American Airlines A321 First Class Review
Updated: Aug 17
I originally published this review in January of 2019. With the exception of the current restrictions on service due to the Coronavirus most of what I wrote then holds true today (May 2021). I have updated any changes from the original review.
This review has been a long time in the making and honestly, will be similar to my review of American’s A319 First Class https://www.patstravelreviews.com/post/american-airlines-a319-first-class-review American has four versions of their A321's. For this review I will concentrate on the typical First Class products in the US. American also uses the A321 on their JFK to SFO & LAX routes. These aircraft have three classes of service (4 with MCE) with International Business and First Class seats. This aircraft is noted as “32B-Airbus A321 (Sharklets)”. The three versions in this review are used on all other domestic routes as well as to/from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. There is a big difference between the interiors and seats. American placed a large order with Airbus before their merger with US Airways. These aircraft, like the 3-class variant used to noted as “32B-Airbus A321 (Sharklets)” while the A321’s American inherited from US Airways are noted as “321-Airbus A321”. However, AA has changed this and now the A321neo's are designated as 32Q while the other two A321's are just 321 (but for this review I will still refer to it as 32B to distinguish the two aircraft). The only way to know which aircraft you will most likely get is by looking at the seat map. This is important because the older USAir A321's do not have Main Cabin Extra (MCE). Only the bulkhead and exit rows in Economy are designated as MCE. Whereas the "newer" A321's and the neo have MCE in rows 8 through 10 (as well as a few other rows). This also holds true with their A319’s. There are two versions, one American ordered and the others they also inherited from USAir. Only this time, they are all noted as “319-Airbus A319”.
I have flown several routes on these aircraft and a good percentage will follow the two different airlines hubs. So you will find the USAir version (321) on flights to and from PHX, PHL, and CLT while the 32B on flights to and from DFW, ORD, and MIA. They also fly the 32B (2-class) and Neo from LAX & PHX to their Hawaiian destinations (HNL, LIH, OGG, and KOA). The 32Q has five rows (20 seats) in First Class while the other two versions only have 16 seats in First in a 2×2 layout (A319 has 8 seats) which means it is much harder getting upgraded on the A321’s (and A319’s) than the B737’s. ** As an update (June 2021) I was booking a couple of tickets for later this summer and noticed that all AA's A321's have 5 rows in First Class. Evidently they are adding a 5th row to keep in line with the A321neo. I looked at the seat map for every single A321 flight on the routes I was searching (Nashville BNA & PHL in September) and every plane had 5 rows. I have flown on several A321's this year and all but the Neo's have had 4 rows. Maybe it is a quick process to add a 5th row, but I have never seen this on their seat map before today. I am not sure if they will keep the current seats with in-seat screens that have them or will replace the entire A321 fleet (hopefully not) with same new First Class seats like the Neo has pictured below (on right). I will find out by September and update at that time (July 2021 - Looking at a trip in Aug. several A321's had 4 rows in First - not sure why some 4 rows and other 5 - unless they are just reconfiguring their older USAir A321's).
Most, if not all of the USAir 321’s have now been renovated with American’s interiors and seats. So aesthetically they look the same, but unfortunately, they kept the same seats USAir had. Meaning the recline, tray table, pitch, seatback pocket, and center armrest are all the same as they were with USAir. Just the color scheme and leather has changed. So some of the 321’s are a little older and starting to show their age despite being reupholstered. The 32B’s are a few years old at the most. In addition, the seats on the
32B’s are all the same, while the seats on the A321’s can vary from aircraft to aircraft. Some have a lot of room in the bulkhead while others not as much. Some have adjustable headrests, others don’t. Some tray tables are one piece while others fold in two. But the biggest difference between the two is the 32B’s have seat back entertainment and in-seat power ports (both plug & USB) while the 321’s only have Personal Device Entertainment and as far as I have seen, no power plug. American elected not to put seat back TV's on their new A321neo's (same with B737 max). These planes only have own-device entertainment. The 32Q does have a power plug in a storage area under the middle armrest and USB port on back of seat in front of you (I am not sure where or if bulkhead seats have USB port). Some other differences; like American’s B737’s, the 32B’s seats have small drink trays that come up from the center armrests and in rows 2 through 4 another small tray that comes down from the seat in front of you. Also, the outer armrest raises for an additional storage area. The recline on the 32B’s comes a little forward on the bottom, thus not infringing as much on the passenger behind you. The 321’s and 32Q's have a more traditional recline that can greatly decrease the space for the person behind. To me the leg room is almost the same on all aircraft, but that could be because the 32B has less leg room than AA’s B737’s (except for new B737 Max). In truth, the 32B’s do have a bit more leg room, but only by an inch or two. The bulkhead on the 32B has enough room to almost fully stretch your legs
