There were no cigarettes hanging out of mouths, no one was shouting ‘get me the Secretary of Defense’ and no one was saying urgently ‘you’d better come and take a look at this’.
However, being inside American Airlines’ ginormous Integrated Operations Center (IOC) next to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) was still very much like being in a Hollywood movie.
In essence, it is the nerve centre of American – the world’s largest airline – and I’ve been given an eye-opening tour of it.
Being inside American Airlines’ ginormous Integrated Operations Center (IOC), pictured, next to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) was still very much like being in a Hollywood movie, writes Travel Editor Ted Thornhill
As an hors d’oeuvres to the IOC visit, Ted was taken to the AA Dallas/Fort Worth Hub Control Center (pictured), which deals with over 900 daily departures
But first, as an hors d’oeuvres, I was taken to the AA Dallas/Fort Worth Hub Control Center, which was pretty Hollywood too.
About 200 people work here and its purpose is to coordinate aircraft at the gate and make sure that everything that needs to be loaded onto aircraft – luggage, people, Champagne for business class and so forth – does so at the right time and in the right quantity.
The personnel here also control the aircraft – every aircraft belonging to every airline – out to the taxiways, where the FAA takes over.
The number of departures it deals with daily is over 900.
Across seven runways. Yes. Seven (and they’ve been arguing over Heathrow’s third runway since time immemorial).
To process all this traffic the center has a lot of screens, a lot of computers and an IT system that is frankly astonishing.
About 200 people work at the Dallas/Fort Worth Hub Control Center. Pictured is the director’s desk
As an example of the system’s swishness, I was given a quick demonstration of how fast detailed information about someone’s luggage could be pulled up.
I was shown a screen that detailed the multiple ‘scan points’ of a piece of luggage and how an operator can even, within seconds, find CCTV footage of the owner arriving at the terminal.
Another example of IT prowess is the phone system.
Clearly, in the world of airlines, some calls are a matter of life and death, so it’s important that no one is left flicking through a Rolodex trying to find the right contact.
At the Dallas hub, you can call up a graphic of all the desks, with job titles marked on each chair.
One of the other notable pieces of technology is the gate and taxiway camera system.
There is no physical view of the airport here – but that doesn’t matter. Cameras broadcast images of all the gates and taxiways to screens in the control room.
The atmosphere was impressively calm.
The IOC’s size is slightly mind-boggling. It’s 149,000 square feet and best described as an office-city
The 2,000 staff work in a building, opened in 2015, that’s built to withstand an F3 tornado – 158-206mph – and it can be used as a tornado shelter
The IOC staff plan, oversee and dispatch more than one million annual flights that transport over 200million passengers on 1,547 aircraft
The IOC has a social media team that receives about 6,000 tweets daily – to @americanair. It’s seen as a vital part of the operation
And ditto at the supersized IOC, about a 10-minute drive away.
The IOC’s size is slightly mind-boggling. It’s 149,000 square feet and best described as an office-city.
Even the conference room is gigantic, with enough seating for a small village – and TVs that rise up out of the tables.
See? All very Hollywood.
The 2,000 staff work in a building, opened in 2015, that’s built to withstand an F3 tornado – 158-206mph – and it can be used as a tornado shelter.
I thought that was pretty apt – because they have to deal with a tornado of information.
They plan, oversee and dispatch more than one million annual flights that transport over 200million passengers on 1,547 aircraft.
There are 20 departments altogether.
The ‘flight service daily ops’ department supports 24,000 flight attendants on a 24/7 basis
These include ‘maintenance control’, which receives more than 125,000 calls per year; ‘workload planning’, which routes 161,129 aircraft to 37 specific stations for maintenance and assigns more than three million man-hours of work on those aircraft and ‘flight service daily ops’, which supports 24,000 flight attendants on a 24/7 basis, ensuring that all crewmembers have resources for any onboard or layover emergency that may arise.
