The flight from Phoenix to Anchorage was the second of six flights on our trip to Alaska in May 2021.  I purchased two coach tickets on American Airlines for $350 each.  I upgraded this flight and the flight from Charlotte to Phoenix to first class using two Systemwide Upgrade (SWU) certificates I earned through the American Airlines frequent flyer program, AAdvantage.

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Other posts from our Alaska trip in May 2021.

Three Days And Zero Nights In Utqiaġvik, Alaska 2021

Covid-19 Flight Review – American Airlines A321 First Class Charlotte, NC to Phoenix, AZ

Lounge Review Twofer – American Express Centurion Lounge And Escape Lounge Phoenix, AZ

American Airlines A321neo First Class – Phoenix, AZ To Anchorage, AK

Anchorage Airport Hotel Photo Review – Alex Hotel & Suites Anchorage, AK

After a pleasant stay in the Centurion Lounge we had a 10-minute, moving-walkway-assisted hike to get to the departure gate on the A Concourse, Gate A19. 

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American Airlines flight line PHX A Concourse

American Airlines Flight 2391 Phoenix, AZ (PHX) to Anchorage, AK (ANC)  

Flight Date:  May 12, 2021

Equipment:  A321neo

Great Circle Distance:  2,551mi (4,106km, 2,217 nm)

Scheduled Flight Time:  5 hours and 52 minutes

Class of Service:  Domestic First Class

A321neo

The A321neo (new engine option) is one of the newest additions to American’s fleet. The first deliveries were in Aril 2019. A321neos enjoy significant fuel savings over prior models due primarily to more efficient CFM LEAP-1A engines. The new engines produce an improved rate of climb enabling the neo to reach higher, more fuel efficient altitudes much faster.

The enhanced fuel economy was made to order for prime long-distance domestic routes out of PHX. The neo can takeoff with less fuel compared to earlier A321s. This is an important factor on routes such as PHX to Anchorage and PHX to Hawaii where the weight of the required fuel limited the number of customers that could be carried. The A321neo flies those routes with a full passenger complement.

American has ordered 100 A321neos with delivery presently spread out over several years. The first 35 neos were certified for ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) flights. ETOPS certification of plane and pilots allows twin-engine aircraft to fly routes (usually over water) which may be as much as 240 minutes of flying time from the closest suitable airport in the event an engine fails or other emergency occurs. ETOPS allows twin-engine airliners to fly to Hawaii.

The neo carries a lot of passengers for a single-aisle plane. American flies them with 196 seats, including 129 in Main Cabin and 47 extra-legroom Main Cabin Extra seats. Main Cabin seats are 18 inches (46 cm) wide but have only 30 inches (76 cm) of pitch (distance between seats). That is tight. Main Cabin Extra seats have the same width with 33 inches (84 cm) of pitch. The seating configuration is 3-3.

Flight to ANC

Because of similarities with other American flights already reviewed, I’ll use photos primarily to tell the story of this flight.

The A321neo has 20 first class seats. That is four more than earlier American 321 models. American uses its standard first-class seat, the Rockwell-Collins MiQ seat. The seats are installed on the neo with 37 inches of pitch (94 cm) and are 20 inches (51 cm) wide. The seating configuration is 2-2.

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Rockwell Collins MiQ seats in first class. American does not provide blankets or pillows on domestic flights currently.

American also uses this seat for premium economy on international flights. The nicest features are a storage compartment under the center console, a retractable armrest, and a bifold tray table with a stand for your cellphone while watching video entertainment.

The storage compartment is a great place for keeping things like wallets, glasses, reading materials and phones close at hand. These compartments are easy to clean unlike seatback pockets that always seem to have stuff leftover from previous flights.

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Storage compartment and a/c power outlet.

Our seats were 3A and 3C, window and aisle seats in the third row on the port (left) side. Although the passengers in the row ahead could recline their seats and occupy some of our space, it was nice to be able to place backpacks under the seats in front unlike with the bulkhead seats on the flight from CLT.

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Because American streams entertainment to passenger devices, these aircraft were ordered without seatback screens. Instead the seats have built-in holders for tablets and phones.

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The flight attendants offered no pre-departure service. Pushback was on time at 17:05 and we departed on Runway 26 at 17:30.

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Camelback Mountain is keeping a low profile on the horizon.

The first beverage service began about 45 minutes later.

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American had a new snack option, a turkey sandwich, in addition to the good old fruit and cheese platter.

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With a healthy dose of spicy mustard, the Gruben was delicious. Still, just a cold sandwich on a flight scheduled for nearly six hours would have been unthinkable in first class pre-Covid even for American Airlines.

The attendant also brought around the snack basket several times during the flight. The baskets are stocked with a variety of enticing and allegedly healthy snacks.

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Going through the basket to find the ideal snack(s) is kind of like a treasure hunt. Taking two or three items is encouraged. The attendant just restocks in the galley. I’m a little surprised that American continues the snack basket during Covid because several passengers may touch the items in the basket as they pick through it.

I slept much of the way to Anchorage but opened the window shade as landing approached. I wasn’t exactly sure of our location, but surmised it was somewhere over the mountain ranges around Cook Inlet. Cook Inlet is a 180-mile-long (290 km) navigable body of water that connects Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean.

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Cook Inlet branches at Anchorage into the Turnagain and Knik Arms. These arms are bordered by dangerous tidal mudflats composed of silt particles that are laid down in a delicate, loosely oriented pattern. Walking on the particles causes them to resettle into a more compacted arrangement. Getting out can be extremely difficult if not impossible. People have drowned after getting stuck.

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Mudflats along Cook Inlet

On approach to ANC we had a good view of Anchorage and Cook Inlet.

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Cook Inlet, Anchorage, AK and the purple mountain majesty of the Chugach Mountains

We parked at the gate at 22:16.

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Even though it was less than two hours before midnight, the sun remained above the horizon.

Final Thoughts

The flight was very enjoyable in first class. I’m glad we were able to upgrade with SWUs. Being in coach on a full A321 or other narrow-body aircraft for six hours with 30 inches of pitch between seats isn’t something I’d look forward to. Twin-aisle jets have a lot more room for moving around and stretching the legs. Airlines are increasing the use of single-aisle aircraft like the A321XLR and LR on transatlantic flights. I’d pay more to avoid coach on one of those planes on a seven or eight hour transatlantic flight. Maybe that’s what airlines are counting on.