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TO THE POINT: American Airlines’ 787-9 business class establishes itself as a finalist for the best in the fleet. The pros: a lie-flat seat, top-notch Dreamliner windows and an excellent entertainment system. The cons: lack of foot room for taller passengers in lie-flat mode, and no dividers between the middle seats.
On October 6, American Airlines launched its brand new 787-9 Dreamliner on flights between Dallas (DFW) and Los Angeles (LAX). In addition to a new Premium Economy cabin, AA also introduced another new business-class seat with this aircraft. Wanting to see if it had turned out better than the business-class seats on AA’s 787-8, I jumped at the chance to test it out.
Although there are 30 seats in this business-class cabin, I figured my luck of getting an upgrade on this highly sought after plane were slim-to-none, so I paid a premium to book a domestic first-class ticket from Los Angeles (LAX) to Chicago (ORD) via Dallas (DFW). Sure enough, my hunch was accurate and the cabin was full before the Executive Platinum upgrade window had even opened.
Booked just two weeks in advance, the cost of my one-way first-class fare was $478 — which I charged to my Chase Sapphire Reserve so I’d earn 3x points on travel. You can also check out the cabin yourself for as little as $373 nonstop from LAX to DFW, although you only have until November 3 to try the product out on this route before the aircraft switches to international service.
Cabin and Seat
Unfortunately, I was unable to board until after the pre-boarding passengers, and two of them were sitting in the middle of the business-class cabin. Since I wasn’t able to get a shot of the empty cabin, here’s one from American Airlines so you can get a better idea.
Each seat offers direct aisle access. The 1-2-1 design means that the cabin is great for those who love sitting by the window without giving up aisle access, and for couples who want to sit together in the middle seats.
It’s worth noting that American Airlines decided to forego installing the divider that you’d normally expect to find between the middle seats. Without it, the middle seats can feel a bit intimate, which can be awkward if you don’t know the person sitting next to you.
Frankly, AA’s new B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seats rock (metaphorically speaking, not in the literal way the 787-8 business-class seats do). Thankfully, this is the seat that will be used going forward — including on future retrofits of the 777-200 and on American Airlines’ eventual A350s.
Since this was a domestic route, there were no special amenities provided — except for a small plastic-wrapped blanket.
On the 787-9, both the seats and windows offer a wide range of settings. The seat is easily adjusted via a dedicated control panel located next to the seat. Luckily, there were enough settings without it being unnecessarily complicated, unlike some of the other seats I’ve experienced.
The windows are one of the most incredible features of this aircraft. Unlike other 787 Dreamliners I have flown on, these windows go completely black at their darkest setting, making it nearly impossible to see outside, even in daylight. Each business-class window seat gets two windows except for rows 5 and 8, which only have one. The controls for the pair of windows are linked, so dimming one will also dim the other.
To the side of each seat, there are a couple of small storage cubbies. The rear one closes fully, so the cubby can technically be used for storage during flight. This cubby is best for holding small but important items like your phone, passport or wallet.
The forward cubby includes a universal power port, USB connection and a three-pronged headphone plug (more about that later). But, since this compartment doesn’t fasten, there’s a warning that it can’t be used for storage during flight. However, once closed, the cabin crew really isn’t going to be able to tell if you left your phone in there charging.
Quite a few passengers struggled with the seat belts, requiring assistance from the cabin crew, so let me briefly explain how they work. There’s a shoulder and lap belt, so the first thing you need to do is connect the lap belt, which is more like the middle seat of a car’s seat belt than one you’d find on an airplane. Once the lap belt is set, pull the shoulder belt down and loop it into the connected lap belt. If you have any trouble, make sure that you have the shoulder belt turned the right way, as it won’t connect if the belt is backwards.
Soon it was time to test out the seat in lie-flat mode. The main problem I found is that there isn’t a ton of legroom — at 5′ 11″ I used up all of the space in the footwell, so taller passengers are either going to have to fold their knees while they sleep or not lie completely flat.
While the view from the front of the cabin makes the seats seem quite exposed, they’re actually designed to have quite a bit of privacy. Every seat faces forward — so you won’t be looking across the aisle at another passenger like you’d have to on AA’s 787-8s — and the designers used the “shell” of the seats to effectively create mini-pods.
