expedia, it’s usually not a good idea. Rarely do these sites offer any significant discounts on premium cabins, and in some cases they can even be more expensive. And for the price of these tickets, it’s beneficial to have a record locater number directly with the airline to easily address any potential issues or changes.

For that reason, we booked our flights for this trip directly through American Airlines. We also opted to book our family under two separate reservations, since we were flying in separate cabins. (I was flying in Flagship First while my husband and toddler sat closer together in Flagship Business.) Lastly, we booked this flight as a one-way ticket, because our trip to California included a few different stops along the way. And for context on pricing, we booked approximately 5 months in advance.

The total cost for one seat in Flagship First from SNA-JFK on the A321T was $1,514. We paid cash and did not use any rewards points.

Flagship First Seat Selection

Flagship First includes complimentary seat selection. You can choose a seat at booking, and you can also change your seat anytime online or in the app. Flagship First is only offered on two planes, so going over the seat options is pretty straight forward.

On the A321T, Flagship First seats are in a 1-1 configuration. Every seat has aisle access and window views — though, the windows are actually quite far from the seat. The seats are identical, even in the front row. The only thing particularly interesting with seat selection here is how close (or far) you want to be to the bathroom and how early you fall in the service order. On my flight, service was done from front to back, but I believe that does vary.

On the 777, the configuration is a bit more interesting, with seats placed in a 1-2-1 pattern. All seats have direct aisle access, but the middle seats don’t have window access. However, the middle seats on this plane are better for couples or families traveling together.

Our Flight Details

As we move on from the general information to our personal experience, here’s a look at the details for our exact flight.

  • Origin: Orange County, CA (SNA)
  • Destination: New York City, USA (JFK)
  • Flight number: AA 976
  • Plane: Airbus A321-231
  • Airline & cabin: American Airlines Flagship First
  • Seat: 3A
  • Departure time: 2:14 PM local California time
  • Arrival time: 9:59 PM local New York time
  • Total Flight Time: 4 hours, 47 minutes
  • Distance: 2,454 miles
  • Cost (1 adult): $1,514 USD one way

SNA Airport Experience

Our flight departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California (SNA). SNA is located about one hour (driving) south of the much larger airport in the area, LAX. We were staying near Disneyland in Anaheim for this trip, and it takes about twice as long to get to/from LAX as it does SNA.

When given the choice, we will choose SNA over LAX every time. It’s so much smaller and easier to get in and out of. However, it’s often more expensive and has a more limited flight schedule, so it doesn’t always work out to fly from there. This time it did, and we were grateful.

Check-in and Security at SNA

If you have to check in at the desk for any reason or if you have to check any bags, you’ll first need to head to the American Airlines check-in counter. You can use the Priority lane and enjoy a shorter wait. Personally, we didn’t have any checked bags and we checked in online, so we went straight to security.

One of the perks to flying out of SNA is that the security line is usually pretty painless. Unfortunately, SNA does not have CLEAR lanes, nor do they have Priority security lanes, but they do have TSA PreCheck.

We arrived at the airport around 11:15 AM on a Monday. At that time, the PreCheck line was just as long as the standard security line (neither of which were very long), but PreCheck moved much faster. We were through security in <10 minutes.

Admirals Club Lounge at SNA

One of the prices you pay for the convenience of a smaller airport, thought, is a smaller lounge. Had we flown this flight out of LAX, we’d have had access to one of American’s most premium Flagship Lounges. Instead, we only had access to a very small Admiral’s Club.

The Admiral’s Club at SNA is located near gate 8, just after security. It’s on the second floor, so it’s easy to miss, so keep an eye out for the elevator.

The lounge itself is very small, comprising three small “rooms.”

First, was the bar and food area. There were a few hot food items (including two soups and BBQ chicken for sliders), a cold salad station (with things like hummus and pita chips, cheese cubes and a few veggies) and a small dessert/snack station (which included cookies, brownies, and trail mix type snacks).

There was a staffed bar, which did have a decent selection of beer, wine and liquor. However, not everything was complimentary. Generally speaking, there was one option in each category that was complimentary. The other items were available for purchase, with prices listed.

The next room was the main seating area, which included lounge chairs and tables. There was a coffee bar in this area, with regular and decaf coffees and a machine that made espresso-based beverages. A selection of teas were also available.

The final area was the business center. This space had a few computers, a printer, and more table spaces. It wasn’t completely closed off from the main area, but it was a bit more secluded and therefore quieter.

