This review is part of a trip to Germany in 2018.
- Lounge Review: Admirals Club Philadelphia A-Gates West
- Flight Review: American Airlines Business Class – Boeing 767 Philadelphia (PHL) to Amsterdam (AMS)
- Lounge Review: Aspire Lounge (26) Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS)
This year again, I am flying home for Christmas to visit family and friends. Because of my hectic work schedule, I booked my trip again only about 2 weeks ahead of time. First of all, I tried to fly revenue on any airline in Business or First Class to experience something new. However, prices were too expensive for traveling in a premium cabin that time of the year so I went back to my backup-plan to fly with American Airlines and tried to use my Systemwide-Upgrades (SWU).
Since I wanted to make sure that I get Business or First Class, I wanted the agent on the phone to confirm my flights right away. Otherwise, I would be put on an upgrade list and the upgrade might not clear. The agent on the phone, unfortunately, the only way to book an international systemwide-upgrade, was super helpful and friendly. My first thought was flying from the San Francisco to Philadelphia and from there to Munich, my final destination. Philadelphia is the only airport in AA’s network which serves a direct flight to Munich. Unfortunately for my date, no confirmed upgrade was possible. We changed the dates a few days back and forward, but still, no flight would clear immediately. Next idea was to add another connection to the flight. Last year, I took a flight to London with a 2-night stop-over and continued from there on Lufthansa to Munich. This was also the most tragic flight ever, as Lufthansa forced me to gate check my camera bag and broke my $1200 camera lens.
As I know American Airlines can even book none-Oneworld alliance airlines and add it to your itinerary, I asked the agent to add a flight from Amsterdam to Munich. I already knew that on any other airline than American, my Systemwide-Upgrade won’t clear. But hey, the flight just lasts a little bit over an hour. The extra costs of adding a flight from AMS to Munich on Lufthansa were just a little bit over $100 and you know what other advantages this has? You don’t have to grab your bags and re-check them in AMS and you also save money for overweight or excessive bags. Especially the time-factor is great. Instead of claiming and re-checking my bags, I was able to enjoy a lounge-visit in Amsterdam.
Together with the agent we played on some more routing choices and decided to do an open-jaw itinerary to fly out from San Francisco and return to Los Angeles. This brought down the cost about $400 and my total itinerary for that flight was just under $1600 with one segment (San Francisco – Philadelphia) not upgraded by the time of booking. However, that flight cleared too and I was able to enjoy First Class from San Francisco to Philadelphia and Business Class on my flight from Philadelphia to Amsterdam. My connecting flight in Amsterdam on Lufthansa was in economy class but the plane, an Airbus A320 was almost empty. The plane can seat 180 passengers and only 26 were aboard. This is almost private jet feeling.
My inbound flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia was great and service was awesome. I slept most of the flight and missed dessert service, which was ok, as I would get another meal on my next flight. After arriving in Philadelphia, I opened my Priority Pass App to see which lounges I could visit. The only lounge accessible by Priority Pass was a Minute Suite. As I can access the lounge on domestic flights as well, I looked for a more valuable option. There is also an American Express Centurion Lounge in Philadelphia but the same situation there, I can access this lounge at any time with a domestic boarding pass. The other two options would be the British Airways lounge or one of the Admirals Clubs. As I have been to the British Airways lounge before, I decided to visit the Admirals Club closest to my departure gate.
After my lounge visit, I walked over to the departure gate just with a few minutes left before boarding. I started lining up near the Priority Boarding lane and to my surprise, the passengers here are pretty thoughtful. They left the entrance to the priority lane open for Concierge Key and pre-boarding. I was surprised, as I do the same and only directly line up once I know my group is next. But no matter how much you look ahead and try to be thoughtful, most other passengers just step in front of me all the time. Normally I don’t really care if I am the first one boarding business or the last one, but I tried to get some pictures of the cabin without people or interfering with the boarding process.
The flight would be on an American Airlines Boeing 767-300. I have flown that plane before on a trip to Zurich from the US and a few times between Dallas and Miami. For later one, it is a great plane but for transatlantic I prefer a Boeing 777 or 787 from the American Airlines fleet. Either way, lie-flat seats are great, but it could be a little bit roomier on such a long flight. What I really hate about American’s 767 is the seat layout on the right side of the plane. The offset on the seats along the right windows (Row J) is off. For maximum privacy and comfort, I recommend you to choose a seat with an even number, like 4J (mine on this flight). Why? Look at the image below. Seats with uneven numbers are seat-aisle-seat. While it should be the seat, storage, aisle and then the next seat across the aisle. If you look at the left side of the plane, their layout is right, just along the right window they messed up. I don’t know if there is a specific reason for that.
The boarding process started in the usual order with pre-boarding, followed by Concierge Key members and then my group, Group 1. I was actually the first one to board the plane and rushed quickly to get to my seat, stow my bags and take some pictures of the still empty Business Class cabin. The business Class filled up quickly and while boarding the Damaris, my flight attendant for this portion of the plane, came by with pre-departure drinks.
