Unscientific Comparison: AA & AS Domestic/Hawaii First Class

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by kansaskeith, Sep 4, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. kansaskeith

    kansaskeith Gold Member

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    At the relative last minute, I had a chance to book an AAdvantage MilesAAver first-class itinerary Wichita - Honolulu. The outbound legs ICT - ORD - SEA - HNL included two segments in Alaska Airlines (AS) first class: Chicago - Seattle and Seattle - Honolulu. I decided to sample that airline's first-class, so booked that. Part of my motive in doing so was that I wanted to compare AS domestic first-class to AA's, which I use quite frequently and is the only other airline on which I have flown F in probably a decade.

    My conclusion, based on a whopping two segments (one reason for the term "unscientific" in the title of this thread) is that Alaska seems to be a sound and quality carrier, but that American's F product is better, and that AA may have deserved its recent award from survey as having the best domestic first-class service.

    Various observations from the two flights, AS 29 aboard a 739 ORD - SEA and AS 859 SEA - HNL aboard a 738, both on 2 Sept 2012:

    Gate service and boarding: seemed about what I was used to at the gate with the exception that on these two flights boarding began well in advance of the 30-minutes before flight time that had been posted (closer to 45). Alaska seemed to be a little looser in letting people pre-select themselves as needing a little extra assistance and therefore preceding the F passengers but also seemed to really emphasize their appreciation for the "MVP Gold 75K" set when it came time to make the PA announcement for them. The ORD-SEA flight then offered the water-only pre-departure beverage I had read about in AS F reviews (AA of course offers more, and out of SEA even AS added the choice of Hawaiian mimosa or juice), and both flights closed the front door well in advance of scheduled departure time.

    Cabin crews: I had read about how good they could be on AS, and I will say everyone I encountered seemed competent and was helpful, patient and pleasant, and took time to answer questions. All flight attendants I dealt with were SEA-domiciled. The crew to HNL seemed to have a little more verve and yet additional interest, but the difference was small. On both legs I was called by name at food-order times. All that said, the cabin crews I dealt with were clearly of the domestic-service ilk, certainly nothing spectacular as some Asian airlines, for example, are noted for. While I have flown many more AA F legs than AS ones, I have thus seen more variety in the attitude of the AA crews, but all in all the AA folks also are quite good in the cabin, particularly up front, and particularly considering the stress of their company recently. Therefore I would probably rate AA and AS similar, with a very slight edge to AA, in the cabin-crew experience.

    Cockpit crews: On any airline I wouldn't expect anything less than competence and professionalism here. The captain out of SEA out over the Pacific was more of the old-school, making his first announcement from the microphone at the front of the F cabin, looking directly at all of us, giving us ever detail one could expect about the flight plan -- including speed and weight at take-off, every planned turn over coastal Washington, and even making two extra copies of the flight-charts and asking the FAs to post them on the cabin walls (one in F, one in Y) and offering them as souvenirs at the end of the flights. Occasionally one will see an old-school captain on AA too, but rarely someone that goes through all that, in my experience. Two other tidbits here: (1) the Alaska captain out of Seattle was probably the most plump and overweight captain I can recall seeing (that doesn't happen that often), and (2) when the cockpit door is opened inflight on AA, the crews block access from the cabin with a beverage cart, while on AS, a flight attendant positions himself or herself at the front of the cabin facing the rear while the pilot lavatory break or whatever other cockpit-door opening is in process. Since the FAs I encountered were not as hefty as that captain I mentioned above, I would think those heavy AA beverage carts would probably offer the best blocking to a potential troublesome passenger, ha ha.

    Food: Domestic F seems to be absolutely nothing special on either airline these days. Out of Chicago on AS there was only one menu: a chicken breast, some broccoli and a salad, with noticeably soft and underbaked cookies offered for dessert. Out of Seattle there was a printed menu and the offerings may have been just a tad better: a pork-loin-with-mango appetizer but no salad, followed by one's choice of another chicken breast or the odd pairing of potato-crusted cod complimented by pineapple sauce with a side dish of more potatoes, followed by macadamia-topped vanilla ice cream paired with a chocolate brownie for dessert. Quality of wine on both airlines seemed comparable.

