As a flight attendant topped off my glass of champagne before the flood of economy passengers filed into the main cabin, my seatmate and I couldn’t help but reference that classic Seinfeld episode – the one where a schedule snafu forces Elaine into coach and bumps Jerry up to first class; he sits next to a supermodel and spends the St. Louis to New York trip flirting and dining on hot fudge sundaes, while Elaine roughs it in the back of the plane.
Although exaggerated on-screen – I didn’t spot any Zoolander types on my November flight from JFK to Madrid’s Barajas Airport – life in the front of the plane does have a certain sheen to it. Specifically, American's business class excels at what is perhaps the biggest benefit of upgrading: Providing peace of mind. There’s no jostling for laptop space or worrying that you stashed your earplugs and pashmina in the overhead compartment. Instead, all the tools you’ll need for a comfy trip are tucked in the seat-back drawer (many of them in a handy, take-home amenity kit).
If you’re considering splurging on a business class ticket (February sample fares from NYC to Madrid cost about $2,700, compared to $780 for the same trip in coach), here’s what to expect behind American’s curtain.
In the upright position, the 60-inch pitch leaves enough room for the window-seat passenger to stand up and walk about the cabin without pestering the flyer in the aisle spot (though you probably shouldn’t test this on strangers); in the completely reclined position, the lie-flat seats are roomy enough for curling up and taking a long nap. While flying, two tray tables – one extending from the seat in front of you, the other retracting from the arm rest – create enough space to prop up a full-sized laptop, a dinner plate, and a drink at the same time.
In a nod to its DFW hub, American wrangled in-flight recipes from Dallas natives Stephen Pyles – one of modern Southwestern cuisine’s founding fathers – and Dean Fearing, known for his elevated riffs on American comfort food. Entrees by Nancy Brussat Barocci, a Chicago area chef who’s been wielding her knives since 1980, round out the menu.
En route to Madrid, I let the full, six-course dinner unfold (though know that a quicker, dinner-on-demand option is also available): A warm mixed nuts and crudité starter; a smoked salmon and herb marinated shrimp appetizer; a crispy, seasonal salad; fresh, crunchy breads; and a beef fillet served with vegetable risotto and sautéed spinach – all paired with a rarely empty glass of Cyan Prestigio Tinto de Toro from Spain. A la Seinfeld, I dug into a hot fudge sundae for dessert.
Tune into new releases like Wall Street, The Social Network, and Despicable Me from the adjustable, seat-back, touchscreen TVs – an exclusive for the front of the plane on the Boeing 757s. Select NBC and Disney Channel shows are also on offer, including 30 Rock, The Office, and House.
In addition to priority boarding and exiting privileges – a perk that almost makes a business class ticket worth the hefty price of admission – American stocks the front of its plane with thoughtful add-ons. Fluffy cotton duvets and Bose noise-canceling headphones allow for legitimately restful sleep (a rarity in coach), and amenity kits stocked with toiletries, socks, mints, an eye mask, and Burt’s Bees lotion and lip balm eliminate most mid-trip overhead compartment rummaging.