Like a Very Long Bus Ride: Dallas Fort Worth to Hong Kong, American Airlines 125

At the Airport

I was connecting to this flight from a domestic AA flight so already had my boarding pass, on decent card thankfully not the thermal printed paper which seems to travel poorly. I took the airside train to terminal D and spent some time in the AA lounge there. At around 10.30 there was a final call for the flight in the lounge and I went down to gate 25, conveniently located next to the lounge entrance.

At the gate there was a small queue but no movement. When I asked the gate agent if the flight was boarding, she explained to me that boarding had been paused for maintenance. I took a seat and the boarding time on the screen was changed in half hour increments until finally it showed 12:30. There was one announcement during that time in English and Mandarin, advising passengers to take a seat, but apart from that the communication from ground staff was notable by its absence. Outside, however, one could see a crew working on one of the engines. Finally boarding resumed and along with the few remaining passengers, I boarded after quarter past twelve.

Equipment

This is the same flight number as an earlier flight from New York to Dallas, but the equipment is different. The flight from Dallas was operated by a Boeing 777-300ER (registration number N733AR).

The configuration was 3-4-3, ten abreast. That was uncomfortable, not because it was too narrow for me but because one’s arms kept touching one’s neighbour. More annoying was the thin pitch. Sitting normally my knees were touching the seat in front even as an average sized person. Crossing one’s knees was difficult. For an ultra longhaul flight, that was uncomfortable. The seat had a slight recline.

The cabin temperature seemed too hot at least for the first half of the flight. The unbreathable seat finishing exacerbated this and it was quite uncomfortable.

The seatback had a USB port as well as a plug socket which took British and Hong Kong plugs as well as north American ones. I had wanted to work at one point but the entire cabin had its blinds down and my light shone onto my neighbour’s seat as well as mine, so I decided against it. The television screen, both touchscreen and with remote control, had excellent definition and sound quality. The range of programming was a real strength: there was a huge selection of audio and video. However, it was overwhelmingly skewed towards western titles. If you want Asian ones, it’s very thin pickings.

Before each film or programme was an advert for Marriott hotels (apparently if you ask them for flowers in your room they will put them there) and what I found to be a patronising plug for some female filmmaker programme American supports. Unlike on Cathay, these commercials cannot be fast forwarded. There was also a never ending series of interruptions for announcements made by video, instead of a crew member making them in a single burst near the start of the flight. Announcements were in English, Cantonese and Mandarin. Oddly there was a second, abridged safety video in Cantonese. I didn’t follow the logic of showing the video just shown, but not all of it.

Crew distributed earbuds after takeoff (possibly they had already done that on the ground before I boarded). As on Delta, the earplug socket beneath the screen meant that the cable trailed over the table, annoying when eating and when seatmates wanted to get up or down.

Flight

We pushed back at 12.35 and were soon airborne. Heading up towards the Pacific Northwest, we then hugged the coast around Alaska, and came down off Japan and the tip of Taiwan before descending to Hong Kong. We eventually flew at 36,000 feet but only many hours after takeoff.

There was some turbulence approaching Japan but for the most part it was a smooth flight. The flight map did not allow for a clear view of the flight route so is not worth reproducing here.

We arrived at gate 63 in Hong Kong at a quarter to five in the afternoon, an hour and thirty five minutes late. That is quite a delay but in fact the following day the delay was three hours worse while one week before the flight had been diverted to Seoul. This is the longest flight American operates and they seem to have had consistent problems with its punctuality.

Service

There was a drinks run with mini-pretzels shortly after the seatbelt light was turned off. A meal service followed as described below.

Service on this flight was characterised by apparent indifference from the cabin crew. Outside of the meal services, I did not see them in the cabin: there was not even a simple water run that I saw at any point.

The crew member serving the mail meal dropped her serving tongs on my back, which would have looked more like a random error had she not then immediately dropped a meal on the ground. Later, when I asked for a whisky after the meal, a different crew member simply handed me a miniature bottle, without a glass or offer of mixer, before moving his cart on.

Finally, an hour or so before landing, I decided to have a coffee, which hadn’t been offered after breakfast. I went back to the galley, where four crew members sat around, and asked one for a coffee. “You should have asked me for that earlier, honey,” she said. She seemed to be joking but her choice of subject matter was telling. “Why didn’t you ask when we served coffee earlier on?” she asked, before turning to her colleagues and saying, “Don’t you think he should have got his coffee earlier?” She poured a coffee from the jug which was two feet from her and handed it to me, becoming more friendly. This incident crystallised exactly what I did not like about the service ethos on this flight.

Food and Drink

The cabin crew handed out a well-sized, clearly laid out menu shortly after departure. I liked the fact that a clear schedule was provided, avoiding Cathay’s haphazard approach of sometimes suddenly serving its second meal halfway through its flights from north America. They also announced the menu over the speakers, unnecessarily in my view as they had distributed paper ones, and in any case the menu they announced was for a different flight. It took some time for the crew member to correct his mistake.

I was impressed by the range of drinks on the drinks list. When I asked for a Sam Adams beer, though, I was informed that none was left despite being in the third row of the main economy cabin, and this the first meal service in a flight of over sixteen hours. So alas the delivery did not match the promise (although in fairness to American, the drinks list did say some drinks were subject to availability). Kudos to American for the promised range, though, and hopefully they can deliver it better in future.

The first meal was thin in my view – there were only two choices, and the meal came without a starter despite being the main meal for a sixteen plus hour flight. I chose the fish, which was a bit dry but edible.

After about eight hours came an artificial tasting stuffed sandwich and ice cream. American seems to like non-English names to make food sound more upscale. They were served with drinks.

A couple of hours before landing breakfast was served. This baffled me: it was gone midnight in the departure city and mid-afternoon in the arrival city, not breakfast time. I chose the American breakfast, primarily because I feared how bad their dim sum would be, and the American breakfast was decent.

During the flight, crisps and chocolate coated grains along with water and orange juice were available in the galley.

Conclusion

This was an uncomfortable flight with rubbish service. I realise that American airline service often does not match what we are used to in Asia, but my recent experience on Delta in economy shows that some American airline crews can be just as service-oriented as Asian ones. The food was not as good as I would have liked, but the entertainment offering was excellent.

In this review I have not touched on price, but American sometimes has incredible deals on this route, with sub-US$600 returns from some U.S. cities. If I did not want a direct flight from Dallas, or a cheap price, I would not take the flight, but if those things were important it could be a worthwhile choice despite the shortcomings.

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