American Airlines 999
Miami (MIA) to Buenos Aires (EZE)
Depart: 10:45 AM
Arrive: 9:40 PM
Duration: 8 hours, 55 minutes
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 1J (First Class)

My trip to Buenos Aires was booked in August for 62,500 miles and $5. It was an incredibly simple award detailed in this Anatomy of an Award.

When I got to LAX, there was a sign at Terminal 4 for Flagship Check-in. My itinerary included an international first class segment, so I was eligible to check in there–except the agent didn’t think do, saying only passengers in first class on LAX to London and LAX to JFK could use the check in.

I never actually convinced them I was eligible, but the porter–deciding there were no eligible passengers around–said he would help me, which was excellent since I had three 50-lb checked bags plus two carry ons. He took me inside to the first class check in, where the agent looked at my passport and my Argentine visa.

She asked how I knew that I had to prepay $160 to enter Argentina (FlyerTalk) and said that a lot of people showed up without having made the prepayment and had to be sent home. (Make yours now, good for ten years, if you have an upcoming trip to Argentina.)

My porter gave her the three checked bags to weigh, and after she tagged them, he took them to the TSA. I chatted with her about Brazil and Argentina, then walked to security with the porter. He left me at the metal detectors after putting my carry ons on the X-ray belt.

I got through security about three hours before my 12:15 AM flight. I went to the Admirals Club to get some work done. Since I was flying Flagship First from Miami to Buenos Aires, I had access to the Flagship Lounge, AA’s first class lounges in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and London.

The Flagship Lounge at LAX is inside the Admirals Club lounge. I entered the Admirals Club and presented my international premium boarding pass–domestic first doesn’t get you in.

The agent welcomed me and gave me a key card to enter the Flagship Lounge on the second floor. He asked about my itinerary, and I told him that I had a 40 minute layover in Dallas and 1:20 in Miami. I asked if he could put me on the direct redeye to Miami instead, knowing that this was against policy.

He said he couldn’t, but he told me to alert the flight attendants before landing in Dallas that I only had 40 minutes there and to ask to be the first off the plane. I ended up not following the advice because I knew 40 minutes was plenty of time if we landed on time.

To get to the lounge, I had to go upstairs and through sliding doors protected by the necessity of a keycard.

Flagship Lounge

Non-descript entry to Flagship Lounge

Keys to the Kingdom

Branded Chocolates–Not Bad!

I settled into a seat in the lounge and started to work. The seats were comfortable enough, though I found the Flagship Lounge layout to be identical to the main Admirals Club–just with fewer people.

Flagship Lounge Layout

Flagship Lounge Layout

After an hour I worked up an appetite, so I headed over to the buffet.

Dinner Buffet Menu

Soda Selection

Cheese, Fruit, and Sandwiches

Biscuits and Veggies

Beef Stew

Liquors

Wines

Bloody Mary, Anyone?

I had a few of the premade sandwiches, cheeses, and beef stew. It was all pretty mediocre. The food outside the lounge would have been better, and the food on the planes was better.

At 11:45 PM, I left the lounge for my 12:15 AM flight to Dallas. The Flagship Lounge closes at midnight.

Back-to-Back Flights

Los Angeles to Dallas was a great nap. I conked out twenty minutes after take off, and woke up two hours later as we descended.

Because of the crazy flight time 12:15 AM – 5:05 AM, there was no service on the flight. That made sense to me–everyone wanted to sleep–but it seemed to annoy two of the other passengers around me, who were complaining about the service upon landing.

We landed on time, so I was at my next gate before boarding. There had already been a plane swap, and there was a problem with the new bird too. The captain advised us there would be a delay while they worked on a few mechanical issues.

Uh-oh! I only had 1:20 in Miami, so I couldn’t withstand much of a delay. After about 20 minutes, everything was cleared up, and we were on our way. Breakfast was served, and I had granola.

We landed just a few minutes late in Miami, and I headed for the Flagship Lounge. Except there isn’t a Flagship Lounge in Miami, AA’s gateway to South America! I went into the normal Admirals Club for 20 minutes, but it was crowded, so I went to my gate 45 minutes before take off as boarding began.

MIA-EZE

I presented my boarding pass to the flight attendant at the door. She said, “All the way to the end and take a left.” Not exactly the way Emirates greets First Class passengers.

1J: My Seat and Bed for the Next Nine Hours

Ottoman with Duvet, Blanket, and Pillow

Welcome Card and Amenity Kit

Welcome Message

Amenity Kit

Nothing Special Except the Dermologica, which I Have Been Ordered to Save

Slippers, a Tight Fit on Size 10

Pajamas were distributed, and I went to the bathroom to change into them for the duration of the flight.