(someone of average height) and allows the window seat passengers (1A&F) to get by the aisle passenger without them having to get up. Seats 1 D&F have a small angled footrest against the wall. Interestingly, according to AA, the 32B’s have 39 inches of pitch while the 321’s have 36″ and neo's 37", but SeatGuru has the 32B’s at 38″ (the B737’s were 40-42″). Some of the 321’s have more room in the bulkhead than the 32B’s and again, some don’t. I feel SeatGuru is more accurate. American’s B737’s have the most leg room of the Big Three’s First Class (AA is reducing the seat pitch on the B737's with updated cabins), while the 32B may have an inch or two more. At 36″ the 321 would be considered the lower end of pitch for US Carriers. The only plus any of the USAir seats I flew on was a few had a storage area under the center armrest (I did fly on an A319 last week that had a power plug in this storage area). The overhead bin, lights, and vents are basically the same on all aircraft. Like most newer jets, the bins have enough room to easily place a standard roller-board suitcase. The Neo's overheads are very big.
As much as there is a difference in the travel experience in First between the 32B & the 321’s there is even more traveling in Economy Class. Outside the bulkhead and exit row, the 321’s do not have American’s Main Cabin Extra, whereas, the 32B’s and neo's do have MCE. I don't really consider the exit row or bulkhead on the old USAir planes as MCE because the armrest does not raise and the seats are more narrow then a regular Economy seat and therefore, not as comfortable as the MCE seats. The 321’s seats and interiors have also been updated so I am not sure why American decided not to make these aircrafts and their products equal.
Whether on a B737, A320, A319, or A321, the service is the same on all American mainline domestic flights (outside LAX & SFO to JFK and their B777 flights between LAX & MIA https://www.patstravelreviews.com/post/american-airlines-b777-domestic-flagship-business-class-review ). One inconsistency is the pre-departure drink (currently suspended due to Covid-19 and one I fear the airlines may not bring back). Usually just Orange Juice or Water is offered, sometimes a drink of your choice (including alcohol – usually former USAir crew) and occasionally there is no pre-departure drink at all. This is more dependent on the crew than the plane. There is always a blanket on the seat and a hot towel after take-off on flights with a meal service (both of these have also been
suspended due to the pandemic). I have flown from SAN to DFW dozens of times and breakfast consists of two choices. Usually American’s Steel-cut Oatmeal or an Omelet with Sausage and Potatoes (Covid breakfast is now choice of the old Economy buy on board Yogurt or Turkey Croissant Sandwich). I have had the same choice to ORD and CLT as well. But, that being said, I was on a SAN to DFW flight and the option’s were a Continental Fruit Plate or a Breakfast Sandwich. All Breakfast flights come with a choice of breads; either a biscuit, bagel, cinnamon roll, or croissant. Flights designated as Lunch are almost the same as Dinner flights (the Covid-19 choices are always between a Turkey Sandwich or Fruit & Cheese snack https://www.patstravelreviews.com/post/what-is-it-like-flying-during-the-covid-19-pandemic photo to the right). A small bowl of hot cashews & almonds is served with the beverage before the meal. Like breakfast, there are two entrées. Usually a meat or pasta
although the last flight I was on the choice was either Chow Mein or Tex-Mex Salad with Chicken (cold plate). I have had the same Chicken with Green Beans on a few flights from ORD to the West Coast and the same Short Ribs with twice Baked Potatoes from DFW to LAX & SAN. Meals tend to change after three months or so. The meal comes with a salad and on longer flights, an appetizer or starter (always served with meal). A Bread Basket with a few choices of rolls is passed out shortly after your meal has been served. On shorter flights and lunch flights, dessert consists of a warm cookie (either Snickerdoodle or Chocolate Chip) while on longer flights Ice Cream in a glass (no toppings) or a Slice of Cake is served. On longer flights outside the Dinner time-slot (usually after 8pm), red-eye’s, and flights between 2 – 2.5 hours a small snack is served. The two most popular being a Fruit & Cheese plate or a Hummus & Pita Plate. To American’s credit, they also serve the same warm nut dishes on these flights as well. On flights that are under two hours a premium snack basket is passed around. Occasionally American changes the selection, but there is usually 5 or 6 items to choose from. Popcorn, Chips, Nuts, Pretzels, Cookies, Fig Bar, Granola Bar, Whole Fruit just to name a few. Typically they are from smaller companies and for the most part high quality products. The Hawaii flights have
different choices and slightly better catering. One of the best things about flying First
Class on American is you can pre-order your meal 24 hours to 30 days before departure (also currently suspended). This is a more equitable system and eliminates someone who purchased a First Class seat not getting their meal choice while someone who was upgraded at the last minute does. Also, it enables them to pick their preferred seat without them worrying where the flight attendants will take the orders from. American used to take orders from the front on even flight #’s and from the back on odd (febo). I don’t see much of this anymore and I think the ability to pre-order your meal made it obsolete. For the most part AA’s First Class meals are more than edible. Some I like more than others, but what I like the most is they are always served hot (something United has a hard time with). Like most Airlines in the US, the flight attendants are inconsistent. The majority are friendly, professional and accommodating, but more than a few are less than. One nice touch is prior to landing a flight attendant passes around a small tray of mints.
