American Airlines 737-800 first class: A feeble attempt at excellence

American Airlines 737-800 first class: A feeble attempt at excellence

Here’s the thing about American Airlines 737-800 first class: it’s going to seem incredibly basic (and bland) at first. However, by the end of the flight, there’s a pretty good chance that you might feel like you can’t wait to do it again.

The seats are thin, and there are no video screens. Everything is the same shade of grey. There is no mood lighting.

But the food! It wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever eaten on an airplane, but it was obvious they were at least trying to take our minds off the minimalist seats. I find it difficult not to applaud this sort of blatant mindf**kery.

Chicago, IL (ORD) – Seattle, WA (SEA)
Thursday, November 16, 2023
Aircraft: 737-823
Registration: N949AN
Duration: 4 hours 9 minutes
Seat: 4A (first class)

American Airlines 737-800 (N949AN) side view
American Airlines 737-800 (N949AN) side view illustration by
aa2398 flight track
Our route from Chicago to Seattle today as AA2398.

My full review of American Airlines 737-800 first class from Chicago to Seattle

There are a surprisingly few number of ‘fun’ ways to move between Chicago and Seattle these days. Taking a train would certainly qualify as fun, but I ain’t got time for that. Ditto for a 4 day road trip in a rental car. American Airlines 737-800 first class seemed like an ok(ish) next best option…

Arrival at the Chicago O’Hare Airport

Staying the night at the Chicago O’Hare Hilton allowed me to sleep in for a bit before casually strolling into Terminal 3 at 8 AM for this 9:55 AM flight. The best part? There was no waiting at the security checkpoint.

There’s something so incredibly baller about walking into an airport and passing through security in less time than it takes for most people to trim their nose hair in the morning.

American Airlines check-in area terminal 3 ORD
Welcome to Terminal 3 at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport! How miffed do you suppose American Airlines is about the Emirates brand colors hanging directly over top of their check in counters?
Inside a terminal 3 Chicago O'Hare airport
I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. Somewhere in this beautiful terminal is a 737-800 with my name on it, and I’m not gonna let any drama between rival airlines slow me down.
Christmas decorations in terminal 3 Chicago O'Hare airport
Aha! Maybe those weren’t Emirates brand colors back at the baggage drop area after all. This seems to be a case of American Airlines not being able to wait until after Thanksgiving to go balls out with the Christmas decorations here in T3.
SANspotter walking through terminal 3 Chicago O'Hare airport
Honestly? I ain’t got no problem with that. I’d probably leave my Christmas tree up year round if it wasn’t socially unacceptable to do so.
Gate K18 Chicago O'Hare airport
I’d love to tell you what gate number this flight to Seattle will be departing out of this morning, but I can’t see crap. All you need to know is that it was the one located at the very far end of concourse K (and it required a lot of walking to get here).
Inside K concourse ORD airport
(Just a little ORD porn as I wait for boarding to begin…)

The boarding process for flight number 2398 to Seattle

I love flying mid week. Things are usually much less chaotic due to a majority of the passengers being business travelers, and there was an eerie sense of calm over gate K18 as they announced the boarding process. It was so nice to be able to casually stroll up to the podium without having my elbows ready to jab someone in the kidneys at any moment.

American Airlines Chicago to Seattle first class boarding pass
Who here looks more ready to go? Is it the patient-looking guy on the left? Or the hyperactive weirdo (the one taking a macro picture of his boarding pass) in the dead center of this pic?
Walking down K18 jet bridge to American Airlines 737-800 boarding door Chicago O'Hare airport
Doing my damnedest to look like a normal human being on my way down the bridge. Yes, even routine flights like this get me all giddy in ways I probably shouldn’t admit to out loud.
American Airlines 737-800 first class cabin
Uh oh. We’ve been onboard for less than 60 seconds, and it looks as if the lady there on the left has already had enough of this s**t. This is not getting off to a very good start!

The seats

Remember my American Airlines A321neo first class review? What about my review of the 737 MAX 8 first class experience? If so, what you’re about to see is very much the same. American Airlines is clearly going very hard on the ‘minimalist’ thing for their domestic first class seats. There’s very little color, and very little tech. I do like the all gray color scheme though.

