- American Airlines is one of four US carriers flying overseas to Europe and has recently started increasing services as more countries open to American tourists.
- Transatlantic flights are pretty much back to normal, besides having to wear a mask.
- Hot meals and alcohol are once again served in all cabins including economy class.
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The summer before the pandemic saw American fly to 23 European destinations from the US. Fast forward to the summer of 2021, however, and that number stood at 11 as American wasn’t as quick to rebuild in Europe following its reopening.
But even still, American has maintained service to core cities like London; Madrid; and Rome, while opening new routes including New York-Athens.
And American has proved to be an inexpensive option when crossing the pond, as I found when planning a recent work trip to Doha, Qatar with flights on American, British Airways, and Qatar Airways.
I flew American Airlines from New York to Madrid during the summer of vaccinated travel. Here’s what it was like.
After recent bad experiences on American, I was a bit nervous to fly the carrier overseas. I made sure to do extra research on backup options in case something went wrong, and even arrived at the airport four hours early.
But having flown American internationally earlier in the summer, I knew how to prepare. The first step was to download Verifly, American’s preferred health passport service that speeds along airport check-in and document verification.
I submitted all my required documentation and got the green light. As a result, check-in at the airport was less painful than expected as I was able to use a self-serve kiosk to get my boarding pass.
For those checking a bag, though, there was a bit of a line, as is usually the case in international terminals. I was glad to have only brought a carry-on.
I was instantly relieved once I had my boarding pass and headed straight to the gate with only a minimal line at security. I felt silly having arrived four hours before departure but as the old saying goes, better safe than sorry.
One benefit of flying out of American’s Terminal 8 at John F. Kennedy International Airport is that Bobby Van’s Steakhouse is open, and Priority Pass members through Chase can get a free meal. I had the burger and it was delicious.
The rest of the concourse was quiet as I arrived before the bulk of the evening overseas departures. Even still, there were shops and restaurants open for business in a good sign for the industry.
I headed straight to the gate after lunch and got my first glimpse at the aircraft taking us to Spain, the mighty Boeing 777-200. American now only flies Boeing 777 aircraft between New York and Europe in a win for business class and first class customers that get to enjoy the airline’s best premium cabin products.
Pandemic-era safety measures including social distancing floor placards and plexiglass portions at the gate counter were still on display.
Boarding began around 45 minutes prior to departure in American’s standard group boarding procedure. Most US airlines have abandoned back-to-front boarding.
American’s Boeing 777-200 aircraft seat 273 passengers across three cabins, with classes of service including business, premium economy, and economy.
In economy, seats are arranged in a 10-abreast, 3-4-3 configuration that’s standard for most airlines flying the 777.
Seat pitch in economy is between 31 and 32 inches, according to SeatGuru, while seat width is a standard 17 inches.
I booked this flight quite late and there weren’t too many seats from which to choose that didn’t require paying an extra fee. American isn’t alone in the practice of charging for advance seat assignments on long-haul flights but I despise the practice as these tickets are expensive enough as it is.
But to American’s credit, there were a good showing of complimentary aisle and window seats towards the back of the plane from which to select.
And to my surprise, the most unique seats in economy were available for selection. The last three rows on this aircraft are arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration meaning there are six two-seat pairs.
I thought I had lucked out by selecting one of them but my excitement was short-lived. Simply put, these seats were not the most comfortable for a larger traveler.
The small width didn’t help and I felt like I was taking up part of the seat next to me.
One thing that could’ve helped was if the armrest for the window seat was moveable, but it was fixed in place. I was so close to the seat in front of me that my tray table couldn’t even lay flat (a problem I didn’t have on the other carriers on which I flew during this trip).
My top concern was having enough room once my seat neighbor arrived. But I lucked out and had both seats to myself as nobody showed up to claim the other.
There was a gap between the seat and the cabin wall which offered some additional legroom and a place to store the pillow and blanket kit left on the seat.
American is quite generous with seat features on its wide-body aircraft. Each seat has an 8.9-inch in-flight entertainment screen with a variety of movies, television shows, games, and music.
The moving map proved handy during the flight to keep track of our location.
A tethered remote is also available to control the system and act as a game controller or keyboard for the seat-to-seat chat function. It also comes in handy when scrolling through content since the touch functionality is quite poor in that regard.
In-flight WiFi is also available on the aircraft for a price. And for those using devices during the flight, in-seat power is offered through USB charging ports and 110v C power outlets at seats.
The rest of the aircraft was quite full, which surprised me as it was quite late in the season for transatlantic travel. Some passengers were visiting family and friends while others were starting their study abroad term.
Bad weather in New York wreaked a bit of havoc on the airport but we weren’t overly affected. I was quite relieved that our departure was pretty close to on time as I had a connection to make in Madrid.
The storm did, however, make for some great views as we blasted out of New York.
Madrid is quite a short flight from New York and while I wanted to go straight to sleep, I did want to see what the meal service was like. This was the first time I’d had a hot meal on American during the pandemic.
As I waited for the service to begin, I had a look at what was on offer in the movie department. American had quite a good selection in all categories, and I ultimately picked “The Vault.”
First attendants started the drink service first with a selection of soft drinks, juices, wine, and beer. Alcohol isn’t currently served in economy on American’s domestic flights but it flows freely on transatlantic hops.
I ordered a club soda along with some red wine to help ease my sleep after the meal.
Next came the meal service as flight attendants quickly passed out the trays. I felt like I was being served in a cafeteria as one flight attendant curtly asked, “chicken or pasta?”
I unwrapped the entree to find that not much has changed at all when it comes to American’s economy catering. The chicken dish was accompanied by a side salad, cheese and crackers, and a cinnamon dessert bar.
I couldn’t describe the chicken beyond that it was served in a tomato-based sauce. I enjoyed the sides more than the main and was glad I had the burger at Bobby Van’s before the flight. Next time, I think I’ll head straight to sleep.
Flight attendants were very quick to complete the meal service, though, and got it done in under an hour and a half. The flight to Madrid is only six hours and 30 minutes so every second counts.
Ready for bed with a full stomach, I used the pillow and blanket that American had left on the seat and did my best to get comfortable.
Another downside of the two-seat row is that there’s a gap between the seat and window, making propping a pillow up against the cabin wall near-impossible.
But even then, it wasn’t too difficult to get to sleep and I woke just before breakfast was served.
Flight attendants once more came around to serve drinks first, followed by a pre-packaged cold breakfast.
On offer for the optimistic morning meal included Chobani strawberry yogurt, a raspberry fig bar, and coconut cashew granola. All in all, it was quite standard but still enjoyable.
The flight to Madrid was nearing its end and I can’t say I was upset to see it go. American did a great job of getting me to Spain on time but the in-flight experience was exactly what I expected it to be.
I did appreciate the modernity of the aircraft and the efficiency of the crew but there wasn’t anything memorable about this flight.
Besides having to wear a mask, though, I’d say that American is back to normal on these flights, for better or worse.