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To London for Dinner

To London for Dinner
via American and Air France First Class
May 2017

With a use it or lose it First Class ticket to London from our Ireland trip, I couldn't just let it expire even if it was on American.  Mrs. SFO777?  Not so much.  So I'm off on a 48 hour hall pass taking one for the team by flying American.  But my consolation is a full day of the La Première experience on the return back to LAX.

The Flagship First Check-in is reserved for International and JFK First Class passengers.   Friendly Flagship staffer greeted me and escorted me inside the small but comfortable check-in lounge.

Where yet another pleasant Flagship agent checked my passport and reissued my boarding pass complete with DOCS CHECKED.    Comfy seating for those waiting for others and if by chance there was a queue to check in.   I was the only passenger at around 5:15pm and after asking permission, only took pics of the seating area.  

The Flagship greeter/porter escorted me to the elevator.   Not sure if he would have escorted me just to PreCheck or all the way to the lounge but I declined further assistance and thanked him.  We shook hands and his wished me a pleasant flight.   Wow, a very nice (un-American) start to the trip.  Upstairs, there was absolutely no one in line at PreCheck. 

The LAX Admirals Club and Flagship FIrst Lounge is being renovated but I wanted to see progress and how AA was treating its First Class passengers during construction. 

OK, definitely a work in progress.

 

While the elevator(s) worked, I took the stairs.

Apparently American is planning a proper dining room with waitstaff service.  Sign says "Opening in 2017", but the Flagship AAngel hinted that it was more likely to be "Not Opening until 2018".

In the interim, yikes!

OK, and American wonders why it has a garbage premium reputation.  Wow.

Get me outta here, stat.  I thanked the AAngels and told them I was heading over to the Qantas Lounge. 

It's a short but pleasant walk via the T4/TBIT connector to the Qantas First Lounge.   My Gate 41 is conveniently located along the way and arguably the closest gate to the Qantas Lounge.

My 77W at the gate.

Hardly anyone at TBIT Premium security tonight.

The Qantas LAX lounge is lovely and modern.  Add in great staff and wonderful food, and it gets my vote as the Best Lounge in the US. 

After dismal AA food reports and my recent inedible transcon First Class meal, I decided to eat dinner here tonight.

A glass of lovely Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé.

My hamachi crudo was delicious and substantial. 

But the surprise of the day was the Crispy Pork Belly with kimchi, rice and spicy gochujang sauce.  O-M-G.  Simply spectacular. 

And the Apricot, pecan and almond cake to finish.  And another glass of champagne.

At around T-40, I headed out and back to T4 and Gate 41.

The short walk back to Gate 41.

Los Angeles LAX to London Heathrow
American AA 136
777-300ER (77W)
7:40p-2:15p +1
May 1, 2017
Departed 8/8 
Seat 2A

 

Wow, T-35 and we're already on Group 9.  When I booked this flight some six months ago, I had Mrs. SFO777 in 1A and I was in 2A.  Fast forward to yesterday and I'm now in 1D with 2A assigned to someone else.   No idea whether this was a FAM thing or what.  When Mrs. SFO777 decided that she was not going to come along, I cancelled her ticket and moved over to 1A.  Lo and behold I board and the doufuss in 2A is sitting in 1A.  Huh?  When the FA intervened and we found out that his boarding pass said 2A, I told him to stay there and I took 2A.  Definitely not a FAM type so no idea what that was all about.

Pleasant cabin with 1-2-1 staggered configuration. 

Seat was comfy but not very private as you're pretty much exposed to the rest of the cabin, and vice versa.

Lots of pillows, duvets and blankets clogging up the seat.

Service tonight was excellent.  Friendly, professional and impressive. 

But then there was Mr. Detroit Piston in 2D, yapping on the phone the entire time prior to push telling his friends that he was in First Class.  He was no doubt also trying to impress the world with his sense of fashion.  

Tonight's menu...

OK, this is encouraging.  But how does it translate to the real world at 35,000 feet.

And the wine list.  Whoa Nellie.  Pinch me. This is American Airlines??  
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle?  Are you kidding me?  Etude?  And a 1er cru Chablis?

Yep, still going strong in 2D.

Like the Energizer Bunny.

The AA amenity kit.

Different packaging and colors from last week's JFK-LAX flight, but the same basically useless stuff.

And we're off.

What a gorgeous night for flying.

One cool feature the AA continued with the new International First Class seat is its swivel capabilty which let's you turn your space into an office, especially with Wifi, $19 for the entire flight.

Showtime, AA style.   And the same old tiny hot towel.

Jeez, they try so hard and then cheap out on a dopey salt and pepper shaker. 

Despite having had dinner 2 hours ago, I decided to sample the menu. Apparently working backwards on the menu, the Tomato and Lentil soup with Grilled Cheese Crouton was first.  This was delicious with just enough kick to make the dish really memorable.

The Lump Crab salad seemed to be missing the crab.  Nevertheless, it was nice and very fresh.

The Lobster Salad Deviled Eggs were different but very tasty.

For my main, the Slow-Braised Lamb Osso Buco was spectacular. 

