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A Tour of American Airlines’ Retrofit 767-300

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As your may have seen, Katie and I recently got to fly in a brand new retrofit aircraft on our way to Europe, and it turns out we also got an AA retrofit aircraft on the way back. The Boeing 767-300s — yes, the same aircraft that recently had an uncontained engine failure in Chicago — are quite past their prime, but American Airlines recently went through the trouble of retrofitting them to squeeze out a few more years of life.

American Airlines currently has 36 Boeing 767-300s in its active fleet. The carrier is quickly paring down these older aircraft though, and by the end of 2016, plans to be down to just 31. You can currently find them on European routes like New York (JFK) to Zurich (ZRH), New York (JFK) to Milan (MXP), Miami (MIA) to Paris (CDG), Miami (MIA) to Milan (MXP) and Dallas (DFW) to Milan (MXP), as well as on certain domestic routes, like JFK-Miami (MIA).

Another American Airlines 767-300 on the tarmac in Chicago's ORD.
Another American Airlines 767-300 on the tarmac in Chicago (ORD).

If you find yourself scheduled on a flight operated by this particular 767 model, here’s a special look at the business and economy cabins so you can figure out where you might want to sit.

Business Class

The retrofitted 767-300 business-class cabin is arranged in a staggered 1-2-1 arrangement. There are seven rows, which, oddly enough, are numbered rows 2-8.

Each seat has a cubby next to the passenger’s shoulder. While this isn’t rated to store items during the flight, it seems the cabin crew doesn’t mind if you use it to hold small items like a phone, camera, passport or wallet. Underneath this cubby, you’ll find an international power plug, a USB plug and a one-prong headphone jack.

aa-american-767-300-business-class-cabin-from-front
The business-class cabin on American Airlines’ retrofit 767-300s.

Due to the staggered arrangement, the window seats alternate between being next to the window and next to the aisle. The seats closest to the window — 2A, 2J, 4A, 4J, 6A, 6J, 8A and 8J — provide the greatest amount of privacy. Note that seat 8A is blocked off as a pilot rest seat on international flights.

The window-side window seats provide a bit more privacy.
The seats closest to the window provide a bit more privacy.

While passengers with reduced mobility might find the window-side seats a bit hard to get in and out of, the aisle-side window seats — 3A, 3J, 5A, 5J, 7A and 7J — are easily accessible.

The aisle-side seats are easier to get in and out of.
The aisle-side seats are easier to get in and out of.

Thanks to the forward-facing staggered arrangement, the seats themselves are a bit narrow, however they do lie almost completely flat.

While seemingly not a full 180°, the seats recline into a nearly-flat bed.
While seemingly not a full 180°, the seats recline into a nearly flat bed.

There is no built-in in-flight entertainment system in this cabin, which, I’ve heard it said, was due to a power-supply issue although this being a cost-cutting measure seems more likely. No matter the reason, business-class passengers will have to rely on the personal in-flight entertainment tablets handed out by the crew or the old-school overhead IFE screens provided.

The IFE tablets are powered by a plug hidden away in a cubby in front of the passenger — the availability of this power plug somewhat complicates the “power supply issue” argument, but hey, I’m no electrical engineer.

There's no built-in in-flight entertainment screens in business class.
You won’t seen any built-in in-flight entertainment screens in business class.

The middle seats are great for traveling pairs, but don’t provide much separation for solo travelers sitting next to a random stranger.

Each seat has a rather difficult to operate tray table that releases from a slot under the seat controls. To release, you’ll need to push the “Table” button behind the seat controls and pull until it slides up and locks into place. To get it stored again though, it’s going to be quickest to just call a flight attendant as the process isn’t straight-forward, and the flight attendants should have mastered the art by now.

The rear middle seats shown with tray table extended.
A look at the rear middle seats, shown with tray table extended.

There’s really not a clear winner for best seats in this cabin — it’s going to be mostly based on preferences: companions may prefer to sit together in the middle, those wanting privacy will want the window-side window seats and those needing easy aisle access should snag an aisle-side seat, whether it’s on the window side or in the middle.

