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There’s a huge difference between a good airplane seat and a bad one — even in premium classes — and you have every right to feel ripped off if you’ve splurged only to spend your entire journey fidgeting like a tetchy baby on a public bus. Luckily, I’ve put in the hours in every existing American Airlines premium seat, and can save you from trapping yourself in a real stinker. The first thing to know is that AA’s first, business and premium economy seating options vary greatly by aircraft type. There are around 12 different kinds of premium seats on the carrier’s more than 930 aircraft, and no two seats are created equal. Here’s our guide to the best of the best, and the worst of the worst.
1. Reverse Herringbone
The best seat AA offers can be found on its Boeing 777-300 (77W) in business class and Airbus 321 (321T) in first. The seats are incredibly comfortable for sleeping, lie fully flat, are all forward-facing and provide just the right amount of privacy if you’re traveling solo — the center seats work well for couples, too. Additionally, there is a decent amount of personal storage space, while the in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen telescopes and is clear, bright and large.
Where to Find Them: On American Airlines’ flagship long-haul routes, such as: Dallas (DFW) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG); New York’s JFK, Miami (MIA), LAX and DFW to London (LHR); JFK and MIA to São Paulo (GRU); and MIA to LAX. Meanwhile, the A321T is mostly used from JFK to LAX and San Francisco (SFO), but you’ll sometimes see it filling in on shorter hops like from Boston (BOS) to JFK.
2. B/E Aerospace Super Diamond
These seats can be found on AA’s Boeing 787-9 as well as on its newly refurbished Boeing 777-200s. Like the reverse herringbone, they’re private and comfortable, with the one downside being they have a fixed IFE monitor and it’s very difficult to watch a movie while you’re fully reclined.
Where to Find Them: On flights from Dallas (DFW) to Madrid (MAD), Paris (CDG), São Paulo (GRU) and Seoul (ICN) — with more routes on the way. AA has three different versions of the 772, but unfortunately you can’t rely on it on any route. It does make frequent appearances between DFW and Tokyo (NRT) and Frankfurt (FRA), Miami (MIA) and Rio de Janeiro (GIG), as well as short hops between DFW and MIA.
3. New American First Class on the 777-300ER
The first-class cabin on the 777-300ER is another great AA product. With only eight seats, the space feels really intimate, but the seat itself lacks any real form of privacy. The service, while better than in business class, also doesn’t warrant spending an additional several thousand dollars. All first-class seats on American Airlines do have a unique feature that allows you to swivel the seat to face the window and create a miniature office.
Where to Find Them: On American Airlines’ flagship long-haul routes, such as: Dallas (DFW) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG); New York’s JFK, Miami (MIA), LAX and DFW to London (LHR); JFK and MIA to São Paulo (GRU); and MIA to LAX.
4. Old American First Class 777-200
Just like on the new 777-300ERs, this 777-200 first-class seat is not very private. That being said, it does go fully flat, swivels to create an office-in-the-sky effect and comes with with direct-aisle access in a 1-2-1 configuration. Note that AA is currently in the process of removing these seats in favor of the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond business-class seat listed above.
Where to Find Them: American Airlines is supposed to complete its 772 retrofit project in the second quarter, so these are going to be pretty rare.
5. A330 Envoy Suite (Old US Airways Business Class)
American Airlines operates the Envoy Suite on the A330-200 and A330-300. These seats go fully flat, are very roomy, have some storage space and feature a decent IFE system — and yet the product feels a bit dated. On the A330-200/300 in business class, you can get a cappuccino or latte, which is only otherwise offered to first-class passengers aboard the 777-300ER and A321 Transcontinental.
Where to Find Them: True to its roots, these aircraft fly many routes out of old US Airways hubs — Charlotte (CLT) and Philadelphia (PHL) — including flights to London (LHR), Barcelona (BCN), Madrid (MAD), Dublin (DUB), Frankfurt (FRA), Rome (FCO), Manchester (MAN), Venice (VCE), Munich (MUC) and Paris (CDG).
6. 767-300 New Business Class
The seats aboard the 767-300 go fully flat, but it feels like you’re very close to the floor when fully reclined. Every seat has direct-aisle access, there’s a decent amount of personal storage space and each comes with two universal power outlets. The one issue with this product is that there’s no personal IFE system. On international legs, flight attendants come through the cabin with Samsung tablets that must be plugged into one of your outlets. If you happen to be flying this plane domestically, though, you won’t get one.
