Review: American 787 Business Class, and Which Seats You Want

The American 787 business class is a gorgeous new product.

They offer a fully flat bed, four seats across and all aisle access. Contrast that, for instance, with United which has six seats across rather than four so passengers in the window have someone to climb over.

Having shared my story of the American Airlines inaugural Boeing 787 flights, I am circling back to talk about the seats and cabin.

How is the seat? And more importantly which seat should you choose?

I flew economy on the outbound from Dallas to Chicago, and then I flew in business class Chicago back to Dallas. Here I’m going to focus on the business class product, and will write a separate post on economy seating.

Forward Versus Backward Facing Seats

In my opinion the best seats are in the corners of the cabin — window seats at the front and back of each business class cabin have extra storage space. That means rows 1, 5, 6, and 7 seats A and L.

The seat itself does have storage though either way:

Row six is backward facing, some will prefer it and some won’t (rows 2 and 4 are also backward facing, and lack this additional storage). There are advantages and disadvantages to forward facing and backward facing.

  • Forward facing seats have armrests that move down and give the seat a more open feeling. They also have shoulder strap seat belts.

  • Rear facing seats have more surface work space but armrests do not move down So there’s more usable space but I feel a bit claustrophobic.

Flying solo I prefer the forward facing seats in the corners of the cabin.

Other Seating Considerations

I am not sure I prefer the mini-cabin. On net I probably do but I also find the smaller cabin a bit claustrophobic.

Choosing a rear facing and a forward facing seat across the aisle from each other may actually be better for couples than two seats in the middle of the cabin. You can turn and look right at each other. The aisles are narrow, so you’re actually still pretty close.

The more traditional choice for a couple would be the center seats which have a divider between.

My Impression of the Seat

The seat itself is comfortable, and there was a plastic-wrapped pillow and blanket though on a long flight I would really want two pillows for sleeping.

The screen is large, and the flight attendant came by to take it out for taxiing because it had to be facing me while the safety video played. The screen can be controlled via touch or via the controller at the side of your seat.

I like the dual power ports in the business seat (in addition to USB charging).

The tray table was sturdy and far more intuitive than on the 767.

There’s an electronic controller to adjust your seat.

It turns out that my seat controller wouldn’t work. It needed to be reset, and there’s a method for doing this that involves getting underneath the seat. I didn’t have the crew do this on my short Chicago – Dallas flight.

I was still able to put the seat into bed mode and bring it back out because there are buttons at the back of the seat that you can access while laying down. I just couldn’t make micro-adjustments while seated.

The bed of course is the highlight of the seat.

I found the seat to be very tight at the shoulders while in bed mode — not quite as tight as on the 767, but not nearly as spacious as on the Boeing 777-300ER. This is a big reason why I prefer the forward facing seat that has less workspace, since I can create a sense of greater roominess by pushing down the armrest.

My only other knock besides the tight space at the shoulders when in bed mode is that the seat itself seemed a bit ‘plastic’ — which is fine, I think it’s gorgeous — but I worry a little bit about how well it will hold up over time.

More Impressions of the Plane

The right side lavatory in business class is quite large, I was surprised and delighted to see that’s been built into the plan. It’s big enough to change into pajamas comfortably (bring your own AA pajamas, of course, they do not provide those in business class).

On longer flights they’ll set up snacks and drinks in the galley for self-serve.

I had almost no mobile phone signal once onboard the aircraft. The aircraft itself blocks device connectivity.

The electronic windows are cool but are not as unique as they’re sometimes given credit for. The windows themselves are larger than on other aircraft, but the electronic controls are similar to Qantas and British Airways offerings. Although Qantas and BA block outside light completely, while the 787 offers a comforting muted light during the day. I enjoy that, others claim it disrupts their ability to sleep since they can’t black out daylight completely.

On a short flight I didn’t really notice the difference in cabin pressurization or humidity.

Ultimately, from a passenger experience perspective, I think that new planes with the latest technology are great. For me his plane isn’t about passenger experience (beyond that it’s new with the coolest gadgets) as much as the opportunities it opens up to serve long distance markets with fewer passengers.

Still, inaugurals are cool and we got a water cannon salute on the flight out of Chicago as well as on the first flight from Dallas.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Wow, definitely a step up from the United 787 with 6 across in biz class. I hate having to crawl over people to go to the bathroom especially on a long flight. I love the thought of all aisle seating in business class. Given the choice I think I would choose the AA flight.

  2. Sad that they didn’t just go with the tried and true 77W-style J seat. It’s so comfortable.

  3. Mike: My understanding is that with different plane widths, one cannot simply plop a 77W (19’3″) config into a 788 (18′).

  4. Slight clarification: The rear-facing seats in the middle of the front cabin are actually the odd numbered rows (1, 3, and 5). Rows 2 and 4 in the middle are forward facing. I didn’t notice in the mini cabin that you were in, but I’d assume it may be the same.

  5. Terrible idea to have the seats angled in on the window seats. People are going to be torquing their necks to try and have a view out of the window. They had that on the CX flights and it was a real pain in the neck !

  6. Wow, unless it’s a camera angle trick, that seat does look quite narrow in the torso area both reclined and upright.

  7. @Wandering Aramean – what is the accessibility rule? It’s not for all new aircraft deliveries (eg they don’t have this on the 773). It’s not for all retrofits (they don’t have this on the refurbed 763s). We don’t see it on narrowbodies.

  8. “I had almost no mobile phone signal once onboard the aircraft. The aircraft itself blocks device connectivity.”, is this a result of what the plane is made of, or do they have cellphone jammers on board?

  9. HansGolden: CX has the 77W-style seat (maybe slightly tighter, but still quite comfortable) in some of their A330s. The A330 cabin is 6″ narrower than the 787.

  10. I look froward to trying out American’s business class.

    Having burned too many of my miles on a business class seat with United this past week, American’s business class sounds like a vast improvement. United’s idea of comfort (as you point out) is to have anyone in a window seat practice advanced gymnastics in order to just use the loo. Then, there are the United flight attendants who give “sullen” new meaning. And then there is the pot roast that they serve which they call “beef medallions.” Oh, and did I mention the “champagne” given prior to take-off that comes from a screw-top bottle? I could go on but, suffice to say, I won’t be using my hard-earned miles on United’s business class EVER again. It’s good to have choices is all I can say.

  11. Of course they could put seats of similar to 77W space and comfort into the 787. Shoot they could put Singapore Suites or Etihad Residences in the 787. However, it may not be practical to do so given the different geometry of sizes.

  12. I’ve now done 3 segments in business class on American 787s, and I’m sadly disappointed. I find the new configuration to be confining and claustrophobic. These seats may as well have been designed by a coffin maker, since that’s the sensation, especially in the recline or bed mode. All three segments have been forward-facing windows, but even at that, the experience is far inferior to the wonderful layout of business class in American’s 777-300.

  13. Great review. Thank you. After reading I chose 1A for today’s DFW-ORD flight. Not nearly as narrow as i’d feared but it would be far down my list for transPac flights.
    Since the forward facing seat is far from the window i held my camera to the window and filmed aft to capture the crazy wing flex of the 787!

  14. Thanks, Gary! After a ton of searching, you’re the first reviewer to offer pictures and recommendations for couples traveling together. We’re in this cabin for both our honeymoon flights and couldn’t decide whether to face each other (with our heads farther apart), or face outward with our heads closer together… or to sit across the aisle, facing one another, like you suggest here.

    Thanks for taking the time to detail what I’d assume is a very common travel occurrence – couples traveling together.

    Mike

  15. Not impressed by the American 787 biz class product. Flew from Shanghai PVG to ORD. Rear facing seats. Seats on rows 3 and 4 are attached so that when someone in front of you moves it moves your seat….Flight attendants control the windows so I could not see out of the window until we were on approach in Chicago. My seat did not totally lie flat. Positives…The humidity control is a nice change to the totally dry air.

  16. Hi. Thanks for the great review. Like one previous commentor, my husband and I are traveling from Barcelona to Chicago and on to Salt Lake on this aircraft. We’re trying to decide on whether to have the two middle seats or aisle and window. Does the divider between the two center seats come down if you wanted to? Any other thoughts you have and what would make it best for couples would be appreciated. Thanks!

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