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A solid hard product and hard-working flight attendants led to a pleasant business-class experience aboard AA’s new 787-9 Dreamliner from Dallas to São Paulo. The Pros: Good service, ample storage and plenty of privacy at window seats. The Cons: A tight footwell and tray tables that don’t completely fold away.
I needed to fly to São Paulo, Brazil, for a conference and was excited to see that American Airlines was operating its 787-9 from Dallas (DFW) to the city’s main international airport, Guarulhos (GRU). In addition to standard Main Cabin economy seating, the carrier’s 787-9 also has Main Cabin Extra, a new Premium Economy cabin and new B/E Aerospace “Super Diamond” business-class seats. I’d recently experienced these new business-class seats on AA’s 777-200 from Dallas to Miami (MIA), but was excited to give them a try on an international route. Here’s what it was like to fly in business class on American’s 787-9 from DFW to GRU.
Booking and Check-in
About a month before departure, I booked a $1,218 round-trip economy ticket from Austin (AUS) to GRU via DFW using my Citi Prestige Card, which gave me excellent travel protection benefits, like trip delay protection that kicks in after just three hours.
Since I was traveling for work, I didn’t consider using miles to book my flight. A one-way award ticket would have cost 50,000 Alaska miles if I’d booked before the end of 2017, 57,500 AAdvantage miles or 60,000 JAL miles. Note that while Alaska and American don’t give a round-trip discount, JAL charges just 80,000 miles round-trip. All three carriers are SPG transfer partners as well.
After booking online, I called the AAdvantage Executive Platinum desk to be added to the systemwide upgrade list for both the outbound and return. Both of these upgrades went through, with my outbound clearing just 25 hours before departure.
I checked in by using a self-tag check-in kiosk since the Priority line had a substantial wait. After pulling up my reservation, a message on the kiosk said to get assistance from an agent, who entered my Brazil visa expiration date before I was allowed to continue with the rest of the check-in process.
Lounge and Boarding
I visited the DFW Terminal D Admirals Club before this flight and went straight to the cubicle desk area so I could get some work done. Despite the lounge being relatively empty, I failed to find any clean desks — all the open spots had cups or plates that had been left behind by previous passengers.
I quickly cleared off a desk and got to work. The Wi-Fi in the lounge was reasonable, with speeds of 6.42Mbps download and 5.4Mbps upload.
As an American Airlines Executive Platinum elite traveling on an international itinerary, I had access to International First Class dining, the predecessor to Flagship First Dining which will be coming to DFW sometime in 2018, upgrading the food options but also limiting access. It seems that this will be a needed change, though, as I found the International First Class dining room to be surprisingly crowded.
I grabbed the second-to-last table available and surveyed the buffet, which contained fresh fruit, delicious cranberry white chocolate muffins, three types of salads with toppings and dressings, one entrée — braised beef with rice and green beans — BLT sandwiches, small dessert tarts, deli meats and cheeses and two kinds of soup. Champagne, wine and water were available in the dining room, although the servers could also obtain other beverages from the bar.
As our boarding time approached, I watched as the crew slowly arrived at the gate and trickled onto the plane, with some even arriving after boarding was scheduled to begin. By the time it was 10 minutes past the originally scheduled time, we had only gotten as far as the end of the jetway, where we were told to wait as the crew was still being briefed. From what I could tell, they seemed to be frantically preparing the aircraft, still attempting to settle in once we were finally allowed to board.
Headphones were brought to each of us during boarding, but otherwise the seats were already prepped with amenity kits, a water bottle, a comforter and a pillow.
Cabin and Seat
AA’s 787-9 business-class cabin is arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration with eight rows along the windows and seven rows in the middle section. I chose the only window seat remaining when my upgrade cleared, 6L. The seats were the new, dark gray Super Diamond models by B/E Aerospace.
Despite a full business-class cabin, there was plenty of storage space as most seats had their own overhead compartment. Note that the window overhead compartments for rows 1, 2 and 3 are more shallow, while the middle ones for these rows are reserved for emergency equipment.
I found the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seat to be comfortable, with 21.5 inches between the armrests and 40.5 inches between the seatback and the IFE (in-flight entertainment) screen. The aisle armrest could be raised to a variety of heights, and there’s a chest strap that needs to be worn for take-off and landing.
There are plenty of compartments around the seat, including a 9-inch deep compartment in the aisle armrest that easily held my personal water bottle as well as the one that was provided.
There are two compartments beneath the window-side counter — one is two inches deep while the other is four inches deep. You’ll also find a USB outlet, power outlet, headphone jack and IFE control. I loved being able to charge my small electronics without having them out on the counter.
Two final compartments are located on the window side of the foot well — one of these easily held my laptop while the other was perfect for my laptop charger. While neither are supposed to be used during take-off and landing, I’ve found that these types of restrictions are generally ignored.
The counter space at each seat was substantial and there was plenty of room to set my laptop on the window-side section during meal service.
The outer seats felt relatively private. Whether I was relaxing or getting ready to sleep, I couldn’t easily see the other passengers around me.
The center seats, on the other hand, were much less private since AA decided to not install partitions between them.
Even in lie-flat mode, I felt like this seat was slightly less lie-flat than AA’s 777-300ER business-class seat. From my measurements, the lie-flat bed could hold someone 6’4″ tall with their head and feet touching the ends.
Space was noticeably constricted in the footwell and table areas when the seat was in lie-flat mode. Since the retracting table doesn’t completely fold away, it could make sleeping on your side uncomfortable.
The Dreamliner’s dimming windows were controllable in pairs for each seat — so when I changed the setting on one of my windows, the level of darkness changed for both. If you like windows, note that rows 5 and 8 only have one, while all other business-class window seats have two. These also seemed to be the second-generation windows, as they could become very dark.