American Airlines 737-800 first class seats
Ain’t no crotchety old lady gonna spoil my fun. These American Airlines 737-800 first class seats look pretty darn good to me. Oh – be sure to read my review of the American Airlines 737-800 Main Cabin Extra seats to find out what lies beyond first class…
American Airlines 737-800 first class leg room
Speaking of crotchety…(lol). In my defense, there’s really no good way of demonstrating how generous the leg room is without showing a little thigh.
American Airlines 737-800 first class seat space
Zooming out a bit to show you the entire space. You should be thanking your lucky stars that I’m not wearing a racy pair of hot pants today.
American Airlines 737-800 first class seats row 4
Just as it is with most other domestic American Airlines aircraft, there are no video screens in these first class seats. Go ahead. It’s OK to feel crotchety about this.
American Airlines 737-800 first class USB-A ports and personal device holders
There are USB-A ports (and personal device holders) built into the headrests though. I’ll take it!
American Airlines 737-800 first class adjustable headrest
Speaking of headrests, I like how adjustable these things are. I do not, however, like what is going on with my thumb in this pic. The hell?
American Airlines 737-800 first class center console and seat reclined button
Assuming my thumbs don’t fall off, I’m very much looking forward to trying out that recline button located here on the center console.
American Airlines 737-800 first class seat features
Inflatable life vests are located between the seats, the storage space in the center console looks handy, and the armrests are small (but useful). This is an exciting review so far, isn’t it?
American Airlines 737-800 first class power outlets
BTW, there are full-size electrical outlets located in that storage space in the center console.
SANspotter sitting in American Airlines 737-800 first class
“Nothing exciting seems to be happening over there either.”
American Airlines 737-800 first class row 4 seats
This “ultra basic” vibe is par for the course when it comes to American Airlines domestic first class I guess. Those of you looking for a thrill should probably check out my Emirates A380 business class review.
Crossed legs in American Airlines 737-800 first class
Thrill city, baby! At least it’s comfortable.
American Airlines 737-800 first class cabin view from seat 4A
Is it really that bland of a product if you can’t hear any profanity from the other passengers?

The departure out of Chicago

One of the other really nice things about flying mid week (with so many business travelers) is that the ground crews don’t typically have to deal with so much checked luggage. Prepping the aircraft for departure is much faster this way. Today was no exception, and we were off the gate lickety-split.

Gate K18 jet bridge O'Hare airport
Can’t say that I wasn’t tempted to give this jet bridge the middle finger as we pushed off the gate. FU for being closer to Iowa than the rest of O’Hare!
American Airlines 737-800 first class passengers
See? I wasn’t the only one curious to know if something more exciting was happening on the other side.
runways and taxiways at ORD
Do you know how difficult it is to take pics of the runways and taxiways at ORD without a single airplane in them? This deserves an award of some kind (or at least a hearty round of applause).
American Airlines 737-800 taxiing for takeoff ORD
That’s more like it. Looks like we have clearance, Clarence!
American Airlines 737-800 taking off from ORD
“American 2398, contact departure on 128.2. You might also want to tune into WZAZ (where disco lives forever). Good day.”

In-flight entertainment

There are two very important things you’ll need to know about in-flight entertainment on the American Airlines 737-800. First, there are no video screens. The only way to access their extensive catalog of movies and TV shows (and music and podcasts and live TV) is via your personal device. Second, be prepared to be forced to sit through aggressive credit card ads to access any of it.

American Airlines 737-800 streaming in-flight entertainment main menu
Only 16 hours and 1 more minute to go!
American Airlines 737-800 first class streaming entertainment
The vast collection of movies and TV shows (including live TV) will probably seen exciting at first – until you realize that you’re going to have to sit through 30 second credit card ads to view any of it.
American Airlines 737-800 first class personal device holder built into the seats
These personal device holders built into the seat back headrests work well! Based on how aggressive that credit card ad was just now, I can only assume they did this so that you’d have a place to put your phone while you fill out a credit card application.
American Airlines 737-800 first class Apple Music
Thank you for giving us complementary full access to Apple Music! Damn you for making me rethink my credit card points strategy.
American Airlines 737-800 first class wi-Fi access
Apparently American Airlines assumes that their credit card ads are so good that they would make me want to spend $19 (at least) for Wi-Fi access to fill out an application. Ballsy!
SANspotter listening to earbuds in American Airlines 737-800 first class
“THIS CREDIT CARD IS GUARANTEED TO ADD SIX GIRTHY INCHES TO YOUR…” < snip > Basically, it behooves you to know where the mute button is on your earbuds before stepping foot on an American Airlines 737-800.

The food

If there’s one thing that American Airlines does right, it’s domestic first class food. As I said at the top of this review, it’s not the best first class food ever eaten. But it’s presented very well, quite tasty, and almost always served with a smile. Other US airlines can learn a thing or two from them.

