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Update 7/9/2017: Since writing, another American Airlines 777-200 (registration: N758AN) has started the retrofit process. The last retrofit should be completed in the next few weeks. This means that the lie-flat retrofit will be completed in July, not by the end of June — as originally reported.

As of today, the AA 777-200 fleet consists of: 1 Version 1, 13 Version 2s, 28 Version 3s, 1 Version 4 and 4 in the shop for retrofitting.


As we’ve discussed, American Airlines has a rather inconsistent fleet. While it boasts some of the best business-class seats in the skies, it also has a few duds still on its older aircraft. For travelers who aren’t up to date on the latest iteration of the AA fleet, it can be a gamble to book a premium-cabin AA flight.

Even on the same type of aircraft, you can have huge differences. With the new premium economy-equipped 777-200 beginning service last Saturday, American Airlines now has four different versions of just its Boeing 777-200:

An older cabin, complete with a video projector.
The almost-extinct 777-200 economy cabin.

Version 1: This is AA’s original 777-200 from the 1990s — and it hasn’t been updated since. You’ll even still find fax plugs in the armrests. Thankfully, there are just two of these left, and they should be retrofit very soon. This version includes an old lie-flat first class product, angle-flat business class seats and old technology throughout. It’s really only good for those looking for more room in economy, as there are 9 seats wide vs. 10 seats wide on most of AA’s other 777s. Here’s a review of the almost-extinct economy section.

Version 2: This version is a significant improvement from V1, but it’s not the best that AA has to offer. The business-class seats are installed in pairs and not anchored right, causing them to shift when your neighbor moves. The front economy cabin (including Main Cabin Extra seats and standard seats) seats are arranged 3-3-3, but the back cabin is squeezed in 10-wide. Here’s a review of the business-class product.

Business class middle seats on the 777-200 new retrofit.
Business class middle seats on the 777-200 V3 retrofit.

Version 3: Moving from V2 to V3, we have significant improvements on the business-class seat (B/E Aerospace) — but the 9-wide seating in parts of economy is replaced with 10-wide seating throughout economy. This is a cramped economy cabin no matter where you’re seated. Here’s a full aircraft tour.

Version 4: There’s just one of these so far, which we’ll discuss further below.

Across these four versions, there are three different business-class seats installed:

While you might get very unlucky and end up on one of the last two aircraft with angle-flat business-class seats, these are supposed to be fully phased out soon. This leaves two lie-flat options: Zodiac and B/E Aerospace. One rocks literally (Zodiac) and one rocks figuratively (B/E Aerospace). You’re definitely going to want to book the B/E Aerospace option, if you have the choice.

However, AA doesn’t make it easy to tell the difference. To the casual traveler, both V2 and V3 seats are going to look similar on the AA seat map: a 1-2-1 arrangement. For those of us in the know, the easiest way of telling the two apart has been to look at the number of rows: 12 rows on the sub-par Zodiac option and 10 rows on the B/E Aerospace option. That is, until now.

As mentioned before, AA just brought a 777-200 back into service after a premium economy retrofit. Before the retrofit, American Airlines had the Zodiac business-class seats on this aircraft (N781AN). As these Zodiac seats have been discontinued due to supply issues, I expected the seats to be swapped out for the better B/E Aerospace business-class seats during this retrofit. Sadly, that didn’t happen; the rocking chairs remain on this aircraft.

But, AA still changed the business-class cabin on this retrofit. To fit the premium economy cabin, the business-class cabin was shrunk from 12 rows to 10 rows — pulling eight business-class seats from the aircraft.

Look for the 2-4-2 front economy cabin (premium economy seats) to identify AA
Look for the 2-4-2 front economy cabin (premium economy seats) to identify the newest version (V4) of AA’s 777-200.

Now, it’s a bit harder than just seeing if there are 12 or 10 rows when figuring out which aircraft type you’re looking at. Here’s a cheat sheet, showing the number of rows for each cabin across the different versions:

Row numbers V1 V2 V3 V4
First Class 1-4 N/A N/A N/A
Business Class 8-13
Angle-flat
1-12
Sub-par
1-10
Excellent
1-10
Sub-par
Premium Economy n/a n/a n/a 13-15
Main Cabin Extra 20, 30-31
9-wide
13-17, 26
9-wide
13-17, 26
10-wide
17-20, 26-29
10-wide
Economy 21-27, 31-45
9-wide
18-22, 27-40
9 or 10-wide
18-22, 27-40
10-wide
21-25, 30-40
10-wide

What does this all mean?

If you’re a top-tier Executive Platinum elite, I’d hesitate to use one of your four systemwide upgrades on the V4 version of the 777-200 — at least until December 15. If I saw a 10-row business-class cabin with 8-wide seating in rows 13-15, I’d snag the premium economy seating for free (marked as Main Cabin Extra) and save the systemwide for a better option.

However, if it’s a 10-row business-class cabin with all 10-wide seating in economy (V3), I’d apply the SWU in a heartbeat — as that’d upgrade me from 17-inch-wide economy seats to one of the best business-class seats in the fleet. That said, I fly a lot of long-haul flights and can be selective about where I try to apply my SWUs. If you only do a few long-haul flights, you might as well waitlist to upgrade on any version of the 777-200.

For Platinum and Platinum Pro elites, the V4 of the 777-200s with premium economy opens a nice sweet spot. Until December 15, you can reserve these premium economy seats for free — as they are being treated as Main Cabin Extra. On all of the other 777-200 aircraft, the MCE seats are going to be similar.

For Gold elites, it’s going to be worth the Main Cabin Extra price to snag a premium economy seat on the newly retrofitted 777-200s when booking your ticket. Look for any 777-200 seat maps with 8-wide seating on rows 13-15. While it might be tough to pay 50% of the standard MCE price to reserve these at booking, the step up in service and better seat should be worth the price. Unless you get lucky, there’s not likely going to be any of these premium economy seats available at check-in, when Gold elites can select any MCE seat for free.

For non-elites, the differences between these aircraft are still important. While the 9-across V1 aircraft are almost entirely gone, the V2 has some economy seats still 9-wide. If you’re considering paying the fee to reserve a Main Cabin Extra seat, it pays to know what you’re getting. If there are eight seats across in a row on a 777-200 (rows 13-15), these are the premium economy seats of the V4. If these seats are priced similar to the MCE seats in rows 17-20, you’re definitely going to want to get seats in rows 13-15 instead.

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