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.