The seats were already equipped with an amenity kit, blanket, pillow, water bottles, noise-canceling headphones, and an entertainment tablet. American offers these tablets because the plane has no installed in-flight entertainment system with monitors. These tablets have some advantages and disadvantages. One big one is, that you don’t have to listen to all the announcements the crew makes. Usually, the built-in system will pause during announcements. I am a frequent flier and pretty much know the text of the pre-flight safety briefing on top of my head. But it’s important for you to listen to it if you are not familiar. Second, the tablets have a better resolution than the older built-in screens and carry more content on them as well. You can also take the tablet and put it on your lap or if you go and change your seat to the bed position, you can move the tablet around with you. However, they are pretty much useless if they are not plugged-in to the power source. Battery drains so quickly, you won’t make it even through one movie. My power outlet, which is located right behind the tablet in the seat-back had a malfunction and stopped working just before take-off. While the crew was busy still with boarding and pre-departure checks, I didn’t want to hold them up and used the power outlet next to my seat to power the tablet. A downside is, that the power cable now spans pretty much across my whole seat area. Later on, in the flight I let my flight attendant know. He said he has to reset the outlets, but I guess he was to busy and just forgot. It was not a big issue, as I still had one power outlet available which I didn’t need for anything else.
Boarding was completed and we pushed back to get to our start position on the runway. Shortly thereafter we were airborne and on our way to Amsterdam. The crew came through the aisles to take down the orders for dinner and drinks followed by the hot towel service. Everyone also got asked if they would like to be wakened for breakfast or not.
I started watching a movie and about an hour into the flight, dinner service started. While waiting we got served nuts and our ordered beverages. The crew came through the aisles and prepared the tables for dinner. Besides taking the tables out of their storage position, everyone got a tablecloth. I ordered the Bourbon-Glazed Salmon and my choice of bread was of course Pretzel-Bread. The crew came through the aisles with a second load of bread if anyone was interested and of course I would take another Pretzel-Bread. The meal itself was great, not too much, just right and with the side salad a good dinner. After I was done, Damaris cleaned off the tablet and asked me for my choice of dessert. Ice Cream just makes a great dessert and that’s what I got. The mint chocolate chip ice cream was good but I am more of a vanilla guy.
After dinner service, I got all cozy in my seat, finished two movies and then went to sleep. I woke up just about a few minutes before breakfast service started and which was about an hour out from touchdown.
My choice was the Three Cheese and Poblano Pepper Omelet with fruits and biscuit served with a side of coffee and orange juice. The omelet and fruit were good, just the sausage which came with the omelet was not my taste.
While having my breakfast I enjoyed the view from the window as the sun was already up. The whole area below us was completely covered in clouds and you couldn’t see the ground. After breakfast service, the crew collected the entertainment tablets and headsets. This is another downside as you won’t be able to use them for the last 30 minutes or so. Seems people just stole them from the airplane, rather than leaving them behind for the next guest to enjoy. I get that the airline has to do that, but it’s just unfortunate. If you have your own tablet or smartphone and headsets you can connect to the onboard WiFi and keep watching your movie on your own device. The passengers in Business Class all received a holiday greeting card from their serving flight attendant. Damaris, my flight attendant handed me mine and also thanked me for being an Executive Platinum Member with American Airlines. This is just such a nice gesture and makes you feel appreciated.
Getting into Amsterdam was not to bad besides a few bumps. After touchdown, it is a long time taxing to the gate. This is normal here in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a gate assigned and had to park at the remote stand. The brought mobile stairs to the front and back of the plane to help people get off. This also meant carrying your carry-on bags down the stairs rather than dragging them behind you like on a jetway or ramp. Not an issue for me, but I an older couple got help to get theirs carried down. Once at the bottom of the stairs we walked straight onto a bus which would bring us to the terminal. I am not a fan at all of the remote gates, the only advantage is that you get a great angle to take pictures of the plane. However, you need to be prepared as they won’t let you stick around to take pictures from different angles. It took us about 5 minutes to get to the terminal building with the bus. We entered Terminal 3 which is the international part of the Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Plenty of shops and dining can be found here.
Lounge access at AMS depends on what airline you connect and if its a Schengen or Non-Schengen flight. The Schengen Agreement is a set of agreements made by European countries which consequently has abolished border controls between most EU member countries. Read more about it in my review of the Aspire Lounge 26 in the Schengen-Area of AMS / Terminal 1.
Peter has a passion for Traveling, Photography, and Geocaching. These are the best ingredients for amazing adventures all over the globe. “Traveling is fun, no matter if you stay in a luxury hotel or travel like a backpacker.” Peter shares his experiences on his Blog www.gatetoadventures.com
Some of Peter’s photos are published on corporate websites, in-flight magazines, travel guides, and much more.