There was one bathroom at the front of the cabin and a set of two between the business-class cabin and the premium economy cabin, all of which were modern and featured touchless toilets and sinks. Based on how curtains were configured, it seems AA wanted all business-class passengers to use the single bathroom at the front of the cabin. However, this bathroom was very tight and forced passengers sitting on the right side of the plane to walk through the forward galley that was usually filled with crew members. The bathroom on the right side of the cabin between business class and premium economy was much larger. None of them featured any amenities.
AA’s Cole Haan amenity kit was waiting at each business-class seat when we boarded. Inside were socks, an updated eye mask, ear plugs, a dental kit with a toothbrush and toothpaste, a pen, headphone covers, tissues and a bag containing mouthwash, lip gloss and hand lotion.
A packaged comforter blanket and full-size pillow with cloth pillow case were also waiting at each seat. During the flight, the temperature in the plane only ranged between 72 and 77 degrees, so I merely used the comforter as a mattress pad. Although AA will provide slippers on its business-class flights to Asia, none were provided this time around.
The IFE featured a large screen with AA’s normal, extensive selection of newly released movies, current TV series, a few live TV stations and a plethora of audio choices, as well as classical movies and TV shows. I spent most of my IFE time watching the Voyager live map software though.
Bose headphones were distributed to each business-class passenger shortly before boarding concluded. The case given to me looked like something had been spilled on it, but at least it wasn’t sticky.
Upon opening the headphone case, I found that the left ear had exposed cables, but they still worked as expected, with surprisingly good noise-cancelling capabilities. They were collected about 50 minutes before landing.
There were three Wi-Fi packages for sale on this flight: a two-hour package for $12, a four-hour package for $17 and a full-flight package for $19. I opted for the full-flight package and tested out the Wi-Fi a few times. Three hours into the flight, the download speed was an impressive 6.76Mbps while the upload speed was a depressing 0.27Mbps. However, shortly after the arrival meal, the download speed dropped to 1.67Mbps and the upload speed became even more miserable at 0.16Mbps.
Food and Beverage
A flight attendant distributed menus and a tray of departure drinks — sparkling wine, orange juice and water — as boarding was coming to a close.
Meal orders were taken shortly before push-back. Although I’d ordered the fenugreek herbed chicken entrée online, the flight attendant said there was no evidence of my order and once she reached my row, only two of the four entrées remained: quinoa with Panko crusted prawns and a goat cheese cornbread arepa. I opted for the latter option.
The departure meal service began with a tablecloth 10 minutes after take-off and a hot towel seven minutes later. The drink and nuts service began 30 minutes after departure. When I ordered the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Champagne from the menu, I was told the FA “couldn’t find the Champagne” — no worries though, it was found six minutes later and I received a glass shortly afterward.
50 minutes after take-off, the small plate — interleaved slices of cantaloupe and Manchego cheese topped with roasted chickpeas — salad and bread were served. The salad had very little greenery and was instead composed of orzo, olives, pomegranate seeds and feta. The different flavors combined nicely, while white, sourdough and multigrain breads were available.
75 minutes after take-off, my main dish arrived. Since I’d been told pre-flight that my online pre-order hadn’t been received, I didn’t tell the flight attendant what my online order was (chicken), and went with the goat cheese cornbread arepa. Imagine my surprise when the chicken dish was served to me. The flight attendant didn’t provide an explanation, so it’s unclear whether my pre-order was eventually located or I merely received the chicken dish by accident.
In any case, the fenugreek herbed chicken came with tomato quinoa rice, haricots verts and tikka masala sauce. The chicken was smoky, yet bland, while the grains served with it had a strong, earthy flavor. I didn’t finish the grains and instead moved on to dessert.
90 minutes after take-off, I opted for a berry sundae when a flight attendant removed my main dish and it was promptly served just a minute later. Although the sundae was clearly pre-made and frozen — including the berries and whipped cream — it was delicious.
The arrival meal was served about an hour before we landed. I’d asked to be woken up for breakfast, so I was, by a flight attendant lightly shaking my shoulder. For breakfast, there was a choice of an egg frittata or a fruit plate. I opted for the eggs, which were well-seasoned and surprisingly tasty — the sausage that came with the dish was overly fatty though and the potatoes were soggy. A fruit plate with cantaloupe, raspberries, cranberries and mango complemented the main dish. Drinks and breads were also offered.
The flight attendants were always very prompt during meal service. One FA served my side of the cabin — she certainly kept busy and removed dishes quickly — while another worked on the other side, with at least one flight attendant solely manning the front galley.
In the middle of the night, snack baskets appeared at the front of the cabin. Two of them were domestic first snack baskets, while the third contained fresh fruit. The front seemed like a strange place, as grabbing a snack seemed rather invasive to the passengers seated in 1D and 1H. There was a cart with some wine and a bottle of water sitting in the forward galley, but based on the lack of cups, it wasn’t exactly self-serve friendly.
Service-wise, the flight attendants were friendly and hard-working. I actually haven’t experienced a faster-moving crew of AA international business-class flight attendants! Although the cabin was too full to expect personalized attention, I nonetheless had a pleasant experience.
In terms of hard product, it’s fair to say this 787-9 business class ranks up there with American’s 777-300ER. The 787-9 has better seat-side storage, but space is more constrained while sleeping due to a small footwell and a tray table that doesn’t completely fold away. This said, I’d happily fly business class on either aircraft again.
Have you flown in AA’s 787-9 business class recently? How do you think it compares to the product on its 777-300ER? Sound off, below.
All photos by the author.
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