American Airlines Remodeled 777-200 Business Class, Raleigh-Durham, NC (RDU) to London, England (LHR) – Or How I learned to Love a Schedule Change

Several months ago I booked a trip on American Airlines (AA) leaving from Charlotte, NC (CLT) to New York (JFK) connecting in London, England (LHR) on British Airways to Bangalore, India (BLR).  A couple of weeks before this flight, I booked a saver award with Delta miles for a business class trip to Bangkok for the Songkran Festival.  Unfortunately, I later saw that this trip conflicted with the return from BLR.  Oops!

The Benefits of a Schedule Change

When I discovered the blunder, it looked like I was facing a minimum of several hundred dollars in change fees and airfare for booking an earlier return from BLR.  While credit card benefits with American Express would cover part of these charges, substantial out-of-pocket cash was at risk.

Checking my AA reservation to BLR, I noticed that there had been a schedule change of unknown magnitude.  On AA, schedule changes give the passenger the right to change flights without penalty or difference in airfare as long as the origination and destination cities are the same!  So I changed the outbound to a flight on which I could use an AA Systemwide Upgrade (SWU) to move my seat from economy to business class, and thanks to an accommodating rep on the Executive Platinum line I also changed the date of the return without penalty or airfare charges!

The new routing to LHR was from CLT to Raleigh-Durham, NC (RDU) to LHR.  The 130-mile flight from CLT to RDU was on a 737-800.  I was surprised that the flight attendants offered service in first class during the brief flight.  At RDU, I went to the Admirals Club across from Gate C3 for the two-hour wait before boarding the flight to LHR.

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The Admirals Club (left) is located next to the Delta SkyClub. Take the elevator across from C3 up one level.

The RDU Admirals Club is small but well appointed.  It overlooks the concourse with limited tarmac views.   It has standard features like wifi, cable TV, newspapers, free snacks, salads, and soup as well as house beer, wine and liquor, as well as food and premium drinks for purchase. This location also has showers, something CLT clubs lack.  When I checked in at the lounge, the receptionist provided two vouchers for premium drinks since I was flying international business class.  As a Delta SkyClub member, I could have used that facility but chose the Admirals Club because of the free premium drinks.

AA 174 RDU-LHR

The flight to LHR departed from C23 at the end of C concourse in Terminal 2.

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RDU Terminal 2, C concourse

Flight 174 was scheduled to depart at 5:55pm and take 7 hours and 40 minutes to cover the 3866 miles to LHR arriving at 6:35am.  When I arrived at Gate 23 boarding had begun.  There was no wait in the Priority Line, and I went right on board.

This AA 777-200 has 45 Zodiac business seats, 21 in the forward section and 24 in the aft section separated by a galley and two lavatories.  The business seats are arranged reverse-herringbone style with some facing rearward.  AA canceled plans to install Zodiac seats on more aircraft because of slow deliveries.

My seat was 5L, a forward facing window seat on the right in the forward business section.

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AA 777-200 forward business section
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Seat 5L

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Rear facing seat 5H

I had flown this type of aircraft in business previously on a domestic route.  Now it was time to experience an international flight.

Seat Features

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Storage area below the console next to the window

The seat has dual a/c and usb ports which is unique.

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a/c and usb ports above the side console
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Seat controls are located in a pod at eye level on the right side

There is plenty of room in the footwell.20170404_175135_resized

The video screen is just over 15 inches and folds out for viewing.  I prefer video screens that are fixed so viewing is available during taxi and the entire flight.

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The video controller is mounted next to the seat controls.

Amenities

For a seven-hour flight, AA provided decent amenities.

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Standard AA business-class amenity kit
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Amenity kit contains, dental kit, tissues, earplugs, eyeshades, headphone covers, pen, lip balm and hand lotion.
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Bose noise cancelling headsets
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Bottled water
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Pillow and quilt

Unlike many other airlines AA does not put dental items, lotion and razors in the lavatories.20170425_013435_resized

On this flight there was no mattress or pjs.

The aircraft is equipped with wifi.  After takeoff I was disappointed to learn it was not working.

While I was exploring the seat features and amenities, the FAs brought a tray of beverages.