All of American’s A321’s have access to Wi-Fi, but much like the seats, there is now some difference between the 321’s and 32B’s. In the past the Wi-Fi was through Gogo Inflight, but now on the 32B’s and 32Q's the Wi-Fi is through ViaSat. I am not sure if ViaSat will replace Gogo on the 321's, but this still holds true since I wrote this review over a year ago. The Wi-Fi price varies from flight to flight, but is about the same with both providers. Typically the fee ranges from $12 to $14 for 1 hour, with a more reasonable price for the entire flight (typically $12 for shorter flights (2 hrs.) and $16 for longer flights (over 3hrs). The ViaSat definitely has a faster connection, however, I prefer Gogo as it gives T-Mobile customer’s 1 hour free internet and unlimited free texting on your phone. ViaSat is available from gate to gate, whereas Gogo still is limited to above 10,000 feet. All have
American’s Personal Device entertainment. In the past, on aircraft that had seatback entertainment, Gogo only provided Wi-Fi, while on planes that did not have in-seat IFE then own device entertainment was available. Now, with ViaSat, entertainment is always available on your device. I personally prefer watching programming on a seatback monitor over my tablet (dinner and a movie is much easier this way than finding a place for your tablet/laptop). The own device entertainment is free as is the seat back in all classes. The content is similar, but not 100% the same. In most cases programs are unedited (uncensored). The seatback IFE is touchscreen (there is also hand-set on armrest) and usually has more movie and TV choices plus has games, music, Apple Music plus a very nice moving map. I have not had any issues connecting to AA’s Personal Device Entertainment and my only complaint is that they are slow to change content. But that said, it has taken
me some time to write this review and last week I flew on an A319 (USAir) from IAH to LAX that had 12 channels of Live TV in addition to the regular content on American’s
Personal Device Entertainment. The same with the 32B's, Live TV was available through your device. But since I started flying again this past August (2020) every time I search for Live TV it always says "currently unavailable". I am not sure if this also has something to do with the pandemic (don't know how other than saving money). I thought I had read American was switching to ViaSat, but maybe they changed their mind. Either way, just like with the seats, the experience is different from aircraft to aircraft.
In a nutshell, I think American’s Domestic First Class is the best of the three legacy carriers and their new A321’s are a big reason I feel this way (although I like First on their B737’s more). However, the fact they kept the same seats on the A321’s they inherited from USAir, makes it almost like flying on two separate airlines. For the most part I try to avoid flying on the 321’s and not just because the First Class experience is better on the 32B’s or that the 32Q's have more seats in First. Mostly, because if I do not purchase a First Class ticket and don’t get upgraded, it is one of the only aircraft that does not have a Premium /Economy, Plus, Extra or Comfort seat with extra legroom (outside bulkhead and exit row).
Above is a photo of the latest meal served (Aug 2021) from DFW to SAN. A slight upgrade to the First Class meal experience. I recently read where American may never go back to traditional hot plated meals in First Class. I hope this will not happen and doubt it will with United returning to hot meals. I would think AA would not want to be at a competitive disadvantage.