MIAMI – One of the world’s most symbolic airlines has been flying through rough weather for quite some time, causing unease among its frequent travelers, workers, and stakeholders.
Yes, American Airlines, worldwide known and seen as ‘AA‘, has been battling against quite a strong headwind that might as well begin to vanish as the airline brings in a fresh current of youth into its system.
On January 31, 2012, Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport was host to the launching ceremony of American’s first Boeing 777-300ER into service.
An exquisite airliner, wearing an all-new livery and introducing a modernized corporate image, marked the rebirth of one of the most emblematic entities in the world, bearing the responsibility of calling itself American Airlines.
The Boeing 777-300ER is, without a doubt, one of the most successful aircraft the Seattle-based company has ever produced. With the introduction of N717AN, American became the first U.S. carrier operating such type of metal, not only increasing the capacity already offered with its smaller long-haul fleet, but also introducing an all-new hard product that would set the bar for the competition in the U.S. market.
This report will cover the round trip of the inaugural flights between Dallas Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW) and São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport (GRU), portraying the Business Class service on the way to Brazil, and the First Class service on the flight back to Dallas.
INAUGURAL DAY: JANUARY 31, 2013
The star of the show, a Boeing 777-323(ER) wearing the construction number 31543 and the line number 1053, was delivered to American Airlines on December 11, 2012.
The much-anticipated aircraft departed Paine Field (WA) on its delivery flight to the airline’s headquarters in DFW, creating perhaps the biggest speculative discussion in several aviation-related forums, as it was painted in a gray fuselage confirming a new livery was being developed.
As a matter of fact, on January 17th, 2013, American released through a massive campaign its ‘new look’, showing off a revolutionary livery that completely changed the previous 1968 image. A #newAmerican was born.
The appointment for the official launch of the new Boeing 777-300(ER) [from now on 77W], was placed at the airport’s Gate D23, where all the pre-flight events were going to take place.
There, we had the chance to take a first glimpse to the new livery and meet with the airline’s representatives. The Gate was decorated with brochures, posters and promotional items for the event.
A look at the D Concourse at DFW: The 777-300ER with its new livery.
Gate D23 was decorated with flowers and brochures promoting the new aircraft and image.
Special cookies were also available for the special day.
Finally, time to meet the star of the day.
THE AIRCRAFT RAMP TOUR
At 15.00, we were all gathered with AA‘s Ground Staff for the private Press/Media tour of the aircraft’s interior and exterior. After a quick briefing, we were escorted down the jet bridge and onto the ramp, where we had the chance to meet the new livery ‘eye-to-eye.’
A chance to stand next to the most impressive turbofan, the GE-90-115B
Detailed views of the ‘triple’ landing gear
Different perspectives of the wonderful new livery.
A particular view of the 77W‘s tail.
The best looking wing in the market.
Climbing up the jet-bridge stairs, an excellent side view of the aircraft.
The Admirals Club
Finished with official duties, I took some free time and headed over to one of the best Admirals Clubs I have ever visited. Located next to Gate D23, this club offers everything a Frequent Traveler needs.
A look at the bar.
Available computers with free internet.
The lobby and a poster featuring the new logo.
A fantastic view from the club.
A toast to American’s new aircraft.
Plenty of space for a large number of passengers.
THE TIME TO SHINE
With the clock ticking, I went down to the gate as it was time for the ceremony. The Gate was prepared with a small pre-boarding snack buffet, with a variety of bread, fruits, sandwiches, and drinks.
The ceremony begins with a few words from a Public Speaker.
At 20.30, American’s Chief Commercial Officer (CCO), Virasb Vahidi, delivered a short speech crediting his colleague Alice Lieu, who was responsible for the aircraft’s cabin design.
He also mentioned about AA being the first U.S. airline with International Wi-Fi and highlighted how they chose Sao Paulo as their first route given the importance of Brazil on the airline’s destinations.
Vahidi then left the floor for the airline’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Tom Horton, who thanked all his staff for the continuous effort and patience, and with a noticeable emotion in his face, he invited all the passengers and crew to not only step into a brand new aircraft, but into a new era that indeed promises a lot.