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Partially consumed pre-departure champagne

Departure

At 5:49pm the aircraft left the gate and began the taxi to runway 23R, the 10,000 foot main runway at RDU.  It was a great day for flying.

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Taking runway 23R at 6:00pm

After takeoff, two right turns brought us downwind of 23R.20170421_164553_resized

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Climbing through 17,000 feet over the region where the North Carolina piedmont meets the coastal plain.

After a smooth climb, the pilots leveled off at 35,000 feet.

The Service 

The FAs began service at 6:25pm.  Here are the food menus for fight 174:20170422_131414_resized20170422_131655_resized

For those wanting to maximize sleep or work time, AA offers an Express Meal where salad, entree, and dessert are served simultaneously.

As usual on AA, service started with a wet towel followed by warm nuts and beverages.20170422_131159_resized_1

Eight minutes later they offered refills. I had an Australian Chardonnay.

At 6:37pm the appetizer and salad was served.

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Potato blinis and shaved brussel sprout salad

Two minutes after the salad and appetizer, the FAs offered warm bread.  The appetizer and salad were very good, and that’s coming from someone who ordinarily hates brussel sprouts.

At 6:48pm we went through some moderate turbulence that spilled some of my wine. Finding smooth air, the entree was served at 6:55pm.

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Duck breast, turmeric rice, andouille and collard greens

The duck was prepared medium to medium well.  It was delicious along with the greens. My only complaint was that the rice seemed a little dry.  Also a soup course would have been nice.

Five minutes after the entree was served I was offered more warm bread.  Dessert, always one of my favorites, followed at 7:15pm.

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Porto, ice cream, grapes, and smoked Gouda, jalapeno Jack and sharp cheddar cheese

The tasty dessert capped off a lovely meal.  The culinary experience was enhanced by the fact that, on this flight, dinner was served at exactly the right time of day.

After dinner almost everyone except me went to sleep.  The ambient lighting created a sleep-inducing environment.

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Aft business section in sleep mode

This 777-200 has a very nice Main Cabin Extra economy section with 3-3-3 seating.  I peeked and saw that the load was light enough that most passengers were able to stretch out and enjoy a “lie flat” economy seat.

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Main Cabin Extra section

There were many movies, games, and tunes in the In-flight Entertainment system. That was not as interesting to me as the Heads Up Display.

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Straight and level at flight level 390, indicated airspeed 467 knots, ground speed 503 knots, heading 090 degrees

While folks slept, the FAs set up a spread of snacks, sandwiches, fruit, and desserts in the galley between the forward and aft business class sections.  There was an astounding assortment of snacks considering that the flight was less than seven hours and dinner and breakfast were being served too. 20170422_144240_resized

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At 12:30am local time, 10:30pm EST, when we were mid Atlantic over the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone, I helped myself to a midnight snack.20170422_144844_resized

I was wide awake but managed to get about an hour’s rest before the lights came on for breakfast.

To me, breakfast is the least appealing meal on any aircraft or airline.  There is not much variety.  Breakfast was served at 5:16am, 48 minutes before landing as we passed over Dublin, Ireland and the Irish Sea at 39,000 feet. 20170421_183546_resized

While breakfast was the standard eggs and stuff, I must say that AA consistently has some of the best biscuits in the air or on land.  The texture outside and in is perfect.  I only wish the butter was not served rock hard.  I usually put the butter packet under the egg dish for a minute or two to make it spreadable.

Descent and Arrival

Before breakfast we were given cards for the immigration and customs Fast Track lane. The FAs collected the headsets while were were estimated to be 40 minutes from landing. While earbuds were offered, early collection of headsets and stowing the foldout video screens before landing is annoying especially when no warning is given.

On the descent to LHR those on the right side were treated to a beautiful sunrise. 20170422_155650_resized

The approach to LHR was directly over central London.20170422_160234_resized20170410_140610_resized20170422_160514_resized

Landing was at 6:19am on runway 27R, a runway of nearly 13,000 feet.  It was a short taxi to gate 330 at Terminal 3.

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LHR control tower near Terminal 3

Overall Impression

I was pleased to be able to change my flights due to a schedule change.  I had no difficulty on this route using a SWU to enjoy business class.  While the Zodiac seat is not the best business seat AA has, I had no complaints about it.  The food was great as was the service.  On this flight, I give AA a Well Done.

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