Where to Find Them: Domestically, between Dallas (DFW) and Honolulu (HNL), Miami (MIA) and Chicago (ORD) and from MIA to New York’s JFK and Chicago (ORD). Internationally, between ORD and Dublin (DUB), Paris (CDG) and Rome (FCO) and JFK to Madrid (MAD), CDG, Milan (MXP) and Zurich (ZRH).
7. Zodiac Business Class
The Zodiac business-class seat can be found aboard select 777-200 aircraft and on all 787-8s. The seats are set up in a 1-2-1 configuration that alternates between forward- and rear-facing rows, giving you a fair amount of privacy and a large TV screen. The connected-pair seats are known to physically rock, as reported by TPG contributor Kevin Song. They’re also very narrow at just 22 inches wide and have earned the nickname, “coffin class.”
Where to Find Them: These aircraft cross both oceans on routes like Dallas (DFW) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Shanghai (PVG); DFW to Beijing (PEK); Chicago (ORD) to London (LHR) and Barcelona (BCN).
8. 757-200, A321T Narrow-Body, Lie-Flat Business Class
On domestic flights, the new lie-flat business class on the 757-200 and A321 Transcontinental is a great product. Internationally, however, I would look for other options. The seats are set up in a 2-2 configuration and, as implied by the name, lie fully flat. There’s not much personal storage, though, and privacy is minimal. On the A321, there is a personal IFE system at each seat, whereas on the 757-200, AA opted to save money and go with the Samsung tablet routine, similar to what the 767-300 offers.
Where to Find Them: For international routes, the 757-200 flies from Philadelphia (PHL) to Glasgow (GLA) and Lisbon (LIS). The A321T is mostly used from JFK to LAX and San Francisco (SFO), but you’ll sometimes see it filling in on shorter hops like Boston (BOS) to JFK.
9. Premium Economy
The newest cabin American Airlines flies is premium economy, which can currently only be found aboard the 787-9. Note that up until May 4, Executive Platinum and Platinum Elite members could select these seats for free in advance when traveling on economy tickets — premium economy is now its own fare class. The seats are wide, they offer foot support, the TV pivots and every seat comes with an outlet and a USB port. Be sure to grab one in the bulkhead, as those seats come with real leg rests. AA has plans to expand these seats to more planes in the near future.
Where to Find Them: The 787-9s are currently found on flights from Dallas (DFW) to Madrid (MAD), Paris (CDG), São Paulo (GRU) and Seoul (ICN) — with more routes on the way.
10. New Domestic First Class
American’s new domestic first-class seat leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn’t have any leg support, and the level of recline leaves you wishing for just a little more. Some of the new seats being installed have individual IFE screens, although not all of them do. Every seat does come with a universal power outlet and USB port. While not the best seat, it certainly isn’t the worst way to fly for two to six hours.
Where to Find Them: Most domestic routes — excluding those to or from the old US Airways hubs of Charlotte (CLT), Philadelphia (PHL) and Phoenix (PHX).
11. Old Domestic First Class
There’s no way around it: American’s old domestic first-class seats are dated, showing their age with every flight they take. They’re comfortable when reclined but lack modern amenities like USB ports, and only on a select few will you find personal entertainment.
Where to Find Them: Most domestic routes to or from the old US Airways hubs of Charlotte (CLT), Philadelphia (PHL) and Phoenix (PHX).
12. 777-200, 757-200 Angle-Flat Business Class
Hands down the absolute worst premium product American Airlines flies is its angle-flat business class. On the 777-200, the cabin is configured in a 2-3-2 set up, while it’s 2-2 on the 757-200. The seat is nearly impossible to sleep on, the IFE has the tiniest screen and the seat has absolutely no personal storage space. AA knows this is a bad seat, too, which is why it’s thankfully being phased out as quickly as possible.
Where to Find Them: Thankfully, American Airlines is completing its retrofit of the 777-200s and 757-200s by the end of June. Sadly, not all aircraft are getting the update, so you might still stumble across one of these outdated products before they’re all retired.
There are definitely more good options than bad options when you fly on American Airlines in first, business or premium economy, but if you’re traveling long distances, take it from me and do everything you can to avoid flying business class aboard a 777-200 or 757-200 with the old angle-flat configuration.
Do you disagree or agree with our rankings? Sound off, below.
Featured image by the author.
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