 Melt in your mouth and extraordinary flavor with lots of spices that was simply a knockout.

But wait, it gets even better.  The Warm Louisiana Praline Bread Pudding was to die for.  OMG.

Our FA proactively asked whether I wanted the bed made and she made it as I changed in the lav.

I slept like a baby for 5 hours.

The snack counter in the First Class galley.   No I did not have anything more to eat.  LOL.

Presumably this is the Business Class snack bar but for the life of me, I cannot remember taking the pic.   Memo to self:  too much alcohol not good. 

And Lily O'Brien's chocolates handed out on our descent.

The forward Business Class mini cabin as we exited thru 2L.

The long trek from our gate to customs and passport control.

Fast track worked great and I was officially in the UK a few minutes later.

Other than the sorry excuse for a temporary First Class Lounge, this was one very impressive day with American.  Excellent service, great food and wines.  But is this the kind of service anyone can consistently and reliably expect on American?  I lucked out tonight with a great crew, but others report a much different experience.  Unfortunately, there are far too many senior AA flight attendants just mailing it in.  If AA can weed out those bad apples and continue with this kind of catering, there may be hope.  On this flight alone, AA cracks the Top 20 International First Class products and certainly ahead of BA.

With no Mrs. SFO777 to worry about, I decided to take the Heathrow Express into the city.  OK, this extraordinarily convenient and efficient… 15 minutes nonstop to Paddington Station. Plus free Wifi on board.  This is the way to get into the city.  There were numerous Heathrow Express point of sale stations along the way and I bought a round trip First Class ticket for 32 quid.
 
Finding the Heathrow Express was easy.  Just follow the signs.
 

The First Class car is quite nice, spacious and quite comfortable.  And free Wifi worked well. 

Decisions, decisions.  Where to go.

Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Paddington Station in Central London.  Wow, that was fast.   Now what?  No idea where I was going but decided to try to find a Hop On Hop Off bus which was supposed to have a Paddington Station stop.

This would have been a good choice to exit...

... but no, I followed the Exit and Taxi signs and got to the Taxi Queue.   Didn't want a taxi, just the exit.   With the help of my iPhone map app, I tried to navigate my way to the other side of the station.

About 10 minutes later, I found a Big Bus sign, bought a ticket and hopped on the Hop On Hop Off Big Bus for the next 2+ hours.   Sure, it's hokey and touristy but, except for New Orleans and Tallinn, it is a great way to get an overview of most cities.

I hopped off at the return stop at the Parliament Buildings and walked for 20 minutes up to and past Picadilly to Bocca Di Lupo, a West End restaurant recommended by London-based Flyertalker baggageinhall who unfortunately had a last minute work conflict and couldn't make it.

Cream of langoustine & red prawn risotto was very good.

Chicken scallopine with lemon & parsley was delicious.

But the surprise dish was the Courgettes trifolate - sauteed with garlic & chilli.  This was spectacular.

After dinner, I walked the block and a half back to Shaftesbury and hailed a passing taxi for ride back to Paddington Station.

And was just in time to catch the 7:35pm train back to Heathrow.

My own private train car.

Sure enough, fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Terminal 3.  Wow, what a great way to get into and out of the city.

The Heathrow Express Connector elevator takes you right to the airline check-in counters for Terminal 3. 

And a mere thirty feet from the elevator is the Hilton, or a door that purports to be the Hilton.

It is covered non climate controlled walkway, that goes on and on and on.

A couple minutes of quick walking and another turn in the walkway, I get to another turn and a sign saying "You are just 4 minutes from Hilton London Heathrow".   Really?

Don't give up, you are almost in there, or in Wales whichever is closer.

OMG, finally.

It is a rather pleasant and attractive contemporary hotel.

I'm typically very impatient but tonight I patiently waited to be checked in.  No worries, take all the time you want.

All in all a comfy room to spend the evening although I didn't get much sleep as I had to contend with a mini-business crisis in the evening east coast US time.    Forgot to take a pic before I messed  up the room.  My bad. 

I made the long trek back from the Hilton London Heathrow not-even-close-to T4 to the Terminal check-in concourse arriving just before the counters opened at 4:30am. 

Decided to sit rather than wait in line at that hour.

Whoa, now that's a lot of bags to check.

Once I got the head of the line and the check in agent, the La Première service kicked into high gear.  When the agent pulled up my reservation, she perked up and called over an associate who asked if I would like to be escorted to the lounge.  Oui, SVP.  And so begins another amazing day with the best overall First Class product on the planet.   Moments later, my personal Heathrow La Première assistant Louise introduced herself and escorted me to and thru Fast Track security, down an empty T4 concourse to the Sky Team Lounge.  This lounge is huge with two similarly sized large levels.  After Louise introduced me to the Lounge dragon, we headed upstairs to the 2nd level.   Attractive modern lounge with plenty of seating... for the masses.

As a La Première passenger, Louise escorted me to my own private lounge, The V.I.P Room.

My own private bathroom.

Two servers arrived shortly after I arrived, to take my drink order and set up my own fruit plate and pastry tray. 

I decided to check out the rest of the attractive lounge.