Not only was the lounge small, but it was also nearly full on a Monday afternoon. We snagged an available table, because there were no three lounge seats open together.

Since the lounge didn’t have any great vegetarian food options or notably comfortable seats, we didn’t stay too long. After about 20 minutes, we left the lounge to find lunch elsewhere.

Boarding Flagship First at SNA

Boarding began about five minutes later than it was scheduled. There was a lot of crowding at the gate, which I blame partially on the lack of seating nearby.

However, when they called Group 1, it was easy enough to get to the Priority lane. There were quite a few people who boarded in front of me, and many of them were not seated in First. Presumably, these travelers were in Group 1 because of status (AAdvantage Executive Platinum.) This was my first indicator that this flight was going to have a lot of repeat flyers.

The flight attendant greeted my cheerfully as a I boarded, and I quickly and easily found my seat in 3A.

As I was putting my bags away, I immediately noted how wide the aisles were. The seats were large, but they were still in a 1-1 configuration, and they didn’t take up the entire width of the plane. I found that I was able to access the overhead bin from my seat, without having to hold up traffic in the aisle. This made it really relaxing to get all of items sorted and stowed.

Flagship First Seat Review

At first glance, the seat looked spacious, but not particularly striking. Maybe it was the greige coloring or the upholstered seat, but it immediately read a bit dated. Though lacking a modern aesthetic, I actually found the seat to be quite functional for a medium-haul, middle-of-the-day flight.

The seat itself was firm and plush. Even with the fabric upholstery, it didn’t feel dingy or dirty. There was an adjustable, faux-leather headrest and a stationary footrest, which doubled as the foot of the bed. There was also a retractable armrest along the aisle side, which I was excited to discover halfway through the flight.

The seat could recline or lay completely flat. The position of the seat was controlled by buttons on the center console. While these buttons technically worked, I found the pad itself to be quite confusing. It never moved exactly how or where I wanted it to on the first try, and I had to play around with the buttons a lot. Other than that though, the seat itself was mostly comfortable in a variety of seated positions.

The seat was slightly less comfortable as a bed. The bottom half of the bed, which connected the leg rest to the foot rest, did not get completely flat. It was 180-degrees, but the resulting bed had significant bumps where each part of the chair came together. There was a light mattress pad that did help the situation, though it still wasn’t perfect.

It was really hard to capture this in a photo, but here’s the best I came up with. You can see the most offensive bump at the end of the first blue cushion.

In addition to the mattress pad, a light comforter and two pillows were also provided. It’s also worth noting that the bed spanned an impressive 82.5 inches — that’s over 6.5 feet in length.

I didn’t need to sleep on this particular flight, but I probably would have been comfortable enough to do so if the timing were different.

Technology in Flagship First

Each seat was angled away from the aisle, with the bulk of the console and foot rest space nearest the window. As a result, the seat-back entertainment screen was also at an angle. It was difficult, though not impossible, to see the screen from the stowed position.

There was a button to the side that popped the screen out, so you could see it at a perpendicular angle from your seat. The flight attendants only enforced stowing the screens during landing, so this wasn’t a huge inconvenience.

The seat-back screens were large, and the entertainment selection on this flight was also pretty solid. And by solid, I mean that they had all of the Harry Potter and Hunger Games movies, and honestly, what more could you ask for?

The screen was touch screen, but there was also a remote control stowed in the console. Both worked. I personally found the touch screen to be easy enough, so I didn’t mess with the remote control too much. (I do really love that it’s an option though, because sometimes the touch screen is wonky and it’s nice to have a backup.)

There were three light controls at each seat. Most obviously was a reading light, which was controlled by a nearby on/off button. There was also a soft light near the footrest, which was controlled by a button on the seat control touchpad. (It took me a while to figure out the connection between the light and the button.) Finally, there was the standard overhead light.

Also in the console was an AC outlet, USB port and standard headphone jack. There was also a 3-pronged audio jack (which the provided headphones didn’t require) and another circular port, which I believe is for something like this.

Speaking of headphones, there was a pair of Bang & Olufsen noise-cancelling headphones at each seat for use during the flight. (These replaced the Bose headphones in 2019, and I’m given to understand that sound aficionados love this brand.) I typically don’t like noise-cancelling headphones, because they make my ears and head hurt. However, I found these to be quite comfortable and I did use them for most of the flight. They collected the headphones approximately 1 hour before landing.

