I was looking forward to this trip for two reasons. First, it was my first trip on an American/USAir A330. Second, although I’ve flown more than 1.8 million miles (mostly international flights) since I started keeping stats in 2011, this would be the first time I would go through Customs & Immigration at CLT, my home airport.
Other posts on this business-class trip:
According to the flight status board in the American Airlines International First Class Lounge, AA Flight 731 would board on time at 10:10am at Gate 40. This gate is located in a cluster of four gates at the end of one of the concourses in Terminal 3. It was a lot farther from the lounge than I expected. Walking briskly, I arrived at the gate at 10:12 to find that there was actually no need to rush.
Boarding was delayed. The sign directed passengers to take a seat. An agent was milling about inspecting boarding passes. She looked at my boarding pass and directed me to the counter where I received a new one.
That agent questioned me about my trip. There was no secondary visual or x-ray inspection of carry-on bags however.
American Flight 713 was scheduled to depart at 11:00 and arrive at CLT at 15:05 local times. LHR and CLT are separated by 3,992 miles as the great-circle crow flies.
Boarding finally began at 10:34. On the jet bridge I snapped a photo of Miss England, a Virgin Atlantic A330, parked next door.
The business-class section on the American (legacy USAir) A330-300 has 28 Envoy seats in the cabin between the second exit and the cockpit. Seats are arranged 1-2-1. My seat was 1H, a window seat on the right.
The Envoy seat was USAir’s first reverse-herringbone, lie-flat seat. Bed length is 80 inches. Seat width is 20.5 inches. Avoid economy on this aircraft. The seats are only 17 inches wide and have a pitch of 31 inches. That is tight!
The seat controls are conveniently located beside the right armrest. They are easy to understand and operate.
Some business seats put the headphone connection and power plugs in places that are hard to find and awkward to reach. On this aircraft, the video controller, reading light, power ports, and headphone connection are clustered in one easy to reach location at eye level.
The tray table is located in the armrest by the window. It self deploys with a tap of the finger. Outstanding.
On the negative side, the seat has almost no storage.
I like bulkhead business seats because they usually come with a flat area for storage that other seats lack.
The center bulkhead seats have more room to set things in flight.
A quilt and small pillow wrapped in plastic were on the seat at boarding. They were both more than adequate for this flight. I find that airlines usually keep the cabin too warm for comfortable sleep under a thick quilt. So I prefer a thin quilt especially when there are no pajamas.
American also supplied Bose noise-cancelling headsets and an amenity kit.
American did not provide pajamas or a mattress.
During the boarding process, a flight attendant (FA) brought beverages. I grabbed a glass of sparkling wine.
A little known fact about pre-departure beverages is that FAs are not paid to serve them. They are not on the clock until the door closes.
The cabin door closed at 11:05. Pushback was four minutes later.
We began taxing at 11:20. There were some interesting sights on the way to the runway.
Flight 731 departed LHR at 11:37 on runway 27R (Two Seven Right). The runway designation means that it is roughly aligned on a magnetic heading of 270 degrees and that there is at least one other runway at LHR to the left on the same heading.
During the climb to the cruise altitude the FAs distributed hot towels.
At 12:15 beverage service began.
These were the menus for the flight:
The FA took orders for dinner and beverages before takeoff. Appetizers and warm bread were served at 12:30.
Before the entree was served the video system malfunctioned. They said rebooting would take 15 minutes. The system did not come back on for another 30 minutes.
Working with the IFE must have distracted the crew because the entree was not served until 12:59.
The beef and carrots were wonderful. The polenta was tasteless as perhaps it is intended to be. For dessert, I had the usual porto, butterscotch ice cream sundae with whipped cream and cheese.
After dinner I slept for a couple of hours and woke up with about three hours until landing.
The bathroom near the cockpit was small and had no amenities, not even hand lotion. A sign asked passengers to clean up after themselves. At least the floor was clean.
I visited the galley at the rear of business class for a snack.
The selection and setup was not as nice as on the remodeled 777-200 on the flight to LHR. I grabbed some chips and popcorn for a movie and returned to my seat.
I asked a FA for a drink and a bottle of water. They had run out of bottled water so she brought water in a glass along with a Glenlivet. The lack of bottled water was no problem. We use too much water in plastic bottles anyway.
The in-flight entertainment (IFE) system on this aircraft is very basic.
About 70 minutes before landing the FAs served the pre-arrival light meal. The FA said that they had “sliders.” No, not White Castle hamburgers (the first thing that came to my mind) but barbeque beef sandwiches.
The “slider” was one of the most disgusting items that I can remember being served on a plane. The sandwich had zero taste much less a barbeque one. The consistency of the “beef” was like mush.
Descent and Arrival
The approach to CLT was from the north.
We lined up for a visual approach to one of the three CLT north-south runways. The FAs offered hot towels to freshen up 15 minutes before landing.
We landed on runway 18C (One Eight Center) at 14:45. There was a lot of traffic on the ground.
We parked at Gate D10 at 14:57.
After deplaning it was a short walk to Customs & Immigration in the D terminal. Getting through C & I took only as long as completing the Global Entry process and walking to the exit. No waiting whatsoever.
The A330-300 has the least desirable all-aisle access, lie-flat seat that I’ve flown on American, but at least it is all-aisle access and lie-flat. I had no complaints about the service on the flight, and the food was good except for the horrible barbeque beef sandwich. Going through US C & I at CLT was very efficient. Many of the international flights arriving at CLT unfortunately still use legacy USAir aircraft like the A330-300. I prefer to book flights that have more comfortable cabins in business and economy rather than clear customs at my home airport.