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A Tour of American Airlines’ New 777-200 Retrofit

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On the morning of our flight, when my wife and fellow TPG contributor, Katie, logged into her American Airlines app to check the seat map for our transatlantic flight, she was puzzled to find that the cabin arrangement had completely changed. Rather than the 2-5-2 arrangement with no Main Cabin Extra we had seen the night before, suddenly we were looking at a 3-4-3 configuration with a wide-open Main Cabin Extra section.

This was no ordinary equipment change. We were still going to be on an American Airlines 777-200 for our flight from Dallas (DFW) to Frankfurt (FRA), but the interior was going to be completely different. Katie had reviewed the previous arrangement of American Airlines’ 777-200 back in January, so we knew what we were getting ourselves into. We had even brought a fax cable to see if we could really send a fax from our seat (sorry Krista, we’ll try again next time).

Katie's last flight on the 777-200 had been on the original arrangement of the aircraft.
Katie’s last flight on the 777-200 had been on the original arrangement of the aircraft.

We discovered this aircraft (N778AN) had just been retrofitted, and we happened to be booked on the second revenue flight after this had taken place. Since we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check it out, we contacted American Airlines to see if we could arrange to pre-board and have a look at the new arrangement.

Full disclosure: We worked with American Airlines to arrange for this tour before taking a regularly scheduled flight. Since the cabin crew was aware of our special clearance and thus could have adjusted their in-flight service, we aren’t commenting on the service of this flight — just providing an unbiased review of the hard product. Remember that The Points Guy doesn’t receive free travel from airlines, and we avoid giving advanced notice to airlines before flight reviews whenever possible.

The New Retrofit

Note that this is a new retrofit for the American Airlines 777-200. While the carrier originally had plans for a 777-200 retrofit featuring Zodiac Aerospace business-class seats, Zodiac Aerospace couldn’t manage to deliver the new seats on time, so the airline canceled the order and chose B/E Aerospace for its new business-class seat installations instead. The move was a major win for business-class travelers, as the B/E Aerospace seats clearly trump the Zodiac ones.

On the other retrofit, the forward economy cabin is arranged in a 3-3-3 layout, while the rear economy cabin is in a 3-4-3 configuration. However, this version of the 777-200 retrofit has 3-4-3 economy class arrangement throughout, a big bummer for those in Main Cabin Extra, since passengers are being downgraded from an 18.5-inch wide seat to just a 17-inch wide seat.

Business Class

The new 777-200 retrofit business class is arranged in a 1-2-1 layout. There are five rows in the forward cabin (to the left as you board the aircraft) and four rows in the rear cabin. The crew were still preparing the forward cabin for the flight — we were already delayed — so the photos below are just of the rear business-class cabin.

Stepping in the business-class cabin and seeing the B/E Aerospace seats brought back warm memories. It was just two weeks ago that I’d had the chance to test this seat out on AA’s new 787-9 Dreamliner. From all the details I checked, these seats had the same features — and limitations — that I’d noted in my 787-9 review.

Unfortunately for solo flyers, American Airlines didn’t get the memo to install the optional divider between the middle seats, so it’s not going to feel as private as it could be.

Middle seats in business class on the 777-200 new retrofit.
Middle seats in business class on the new 777-200 retrofit.

Although the 777-200 lacks the stunning windows of the 787-9, the window seats seem to be the winner on this aircraft, with direct-aisle access and more privacy than the middle seats.

The window seats in the rear business class cabin.
Window seats in the rear business-class cabin.

These seats are well-designed to provide a cocoon-like feel. Once seated, you’re barely going to see any other passengers, which provides a much better sense of privacy compared to the business-class cabins on the 787-800 and the “other” 777-200 retrofit.

Window business class seats from the rear.
Window business-class seats, as seen from the rear.

Each seat has also features a stunning, large and bright in-flight entertainment screen. Complemented by American Airlines’ well-stocked on-demand IFE system, it’ll be easy to get lost in a movie or TV series on this flight.

Economy

The new 777-200 retrofit economy class is arranged 3-4-3 throughout, with the exception of four 2-4-2 rows (see below for more details). There are two economy cabins: the forward cabin consists of 12-13 rows — depending on the side — while the rear cabin has 13-15 rows. There are three lavatories located between the two sections and two more in the back of the aircraft.

My first thought after sitting down in one of these seats was that this was going to be a tight fit. Unlike the other 777-200 retrofit and 777-300ER, all economy seats on this version are just 17 inches wide. With a 38-inch waist, my hips touched both armrests while seated, which would leave very little room to adjust my position if I was on a full flight.

American Airlines' brand new — but narrow — 777-200 economy seats.
American Airlines’ brand new — but narrow — 777-200 economy seats.

Row 13 is the front row of the forward economy cabin and offers an impressive amount of legroom. However, as the tray table is located in the armrest, it’s going to be an even tighter squeeze than the other seats. Row 13 also features mounts for four bassinets — the only mounts in the entire economy cabin — so be aware that you might end up having some especially young neighbors.