And there’s a social media team that receives about 6,000 tweets daily – to @americanair. It’s seen as a vital part of the operation.
So vital that they sit just yards away from the directors.
The ‘maintenance control’ department receives more than 125,000 calls per year (stock IOC image)
I was intrigued to learn that they colour-code the tweets according to criteria that include how many followers you have and what sort of air-mile status you have with the airline.
But the team do their best to read every single tweet regardless – and occasionally what’s happening in the Twittersphere gets the attention of the chiefs.
For instance, over the Christmas holiday, they noticed a mild Twitter storm erupting regarding a cancelled Philadelphia to Rome flight.
A choir on this flight was due to sing in front of the Pope.
So the social media team liaised with the operations staff and a Boeing 777 was found out of JFK that could be used to fly them to their papal rendezvous.
On a darker note, the team also has to deal with threats made on Twitter, which can include bomb threats.
American has its own security experts at the IOC who make threat assessments and call the FBI if necessary.
I leave mightily impressed with the operation.
The calm professionalism of the staff – some of whom have to digest information across six or seven screens in front of them – is salute-worthy and the way the information is marshalled just incredible.
But I’ll put them to the test – I’ll tweet my thanks and see if they reply…
Does the world’s biggest airline have the world’s best premium cabin? Inside American Airlines’ £1.6k business class, with enough legroom for basketball players and headphones that go to 11 for quality
Take a bow.
Take a bow whoever it was who did the deal with Bang & Olufsen to supply the headphones for American Airlines’ business class cabins. Because they are, quite simply, superb. And when I say superb, I mean quality that’s been turned up to 11.
But on my Boeing 777-300 AA flight from London Heathrow Terminal 3 to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in seat 4A, there’s a delay in reaching the sonic Shangri-La they transport you to because the headphone jack is mysteriously hidden from view.
The American Airlines Boeing 777-300 business class suite features a very long lie-flat seat and comes with Casper bedding
Ted at the controls of the Boeing 777 at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 before it took him to Dallas
Welcome aboard: Ted is pictured here before take-off at Heathrow with a welcome glass of Champagne… except it’s not actually Champagne
The seriously classy Bang & Olufsen headphones distributed to AA business class passengers
There is a pin right next to me that the jack for the headset fits perfectly. But it’s inert for the headphones.
Someone wasn’t paying attention in one of their ergonomics classes.
In the end, a stewardess comes to the rescue having witnessed my helpless button prodding and looks of bafflement at the fact that the three-pin socket next to me isn’t playing ball.
As she reveals the mystery socket location – on the side of a cubby hole you’d need a system of angled mirrors to spot – she freely admits that the situation is a little bizarre.
And that’s not all.
Other ergonomics modules seemed to have been missed on armrests – the one to my right is too far away for me to actually rest my arm on – and storage location. There’s a second good-sized cubby hole for storage available, but I almost have to get on my hands and knees to get to it.
The buttons for manoeuvring the seat are very well placed, though, just to my left above that phantom headphone socket. The panel also harbours a USB I can plug my phone into, a reading light and the handset for the entertainment screen.
Which is, pleasingly, pretty good (though not as good as the one on the return 777-200 leg, more of which later…).
Ok, the touch screen is a little unresponsive and the screen size is not industry-leading for business class (15.4 inches), but it’s good enough for near-total movie immersion.
The Boeing 777-300 business class suites occupy some serious cabin real estate. Pictured are Ted’s feet
The ergonomics of the 777-300 business class cabin are generally good, but there are a few bizarre quirks. For instance, the headphone socket is hidden from view in the cubby hole pictured
AMERICAN AIRLINES FACTS AND FIGURES
- American Airlines operates 6,800 daily flights to more than 365 destinations in 61 countries from its hubs in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.
- It has 130,000 employees that serve more than 200 million customers annually.
- Since 2013 American has invested more than $25 billion in its product.
- American was recently named a Five Star Global Airline by the Airline Passenger Experience Association and Airline of the Year by Air Transport World.
