Review: American Airlines A321S Economy Class (Los Angeles – Maui)


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The Airbus A321S is American’s aircraft of choice on a number of its routes to/from Hawaii so, if you’re thinking of visiting the 50th state, there’s a very good chance that this is the aircraft you’ll experience.

The First Class cabin on the American Airlines A321S holds 16 passengers but, as the cabin had been fully booked for months, I had known for a while that my complimentary upgrade was never going to clear….and it didn’t.

I wasn’t particularly concerned that my upgrade didn’t clear as I was booked into an exit row seat for the 5.5 hour flight between Los Angeles and Maui so I knew I’d have reasonable legroom and, when it comes to domestic flights, that’s all that really matters to me.

The gate agents called us to board more or less on time and I was soon getting my first look at the inside of an American Airlines A321S:

The American Airlines A321S Economy Class Cabin

The A321S Economy Class cabin is set out like most narrow-body Economy Class cabins – in a 3-3 layout – and it wasn’t long before I noticed a mistake I had made.

I didn’t pay enough attention when looking at the seat map for the A321S and I assumed that the exit row on this aircraft was pretty much the same as the exit rows on the A320 aircraft that I’ve flown on quite a bit.

Sadly, that’s not true.

On A320 aircraft the better seats are usually in the second of the two exit rows because the seats in the first row don’t recline and that makes the second row the most spacious outside of First Class.

That’s why I had chosen a window seat in row 12.

Unfortunately for me the A321’s exit row is arranged somewhat differently to the exit row on an A320 and it’s actually row 11 that’s the premium choice:

Look at all that legroom!

Row 12 wasn’t bad, it still had more legroom than all of the other Economy Class rows…..

…but it was no row 11.

Ironically, had I chosen seat 12F (the window seat on the other side of the aircraft)   instead of 12A I would have had as much room as the passengers in row 11….possibly more!

On the right side of the aircraft row 11 is missing a seat by the exit door so the person seated in 12F has absolutely nothing in front of them:

This is definitely the seat to go for if you can’t get a seat in row 11.

To rub salt into my wound it turned out that American Airlines has placed IFE boxes under the seats in row 11 (it may also have them under other rows) and these limit the space for a passenger’s feet quite noticeably.

Still, I had more legroom then the poor souls in the regular Economy Class seats (where you only get around 31”) so I’m not going to complain too much.

Aside from in the exit rows all the Economy Class seats have good-sized IFE screens built into the seatbacks….

…and each IFE screen offers a built-in USB port, an audio port and a headphone point.

Just below the IFE screen is a magazine rack and the tray table……

….and under the tray table is a universal power port.

I like this set up because all the inputs/outputs you need are right there in front of you so there’s no need to hunt around under your seat if you want to plug something in and you can easily keep items on the tray table as they charge.

Speaking of tray tables….

The tray tables folds out in two stages. Stage one offers up a half-table with a small indent for a glass or cup…..

….while stage two opens up the tray table to its full size:

When I opened up the tray table fully for the first time I was glad I had brought my customary sanitary wipes with me – it wasn’t exactly clean:

As it happens neither were the tray tables of the two passengers sitting next to me so, between us, we got through a lot of wipes!

I realise that this kind of dirt isn’t going to be obvious to a cleaning crew and, when aircraft have to be turned around as quickly as they are nowadays, we can’t expect cleaning crews to open up every table after every flight to make sure they’re clean…but in this case there was no excuse.

This was a morning flight out of LAX and this particular A321S had been in Los Angeles over night (I had checked the whereabouts of the aircraft on FlightAware back in LA). There was absolutely no reason whatsoever why this aircraft couldn’t have had a proper clean when it finished its routes the day before.

Either American’s LAX cleaning crews are useless or American is too mean to pay crews to give their aircraft a proper clean – both are equally possible.

Right, rant over, back to the A321S….

Storage is an issue as there isn’t very much space around the seats…even for an Economy Class cabin.

The customary magazine holder is too small to hold a laptop and it’s so inflexible that you can’t fit much in even if it is the right size.

The only other storage is a magazine holder just under the IFE screen but this is both full of literature and too rigid to allow much to be stored.