Row 13 is the first row of the forward economy cabin.
Row 13 is the first row in the forward economy cabin.

Interestingly, the window seats of row 13 only have two seats each, so the combination of extra legroom and a missing seat make these especially appealing. The missing seats also create two super-legroom seats at 14C and 14J, which I sat in for this flight. While the extra legroom was nice, it’s worth noting that your outside knee might also end up with a bruise from the service cart, so be careful!

For tall folks who aren’t able to grab seats in row 13, row 26, the bulkhead / exit row for the rear economy cabin, is a suitable substitute. While it doesn’t seem to have quite as much legroom as row 13, your knees will have plenty of space.

Row 26 is the bulkhead of the rear economy cabin.
Row 26 is the bulkhead of the rear economy cabin.

That being said, there are two lavatories located ahead of seats 26 J-L but only one ahead of 26 A-C. Since there isn’t a galley to allow passengers to pass from one side to the other, the 26 A-C side is often backed up with passengers waiting in line for the sole bathroom — if you’re considering seats D-H in row 26, note that impatient passengers might try to switch to the other side of the cabin and in doing so, invade your legroom space.

If you’re considering the exit row, don’t expect to look out the window from seats 26A and 26L. While the slide is going to keep you from stretching out too much in these seats, it’s not as restrictive as it can be on other arrangements.

The exit row 26 is another good choice for legroom.
Exit row 26 is another good choice for extra legroom.

As is the case on all American Airlines flights, AAdvantage Platinum and Executive Platinum members can reserve Main Cabin Extra (MCE) seats at booking. AAdvantage Gold members pay 50% at booking or can snag any remaining MCE seats for an extra free at check-in. For general members, the price of MCE seats will vary by the route.

On this new retrofit, non-bulkhead MCE seats offer five extra inches of legroom, which means you’ll have 36-37 inches of pitch, enough room for almost anyone’s knees to fit comfortably.

Main Cabin Extra legroom.
Legroom in Main Cabin Extra seats.

However, standard economy seats still only offer 31-32 inches of pitch. While this is pretty standard on international flights, the combo of a tight width and less-than-roomy pitch might be especially uncomfortable.

Standard economy legroom.
Legroom in standard economy seats.

One thing that’s especially noticeable about these seats is their significant recline. The seats also slide forward when in this position, giving you the feeling of having a bit more recline while also giving more legroom to the person sitting behind you.

Main Cabin Extra seat recline.
Main Cabin Extra seat recline.

The original 777-200 seating arrangement of 2-5-2 is great for traveling couples. While this retrofit eliminated most two-seat pairings, there are still nine pairs on this arrangement. Here are some other things to note:

  • For some reason, the first row of economy (13) has only two seats on either side.
  • Instead of having a second bathroom on the A-C side of the plane, American Airlines has a row (25) of two seats.
  • The last three rows of the plane (36-38) have two-seat pairings on both sides.
  • Row 38 A/C and J/L are the only seats on the plane with limited recline.
There are nine sets of two-person seats on this aircraft.
There are nine sets of two-person seats on this aircraft.

Of all of the two-seat pairings, we’d probably pick either row 13 or 36. Row 13 provides more legroom, but the bulkhead tray tables are a bit flimsy, as in they’re not great for working on a laptop. Row 36, on the other hand, provides less legroom but feels more spacious because of the missing seat.

Row 36 is the first row of 2-4-2.
Row 36 is the first row of 2-4-2.

American Airlines seems to be well aware that an entertained passenger is a content passenger. In this retrofit, the carrier dumped the awful entertainment system it had installed on the original 777-200 and replaced it with a top-notch touch-screen with a well-stocked in-flight entertainment system that’s become a staple across the fleet.

One huge failing on this arrangement is that the screens are fixed in place. So, if the passenger in front of your reclines his or her seat, you’re going to have a hard time seeing the screen. As many other long-haul aircraft have adjustable screens, this is really a puzzling error by American Airlines.

American Airlines installed its top-notch in-flight entertainment system on this aircraft.
American Airlines installed its top-notch in-flight entertainment system on this aircraft.

For those of us who love the view from 38,000 feet, it’s a horrible feeling to arrive at your seat and find it’s missing a window. To avoid this disappointment, avoid sitting in row 18.

Don't pick row 18 if you want a window.
Don’t pick row 18 if you want a view out the window.

Bottom Line

It’s a sign of the times that this retrofit combines American Airlines’ best business-class seat with its tightest economy seating arrangement. In short, this is an aircraft where you definitely want to use a systemwide upgrade.

In economy, the retrofit might be a slight downgrade over the original arrangement. While the in-flight entertainment system is a major upgrade on the retrofit, there are probably many passengers who would give up the upgraded IFE system for the wider seat and two-seat pairings at the windows. In general, I’d recommend avoiding this aircraft if you’re going to be flying in economy.

In business class, the retrofit is far-and-away a major upgrade from both the original and “other” retrofit. If you’re flying up front, this is definitely an aircraft arrangement to try to get.

Have you flown on AA’s 777-200? If so, which one?

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