After jumping through multiple hoops, and losing several years of my life from the stress of juggling travel and flights (including booking a last minute red-eye to Denver the night before I was set to leave), I finally got what I was waiting for: a coveted First Class boarding pass for a transpacific flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Shanghai (PVG) in a Flagship Suite.
(Note: The above seat was the one next to mine. I couldn’t get a good shot of the whole suite from the aisle without looking like a complete dork with my camera).
It is truly a special experience when you walk into the door of the giant 777, and instead of turning right like the business and coach travelers, you get to be one of the exclusive few that turn left. Each “seat” was its own little suite, and the amount of space you get is pretty enourmous, especially for somebody that has spent all of his life (until recently, thanks to an amazing friend that works for AA) riding in coach.
On my seat were several packages. A package of soft slippers; an amenity kit with skincare products, a pen, cleansing wipes, toiletries, and a case that doubled as a tablet case; a sleeping package with pillows, sheets, and a thin blanket, and a thick, soft duvet. I can already tell that sleeping is going to be heavenly!
Within 5 minutes, a smiling flight attendant came by and presented me with the dinner menu, and it is indeed impressive, something you might find in upscale restaurant.
Soon after, one flight attendant came through with a cart of newspapers and pajamas (I gladly took a pair of soft PJs). Not more than a minute or two after that, another flight attendant came by and dropped off a set of BOSE Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones at each seat (they are HEAVENLY….can’t hear anything except what you want to hear).
Now, there are so many buttons and latches on the seat that a novice would truly have difficulty figuring it out. What does this latch do? *thunk* Oh…..hope that didn’t damage anything….what does this button do? *screen pops out of the table* Uhh……let’s try reclining my seat *nothing happens*. It took me some time and I had to watch the instructional video for the seat via the little screen before I could figure out how to operate it.
Soon, the purser (lead flight attendant) came by to take my order for dinner and drinks. I ordered a Jack and Coke as my pre-meal drink, the smoked salmon app, corn chowder, seasonal salad with sour cream and herb dressing, and bacon wrapped shrimp with a dessert to be chosen after the meal. I also ordered a wine flight to taste before my meal. The Jack and coke was SUPER strong. As in, probably the glass was just about full of Jack, with just a splash of coke. All of the wines were great, but since I was eating a pretty “light” (as in, no red meat) meal, I chose a classic: a delicious, fruity, and only lightly sweet classy champagne to go with my meal. The drinks came out with a pre-dinner snack of warm, premium mixed nuts (no peanuts!) that had a delicious, delicate crunch.
The place settings were also really impressive. Real white linen tablecloth, placemats, and these awesome looking water cups.The attention to detailed showed in how the salt and pepper shakers were carefully sealed with a plastic sticker to keep them from spilling everywhere.
I also thought the shape of the water glass was super cool.
And then came the food. Even though the previous flight attendant on the DEN-LAX leg had pumped me full of treats, I was ravenous. We all received an amuse bouche of chilled shrimp and grits, which was actually really delicious. Perfectly cooked and seasoned shrimp.
Next they came around with an artisan bead basket. I chose a focaccia, which was piping hot. It had a wonderful, rich crust, and came with high-quality, intensely flavorful butter.
The smoked salmon appetizer came out, and it was delicious. It was very well balanced, with the subtle smokiness of the salmon pairing well with the richness of the cream cheese and the delicate sweetness of the blinis. It came served with these little olive-looking things with long stems (I can never remember their name…somebody refresh me?), which were a nice contrast. The salmon wasn’t too salty, nor too fishy, and as somebody that doesn’t even usually particularly smoked salmon I thoroughly enjoyed it.
However, the menu started to take a little bit of a downturn, as the next course of corn chowder was thoroughly disappointing. It came in a bowl, and had a dried film on top, a telltale sign of improper reheating. Despite the menu indicating it would be served with a spicy red pepper sauce, I saw nothing of the sort (When I mentioned it to the purser, he said that it was mixed in with the soup. And yet, the soup didn’t even have a hint of spice). It also had an overwhelming umami flavor, which leads to my suspicion of MSG use as a shortcut to developing actual complex flavors. The unfortunate comparison that I had to draw make was its similarity to just a reheated bowl of canned soup.
The salad course was also a little disappointing. The “seasonal mixed greens” were simply some romaine, raddichio, and spinach. The greens were extremely crisp and fresh. The salad was topped with some sort of Greek skewer, with feta, tomato, cucumber, and olive. The Greek aspect of the salad had me searching for onions, as I don’t think I’ve ever had a Greek salad that didn’t have fresh red onion in it. Alas, there was none. The “sour cream and herb” dressing really just tasted like a bland ranch.