American Airlines 737-800 first class hot towels
Seriously. Are they trying to make these hot towels look like tampons? I’m surprised this thing doesn’t have a pull string hanging from it.
American Airlines 737-800 first class warm nuts and drinks
Kicking off the lunch service today is a serving of warm nuts and an ice cold drink. Considering how questionable my last two photo captions were, I will refrain from making any further comments about the nuts.
American Airlines 737-800 first class meal tray
My goal when composing this pic was to demonstrate how colorful American Airlines domestic first class meals usually are. The result? I think that my seatmates shoes are the focal point here. Those things are awesome!
American Airlines 737-800 first class lunch pasta
I’m not even kidding about the colors. This pasta dish (which I pre-ordered) was fresh and flavorful without being overly salty or spicy. I almost wanted to hug the flight attendant.
American Airlines 737-800 first class salad
Somehow they even made the salad look exciting. Screw the hug. I’d wash that woman’s car for a month (and I’d love every minute of it).
SANspotter eating lunch in American Airlines 737-800 first class
Nope. I can’t find anything wrong with this. Does anyone know where I can get a good deal on wash mitts?

Seat (and cabin) comfort

I’ve got nothing notable to say about overall comfort here in American Airlines 737-800 first class. The seats are firm (but not painful), and leg room is typical of what you would expect in US domestic first class. It’s no better or no worse than Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 first class (which just so happens to be one of the other fun ways to get to Seattle from Chicago).

Getting comfortable in American Airlines 737-800 first class
Truth be told, I find this to be more comfortable than American Airlines A320 first class. Legroom is pretty much the same, but the slimmer (more modern) seats make it feel like a slightly more upscale experience. Like .015% more upscale, but still. It’s an improvement.
American Airlines 737-800 first class row 4 passengers
Those of you seeking the most secluded experience should probably choose a seat in row 4. Not only is it far away from the forward galley, there’s a solid wall directly behind this row which will separate you from the riffraff economy class passengers and their meaningless conversations idle chatter.
American Airlines 737-800 first class midflight snack
Yes, that was mango sherbet you saw sitting alone (and unloved) in the previous picture. It was either this or fruit and cheese for the midflight snack.
American Airlines 737-800 first class lavatory
Here’s the first class lavatory. I want very much to believe that there is at least one of you who will find this to be the most useful pic in the entire review.

The descent and arrival into Seattle

This was the first time that I have ever flown into Seattle from the East. The scenery was epic (as expected). The weather was perfect (which I wasn’t expecting). Being early was just the icing on the cake.

American Airlines 737-800 descending into the Seattle Tacoma airport
What’s with this crap we hear about Seattle being rainy all the time? Are they not seeing this??
American Airlines 737-800 on approach to SEA
This view would’ve been so much better if the cabin crew wasn’t trying to sell credit cards over the PA at this very moment. Just sayin’.
American Airlines 737-800 touching down of the Seattle Tacoma international airport
Welcome to Seattle, where the local time is apparently the perfect time to sell credit cards (aggressively).
View of American Airlines 737-800 engine and wing from seat 4A at the Seattle Tacoma international airport
Not only is it sunny, we’ve arrived a full 11 minutes early. The hell is going on?
Gate B9 Seattle Tacoma international airport
Can you believe that Alaska Airlines and Delta haven’t blown each other to smithereens yet here in Seattle? Nonetheless, we made it to gate B9 unscathed.
Unbuckling seatbelt in American Airlines 737-800 first class
That was kind of nice actually! I heard no cussing from other passengers as I was unbuckling my seatbelt, so I can only assume that I was not the only one feeling satisfied.
American Airlines 737-800 first class passengers end of flight
Not only that, nobody looks like they’re about to stomp off to the parking garage to flip cars (and light them on fire). I’m telling you – this was a pretty nice flight from Chicago today.
American Airlines 737-800 first class aisle
Hot take: I’m of the opinion that integrating large video screens into the seats (just as how it is in United 737 MAX 9 first class) could make this one of my favorite domestic first class products in the US.
American Airlines 737-800 forward boarding door frame
I am also of the opinion that I will never (ever) sign up for the Citi AAdvantage card. Unless that 6 inches thing is really true of course…

Pros and cons of the American Airlines 737-800 first class experience

I went into this flight thinking that it was going to be a completely generic (though decent) domestic US first class experience. It ended up being mostly that, plus a little more. I get the sense that American Airlines is trying really hard to offer a competitive premium travel experience, and it’s hard not to appreciate their efforts.


  • I actually like the minimalist seat design. The neutral colors and textures are very classy IMHO.
  • The performance of the streaming in-flight entertainment system is fantastic.
  • The presentation of the food is quite good. It’s almost ‘decent(ish) restaurant that I like to go to when nothing else is open’ kind of quality.


  • Being forced to sit through 30-second credit card ads upon every click of the in-flight entertainment system is maddening. At the very least, they should disable this for first class passengers.
  • Even though I’m a fan of the minimalist seat design, complaints of it looking not premium enough are completely valid IMHO.

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