When I saw the opportunity to redeem systemwide upgrades from business class to American Airlines 777-300 first class from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, I lept at the chance. We usually fly Cathay Pacific on this route (we used to live in Hong Kong and return often), but airfare on AA was so much lower that I decided to give our primary domestic airline a shot.
I wanted to love it. It was certainly lovely, but if you have flown Cathay Pacific first class on the same route, you will notice differences which are essential given that first class on both airlines can retail for nearly the same cash price.
Cathay Pacific First Class Lounges at Hong Kong International Airport
Oneworld Alliance (of which American Airlines is a member) Emerald members and first class passengers on Oneworld Alliance airlines can use the glorious Cathay Pacific first class lounges at HKG. These are some of the best airport lounges in the world.
While I prefer the Champagne bar and view at The Wing, First lounge near customs, our flight left right next to The Pier, First lounge at gate 63 and we didn’t have time to enjoy both (which I have done in the past).
Arrive hungry because the food is good. Our go-to Cathay Pacific lounge order (going on seventeen years now) is dan dan noodles. They are just so dang good especially when paired with a glass of Perrier Jouet.
Dishes in the sit-down restaurant arrive at the tables shortly after ordering to accommodate tight flight schedules. A grab-and-go buffet area with desserts, sandwiches, charcuterie, cheese, drinks, and snacks is located near the bar area.
The mini spa in this lounge is a highlight for sure, but I’ve never been lucky enough to score an appointment. They book up quickly.
First class may board before other classes but not through a designated aircraft door. Our entire plane boarded through the same door, which was inconvenient given that we soaked up a little bit too much time in the lounge. We found ourselves waiting in line on the jetway with everyone else.
After we arrived at our seats, the flight attendant came around with newspapers, pajamas, Bose headsets, and Champagne, juice, or water.
I declined the pajamas on our outbound American Airlines business class flight but should not have. I took them in first class (where I’m told they are the same) and they are nice. I appreciate their shorter, cuffed leg style (no one wants to drag PJ pants on an airplane bathroom floor, even in first class) and pockets on the front of the shirt. I admit to wearing them at home though wish the cotton was ever so slightly softer.
I took the Champagne, obviously.
American Airlines 777-300ER First Class Seats
These are regarded as the best seats in the entire American Airlines fleet, and I would have to agree. I was comfortable throughout the whole flight.
A digital remote control operates the seats. Mine proved a little fussy to use. Turn on the massage feature if you like. Swivel the chair to use the side area like a desk. This might come in handy should you need to work with the person seated next to you in a middle seat.
Speaking of middle seats, I wrongly assumed that the middle seats would be permanently divided, based on prior experience in first class on other airlines. Had I known, I would have placed my daughter right next to me in the middle seats instead of across the aisle. You can manually raise a small divider between the middle first class seats if necessary.
First class seats offer more space than in business class on the same plane, but it didn’t feel like a massive difference. Carry-ons go into the overhead compartment versus a cabinet on the ground. Every seat receives a comfortable bedding kit with pillow, duvet and a mattress pad if you’d like the flight attendant to help you place it on the seat.
First class on this plane is in a 1-2-1 configuration for eight seats in total. Cathay Pacific first class is a 1-1-1 configuration for six seats in total which means that you have a wider seat, but they are also longer, which makes me suspect that the first class cabin is a bit bigger.
First Class Dining on AA 182 from HKG-LAX
(Apologies in advance for my unusually poor food photos which looked GREAT on the screen of my new iPhone X at the time. I’m horrified by their actual quality so I will use a regular camera next time. While the food onboard was just okay compared to other airlines in first class, my photos aren’t doing the dishes the justice they deserve.)
As our flight left Hong Kong in the evening, the main meal served was a 7-course dinner (or so it should have been). It started with dried veggie straws and olives which are not pictured or mentioned on the menu.
The flight attendant took our orders but suggested that we withhold our small plate selection until later she said it would be too much food for us. My red flag should have gone up, but it didn’t. My daughter was sitting across the aisle from me, so I didn’t hear her order. Plus, she’s 12. She’s a shy 12 and not one to question an adult telling her that she shouldn’t have the small plate.
American Airlines typically offers an excellent wine list designed to suit palates at 35,000 feet, and this one didn’t disappoint.