Pajamas

After takeoff, I unwrapped my blanket, duvet and pillow. I found them all to be very comfortable. I can’t remember being offered both a thin blanket and a thick duvet on other flights, and it was nice so I could decide how warm I wanted to be.

The storage area around the seat was extremely limited, I put my shorts and shirt in the one pocket inside the suite. The rest I had to store in an overhead bin–a bit inconvenient since I didn’t have the things I wanted at hand.

I pulled the personal TV screen up and watched Argo during and after takeoff. The selection of movies was the best I’d seen in terms of movies I actually wanted to see, though my taste may not be representative. The TV selection was heavily skewed toward NBC sitcoms.

The TV itself was the worst I’ve experienced in any business or first class. It was tiny and of poor picture quality. This is definitely an area that AA can upgrade.

I stretched my 6’4″ frame comfortably and watched the movie.

Bose headphones were distributed, which are really fantastic.

I was hoping to charge my phone and computer on the flight, so I would arrive with juice, but the electricity supply was DC, and modern devices use AC. I asked for a converter and was brought one. I’m not sure how many there are on board, but if you want to charge, bring your own converter or ask for one upon boarding.

After takeoff, we headed directly over Cuba, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. As soon as the US opens up unrestricted travel, I want to go the first week to beat the crowds. But it hasn’t been worth my while to figure out another way in yet.

Cuba

As I watched Argo, my dinner table was prepared. The dinner table is designed such that someone else can enter the suite and sit on your ottoman and dine with you. The ottoman even has its own seat belt.

aaa

The menu for the flight included lunch and a later light meal.

Lunch

Prosciuttio and Melon: B-

Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup: A-

Salad: B

Chicken: A, Corn: A, Potatoes: B

Sundae: A. It would have been an A+, but I asked for berries, not nuts.

The 777-200 cabin has 16 first class seats–four rows of 1-2-1. The middle seats are great for companions. Not only are you close enough to talk, but the seats can be turned to face each other for dinner or staring contests.

Turned to Face Each Other

In fact, all the seats could be rotated to face different directions. I’m not sure why the window seats need this functionality.  I never had any reason to angle the seat toward anything other than the ottoman and TV. But it’s very cool that the middle seats can face each other.

After my meal and about 2 hours in, I asked for turndown service. American Airlines blows United out of the water here, since United told me when turndown service was on a recent first class flight.

The flight attendant didn’t acknowledge my request, and when I returned from the bathroom no progress had been made. I asked again for turndown service, and she went to work.

Bed

Presentation of Bed After Turndown

Bed Fully Flat

Thickness of Mattress Pad

They brought a second pillow.

Overall I thought the bed was great. The mattress pad was very thin, almost identical to United’s. The duvet and blanket were nice, and they brought me a second pillow without my asking.

Like all airplane beds for me so far, this one wasn’t as good as a real bed, but it was as good as a nice couch. The bed was long enough for someone 6’4″ and wide enough to not feel cramped.

After getting only two hours of sleep total the night before on my redeyes, I was ready to sleep, and I slept for 5.5 hours straight, my new record on a plane.

I woke up 45 minutes out of Buenos Aires feeling great. In the best episode of service on the entire trip, a flight attendant saw me wake up and came to ask if I wanted a snack before landing.

I selected the grilled beef sandwich, and it was a phenomenal way to end the flight.

Service Lapses

Overall the service was adequate with one example of exemplary service: anticipating I might want a snack at the last minute before landing.

There were also two big lapses. In my silverware for lunch, one of the knives arrived dirty.

Dirty Knife

And before the flight, many of the things in my suite were wrapped in plastic. I unwrapped them all and piled the trash at the corner of my suite by the aisle. Flight attendants passed it several times, and it sat there fifteen minutes before one removed it.

Pile of Trash

Recap

My flight from Miami to Buenos Aires in American Airlines Flagship First Class was a good one. I needed some sleep on the flight, and I slept comfortably for the majority of the flight, allowing me to arrive refreshed in a city that never sleeps.

I think I got good value for the award, and I would fly Flagship First again. I think it’s a great value compared to American’s business class, which features angled seats instead of true beds on all but the newest plane.

But overall the experience confirmed the conventional wisdom that international airlines mop the floor with US-based airlines when it comes to First Class treatment.

I was incorrectly told I wasn’t eligible for First Class check in, the First Class lounge was quotidian, and the service on board was only OK.

I’m pretty ecstatic that I can have these minor quibbles instead of being stuck in the back, though, so life is good!

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