- American is a founding member of One World, whose members serve 1,100 destinations in 180 countries and territories.
What’s more, the entertainment is available gate-to-gate – but the cabin crew collect the headphones just before the plane lands. Which is a shame, but not surprising given that they retail for at least £300 ($380).
What else on the tech front?
Oh yes, the all-important Wi-Fi. I can report that it works just fine. I pay $19 for it to last the entire flight and it never drops out.
I’m also a fan of the suite’s dimensions.
The legroom is on the ample side of ample, with the seat transforming into a 6ft 6in bed in lie-flat mode.
I’m 5ft 10in, so plenty of room to stretch out.
There’s a fairly extensive table area to my left, as well, along with not one but two windows (just like BA’s A380 First suite, but without the powered blinds).
The seat width, meanwhile, is brilliant, I have to say. Huge.
Or to be precise 21.5 inches – that’s half an inch wider than BA’s new A350 Club Suite seat. Plenty of wiggle room for the rear-end. And the seat can be adjusted without any hassle into the perfect position.
Two buttons move the headrest, two more move it horizontally all the way to lie-flat and back and another two move the entire seat back and forth.
Plus, there are one-touch buttons for the bed and take-off and landing positions.
There’s an amenity kit, of course, placed in that remote cubby hole I mentioned (along with a bottle of water in a little holder).
It’s by Los Angeles-based luxury leather accessory company This is Ground and is indeed a luxury leather accessory.
It opens out book-style to reveal two pockets containing lip balm and hand lotion by top beauty brand Allies of Skin (which ‘creates smart, effective products for the modern day multi-hyphenate’, crucial work I’m sure you’ll agree), plus unbranded mouthwash, a cleverly designed toothbrush that clicks into a protective holder, Crest toothpaste, tissues, earplugs, an eye mask, socks and a pen in a looped holder with ‘Aviator’ written on it.
There are quality toiletries in the bathrooms, too, by C.O.Bigelow.
The amenity kit is by Los Angeles-based luxury leather accessory company This is Ground and is indeed a luxury leather accessory, writes Ted
The amenity kit opens out book-style to reveal two pockets containing lip balm and hand lotion by top beauty brand Allies of Skin, plus unbranded mouthwash, a cleverly designed toothbrush that clicks into a protective holder, Crest toothpaste, tissues, earplugs, an eye mask, socks and a pen in a looped holder with ‘Aviator’ written on it
Top-quality bedding is also on the inventory – a deluxe pillow and duvet by Casper.
Privacy screens are becoming all the rage in business classes and this one doesn’t feature them, but it’s no real loss.
I feel cocooned and cosy and no one can see that I’m working my way through the Stars Wars franchise from Episode IV.
And I can see only a tiny corner of my neighbour’s screen across the aisle.
So far, it’s a business class suite that feels like, well, the business. A little care-worn in places – I spy a little bit of glue spillage around the edge of the table veneer and there’s a bit of trim that’s sticking up by the window – but it definitely conveys the feeling of VIP-ness.
Some might find the decor in the all-direct-aisle-access cabin a little lacking in imagination – it’s all monochromatic grey tones. But I find it unobtrusive and relaxing, and actually quite stylish.
Grey is in, I read somewhere.
And I can understand why airlines might plump for plain palettes – it dates more slowly and so doesn’t need to be overhauled too often.
For breakfast (pictured) Ted enjoys fresh fruit (melon and pineapple) and a warm fresh and flaky croissant, accompanied by a mouth-watering roasted tomato tart (Brits – this is a popular American brunch dish) and a proper cup of coffee
Lunch (pictured) is smoked salmon hash with Bearnaise sauce, vine tomatoes and sautéed spinach. A lovely bit of rustic comfort food, writes Ted
When quaffing white wine Ted finds that mini cakes with a fresh strawberry are a perfect accompaniment
Luxe loos: There are quality toiletries in the bathrooms, by C.O.Bigelow
Ted finds a couple of noticeable imperfections in the 777-300 cabin, including some splodges of glue (left) and a bit of wayward trim (right)
AN EXPERT’S VIEW ON THE AA WINE
I show the full American Airlines business class wine list to London-based wine consultant Emily Harman. And she is impressed with some of the choices, but not the welcome fizz…
Masia Parera Brut Methode Traditionelle Cava
Perhaps a slightly disappointing start? If I fly business, I love to be offered Champagne. Cava in general now is from very low-quality appellations. This is quite a large producer, which is easy to find in supermarkets, so I might skip the aperitif.
Collet Brut Champagne, France
A lesser-known producer but quite interesting to offer Champagne that is Pinot dominant, in this case a high percentage of Pinot Meunier. I always find Blanc de Noirs/pinot dominant Champagnes to offer more texture and because of this, they tend to appeal to more people.
The whites: Starmont Chardonnay Carneros, California, and Campo alle Comete Vermentino Toscana, Italy
Lovely to see a nice alternative to Sauvignon Blanc in the whites on offer. Especially as we are now entering summer. A chilled Vermentino would be a great lighter, aromatic option to the Chardonnay.
The reds: Imagery Cabernet Sauvignon, California, and Corte Giara La Groletta Ripasso Valpolicella, Italy
Two very full-bodied options for the reds. It is a shame not to offer a lighter or at least medium-bodied options for the red wine drinkers on board.
Dessert wine: Quinta do Noval LBV Port, Portugal
An iconic port estate producing high quality wines. I would very happily sip a glass or two of this port, especially if there was a chocolate dessert anywhere within reach!
There are similarly high standards in the food, drink and service departments.
The flight departs at 8.40am and, it being breakfast time, I naturally accept the offer of Champagne when I board.
Except it’s not Champagne.
It’s actually Masia Parera Brut Methode Traditionelle Cava. An ok cava. But you can only call sparkling wine Champagne if it’s made in the Champagne region of France.
How do I discover it’s not Champagne? To my shame – despite my WSET 1 qualification – not because I tasted the difference, but because later a stewardess pours me a glass of fizz and tells me that it’s ‘better than the fizz served upon boarding’.
It’s certainly highly quaffable.
I’d later ask American Airlines – BA’s major codeshare partner – what was afoot vis and vis the fizz, and it confirms that what’s served mid-flight is Collet Brut ($34/£27 a bottle) Champagne, as per the menu, but what’s served before take-off is said cava.
Why? Something about mid-flight beverages being ‘duty free’.
I get it. It’s a money-saving ploy. But perhaps those boarding could be offered ‘bubbles’ or ‘Spanish fizz’ or ‘a sparkling pick-me-up’ to avoid accusations of deception.
Anyway, moving further down the list, a glass of Starmont Chardonnay Carneros from California that I try later is super – well-mannered and full of perky lemony flavours.
However, the white Campo alle Comete Vermentino Toscana (average price around £12-14 per bottle), from Italy, is a let-down. The wine list really talks it up, waxing lyrical about its ‘mineral freshness’ and ‘aromatic floral notes’.
But I don’t get any of that. To me, it’s just a semi-decent party wine with a slightly sharp finish.
I’m a little surprised I don’t like it because American Airlines proudly boasts that master sommelier Bobby Stuckey put the list together. There’s even a picture of him on the menu – grinning – alongside a brief biography.
This suggests confidence in the selection.
Also, the Campo alle Comete is favourably reviewed online (and a wine consultant I show the list to is impressed with this choice, see boxout). Perhaps the altitude has skewed my taste buds…
I’m 100 per cent impressed with the food, though. From start to finish, through every course, every plate delights and is nicely presented.
For breakfast fresh fruit (melon and pineapple) and a warm fresh and flaky croissant are accompanied by a mouth-watering roasted tomato tart (Brits – this is a popular American brunch dish) and a proper cup of coffee.