We should have been given the option of dining together in the same seat as the flight attendant knew we were traveling together. I assumed this wasn’t an option because the seats are smaller than on Cathay Pacific, where we usually do eat together in first class with one person sitting on the footrest and a table extension applied. It’s a lovely way to chat and pass the time. Later in the flight, I spotted a seat belt on the footrest so I realized it would have been possible. My daughter mentioned after we landed that she saw other people dining together behind me.
The Osietra caviar with savory egg white tartlet starter was a bit misleading as it sounded like you’d enjoy a helping of caviar accompanied by an egg tart. In reality, it was an egg white tart sprinkled lightly with a little bit of mushy Osietra caviar.
The combination masked the flavor of the caviar, which made me think that it probably was added to print “caviar” on the menu. The chilled kale, apple, and celeriac tasted outstanding, and I (unusually) preferred it to the caviar tart by miles.
I did quite enjoy the lobster saffron bisque course and the real lumps of crab meat in it.
Next, the flight attendant served my grilled beef fillet. She skipped my salad course, and I only noticed later after I looked around and saw others eating salad. I checked my menu, which confirmed this course was skipped. She was not the type of person to trouble if you didn’t have to, so I let it go.
The beef dish was flavorful but well-done and tough. Yes, it’s airplane food, but I’ve eaten glorious medium-rare steaks on planes departing from Hong Kong, which means that others who might take this flight probably will have, too.
I adore the made-to-order ice cream sundaes that American Airlines serves in first class on longer domestic routes and international premium classes. So, that’s what I ordered.
We did not take advantage of the snacks and drinks in the galley. My daughter was served the small plate order of beef sliders (she said they were good) that were withheld from her at dinner. I wasn’t offered the meze plate set aside for me despite being awake for most of the flight but wasn’t hungry for it.
I suspect that part of the reason why the small plates were held back is this flight unusually did not offer any made-to-order midflight snacks like other airlines we fly to Asia do.
Flight attendants served breakfast at passengers’ leisure a few hours before landing. Starving by this point, we both chose the Western breakfast, which proved to be a lot of food.
After indicating that I’d like breakfast, I was handed the tray above and never offered the yogurt starter. I didn’t realize this until I looked at the menu after the fact. I’m not really in the habit of checking the menu during an inflight meal.
The flight attendant either forgot to serve some of my courses, couldn’t be bothered to offer all courses, or didn’t think I’d notice if she skipped courses. Not one of these scenarios is typical (or acceptable) for this route and class of service.
I think that American Airlines offers a robust selection of movies and television shows, but when you fly a lot in a month, choices become repetitive as they do on any airline. Like most AA flights, the Bose headsets were collected about 45 minutes before landing, so it still pays to bring good headphones. The little loaner earbuds you receive in their place are not great. Do ask for a splitter so that you can hear the earbuds in both ears (they exist on flights in limited quantities).
Love the Amenity Kit
I genuinely adore the new This Is Ground amenity kits in business and first class. They’re both made of beautiful leather. The business class kit is smaller and secures with a snap. The first class kit, zips completely around Allies of Skin moisturizer, lip balm and hand cream in addition to a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, socks, eye mask, ear plugs, tissues, and some Barclay’s Aviator card (which I have and believe is a less valuable member of my wallet since stripping the EQD benefit) promotional material. However, mine also had a 20% discount code for This Is Ground products which you may want to take advantage of.
I love bringing these kits to the airplane bathroom because they repel water, unlike cloth kits.
The Bottom Line
I am fiercely loyal to American Airlines and Oneworld Alliance. On this route, my brain is acclimated to an overly-solicitous style of service, which is what we receive on Cathay Pacific and even Japan Airlines when we occasionally fly SAN-NRT-HKG. I wasn’t expecting a perfect service match on American Airlines, but room for improvement exists in spades if they want to win loyalty from frequent flyers on this route.
Is first class a good use of a systemwide upgrade? In my case, yes, as we tend to book straight into premium class tickets, so my systemwide upgrades often go unused. Would I use miles to upgrade? Yes, if I wasn’t short on miles. Will we fly American Airlines to Hong Kong again? Probably, if the airfare is such that it’s a significant saving.