After a round of applause from all the present, boarding officially commenced.
AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 963
DALLAS FT. WORTH (DFW) – SAO PAULO GUARULHOS (GRU)
SCHEDULED DEPARTURE: 20.35
ACTUAL DEPARTURE: 20.48
FLIGHT TIME: 09H18M
SCHEDULED ARRIVAL: 10.07
ACTUAL ARRIVAL: 10.06
I followed a short line of those passengers seated in First and Business. The special touch of the event calmed down the boarding, making it go nice and smooth.
I handed over my boarding pass and began walking down the jet bridge next to a colleague of mine, Jon Spira, from Frequent Business Traveler. We were both excited and anxious.
We have both been Elite passengers in the American AAdvantage program, so stepping into a futuristic airplane with unseen features under the American brand was definitely a special moment for the both of us.
As we approached the plane, the smell of ‘new’ could be felt down the jet bridge. It was overwhelming. With every step we took, the scent grew proportionally. The last 10 steps into the plane were greeted by LSG SkyChef and AA Ground Staff, welcoming us into the airline’s new metal.
As we finally entered the plane, three flight attendants welcomed us, all smiling and noticeably excited.
Picture by: CHRIS SLOAN – www.airchive.com
They directed me across the hall to my seat 3J. That is the moment when my heart rate began to rise with every breath I took.
I always say on my reports how ‘turning left’ when entering an aircraft makes the real deal. This time was no exception. I turned left, smiling, dreaming, wishing my life ran in slow motion, and I entered a small cabin where only two rows of Business Class are present, just before entering the First Class Cabin.
This made it personal. This made it a true Business Class experience. Privacy, tranquility, peace.
When I got to my seat, I was surprised with the presence of a gift bag full of goodies welcoming us to the flight.
Then Kimberly showed up.
Kimberly is one of the wonderful Flight Attendants who made my trip an unforgettable one. She not only showed up with a tray full of Champagne glasses but also with a beautiful smile that made everything so much better. Remember the smile.
I just had to take a picture with her!
After a quick toast with my friend Jon, we stepped into the First Class cabin and headed straight to the front office, where Captain John Hale, Vice President, Flight and Chief Pilot, greeted and invited us into his ‘controls room’.
It was a privilege for us to have American’s 3 top-tier Captains on today’s flight. Along with Capt. Hale, we had Captain Bill Elder, Fleet Training and Familiarization, and Captain and 777 Examiner David Schelener.
Capt. John, a much cooler guy than anyone could think – just for the sakes of being a Chief Pilot – showed off his new toy and explained how “this is what the 777 program was meant to become.”
I always love to hear pilots describe planes as if they had a soul. I’m a pilot, I know the feeling. The Captain described how the plane over performs any other machine he has ever flown before, and how much power those GE-90s are capable of delivering.
He then narrated to us the flight plan to São Paulo, the estimated time en route (8h55m), and complained how the ATC routed our flight plan from Dallas to Miami and then on to Brazil… Just some details.
Here are some pictures of the 777 Cockpit during the media tour earlier in the day.
All pilots now carry an iPad as an EFB
This says it all
After a couple pictures with ‘the man’, I already knew this was going to be a great flight. I just wished time didn’t fly as quick as the 777 does.
Back to the seat, I went to set up for this long-haul inaugural hop over the Caribbean and the South American continent.
Settled on my beautiful Business Class seat. Comfortable like no other.
FLIGHT ATTENDANTS PREPARE FOR DEPARTURE AND CROSS CHECK
At 21.25, the flight attendants began setting the cabin for departure. The door was closed and I was ordered to sit down and quit taking pictures. By then, my camera’s memory was getting low, so I had no choice but to obey! [not really!]
As soon as I sat down, the AA Media Relations person came to my seat just to tell me there was going to be a water cannon salute (which I already expected, of course!), but I appreciated her coming over to deliver the news. I thought it was very cute.
In a matter of seconds, I spotted about 20 people outside the plane setting their cameras and film equipment up. That meant the obvious, push-back.
