Take a bow.
Take a bow whoever it was who did the deal with Bang & Olufsen to supply the headphones for American Airlines’ business class cabins. Because they are, quite simply, superb. And when I say superb, I mean quality that’s been turned up to 11.
But on my Boeing 777-300 AA flight from London Heathrow Terminal 3 to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in seat 4A, there’s a delay in reaching the sonic Shangri-La they transport you to because the headphone jack is mysteriously hidden from view.
There is a pin right next to me that the jack for the headset fits perfectly. But it’s inert for the headphones.
Someone wasn’t paying attention in one of their ergonomics classes.
In the end, a stewardess comes to the rescue having witnessed my helpless button prodding and looks of bafflement at the fact that the three-pin socket next to me isn’t playing ball.
As she reveals the mystery socket location – on the side of a cubby hole you’d need a system of angled mirrors to spot – she freely admits that the situation is a little bizarre.
And that’s not all.
Other ergonomics modules seemed to have been missed on armrests – the one to my right is too far away for me to actually rest my arm on – and storage location. There’s a second good-sized cubby hole for storage available, but I almost have to get on my hands and knees to get to it.
The buttons for manoeuvring the seat are very well placed, though, just to my left above that phantom headphone socket. The panel also harbours a USB I can plug my phone into, a reading light and the handset for the entertainment screen.
Which is, pleasingly, pretty good (though not as good as the one on the return 777-200 leg, more of which later…).
Ok, the touch screen is a little unresponsive and the screen size is not industry-leading for business class (15.4 inches), but it’s good enough for near-total movie immersion.
What’s more, the entertainment is available gate-to-gate – but the cabin crew collect the headphones just before the plane lands. Which is a shame, but not surprising given that they retail for at least £300 ($380).
What else on the tech front?
Oh yes, the all-important Wi-Fi. I can report that it works just fine. I pay $19 for it to last the entire flight and it never drops out.
I’m also a fan of the suite’s dimensions.
The leg room is on the ample side of ample, with the seat transforming into a 6ft 6in bed in lie-flat mode.
I’m 5ft 10in, so plenty of room to stretch out.
There’s a fairly extensive table area to my left, as well, along with not one but two windows (just like BA’s A380 First suite, but without the powered blinds).
The seat width, meanwhile, is brilliant, I have to say. Huge.
Or to be precise 21.5 inches – that’s half an inch wider than BA’s new A350 Club Suite seat. Plenty of wiggle room for the rear-end. And the seat can be adjusted without any hassle into the perfect position.
Two buttons move the headrest, two more move it horizontally all the way to lie-flat and back and another two move the entire seat back and forth.
Plus, there are one-touch buttons for the bed and take-off and landing positions.
There’s an amenity kit, of course, placed in that remote cubby hole I mentioned (along with a bottle of water in a little holder).
It’s by Los Angeles-based luxury leather accessory company This is Ground and is indeed a luxury leather accessory.
It opens out book-style to reveal two pockets containing lip balm and hand lotion by top beauty brand Allies of Skin (which ‘creates smart, effective products for the modern day multi-hyphenate’, crucial work I’m sure you’ll agree), plus unbranded mouthwash, a cleverly designed toothbrush that clicks into a protective holder, Crest toothpaste, tissues, earplugs, an eye mask, socks and a pen in a looped holder with ‘Aviator’ written on it.
There are quality toiletries in the bathrooms, too, by C.O.Bigelow.
Top-quality bedding is also on the inventory – a deluxe pillow and duvet by Casper.
Privacy screens are becoming all the rage in business classes and this one doesn’t feature them, but it’s no real loss.
I feel cocooned and cosy and no one can see that I’m working my way through the Stars Wars franchise from Episode IV.
And I can see only a tiny corner of my neighbour’s screen across the aisle.
So far, it’s a business class suite that feels like, well, the business. A little care-worn in places – I spy a little bit of glue spillage around the edge of the table veneer and there’s a bit of trim that’s sticking up by the window – but it definitely conveys the feeling of VIP-ness.
Some might find the decor in the all-direct-aisle-access cabin a little lacking in imagination – it’s all monochromatic grey tones. But I find it unobtrusive and relaxing, and actually quite stylish.
Grey is in, I read somewhere.
And I can understand why airlines might plump for plain palettes – it dates more slowly and so doesn’t need to be overhauled too often.
There are similarly high standards in the food, drink and service departments.
The flight departs at 8.40am and, it being breakfast time, I naturally accept the offer of Champagne when I board.
Except it’s not Champagne.
It’s actually Masia Parera Brut Methode Traditionelle Cava. An ok cava. But you can only call sparkling wine Champagne if it’s made in the Champagne region of France.
How do I discover it’s not Champagne? To my shame – despite my WSET 1 qualification – not because I tasted the difference, but because later a stewardess pours me a glass of fizz and tells me that it’s ‘better than the fizz served upon boarding’.
It’s certainly highly quaffable.