Serve yourself food station.  I'm sure that if I had asked, the V.I.P servers would have brought any of this to the V.I.P. Room.

The main level of the lounge offered a similar layout.   The lower level food station is not open for breakfast.

At around T-30, Louise returned to escort me to my Air France A318 at nearby Gate 21.  I was the first to board and we bid adieu as she introduced me to the cabin crew.    Typical Euro Business Class coach seating with an open middle.   And an open aisle today as I had all 3 bulkhead seats to myself.

Not the best legroom but the absence of rowmates made the 50 minute flight easy to take. 

Sky Team partner Alitalia whose days may be numbered.

Once in the air, my continental breakfast.   Tiny sloping tray table made is tough to keep the food tray from sliding off.

With an Alain Ducasse meal only an hour away, I picked at the prosciutto.  But devoured the deliciously warm and fresh croissant. 

Foggy morning on approach to CDG.

On arrival in Paris, a La Première rep was waiting in the jet bridge as the door opened.  She escorted me down the jet bridge elevator to the tarmac level. 

To my ride today, a nice new Jaguar.

About 3 minutes later, we arrived at the lower level of the lounge, where I was waived thru security and then headed up the elevator the one of my favorite lounges anywhere.  It was reasonably crowded this morning with passengers waiting to board the mid-morning US departures including the A380 to LAX.  I did a some work and then took pics after pretty much everyone had left. 

The gorgeous replica of the old Plaza Athenée bar.

OK, now I'm getting hungry.   

Since it was mid morning, both Breakfast and Regular menus were available.

The wonderful rest of the day Alain Ducasse menu. 

I gave my order to one of the wait staff, picked up Le Figaro and headed for my private dining room.

Showtime, La Première Lounge style.

I started with delicious shrimp caesar salad and a glass of William Fèvre 1er cru Chablis.

Followed by one of my favorites dished on the planet, Alain Ducasse's signature Coquillettes jambon/truffe noir, the amazing mac and cheese pasta with comté, ham and black truffles. 

O.M.G.  To die for.  With a 2nd and 3rd glass of the Chablis and I'm in heaven.

In a noble gesture, I declined dessert.  And then changed my mind.  Decisions, decisions.

A little more work while I finished my Chablis.  The spa and rest area of the lounge.

Four and a half hours passed quickly as it was the perfect amount of time to spend in this wonderful oasis.

 

At around T-30, my personal La Première assistant stopped by to retrieve me and drive me to our 77W.  There was one other LAX passenger in the lounge today and his PA was escorting him down the elevator at the same time.  Unlike Luthansa, we didn't share our limo as we both had our own private car. 

Paris-Los Angeles
Air France 72
777-300ER (77W)
1:40p-4:25p
May 3, 2017
Booked 2/4
Departed 3/4
Suite 1A
 

Up the elevator to the jet bridge, we cut thru the line of boarding passengers to a private La Première jet bridge, which my PA unlocked just for me.

After a warm welcome at the 1L door, I headed for 1A in my favorite First Class cabin in the sky.

Just 30 minutes ago, the flight was still showing 2/4 so I was surprised to find a 3rd person in the cabin, a French entertainment looking guy in 1D.  Either an OPUP or friends, family or celebs.  I didn't take any more cabin pics so here are some recycled pics from last October.

I was dead tired at this point and still full from my Alain Ducasse lunch so I opted for water at the gate.

Gorgeous new La Première amenity kit.

With some nice cream and stuff which I tossed in my backpack to take home.

Air France 77W IFE is reasonably nice, although with a somewhat limited selection of movies.  But plenty of French movies to catch up on.

OK, a First Officer with a sense of humour.

After a short by CGD standards taxi, we were on our way.  

I asked for a glass of water and told our FA that I was going to sleep for a few hours.  I declined the offer of bedding as I didn't want to sleep the entire flight.  The closed my full ceiling to floor curtains and window shades and sleep like a baby for nearly 4 hours.

OK now I'm hungry. Today menu...

This guy designed all the La Première glassware and tableware and is a rock star in my book.

And wine list.  Certainly not extravagant like QR or GA, but servicable.  

Showtime!

My Cream of Asparagus soup was delicious.

As was the Foie Gras terrine.

For my main, I went light and the crab stuffed chicken.  It was a little bland on its own, but the accompanying yellow carrot coulis with cumin added a nice touch. 

And the always wonderful Lenotre finish to any La Première meal.

While pleasant, it wasn't a memorable meal.  Service seemed a little off as there was no wine presentation, just the glass from the galley and no dome presentation for my main.   I finished the rest of a cute movie 5 to 7, edited some pics and did a little work.  Although with no Wifi on Air France yet, wasn't as productive as I might have been.

With a little less than 5 hours to go to LAX, I changed into my PJs, closed the curtains and went to sleep in a proper bed.  

I woke up about 75 minutes from LAX. 

We landed about 30 minutes early and headed for our gate.

I bid adieu to the cabin crew and as Door 1L opened was greeted by an excellent LAX La Première Personal Assistant Monica, who escorted me to and thru customs, and then streetside at TBIT.   What an amazing day with La Première solidfying my continuing to rank Air France as the best First Class product in the world.