Flight test: Los Angeles to Auckland on American Airlines' new service
AIRCRAFT: Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, still with that new-plane smell.
LOYALTY PLAN: AAdvantage
TIME IN THE AIR: The captain predicted 12 hours 26 minutes and on arrival was only 5 minutes out. Leaving Los Angeles at 10.40pm means most of this time is spent blissfully asleep.
CHECK-IN: Effortless. I scanned my passport in a machine, out popped the boarding passes (I began the journey in Dallas), an attendant labelled my bags and spirited them away, and I didn't see them again till they appeared among the first dozen on the carousel at Auckland.
BAGGAGE ALLOWANCE: For Business class, two bags not exceeding 32kg each.
DOWN THE BACK OR AT THE POINTY END: Delighted to be up the front in 3L.
SEAT STUFF: In economy (I peeped past the magic curtain) the configuration is 3:3:3, but up front the 28 dovetailed pods are 1:2:1, most unusually alternating between forward- and rear-facing. Those in the middle can be sociable, or raise the screen between the seats. I had plenty of room to stow stuff, power and USB sockets for charging, a 16" touchscreen TV, touch-pad seat controls, two big electronically dimmable windows and a foot-rest too far away for me to reach. Once seated, the personal space feels roomy and private. The seat belt is a three-point, over-the-shoulder affair.
COMFORT FACTOR: The seat is on the firm side and reclined completely flat at bedtime. The bedding comprises an under-pad, soft duvet and pillow, and the space is plenty long and wide enough for big people: there was one on the other side of my pod wall, which wobbled a bit when he moved. The Dreamliner has higher humidity and a lower onboard altitude that make it a much less unnatural environment.
FEEDING TIME: Described as "an international flagship menu" by the purser, the choice was steak, duck curry, grilled shrimp, eggplant lasagne or a mezze plate. My shrimps were hot and juicy but it's hard to get excited about any dinner served at around midnight local time – especially to those of us who had already blunted our appetites in the airline's Admirals Club lounge. Wines included two Kiwi varieties, and a very nice port.
THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT: An included amenity are very comfortable Bose noise-cancelling headphones, all the better for indulging in your choice from 250 movies (new-release to classic), 180 TV programmes/series, audio and games. There's also onboard wi-fi if you're willing to pay US$12 ($16.68) for two hours or US$19 for the flight.
SERVICE: Slightly disappointing, from the welcoming Prosecco served in a plastic glass to distracted service from the cabin attendant, who wasn't familiar with the wine menu, forgot to clear my table before bedtime and never mentioned the existence of complimentary pyjamas. The purser making the announcements was careful to identify our destination as "Auckland, New Zealand" every time.
VERDICT: The aim here seems to be comfort rather than the luxury you might find in this class on some other airlines, with everything necessary supplied but – headphones apart – not much in the way of thoughtful extra touches. That said, the generous baggage allowance (I brought back an unexpected guitar) and, especially, the personal space and truly lie-flat bed are the real benefits of business class, and AA delivers on all of these, with a departure time that allows for painless travel home from the States.
FREQUENCY: Daily between Auckland and Los Angeles.
Tested by Pamela Wade, who flew courtesy of American Airlines.