I flew American Airlines to Europe for the first time during the pandemic and found it's back to normal with bad food, uncomfortable seats, and free alcohol

·12 min read
Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider
  • American Airlines is one of four US carriers flying overseas to Europe and has recently started increasing services as more countries open to American tourists.

  • Transatlantic flights are pretty much back to normal, besides having to wear a mask.

  • Hot meals and alcohol are once again served in all cabins including economy class.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

American Airlines is one of the leading US carriers flying between the US and Europe, especially from its international gateway in New York.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The summer before the pandemic saw American fly to 23 European destinations from the US. Fast forward to the summer of 2021, however, and that number stood at 11 as American wasn't as quick to rebuild in Europe following its reopening.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: Cirium

But even still, American has maintained service to core cities like London; Madrid; and Rome, while opening new routes including New York-Athens.

Athens
Athens, Greece. Shutterstock

Read More: American and JetBlue just unveiled a new partnership with 33 new routes combined— here's what it means for travelers

And American has proved to be an inexpensive option when crossing the pond, as I found when planning a recent work trip to Doha, Qatar with flights on American, British Airways, and Qatar Airways.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: Gulfstream just debuted its new $75 million ultra-long-range plane that's also the world's largest purpose-built private jet: Meet the G700

I flew American Airlines from New York to Madrid during the summer of vaccinated travel. Here's what it was like.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: I booked a flight on American Airlines despite the airline canceling thousands of flights this summer – here's how I'm preparing for the worst

After recent bad experiences on American, I was a bit nervous to fly the carrier overseas. I made sure to do extra research on backup options in case something went wrong, and even arrived at the airport four hours early.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: I was stranded in Bogotá airport for 10 hours and it taught me the true value of credit card perks and not taking no for an answer

But having flown American internationally earlier in the summer, I knew how to prepare. The first step was to download Verifly, American's preferred health passport service that speeds along airport check-in and document verification.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I submitted all my required documentation and got the green light. As a result, check-in at the airport was less painful than expected as I was able to use a self-serve kiosk to get my boarding pass.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

For those checking a bag, though, there was a bit of a line, as is usually the case in international terminals. I was glad to have only brought a carry-on.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I was instantly relieved once I had my boarding pass and headed straight to the gate with only a minimal line at security. I felt silly having arrived four hours before departure but as the old saying goes, better safe than sorry.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

One benefit of flying out of American's Terminal 8 at John F. Kennedy International Airport is that Bobby Van's Steakhouse is open, and Priority Pass members through Chase can get a free meal. I had the burger and it was delicious.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: I used a credit perk to dine for nearly free at an airport restaurant and it's my new favorite travel hack

The rest of the concourse was quiet as I arrived before the bulk of the evening overseas departures. Even still, there were shops and restaurants open for business in a good sign for the industry.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I headed straight to the gate after lunch and got my first glimpse at the aircraft taking us to Spain, the mighty Boeing 777-200. American now only flies Boeing 777 aircraft between New York and Europe in a win for business class and first class customers that get to enjoy the airline's best premium cabin products.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Pandemic-era safety measures including social distancing floor placards and plexiglass portions at the gate counter were still on display.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Boarding began around 45 minutes prior to departure in American's standard group boarding procedure. Most US airlines have abandoned back-to-front boarding.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

American's Boeing 777-200 aircraft seat 273 passengers across three cabins, with classes of service including business, premium economy, and economy.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: SeatGuru

In economy, seats are arranged in a 10-abreast, 3-4-3 configuration that's standard for most airlines flying the 777.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Seat pitch in economy is between 31 and 32 inches, according to SeatGuru, while seat width is a standard 17 inches.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: SeatGuru

I booked this flight quite late and there weren't too many seats from which to choose that didn't require paying an extra fee. American isn't alone in the practice of charging for advance seat assignments on long-haul flights but I despise the practice as these tickets are expensive enough as it is.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

But to American's credit, there were a good showing of complimentary aisle and window seats towards the back of the plane from which to select.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And to my surprise, the most unique seats in economy were available for selection. The last three rows on this aircraft are arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration meaning there are six two-seat pairs.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I thought I had lucked out by selecting one of them but my excitement was short-lived. Simply put, these seats were not the most comfortable for a larger traveler.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The small width didn't help and I felt like I was taking up part of the seat next to me.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

One thing that could've helped was if the armrest for the window seat was moveable, but it was fixed in place. I was so close to the seat in front of me that my tray table couldn't even lay flat (a problem I didn't have on the other carriers on which I flew during this trip).