My main plate for lunch is smoked salmon hash with Bearnaise sauce, vine tomatoes and sautéed spinach. A lovely bit of rustic comfort food.
Then I enjoy a little dish of delicious mini cakes with a fresh strawberry. Perfect with white wine.
Just before touch-down in Dallas a plate of mini chicken and leek, and mushroom and spinach, pies arrive, along with more fresh fruit and a marvellously moreish salted caramel and chocolate ganache.
The a la carte menu for the flight from London to Dallas (left). Pictured right is Bobby Stuckey’s business class wine list
And the crockery? All porcelain pieces by deSter, which is a major airline supplier. But it’s good quality stuff.
All in all, it’s a dining experience far, far removed from any economy or premium economy cabin offering.
All that’s lacking for me is a dine-on-demand option which, for instance, Qatar Airways offers in business class.
The service, meanwhile, is exceptional. I write in my notes that ‘the cabin crew are a riot’.
But they don’t just have a flair for fun.
This is the sort of cabin crew you always really hope you’ll get on a flight – chirpy, relaxed, friendly, chatty but utterly professional. And generous with the Champagne… And cava.
Ordinarily, here the review would end and, without further ado, I’d present my conclusions.
But I’m obliged to continue, because on the return overnight flight, from Phoenix (my trip is a mini Texas/Arizona tour), it’s a different plane – a 777-200, as I mentioned – and the business class cabin is also different.
And mostly in a good way, with the niggles from the journey over now ironed out.
Ted flies back from America from Phoenix, but this time in a Boeing 777-200 (actual plane pictured)
Ted pictured in the 777-200 business class cabin, which is called SuperDiamond and created by Collins Aerospace
The niggles Ted finds in the cabin on the way over are now ironed out. He writes: ‘The seat is slightly shorter at 72.2 inches (6ft) in lie-flat mode but is a smidgen wider at 21.9 inches and has better back support… The ergonomics, meanwhile, are spot on’
This image shows Ted’s window seat as it appears when he boards (minus the cava). Casper bedding is on the seat and B&O headphones and amenity kit inside a storage bin
The seat is manoeuvred via touch-screen buttons (pictured). Note the one-touch functions for take-off and landing mode, recline and lie-flat
Hello handy storage compartment: AA has tidied away the sockets and remote control in the 777-200 cabin
Privacy levels are very good. Every passenger is tucked away in their own cocooned suite
FLYING AA FIRST FROM DALLAS TO PHOENIX
Well, isn’t this splendid? My sojourn to America includes a two-hour hopper flight from Dallas to Phoenix in Arizona on an American Airlines Airbus A321 in first class. And I’m rather taken with it.
Ted’s meal on the AA flight to Phoenix
The layout is two by two and the reclining seats are huge – for a domestic service. They’re like executive office chairs, with large arm rests in the middle, slightly bigger than the width of the in-flight magazine. The coffee just keeps on coming via very pleasant stewardesses and there’s a mid-flight snack comprising fresh fruit – pineapple, grapes, blueberries and a strawberry – and a yoghurt. It’s served on a little porcelain dish with a napkin, which pleases me. Terrific.
For more on Arizona: www.visitarizona.com
The seat – called a SuperDiamond and made by Collins Aerospace, for any aviation seat nerds out there – is slightly shorter at 72.2 inches (6ft) in lie-flat mode but is a smidgen wider at 21.9 inches and has better back support.
The ergonomics, meanwhile, are spot on.
The armrest to my right is in the perfect position, the headphone jack is not hidden, but is in a very useful easy-to-reach storage compartment with a lid, designed so that when closed, it doesn’t squash the lead.
And the TV is a whopper – an 18-inch touch-screen that’s superbly responsive.
The seat buttons, I note, are now on a little touch-screen pad. Nifty.
Plus, all the trim is looking… trim.
It’s a gold star for the food, service and quaffing juices too (great to see you again, Bobby).