The only exception is for tall passengers. The majority of the seats don’t provide a lot of space when in the lie-flat position, so you’re going to want to snag a seat in row 2 to get the most legroom.

Economy 

While the business-class cabin on these aircraft was fully retrofitted, the economy-class cabin seems to have just gotten new cushions and headrests. It’s arranged in 2-3-2 layout and seats are just 17.2 inches wide. On the plus side, the aisles are the widest I’ve experienced on an American Airlines flight in quite a while, so the cabin arrangement itself really doesn’t feel as tight as it seems.

Note that there’s one small “mini-cabin” of Main Cabin Extra seats located in rows 12-13. Like the business-class cabin, these seats received updated overhead compartments.

Rows 12 and 13 make up a mini-cabin of Main Cabin Extra seating.
Rows 12 and 13 make up a mini-cabin of Main Cabin Extra seating.

While the bulkhead seats in row 12 are going to provide the most knee room, you won’t be able to stretch out your legs too much, and the seat might feel a bit more snug due to the tray table being stored in the armrest.

Plenty of knee room available in the bulkhead row 12.
There’s plenty of knee room available in the bulkhead row 12.

Most of the economy seats are in one large cabin in the back, which features traditional overhead compartments that don’t retract toward the ceiling. Translation: there’s a bit less room up top when getting in and out of these seats, so watch your head!

The main economy cabin, featuring a 2-3-2 arrangement.
The main economy cabin sports a 2-3-2 arrangement.

Row 20 is the bulkhead in the main economy cabin, so snag these seats if you need extra legroom but can’t get row 12.

Row 20 is the bulkhead row for the back economy cabin.
Row 20 is the bulkhead row for the back economy cabin.

Exit rows 20-21 are also a good choice if you need more legroom — just be wary of how uncomfortable those window-side armrests look.

Row 20-21 are both exit rows, providing a bit more legroom but a fixed armrest.
Row 20-21 are both exit rows, providing a bit more legroom — but a fixed armrest.

With the exception of rows 12-13 and 20-21, the economy cabin pitch has a standard 31 inches throughout.

Most economy seats have the typical 31 inches of legroom.
Most economy seats have the typical 31 inches of legroom.

Note that the backs of the seats in rows 41H and 41J were up against the back wall, so avoid these seats entirely if you want to recline. Interestingly, seats 41A and 41B don’t seem to have this problem.

Avoid 41H and 41J if you want any recline.
Avoid 41H and 41J if you want to recline your seat.

Each economy seat sports an overhead light, tray table and radio controls — but that’s about it. There’s no Wi-Fi, no in-flight entertainment screen, no individual air vent and most seats don’t have any form of power.

No in-flight entertainment or power are available.
No personal in-flight entertainment system or AC power plugs are available in economy.

Some seats do come with DC power plugs (similar to a car’s cigarette lighter plug), so make sure to bring a DC-to-AC adapter with you just in case if you need to stay powered up. The crew for this flight actually let me borrow one, as I accidentally packed my own adapter in my checked bag. Be aware that the power cycled on and off when I tried to use it though — I counted 10 off/on cycles within one minute so quickly gave up and unplugged my computer to avoid any possible battery damage.

I was appreciative of the DC-to-AC converter the cabin crew let me borrow, but it didn't work well.
I was appreciative of the DC-to-AC converter the cabin crew let me borrow, but it didn’t work well.

Bottom Line

The retrofit American Airlines 767-300 seems to have two different cabins from two different decades. In business class, you’ve got a decent lie-flat seat with power and personalized in-flight entertainment (even if it’s via a tablet), while the economy cabin is a throw-back to the 90s — you’re going to only have a set number of radio stations to choose from and an old-school overhead screen as provided entertainment, so bring your own. And don’t expect to hit the ground with fully charged batteries.

That said, the 767 a decent choice if you need slightly wider seats, are traveling as a couple or as a family using three seats. With only one middle seat per row, it’s nice that six of the seven seats either have aisle access or a window from which you can enjoy the view.

What do you think about the American Airlines 767-300 retrofit? Let us know in the comments, below.

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