    In-flight entertainment: Alaska makes the better effort here, offering loaned DigEPlayers and earphones to all pax and not charging for these in F. These are better in quality and at least as good in programming as American's tired and older systems and offerings. But there was a problem. On both legs, the video offerings worked fine, but despite trying with two DigEs out of Chicago and a third out of Seattle, I could never get the music offerings (which listed a nice and extensive library) to play, and my seatmate out of Seattle reported the same on his DigE that night. Neither cabin crew could help despite trying, only saying they would write up the problem. We finally concluded that since it was 2 Sep, perhaps there had been a programming error for the month on the devices, listing the library into each DigE player systemwide but somehow not linking it properly so that it would engage and play. Overall, though, AS is trying on IFE.

    Wi-fi: Both airlines offer "GoGo," though obviously not out over the Pacific. On AA there is more fleet variety so the chances are less, I guess, your domestic flight may have it offered, but that said I didn't web-surf in preparing this report whether AS offers it for sure on all its 737 equipment. Gogo worked just fine on the Chicago - Seattle leg.

    Seating: AA seems to have the (no pun intended) AAdvantage in this category. I had read that Alaska had less-than-wonderful seat-pitch and comfort in F, and I would agree. I didn't have a tape measure along, so can't give numbers on the pitch, but it seemed less than generous, and particularly so on the 739 out of Chicago, a little better on the the 738 out over the Ocean. Normally in an aisle seat in F on AA, if I am tired or lazy I can swing my legs out into the aisle and not have to stand if a seat-mate wishes to use the lav and scrunch by -- there was absolutely no way to do that had I been lazy on the ORD - SEA flight. Seat recline was not impressive at all, and seemed less than what I am used to on American. No pillows of blankets I saw anywhere on AS, whereas AA last I checked still had the oversized pillows with blankets on some runs in F, including the 757s used to Honoulu. Cabin condition was a little rundown on the 739 (but not bad), and better on the 738 over the Pacific. On AA, of course, it varies.

    Lounge Access: AS has an edge here for F passengers, at least in cities where it offers its own club and not a reciprocal one. My first-class boarding pass offered me Board Room privileges in Seattle , even with an "A" (for reward-redemption) rather than "F" class code. The Seattle lounge I used seemed physically tired by AA Admirals Club standards domestically, but the offerings -- including chicken-and-tortilla soup that was amazing, a fresh salad, and complimentary house-level wine (and, I think beer and spirits) like AA has -- were quite good, and the staff friendly enough.

    All in all, the Alaska flights met my needs quite well. But while I admit it may be that I am trained and used to the service offered by American, I still think I prefer the AA domestic F experience. I continue to be impressed with their people who make one feel comfortable even in such bad times for the company. Now, don't let me down going home tomorrow night, American, ya hear? :)
     
  2. Mike Reed

    Mike Reed Gold Member

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    Good review. I fly AS occasionally and get the odd upgrade to F, but typically only on shorter flights. We'll be taking AS F (A) AUS-SEA-OGG next summer after doing AUS-DFW-HNL last year on AA in J/F. DFW-HNL is a notably longer flight than SEA-OGG, so I'm not too worried about it. Thanks for the write-up!
     
  3. AAL

    AAL Silver Member

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    Thanks for posting your thoughtful comparison. I fly almost exclusively on AS so I don't have much to compare it to. Their pre-departure beverage service drives me nuts. I am okay with just water before takeoff, but I wish they would at least take the orders for the in-flight beverages at that time. AS flight attendants are generally wonderful; the worst service I've ever had, in both coach and first, has been on their flights to and from Hawaii.
     
  4. kansaskeith

    kansaskeith Gold Member

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    I edited my original post to correct the pre-flight beverage service on the Hawaii flight.
     

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