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

My top concern was having enough room once my seat neighbor arrived. But I lucked out and had both seats to myself as nobody showed up to claim the other.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

There was a gap between the seat and the cabin wall which offered some additional legroom and a place to store the pillow and blanket kit left on the seat.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

American is quite generous with seat features on its wide-body aircraft. Each seat has an 8.9-inch in-flight entertainment screen with a variety of movies, television shows, games, and music.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The moving map proved handy during the flight to keep track of our location.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

A tethered remote is also available to control the system and act as a game controller or keyboard for the seat-to-seat chat function. It also comes in handy when scrolling through content since the touch functionality is quite poor in that regard.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

In-flight WiFi is also available on the aircraft for a price. And for those using devices during the flight, in-seat power is offered through USB charging ports and 110v C power outlets at seats.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The rest of the aircraft was quite full, which surprised me as it was quite late in the season for transatlantic travel. Some passengers were visiting family and friends while others were starting their study abroad term.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Bad weather in New York wreaked a bit of havoc on the airport but we weren't overly affected. I was quite relieved that our departure was pretty close to on time as I had a connection to make in Madrid.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The storm did, however, make for some great views as we blasted out of New York.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Madrid is quite a short flight from New York and while I wanted to go straight to sleep, I did want to see what the meal service was like. This was the first time I'd had a hot meal on American during the pandemic.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

As I waited for the service to begin, I had a look at what was on offer in the movie department. American had quite a good selection in all categories, and I ultimately picked "The Vault."

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

First attendants started the drink service first with a selection of soft drinks, juices, wine, and beer. Alcohol isn't currently served in economy on American's domestic flights but it flows freely on transatlantic hops.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I ordered a club soda along with some red wine to help ease my sleep after the meal.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Next came the meal service as flight attendants quickly passed out the trays. I felt like I was being served in a cafeteria as one flight attendant curtly asked, "chicken or pasta?"

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I unwrapped the entree to find that not much has changed at all when it comes to American's economy catering. The chicken dish was accompanied by a side salad, cheese and crackers, and a cinnamon dessert bar.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I couldn't describe the chicken beyond that it was served in a tomato-based sauce. I enjoyed the sides more than the main and was glad I had the burger at Bobby Van's before the flight. Next time, I think I'll head straight to sleep.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Flight attendants were very quick to complete the meal service, though, and got it done in under an hour and a half. The flight to Madrid is only six hours and 30 minutes so every second counts.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Ready for bed with a full stomach, I used the pillow and blanket that American had left on the seat and did my best to get comfortable.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Another downside of the two-seat row is that there's a gap between the seat and window, making propping a pillow up against the cabin wall near-impossible.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

But even then, it wasn't too difficult to get to sleep and I woke just before breakfast was served.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Flight attendants once more came around to serve drinks first, followed by a pre-packaged cold breakfast.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

On offer for the optimistic morning meal included Chobani strawberry yogurt, a raspberry fig bar, and coconut cashew granola. All in all, it was quite standard but still enjoyable.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The flight to Madrid was nearing its end and I can't say I was upset to see it go. American did a great job of getting me to Spain on time but the in-flight experience was exactly what I expected it to be.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I did appreciate the modernity of the aircraft and the efficiency of the crew but there wasn't anything memorable about this flight.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Besides having to wear a mask, though, I'd say that American is back to normal on these flights, for better or worse.

Flying American Airlines to Europe during the pandemic - American Airlines New York-Madrid Flight 2021
Flying American Airlines from New York to Madrid, Spain during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read the original article on Business Insider

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting