An Inside Look at American Airlines Brand New Premium Economy on the Boeing 787-9

I flew the American Airlines domestic inaugural flight for their brand new Boeing 787-9 aircraft on Thursday. From Dallas to Los Angeles I tried out their newest business class product. For the return I flew in their brand new premium economy cabin. That’s the product I’ll share with this post.

There’s something special about a brand new aircraft, and a brand new model for an airline. American didn’t have any festivities but the captain did announce the special occasion onboard in both directions. I was fortunate to be able to grab photos of the interior of the aircraft throughout and also of the plane on the tarmac in Los Angeles.

Most customers of course are going to find themselves in the economy cabin, and I find nine-across seating on a Boeing 787 to be tight. There’s video entertainment on demand (including seat-to-seat chat and planewide chat), Panasonic inflight internet, and power at every seat. Still, it’s a seat for long haul.

That’s what makes premium economy interesting of course. American Airlines is the first US carrier to offer a true premium economy cabin, which you can think of as being like domestic first class on an international plane. It occupies the space between economy (where there are also extra legroom seats) and business class (super pricey flat beds).

It’s a relative budget option for more space and greater comfort. (Delta will be rolling out premium economy on their Airbus A350s starting in the third quarter of 2017, and those will fly mostly transpacific.)

Some will see it as a good option for daytime (Westbound) transatlantics, when the flat bed for sleeping isn’t put to as good use.

American’s premium economy isn’t yet on sale, and for near-term flights is available just like any economy seat. As an elite frequent flyer with American I was able to book premium economy on the Boeing 787-9 just like I could book any extra legroom seat in the coach cabin.

For now the plane is flying domestically, and service is offered just like coach, but once it begins regular international flying there will be enhanced services and meals. It will come with amenity kits and noise cancelling reducing headsets. (Updated.)

Premium economy has more legroom than Main Cabin Extra (38 inch pitch) and is configured 2-3-2 abreast rather than 3-3-3 (so it’s a wider seat). There are just 3 rows of premium economy with 21 premium economy seats total. (There are also only 3 rows of Main Cabin Extra extra legroom economy.)

The premium economy seat American has opted for is the B/E Aerospace MiQ seat, which Cathay Pacific is also using. It’s the new domestic first class seat that American is putting in legacy US Airways Airbus A319s, but with an added footrest (bulkhead seats) or foot bar (rows behind the bulkhead).

Here’s the foot bar for the seats behind the bulkhead row.

The bulkhead row of seats have real leg rests.

Your tray is in the armrest beside you.

You have push button seat adjustments and a remote control for the television screen.

The downside to premium economy’s bulkhead seats is that there’s no tv screen in bulkhead itself (and no seat in front of you for it) — instead the TV swivels out. The storage housing for the TV intrudes on seat width at your legs.

Nonetheless the bulkhead is the clear winner in the cabin.

Prior to the flight I had seen some speculation that the middle set of three seats were preferable to the two seats by each window because there’d be even more room. That turns out not to be the case. The bulkhead for the middle seats is further forward, but so are the middle seats themselves.

The premium economy cabin has an oversized lavatory and a standard-sized one. In fact, it’s the only oversized lavatory on the aircraft. I expect business class passengers to come back to premium economy, jealous of the amenity.

Over the next few years American will retrofit existing Boeing 777-300ERs, Boeing 777-200ERs, Boeing 787-8s and Airbus A330s to include Premium Economy. And if they ever do accept Airbus A350s for delivery, those are slated to come with Premium Economy as well.

Priced appropriately, premium economy hits a real sweet spot between a modicum of extra comfort and the cost of a lie flat business class seat. Even booking the flat bad on an overnight flight and the ‘domestic first class plus footrest’ seat on the day flight can be a real cost savings while without suffering long haul economy.

American isn’t aiming at the top end of the market here. For instance, the Singapore Airlines premium economy product offers a limited version of “Book the Cook” pre-order meal choices along with respectable champagne. And if you buy premium economy on Singapore you can upgrade to their phenomenal business class with miles almost every time.

Nonetheless it’s a big improvement over just extra legroom coach seating. And with a very small premium economy section on the aircraft it shouldn’t be too difficult to sell on longer routes. That will make upgrades from economy to premium economy, if that’s what’s offered, exceptionally tough however.

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. What a fail on the foot rest front. Should have made the bulkhead footrest consistent across the other rows.

    It’s already off the shelf with the Singapore product.

  2. “The bulkhead row of seats have real leg rests.”

    Why do they bother with this when I’d rather take my shows and socks off and put my foot on the bulkhead?

  3. When booking award travel, can Premium Economy be booked, using those miles? If not, when booking award Economy, can you upgrade (cash) to new Premium Economy?

    Thanks!

  4. Economy seats, even main cabin extra are awful, 9 across. Seats are so narrow that the 3 normal size adults are unable to move or twitch. Can’t imagine the pain of this airplane on long haul flights. What are they thinking?

  5. 9 across In economy is absurd. I was in a 777-300 with 10 across and I’ll never ever do it again. Why fly 10 across to Asia when other carriers like Cathay offer much better seating? It’s very short sided. After one flight customers will never come back.

  6. Hi Gary – American is offering noise “reducing” headsets, not noise cancelling in Premium Economy.

  7. Gary, how does this seat compare with the mid-90s J sets on American and United, especially on the old United 767s? From what I can tell from the photos and having been on the 319, it seems pretty much the same, maybe 2 inches less pitch but similar width?

  8. Fortunately I only fly biz or first internationally so 10 across won’t affect me but I still think it’s a disgusting way to treat passengers. What I see right now is a huge expansion of China based carriers flying to the U.S. with very aggressive pricing. If U.S. based carriers expect to fill planes they are going to need to step up their game to offer a better product than their Asian counterparts especially Chinese carriers. If they don’t offer anything better people will gravitate towards lower fares from airlines like China Southern, Xiamen Airways and Air China. Why fly AA or UA or DL if the service is the same and pay 25-30% more for your ticket? Same goes for biz class and first. The only reason why I am flying AA from LAX to HKG next week is because Cathay doesn’t have wifi yet. Once Cathay finally installs wifi AA better find a good reason why I should fly on their metal instead of Cathay. My first class ticket would be a lot nicer on CX but I like having the connectivity to my office during a 14+ hour flight.

  9. USA flag carriers don’t have a clue about service I gave up flying them years ago, I am a strong supporter of BA their premium economy is great and with frequent flyer miles their lounges are superb. I flew royal Jordanian last year ex. JFK to AMM and AA,’s buz lounge was terrible they are totally clueless! Try BA’s lounge at JFK and I am sure you will agree that the foreign flag services is far superior!!!

    FYI with Qatar now part of one world the experience even gets better, their economy is not bad at all!!

  10. Not impressed. Still, my last flight on American is probably in January 2018. After than my Executive Platinum will go away.

    Also, I have bit the bullet and actually purchased 2 coach local tickets on Delta recently and two round trip domestic First Class tickets on Delta. I have not flown on them for over 15 years because I used to be loyal to Continental United as a top tier elite, then American.

  11. Worst thing to happen to international frequent flyers. Used to be able to buy a coach ticket, then use miles to upgrade to business. Now you have to buy premium economy to upgrade to business, since you are only allowed one class upgrade.

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