Storage in Flagship First

Like most premium cabin seats these days, the in-seat storage is comically bad given the overall size and space at each seat.

The main storage space at the seat is above the footrest. This space could potentially hold your personal item. However, you can’t store items in this space during take-off or landing. That means that all of your bags, including your personal item, have to go in the overhead bin.

Now, there was plenty of space in the overhead bins, because the bin space is reserved for First class passengers. However, this is still frustrating because you can’t access your items until the seatbelt sign comes off. That means that you have to get anything you want accessible (headphones, charger, book, tablet, etc) out of your bag before you leave the gate. And even for those little things, there’s still not great storage options.

There is one nook in the console, which has a few bars to hold items in place. At boarding, this space is filled up with a provided bottle of water and the amenity kit. If you moved that stuff to the overhead bin, you could use this space to store something like a book or tablet.

There were two other small cubbies near the foot rest. Cubbies is generous, because they aren’t enclosed. Let’s call them small shelves with a small bar to hold items in place. Each space is pretty shallow, but you could store the provided headphone case, and possibly a book of the right size.

Neither of these storage spaces are large enough for a lap top or secure enough for small items like AirPods or cell phones.

Flagship First Service

There are flight attendants that are fully competent, polite and good at their job. This is kind of the baseline of what you’d expect in any premium cabin. Then, there are really amazing flight attendants that go above and beyond in big and small ways. I can think of maybe three flight attendants that really stand out across all of my premium flight experiences, and the one serving Flagship First on this American Airlines flight was one of them.

This particular flight had a lot of frequent fliers in First class. I know because this flight attendant welcomed each one of them back, and each passenger remembered her by name. She wasn’t just kind to the frequent fliers though. She immediately made me feel equally as important and welcome.

This particular flight attendant expertly served the Flagship First cabin for the duration of the flight.

Food & Beverage Service

Service began before the flight with a round of drinks during boarding. (If you’ve read any of my other flight reviews, you know that I love a pre-departure drink.) Instead of a passed tray with a selection of juice, water or Champagne, we were free to order anything from the menu. I still went with Champagne, which was Lionne Royale Special Reserve Brut (which retails for about $35 a bottle). It was served in a glass flute.

The flight was delayed for a small maintenance issue, so she proactively offered a second round of drinks to everyone while we waited at the gate.

In Flagship First, you can pre-order a specific meal in advance from the same selections that appear on the menu or you can request a special meal to accommodate a dietary restriction (like vegan or gluten free). If you choose the later, you can’t choose the specific meal, but it will meet the guidelines for that meal type.

There were two vegetarian options on the menu, which I could have pre-ordered. However, none of them seemed at all interesting, so I went ahead and rolled the dice on the generic “lacto-ovo vegetarian” special meal request. When she came around to take meal orders, she immediately confirmed my special meal request. She also took my drink order.

Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendant passed out warm towels and then brought around our first round of drinks. I received the Bertani Bertarose rosé and sparkling water that I requested. These drinks came with warm mixed nuts and olives.

Next was the soup and salad course. The soup wasn’t vegetarian, so I basically got two salads. One mixed greens and one with quinoa and asparagus. The default dressing with basic vinaigrette, but the flight attendant recommended the white chive instead. That was the right call because that dressing was the best thing on my plate.

My salad came with a packaged roll, but there was also a much better fresh bread service. I opted for the pretzel roll from the basket, which was warm and delicious.

The main course came out quickly after. Honestly, it was basically a third salad. It was a warm plate with roasted veggies, a quinoa salad and a beet situation. It was fine, but pretty uninspired.

Last up, was dessert. I ordered the ginger cake with ice cream. Unfortunately there was a mix-up with the menu, and they didn’t have that, but they did have an apple cake. It was honestly the best food on the flight. It had caramelized apples and melty ice cream, and it was just so, so good. (She was not a looker, but she was tasty!)

The flight attendant filled up my wine glass shortly after dinner, but there was no formal drink service after that. I was a little surprised by that, actually. I’ve flown this route in Main Cabin, and they did two full rounds of drink service in that cabin.

Shortly after the meal service, the flight attendant set out a basket of snack items. This basket included potato chips, packaged olives, Chips Ahoy cookies, popcorn and a dried turkey stick. I always forget about these bonus snacks that are usually out near the galley, but on this flight I took a trip to the bathroom solely to scope out the snack situation.

The final round of service was maybe my favorite of all. I cannot over emphasize my delight when I looked up and saw fresh baked cookies and champagne flutes of milk. I know the milk in the flutes was a special touch from our specific flight attendant (because my husband had it in regular glasses in Business), and that’s why she was the best.

A Few Other Notes on Flagship First

I took a few other notes about this flight. These things aren’t the most important and are a bit random, but I want to go ahead and mention them.

  • The seats were pretty far from the window. I couldn’t easily reach the window shade from a buckled, seated position. It was also hard to see much out the window from this angle. If you love a window seat view, these seats aren’t ideal.
  • The amenity kit was fine. The amenities were standard and included the following: eye mask, ear plugs, socks, dental kit, lip balm and lotion. In Flagship First, these items came in a square, leather bag. The same items were provided in Flagship Business, but came in a flat canvas pouch.
  • I think there was some seatbelt sign confusion. The seatbelt sign was on for most of the flight. They turned it off briefly during the bumpiest part of the flight. I think they maybe got the setting switched?
  • Some seat controls froze. Before landing, the controls on two different seats stopped working. Passengers couldn’t return their seat to the upright position. They reset the power and fixed these before it caused any major issues.
  • The entertainment ad was really long. This is such a nit to pick, but it was annoying. After takeoff, the standard American Airlines entertainment ad took over all the screens. This ad went on forever and must have been almost 10 minutes long.

Overall Thoughts on American Airlines Flagship First

American Airlines Flagship First is fine for domestic first class. I don’t have any glaring complaints, but I also don’t have any raving feedback — well, except for my exact flight attendant, which you can’t guarantee every time. My biggest takeaway was that Flagship First was not significantly different from Flagship Business, and thus not worth the upcharge for a transcontinental flight.

On the ground, the Flagship First experience is great. It includes Priority perks, like expedited check-in, Flagship Lounge access (where applicable) and priority boarding. These are the type of perks that I personally care most about, because they take down the stress of the entire travel day. However, passengers traveling in Flagship Business also get those same perks, for a lower price.

The main difference between Flagship First and Flagship Business is in the air — specifically, the seat. The Flagship First seat is larger, wider and forms a longer bed than the seat in Flagship Business. That said, the size difference is only a matter of inches, and the bigger difference on the A321T is the configuration of the seat.

With the 1-1 configuration, Flagship First has a semi-private suite feel, though without a door. The 2-2 configuration of Flagship Business means you are closer to a seat mate. Notably, it also limits aisle access for the window passengers. This is the main reason Flagship Business on American Airlines is not ideal for solo travelers, and why I would argue that Flagship Business is actually better than Flagship First for couples and families.

NOTE: Flagship Business on the 777 is in a 1-2-1 pattern, so all seats have direct aisle access.

Other than the seat, Flagship First is not a significant improvement over Flagship Business. The service schedule was basically the same, and the offerings were only slightly different. Flagship First has a slightly better food menu, including an added soup course and a few extra options in other places. It also had a slightly improved wine list, including a rosé and dessert wine which were not available in Flagship Business, and true Champagne over sparkling wine.

Flagship First is dubbed as American Airline’s most premium offering. That’s surely true, given the seat size and life-flat functionality, elevated menu and Flagship Lounge access (where available). However, I would argue that their standard First Class is actually a bit sleeker — at lost on their updated planes.

Now, standard First class doesn’t have lie-flat seats, and it’s usually a 2-2 configuration so not all seats have aisle access. However, on shorter flights when you don’t need to sleep, I actually think the standard American Airlines Domestic First Class was overall a little nicer experience.

If I were to fly transcontinental again (which I surely will), I would not spend extra for Flagship First. If I flew American Airlines, I would go with Flagship Business or honestly, Main Cabin Extra if it wasn’t a red eye. More likely though, I would probably try a different premium domestic product. I currently have my eyes set on Delta One, a notable gap in my premium flights resume.

American Airlines Flagship First Key Takeaways

  • The larger and more private seat is the main thing that sets Flagship First apart from Flagship Business and standard First.
  • Flagship First is not significantly better than Flagship Business or American’s standard First class in terms of perks, service or quality.
  • On the A321, Flagship First is better for solo travelers, and Flagship Business is better for couples or families.
  • American Airline’s Flagship First is probably not the best option for Domestic Transcontinental, and definitely isn’t a competitive international product.

Have you flown American Airlines Flagship First? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!