Boarding American Airlines' new Boeing 777-300ER, passengers are greeted by soft mood lighting and an archway leading through a walk-up bar.
Bose noise-canceling headsets, bed slippers and amenity kits with Dermalogica and Akhassa products await premium travelers at their seats, along with menus offering a choice of four entrees and several wine and liquor selections.
And by the time flight attendants serve made-to-order sundaes a few hours into the flight, it's clear that business class is more than just hot towels and a few more inches of legroom.
"You spend a lot of time on an airplane, so we wanted to make sure the design and the finishes allow for a peaceful journey," said Fern Fernandez, American's vice president of global marketing. "We're in the business of transporting you from Point A to Point B, but we want to make it in a comfortable sort of fashion that puts you at ease."
American received its first 777-300ER, now its largest plane with seats for 310 passengers, in January 2013. It currently has 10 in its fleet, with 10 more on order from Boeing. It uses the jets for flights from Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and New York to Hong Kong, London and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Fernandez expects the incoming 777-300ERs to be used on similarly long international flights where there is demand for a premium travel product.
For the Texas-based carrier, new airplanes with premium cabins and older aircraft retrofitted with modern finishes and comfortable seats are critical to winning back corporate customers lost during a two-year stint in bankruptcy court.
Frequent fliers and high-spending business customers want two things on a long flight: aisle access and lie-flat seats, said Brett Snyder, founder of CrankyFlier.com. With the introduction of the 777-300ER, which has both features in business and first class, American is finally catching up to United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, which already have lie-flat seats in business class on their long-haul aircraft.
"If you're looking to compete with international carriers, you need these premium products," said Snyder. "I think it's a great product, and it's something they can build off of."
American is in the process of retrofitting its older Boeing 777-200 and 767-300 jets with similar lie-flat seats for business class and more legroom in the carrier's "main cabin extra" product. And recently, the airline began operating Airbus A321 jets on its transcontinental routes that feature three cabin classes, whereas competitors such as United, Delta and Virgin America have only two classes of seating.
Maxine Peng, American's manager for China, said Chinese consumers have more disposable income and want to spend it traveling to far-off destinations like the United States. American launched its first flights between DFW and Shanghai on June 11 and will use an upgraded 777-200 on the route this fall.
"We think our travelers will like the new retrofitted 777-200, which will arrive in the China markets this year," Peng said.
On the 777-300, used on Flight 137 from DFW to Hong Kong, the business-class seats stretch out into flat beds that are 6 feet, 4 inches long, while first-class seats recline flat with an additional 4 inches. First-class passengers also receive a turndown service and pajamas (which they can keep) for the long flights.
Two meals are provided on the 16-hour flight between Texas and Asia, and passengers can request to have their food served at their convenience. A snack bar is fully stocked for several hours, featuring banana pudding, brownies, fresh fruit and sandwich wraps. A wine tasting is offered to first-class passengers.
All travelers can purchase Wi-Fi Internet connections for the entire flight, and each seat has a power outlet and USB port to charge mobile devices. All cabins of service have access to the in-flight entertainment system with touch-screen monitors and hundreds of movies, television shows and audio programs.
"You can fly around the globe 15 times and not view the same content twice," said Alice Liu, American's managing director of onboard products and connectivity. "It's a great way to entertain our customers."