Ona positive note the A321S’ Economy Class cabin offers individual air vents…..

……so, when the cabin gets hot, passengers aren’t reliant on the crew to get the temperature back down to an acceptable level.

The In-Flight Entertainment

I think the movies, tv shows, music etc… that are on offer on the American Airlines A321S may be the same as what is offered on transatlantic Economy Class – I couldn’t see any difference to what I had on offer on my flight the day before.

Still, it doesn’t really matter what was on my flight as that in the past, if you want to know what American is offering onboard on your flight you can check the airline’s entertainment page here.

American Airlines Economy Class Food & Drink

Los Angeles to Maui may be a 5+ hour flight but American still charges for food in Economy Class. Coffee, tea, juice, water and sodas are complementary (British Airways could learn from this!) but if you want something to eat you have to pay.

Here’s the menu from my flight (apologies for the crude scan but it’s the best I could do):

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

We took off from Los Angeles shortly after 9am and food and drinks were almost as soon as we had levelled off.

As I hold American Airlines Executive Platinum status I get a complimentary meal of my choosing so I chose the “Continental Breakfast”.

The meal came presented in a paper bag which I actually like – it gives passengers somewhere to put their trash while they’re waiting for the crew to come around and clear up.

I thought the “bite into delight” motto on the bag as a bit ambitious (has anyone ever been “delighted by something served in American Airlines Economy Class this decade?) but at least it gave me a laugh.

I ordered a coffee to go with my meal andf that came with a Biscoff biscuit….which was a nice surprise (although I wouldn’t go as far as to call it delightful 🙂 )

Unpackaged this is what the continental breakfast looked like:

It was fine. Nothing more, nothing less.

As an aside, I should point out that Joanna, MJ and MJ’s grandparents were seated a little further back in the Economy Class cabin (booked on different reservations to me so I couldn’t get them into an exit row) and, as they would have to pay for any food they wanted, I had given Joanna my American Airlines Aviator credit card which gives 25% off all onboard food purchases – that made paying for mediocre food a little more bearable.

A second round of drinks was served 1 hr. 40 mins. into the flight, water was offered approximately 3 hrs. 15 mins. into the flight and complimentary coffee, tea, sodas etc… were offered one last time 3 hrs 45 mins into the flight.

American Airlines Economy Class Service

There isn’t all that much to say about the service itself as there really isn’t that much of it – you get offered food off a menu, you pay for it and then the flight attendants move on to the next passenger.

Unless you have a particularly large or complex order your interactions with the crew are going to be minimal.

However, having said that, it’s important that I point out that this crew were cheerful, smiley and polite with everyone I saw them interact with. I don’t know if they were new, just had a pay raise, were happy they were going to Hawaii of if they were simply good at their job, but they made a really nice change from some of the American Airlines flight attendants I’ve encountered on long-haul routes in recent flights.

Thoughts

Negatives:

  • The IFE boxes under the seats are annoying – I can’t believe AA/Airbus couldn’t come up with a better design.
  • The seats are narrow and, in the non-exit rows, the legroom is bad…especially for a 5+ hour flight (although this is now the norm).
  • The dirt on the tray tables was unacceptable – especially when the aircraft had been sitting in LA all night.

Positives:

  • The crew were smiley and pleasant
  • The IFE screens are a good size
  • The Power outlet, the USB port and the headphone output are all easy to find and reach
  • I like the paper bag the meals are served in – it’s useful for keeping all the trash until it can be collected.

Overall

As domestic Economy Class experiences go this was a reasonably good one….but that had a lot to do with the fact that I was booked into an exit row and I didn’t have to pay for food.

Had I been crammed into a narrow seat with minimal legroom towards the back of the aircraft and had to pay good money for mediocre food I would probably have come to a different conclusion after 5.5 hours.

This is probably a very good example of a flight where having status really pays off and makes a noticeable difference.

Most of us could probably put up with a regular Economy Class seat on shorter flights (say, up to 2 hours) but the extra legroom that comes with an exit row is a lifesaver on flights of this length.

In this case it probably made the difference between an “ok” flight and a “I don’t want to do that again anytime soon” flight. You should bear this in mind when deciding how good or bad American’s A321S Economy Class cabin is.

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