At 21.32, one of my most awaited moments arrived. The #2 Engine was turned on and the vibrations and roar of the mighty GE-90-115B was sensed around the cabin, yes! The fuel being injected into that turbofan, cranking it up to give life to that mean-looking triple-seven… That’s what it’s all about!
The same happened on the opposite side of the aircraft, with #1 coming into action. What a fantastic moment!
No time later, flaps, slats, and before taxi checklist complete. We began rolling down the taxiway with the firefighters spraying our way with a beautiful water cannon salute, and that was it, bye bye Dallas, hello #newAmerican!
A breathtaking image taken by Joe Tower as we begin taxiing to the main runway.
After a couple minutes of taxi, and the much-expected announcement from Captain Hale, we reached the holding point of our assigned runway. The Captain said it was a privilege for him to be in command of this beautiful triple-seven and that he hoped we enjoy the flight.
LET’S FLY THE NEW AMERICAN WAY
Finally, show time. At 21.45, our mighty Boeing lined up with the runway and the concert began. Those GE-90s pushed the massive airliner with 115,000 pounds of thrust on each side. The sound… There are things that one can’t explain in words. Here’s the video for you to enjoy.
After another round of applause, we leveled at 5,000 feet and made our way Southeast bound. With our flaps retracted and our plane in full clean configuration, the Captain pushed the thrusts again and began our climb to the assigned 33,000ft. The power of the engines pushed me against my seat – again. I love this aircraft. I really do.
As soon as we reached cruising altitude, the team of Flight Attendants in the Business cabin began distributing the new Bose® QuietComfort® 15 Acoustic Noise Canceling® headsets, which have a nice decal with American Airlines’ titles.
On our way across Texas, I began exploring the seat functions and the in-flight entertainment system.
THE IN-FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (IFE)
Another major improvement in AA‘s hard product is the new IFE available on board its 77W.
The Panasonic eX2 system presents itself to the passengers with an image of different faces from American Airlines crew placed in a random manner throughout the screens in all three cabins. It gives a very nice welcoming feeling once inside the aircraft.
One of the many faces displayed around the three cabins.
It carries over 150 TV shows, more than 350 audio selections, and more than 120 movies in diverse languages and genres.
According to Mr. Vahidi, the system is currently operating on a Linux operating system, which by the end of 2014 should be migrating to a much more advanced Android interface.
In addition to these choices, the 77W comes equipped with a Ku-Band Satellite Wi-Fi system, powered by Panasonic. Currently at no charge for the flying passenger, the cost of the service will cost up to US$19 for the duration of the flight. Not bad at all.
Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi did not fully work during this flight due to some technical difficulties, and some apologies from the crew were not missed upon our arrival into Sao Paulo.
Power and USB ports available on each seat.
Very intuitive seat controls.
Bussiness Class Dinner Service
About 40 minutes into the flight, the flight attendants began preparing the cabin for the main service by setting the mood lighting along the three sections of the aircraft. What a fantastic feature!
The view from my seat. Gorgeous.
I explored the contents of the gift bag that was placed on my seat. Inside, a sweater, a bag, a magnificent passport case with American Airlines titles engraved on it, a box full of cosmetics, a pair of headphones, and a 5,000-mile bonus as a gift from the airline were for me to take home. I was a happy guy. Or maybe an ultra happy one.
Immediately later, the Mr. Vahidi grabbed a tray full of Champagne glasses and offered each one of us a glass for a toast above the clouds. What a nice touch of him!
The same thing happened in the back with Mr. Horton offering Champagne. What a privilege!
Picture by: CHRIS SLOAN – www.airchive.com
Following him, one of the flight attendants came with the usual hot towels, seconds before another one came with AA‘s signature warm nuts.
Kimberly, and her smile, came with the drinks cart offering me a wide selection of beverages.
I chose to have a 2010 Côtes du Rhône from La Ferme Du Mont red wine.
My selection was perhaps the best among the choice of wines on the list. It had a very nice taste, a rather subtle sparkling feeling and a very fruity flavor in the end. I liked it a lot.
I didn’t appreciate, however, the size of the wine glass. I found it rather small and not as classy as on some European carriers.