I have hickory smoked carrots with a seasonal greens salad for a starter, four-cheese spinach ravioli with creamy Parmesan sauce and blistered cherry tomatoes for mains and an ice-cream sundae for dessert.
Breakfast, about an hour before touching down in Heathrow, comprises fresh fruit, bread and yoghurt. All very yummy.
I try one wine – a cabernet sauvignon from the Imagery Estate in California (£13/$16.50) – and it’s tremendous. Smooth, soft and rounded.
Bobby, you’re back in the circle of trust.
I manage about four hours of solid sleep and disembark feeling fairly spritely.
So what’s the summary? Scroll down…
Yum’s the word: Ted’s starter of hickory smoked carrots with seasonal greens salad. Top right is a cabernet sauvignon from the Imagery Estate in California, which marks Bobby’s return to form
Four-cheese spinach ravioli with creamy Parmesan sauce and blistered cherry tomatoes for mains (left). An ice-cream sundae for dessert (right)
Breakfast, about an hour before touching down in Heathrow, comprises fresh fruit, bread and yoghurt
Since 2013 American has invested more than $25billion in its product. Pictured is a Boeing 777
Ted was a guest of American Airlines. London Heathrow to Dallas return fares start from £740 in economy, £1,419 in premium economy and £1,613 in business class. Heathrow to Phoenix return fares start from £790 per person in economy, £1,479 in premium economy and £1,663 in business class.
Visit www.americanairlines.co.uk or www.aa.com for more information.
Rating key: one star – poor; two stars – ok; three stars – good; four stars – very good; five stars – exceptional.
Dallas info: www.visitdallas.com.
So, does the world’s biggest airline (by fleet size, revenue, profit and passengers carried) have the world’s best business class?
That accolade, with some justification, should go to Qatar Airways and its Qsuite.
Is it world-class? Possibly. It’s certainly very good and ticks enough boxes to earn a four-star rating from me.
You’d have to be a fussy high-flyer indeed not to thoroughly enjoy the experience.
A raising of the eyebrows is understandable with regard to certain aspects of the ergonomics in the 777-300 cabin and that Italian white.
But once those hi-fidelity B&O headphones are on – you really won’t care.
By Ted Thornhill
My tickets grant me access to three AA business class lounges – the Admirals Club at Heathrow Terminal 3, the Admirals Club at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and the The Arrivals Lounge at Heathrow.
On the downside, the décor and furniture in the Admirals lounges are functional, non-descript and uninspired. I was expecting swish and swanky selfie-bait.
On the upside, the facilities are comprehensive and the catering is competent. The Heathrow lounge has a scattering of armchair-style seats, a high table you sit at on stools, which is equipped with USB sockets, a small breakfast buffet and showers.
The décor and furniture in the Admirals Club lounges are functional, non-descript and uninspired. But there are good showers and a decent breakfast buffet on offer. Pictured is the Heathrow Terminal 3 Admirals lounge
The showers are highly respectable – three-star hotel standard (ish).
The breakfast buffet is good, too.
The spread includes a cheese board, fresh fruits, cured meats, Danish pastries and croissants and cereals. (The catering is by Rhubarb, which also does the food and drink at London’s Royal Albert Hall, for catering industry nerds.) I have a croissant and a decent latte from a machine.
The Heathrow Arrivals Lounge (pictured) is very stylish. Ted lingers here for beans and scrambled eggs
The Arrivals Lounge has four-star hotel standard bathrooms (pictured)
The view is also enticing (for aviation nerds). A row of windows on one side allows you to gaze upon long-haul BA and AA aircraft parked at their gates.
The Phoenix lounge is of a similar standard and feel, with the addition of a small bar and slightly different food – think cookies and tacos.
The Arrivals Lounge is much more stylish and has luxe bathrooms (up to four-star hotel standard) and hot and cold breakfast offerings. I linger briefly for beans and scrambled eggs then head off to grapple with my cross-London journey home.