At this point I was getting pretty full, but was still looking forward to snow crab and shitake mushroom-stuffed bacon-wrapped shrimp. Seriously, doesn’t that sound amazing? Alas, it also turned out underwhelming, with chewy, overcooked bacon wrapped shrimp that had no detectable hint of either snow crab or mushrooms. Another case of in-flight reheating gone wrong, I guess. It was served with some sort of sweet corn sauce, which, despite having a slightly alarming bright yellow color, was actually quite delicious with the shrimp (shrimp and grits, anyone?). The broccolini it was served with was well cooked and crisp-tender, and while the shiso rice had the perfect light and fluffy texture, it too fell short in the flavor department.
Thoroughly stuffed, exhausted from a lack of sleep, and getting hit by the cocktails, wine flight, and champagne I was having, I felt like I was on the verge of passing out. However, the meal was not finished yet, as I was presented with a dessert menu. I skipped over the heavier sundaes (made with Ben and Jerry’s!), and stuck with a lighter fruit salad with sorbet. The scoop of sorbet came out ROCK hard (must have been pre-scooped and then re-frozen), but the fruit was delicious and sweet. The blueberries in the mix were MASSIVE. A couple of sips of an INTENSE port to go with it, and finally I was done feasting and ready for sleep.
I went into the bathroom to change into my pajamas. Unfortunately, the first class bathroom is the same size as the rest of the bathrooms on the plane, that is to say, TINY. I had trouble getting my clothes off and PJs on without dipping them into the toilet or the wet sink. Ew.
I came out and could barely contain my glee as I pushed the button on my seat that turned it into a fully flat bed. I made myself a nest out of the sheets and blankets, put on my noise canceling headphones, and promptly passed out for the next 5 hours. I woke up to use the bathroom, saw that it was approximately noon in Shanghai, and as I wasn’t as exhausted (or tipsy), decided to stay up for a bit. Somehow, my stomach decided that it wanted more food (WHY do you do this to meeeeeee), so I went ahead and had a cheese plate (from the self-serve snack bar) and some dim sum. The cheese plate was excellent. There wasn’t a description of the cheeses, but the first one I had was some kind of infused cheese (brown veins running through it) that was intensely nutty and delicious. The second was an aged white cheddar, and the third was some kind of soft, creamy cheese with a fuzzy white rind (kinda like a brie, but more intense) that also had some sort of infusion to it. They were all delicious, and the fruit on the tray was extremely sweet and fresh. I’m just now starting to understand the pairings of fruits/wine with cheese, and as I alternated bites of intense cheese with sweet, juicy grapes, my mouth was in heaven.
The dim sum also suffered from poor airplane-reheating syndrome, but was about as good as what you could expect 35,000 feet up in the sky. The shumai was actually extremely tasty. I had a coffee along with it to hopefully keep me awake, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it actually had some substance in contrast to the watery, weak coffee I had earlier in the day on the Frontier Airlines flight.
One big weakness with the flight was the extremely poor in flight entertainment (IFE) system. The system is slow and pixelated, and the options are limited and outdated. After browsing it briefly, I got sleepy again and promptly flattened out my seat and went back to bed.
I awoke just in time for the light, pre-arrival meal. It started off with a light salad with sesame dressing, and I had a choice of Pumpkin Bisque or chilled Sesame Chicken w/salad. With the memory of the previous soup fresh on my mind, I chose the chilled Sesame Chicken with plum vinaigrette salad. Both salads were fresh and crisp, and the chicken looked like it had been baked and crusted with abundant sesame seeds.
For dessert, I had some fresh fruit, a chocolate chip cookie, and a strawberry sundae made with BJ, er, I mean Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I was stuffed beyond belief but still finished it all, because it was all so good. To go along with dessert, I had a coffee with Bailey’s.
Soon, this luxurious flight was drawing to a close. I changed out of my comfy pajamas, raised my seat back up, and sipped on some last minute celebratory champagne and sparkling water.
The flight attendant handed out one last treat as the plane descended towards Shanghai.
Once on the ground, I grabbed everything they would let me take as a souvenir, including my menu and the pajamas, and quickly exited the aircraft.
The flight was an incredible experience. The service, especially from the purser (who by my best guess is a gay man in his early late 30s-early 40s) was fantastic, though the other flight attendant (a middle aged Asian lady) in the First Class cabin was a little bit more curt and less warm. Would I ever pay $12,500 for it? Absolutely not. Not even if I won the lottery. But with my connections in American Airlines, I hope to experience it as often as I possibly can J.