Following the wine tasting, we were handed La Carte for today’s inaugural flight, which had a welcoming letter in the first page signed by CCO Vahidi.
Welcoming letter by the Chief Commercial Officer.
Overall, the menu was very well designed and was available both in English and Portuguese, although it contained the already outdated American Airlines logo.
Here are the dinner choices for the flight:
Dessert & Breakfast
Quite a bit hungry and eager to taste the food on this inaugural flight, my server for the night, named Flores, showed up with a pre-arranged tray with the appetizer already served.
Feeding my picky needs, I went straight to look at the cutlery, which can be a deal breaker if it’s not of quality.
To my surprise, when I received my first dish – the appetizer – it didn’t look anywhere near how a salmon should look [La Carte said the appetizer was Salmon]. Instead, it was a very nicely presented shrimp with a small salad underneath garnished with three slices of beet.
As a side, a very nice salad with pecans and a sweet-tangy pepper dressing was served, along with a vast selection of bread, of which I chose the cheese and wheat.
Still curious about the dish being different than what I read on the menu, I glimpsed around the cabin and saw my neighbors being served the same. That’s when I called my server and queried. He replied, “The menu is a little bit off today!.”
Later on, my server came back asking for my main course choice. Having already decided, I asked her for the Beef selection, to which she replied, “Sorry, we are out of beef.” – I was heartbroken.
The other three choices were Chicken, Halibut or Pasta. Being an Italian who probably never eats pasta out of a legit Italian restaurant – and also a douche terribly allergic to fish – I asked for the chicken hoping it was a good replacement for the beef. Flores happily agreed and went back to the galley.
Whilst our 777 surfed the flight levels at 1005 Km/h over the city of Miami, our team of Senior Flight Attendants and the two in-flight Service Managers onboard, who closely supervised all the operations, tried to adapt quickly with the new layouts of this addition to AA‘s fleet. This caused small delays in the delivery of the meals of the 53 passengers seated in Business Class.
Despite the small delay, a sudden smell of a particular spice invaded the cabin. I feared. It was the indicator that something might have gone terribly wrong. And as a matter of fact, it did. It was the smell of curry! [suspense music]
I am ALSO [terribly] allergic to curry, and since I couldn’t find any dish being described with curry on the menu and nobody puts curry on a halibut, I deducted it would be the chicken. My chicken.
Picture by: CHRIS SLOAN – www.airchive.com
I was the chicken…
By then I feared my meal was drastically over. The last choice on the menu was the pasta… Bring it on.
As expected, the dish ‘looked’ well presented, although they were randomly served on top of a lettuce leaf.
Unfortunately, the penne was overcooked, gaining a gooey texture that was quite unpleasant. Then again, I’m not to trust when judging a plate of pasta that’s not made the Italian way. This was a clear example of a US-made pasta dish. So, please, don’t pay attention to me.
Not too happy with the outcome of my main course, all I had to do was wait for the inevitable: AA‘s Signature Sundae Ice Cream.
And yes, there it comes, the cart of goodness.
I will let you judge for yourselves. Behold Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Ice Cream with Chocolate Hot Fudge and Crusted Nuts.
The sundae can’t miss the mark. It’s just perfect. It has no competitors.
Soon after the meal was finished, my table was cleared and I went to look around the aircraft.
The Business Class main cabin with the ambiance created by the Mood Lightning.
I went back to the 100% packed coach cabin to look for a friend who was sitting in row 29 in a middle seat.
Here are some Coach cabin images taken on the aircraft tour prior departure at Dallas.
This is the Main Cabin Extra section, also known as Premium Economy in other carriers.
People seemed pretty comfortable although for my friend, who happens to be quite tall, the seats were a bit cramped.
With only 5 hours more to go, I went back to my seat and took some pictures of my hometown, Caracas. We flew exactly over the CBC VOR and then went straight to Brazil.
THE NEW AMERICAN AIRLINES WALK-UP BAR
Another break-through addition to the 77W product is the new walk-up bar, located in between the small front-end of the Business Class cabin, and the main rear-end.