On this aircraft, there’s just one forward bathroom and two additional bathrooms that are behind the business-class cabin. For now, the rear bathrooms are shared with the economy cabin, but once the premium economy cabin is sold separately, it’ll be interesting to see if these rear bathrooms are shared with those passengers or curtained off for business class. Three bathrooms shared between the 51 seats in business and premium economy should be fine though.
Food and Beverage
For such a short flight, the cabin crew offered a surprisingly comprehensive food and beverage service. First, flight attendants came through during the boarding process to offer a welcome beverage. As we taxied down the runway, they came around again to take — or confirm — lunch orders, working through the cabin until immediately before takeoff and resuming shortly after passing 10,000 feet. When reaching my seat, the flight attendant greeted me by name and confirmed my pre-order choice, saying,”that is the meal that will be served.”
Her direct style came across a bit strangely, but I soon found out why. The man behind me — in the last row of business class — didn’t receive a meal option, and was given the lentil chili meal. He was understandably upset, complaining that AA should provide both options “for those of us who paid for first class.” I noticed he decided to skip the meal altogether.
By 34 minutes into the flight, the cabin crew had completed the first in-flight beverage service — drinks were served with slightly warm mixed nuts.
After the standard warm-towel service, lunch was served about an hour after takeoff. Despite the not-quite-appealing presentation of the lentil chili, I found it to be surprisingly delicious. The salad was a nice, fresh way to start the meal and the perfectly-baked roll complemented it nicely.
As I’d experienced in premium economy, the experienced cabin crew seemed to be hand-picked and/or specially trained about the new 787-9 Dreamliner. Throughout the boarding process, flight attendants spoke with interested passengers one-on-one about the features of the plane and the international destinations it would soon be traveling to. Unlike any other domestic first-class flight I’ve experienced, there was a sense of excitement in the cabin, probably since most passengers were pleasantly surprised by the excellent seat they’d lucked into on this flight.
Service throughout the entire flight was prompt and courteous, with flight attendants checking in multiple times to ensure there was nothing they could get for me. I didn’t test out the flight attendant call button, as I never found myself with an excuse to do so.
The only time the service fell flat was the lunch service incident for the passenger behind me that I described earlier. While lunch choices are inevitably going to run out, the flight attendant could’ve done a better job of handling the limited-option situation.
Prominently featured at each seat is a sizable in-flight entertainment screen. The screens were so large, crisp and stocked with enough options to keep anyone occupied that most passengers seemed to be captivated for the length of the flight. Although I didn’t count to confirm, American Airlines’ stats about the IFE system are pretty impressive: 300 movies (including nearly 50 new releases), 300 TV shows, 700+ music selections (including 18 radio channels), 20 games and international live TV are all available.
The seat-side cubby included an IFE remote and a headphone jack. While no headphones were provided for this flight, I was successfully able to use my own earbuds. Since the three-pronged plug is so far forward in the seat, my standard-length headphones were quite stretched, especially when I reclined a bit. Hopefully American Airlines takes this into consideration when sourcing the IFE headphones for international flights on this aircraft.
Panasonic Wi-Fi was available on the flight. The Wi-Fi options were more suited for an international flight rather than a three-hour one: $12 for two hours, $17 for four hours and $19 for the duration of the flight.
Hands down, this was an excellent flight with an excellent business-class product. After my disappointing experience flying in business class in the carrier’s most-recent product (787-8), I was pleasantly surprised how American Airlines got this one right. The seats and in-flight entertainment are excellent, the cabin is large and both the service and the food were solid on this domestic flight.
That being said, it’s confusing how AA stopped just short of making this product even better, especially the fact that it didn’t add the retractable dividers to go between the middle seats, which would help provide an even-greater sense of privacy for those not seated next to someone they know. Hopefully it’s not too late for AA to install this on future aircraft, but even if this feature isn’t added, I’d still rank the current product as one of the best in American Airlines’ fleet.
Have you flown AA’s new 787-9 Dreamliner?
Featured image and all other photos courtesy of the author, unless otherwise noted.
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