I’d later ask American Airlines – BA’s major codeshare partner – what was afoot vis and vis the fizz, and it confirms that what’s served mid-flight is Collet Brut ($34/£27 a bottle) Champagne, as per the menu, but what’s served before take-off is said cava.
Why? Something about mid-flight beverages being ‘duty free’.
I get it. It’s a money-saving ploy. But perhaps those boarding could be offered ‘bubbles’ or ‘Spanish fizz’ or ‘a sparkling pick-me-up’ so as to avoid accusations of deception.
Anyway, moving further down the list, a glass of Starmont Chardonnay Carneros from California that I try later is super – well-mannered and full of perky lemony flavours.
However, the white Campo alle Comete Vermentino Toscana (average price around £12-14 per bottle), from Italy, is a let-down. The wine list really talks it up, waxing lyrical about its ‘mineral freshness’ and ‘aromatic floral notes’.
But I don’t get any of that. To me, it’s just a semi-decent party wine with a slightly sharp finish.
I’m a little surprised I don’t like it because American Airlines proudly boasts that master sommelier Bobby Stuckey put the list together. There’s even a picture of him on the menu – grinning – alongside a brief biography.
This suggests confidence in the selection.
Also, the Campo alle Comete is favourably reviewed online (and a wine consultant I show the list to is impressed with this choice, see boxout). Perhaps the altitude has skewed my taste buds…
I’m 100 per cent impressed with the food, though. From start to finish, through every course, every plate delights and is nicely presented.
For breakfast fresh fruit (melon and pineapple) and a warm fresh and flaky croissant are accompanied by a mouth-watering roasted tomato tart (Brits – this is a popular American brunch dish) and a proper cup of coffee.
My main plate for lunch is smoked salmon hash with Bearnaise sauce, vine tomatoes and sautéed spinach. A lovely bit of rustic comfort food.
Then I enjoy a little dish of delicious mini cakes with a fresh strawberry. Perfect with white wine.
Just before touch-down in Dallas a plate of mini chicken and leek, and mushroom and spinach, pies arrive, along with more fresh fruit and a marvellously moreish salted caramel and chocolate ganache.
And the crockery? All porcelain pieces by deSter, which is a major airline supplier. But it’s good quality stuff.
All in all, it’s a dining experience far, far removed from any economy or premium economy cabin offering.
All that’s lacking for me is a dine-on-demand option which, for instance, Qatar Airways offers in business class.
The service, meanwhile, is exceptional. I write in my notes that ‘the cabin crew are a riot’.
But they don’t just have a flair for fun.
This is the sort of cabin crew you always really hope you’ll get on a flight – chirpy, relaxed, friendly, chatty but utterly professional. And generous with the Champagne… And cava.
Ordinarily, here the review would end and, without further ado, I’d present my conclusions.
But I’m obliged to continue, because on the return overnight flight, from Phoenix (my trip is a mini Texas/Arizona tour), it’s a different plane – a 777-200, as I mentioned – and the business class cabin is also different.
And mostly in a good way, with the niggles from the journey over now ironed out.
The seat – called a SuperDiamond and made by Collins Aerospace, for any aviation seat nerds out there – is slightly shorter at 72.2 inches (6ft) in lie-flat mode but is a smidgen wider at 21.9 inches and has better back support.
The ergonomics, meanwhile, are spot on.
The armrest to my right is in the perfect position, the headphone jack is not hidden, but is in a very useful easy-to-reach storage compartment with a lid, designed so that when closed, it doesn’t squash the lead.
And the TV is a whopper – an 18-inch touch-screen that’s superbly responsive.
The seat buttons, I note, are now on a little touch-screen pad. Nifty.
Plus, all the trim is looking… trim.
It’s a gold star for the food, service and quaffing juices too (great to see you again, Bobby).
I have hickory smoked carrots with a seasonal greens salad for a starter, four-cheese spinach ravioli with creamy Parmesan sauce and blistered cherry tomatoes for mains and an ice-cream sundae for dessert.
Breakfast, about an hour before touching down in Heathrow, comprises fresh fruit, bread and yoghurt. All very yummy.
I try one wine – a cabernet sauvignon from the Imagery Estate in California (£13/$16.50) – and it’s tremendous. Smooth, soft and rounded.
Bobby, you’re back in the circle of trust.
I manage about four hours of solid sleep and disembark feeling fairly spritely.
So what’s the summary? Scroll down…
So, does the world’s biggest airline (by fleet size, revenue, profit and passengers carried) have the world’s best business class?
That accolade, with some justification, should go to Qatar Airways and its Qsuite.
Is it world-class? Possibly. It’s certainly very good and ticks enough boxes to earn a four-star rating from me.
You’d have to be a fussy high-flyer indeed not to thoroughly enjoy the experience.
A raising of the eyebrows is understandable with regard to certain aspects of the ergonomics in the 777-300 cabin and that Italian white.
But once those hi-fidelity B&O headphones are on – you really won’t care.