The in-flight service manager supervised how the FAs set up the bar with a variety of snacks and drinks, ending up in a magnificent selection for those passengers who find themselves in need of a midnight munch.
American Airlines is the only U.S. carrier who offers a stand-up bar on its long-haul flights.
A great selection of quality snacks is served after the main dining service is over.
Gorgeous china available on the 777.
A GREAT AMENITY KIT
After setting myself up for some sleep and enjoy this magnificent new seat, I took a quick trip to the restroom, which is the nicest I’ve seen on board of a plane before.
A quick view of the restroom
For this, I opened my new Amenity Kit.
The content of the ‘cool’ looking Amenity Kit.
In terms of quality and practicality, this is also a great addition to the J package.
The one unexpected surprise, which I will carry with me until I run out of brain memory, came when Mr. Vahidi, the CCO, came to talk and gave me a First Class Amenity Kit, which is an amazing iPad cover with the same products than the Business Class one. What a great and thoughtful gift!
The First Class Amenity Kit
I must admit AA did one amazing job creating this new concept for their Long-haul Business Class.
TIME TO ENJOY THE BUSSINESS CLASS SEAT
Photo by AA
Finally, time to charge some batteries. I pressed the magic button and refined my lie-flat bed to 180 degrees. From all the ones I have flown, this one was, by far, the best and most comfortable Business Class seat. Far better than Turkish Airlines, Alitalia, Air France, and Lufthansa.
Not only the seat is the new plus offered on this aircraft, the new cozy blanket and the large pillow are just a perfect compliment.
The new hard product American is offering on its new Business Class truly went that extra mile that it needed. I’m extremely satisfied, and I’m sure you all will too.
AWAKENED, UNMISTAKEABLE SMELL OF AMERICAN COFFEE
After a very bumpy sleep [going through the Intertropical Convergence Zone is never a walk in the park!], the breakfast service began at 06.00 Dallas time.
I was offered a choice of the traditional three-cheese Omelette, or a much lighter version with a Granola cereal, yogurt, fruit, a choice of croissant or white bread, and milk. I went for the latter and it was a perfect choice. Fantastic, I would say.
Beautiful Fruit Plate
Granola and Skim Milk
Approaching São Paulo
Roughly 50 minutes after breakfast was served, we began our descent towards one of South America’s largest cities. Dallas time, 06.50. Local time, 09.50
Map view of our approach into Sao Paulo.
A nice view of the city from above.
Our graceful triple-seven began setting up for its landing in Guarulhos, showing off an incredible wing flex over the clouds of the Brazilian city.
A fellow spotter filmed our way over the city. Quite nice, if you ask me!
Finally, after 9 hours and 18 minutes of air surfing across America, our beautiful aircraft kissed the runway with incredible delicacy and landed on Brazil’s most important airport at 10.06 local time accompanied by another loud and cheerful round of applause. Our arrival was merely one hour ahead of schedule.
Here’s the landing video into Guarulhos:
On our way to the gate, two trucks of the airport’s fire brigade expected our pass to spray, once again, a water cannon salute welcoming the new aircraft to Brazilian soil.
Welcoming our way into the terminal.
Unfortunately, out of the two trucks, only the one on the left side of the plane sprayed us, not making it as spectacular as the GRU photographers would have liked.
A fellow spotter capturing our arrival.
10 HOURS OF PURE ENJOYMENT
After almost 10 hours inside the most spectacular 777 out there, all one can say is: wow!
American Airlines outdid itself. It came out with a product that exceeded the expectations, even those of seasoned travelers who have flown on many five-star carriers. Without a doubt, the internal features AA has to offer on their new triple-sevens are state-of-the-art and above the competition, by a large gap.
Before stepping out of the aircraft, we headed up front to thank the crew and say goodbye to the pilots.
Thank you, gentlemen!
Picture by: CHRIS SLOAN – www.airchive.com
They also showed us their own private suite, the Crew Rest Area.
Finally, it was time to step out of the aircraft. For me, it would be 14 hours until I flew in it again, so a well-deserved rest was necessary for the both of us!
The new Eagle Logo on our way out.
And the best souvenir I could take home from this incredible flight: