A Tour of American Airlines' Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
Since taking delivery of its first Boeing 787 in January 2015, American Airlines has added to its fleet almost one Dreamliner per month. It's scheduled to bring another eight into its fleet in 2018-2019 before starting to take deliveries of a new order of 47 aircraft. In total, American Airlines will have 89 Dreamliners (42 of the smaller 787-8 model and 47 of the larger 787-9)
While the experience in economy is going to be practically the same between the 787-8 and 787-9, there are some noteworthy differences that make that last digit important for premium cabins. If you booked or are looking to book a 787-9, which is often considered better for business class passengers, you might be curious what to expect. So, let's take a look around inside one of those American Airlines Boeing 787-9s.
For reference, the aircraft was stocked for a flight to Seoul, South Korea (ICN).
While there's a couple of passengers I know that prefer the business class seats on the 787-8, the Zodiac "Concept D" seating is generally disliked for the narrow and unstable seats — landing it #7 on TPG's ranking of the best American Airlines premium seats. However, on the 787-9, there are excellent B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seats installed in the business class cabin (which was #2 in those same rankings). And while you can find these same seats on select 777-200 aircraft, I prefer the window seats on the 787-9 thanks to the large electronically-dimmable Dreamliner windows.
The 787-9 business class consists of one large cabin arranged in eight rows of reverse-herringbone 1-2-1 seating. There are no middle seats in row 8, meaning there are 30 business class seats on the aircraft.
The aisle-side armrest can adjust upward and downward. This bulky-looking armrest can be opened to provide a storage area. In addition to this storage area, there are two compartments on the other side of the seat. The further-back one can be latched and is rated for storage during taxi, takeoff and landing. The forward compartment technically isn't supposed to be used for storage during the critical phases of flight.
Between having all forward-facing seats and strategically designed seat shells, these seats provide a good sense of privacy. However, when walking around the cabin, you can easily see over these seat shells.
There's a couple of downsides to this otherwise excellent hard product. First, American Airlines opted not to install the optional privacy divider between the middle seats. That must have been a very expensive option, as I can't see any reason not to allow passengers to have it. Also, my wife Katie isn't a fan of the storage position of the tray table on these seats, as she bumps into it when sleeping on her side.
For more about the in-flight experience, read the full review of this cabin on a flight from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to São Paulo, Brazil (GRU).
The delivery of American Airlines' first 787-9 meant the debut of Premium Economy on the world's largest airline. As of March 11, the airline had 69 aircraft with the new product — including all 15 of its 787-9, all 15 of the Airbus A330-200s, 35 of its 777-200s and now four of its 777-300ER aircraft. The seats on all of those aircraft are virtually the same.
On the 787-9, there are 21 seats installed in a 2-3-2 arrangement.
Some passengers prefer the bulkhead seats, as they have a retractable leg rest and plenty of legroom. The downside is that the in-flight entertainment for these seats is on retractable arms and must be stored for taxi, takeoff and landing.
The non-bulkhead seats have a footrest instead of the legrest. I find the recline on all of the premium economy seats to be just enough to sleep comfortably.
In the seatback, there's a pocket for literature such as the airline magazines and the safety card. There's also a coat/purse hook. Below that, there's a mesh seatback pocket. While you might be able to store a tablet in the seatback, I've found neither storage area is large enough to hold even a small laptop.
While they surely give you more space than in economy, these aren't the most spacious seats. The space between them is 38 inches, and your workspace shrinks noticeably when the passenger in front of your reclines.
The premium economy seats have 11.5-inch in-flight entertainment screens installed. While bright and crisp from the seat, these screens are designed to fade when looking at an angle, providing a bit of privacy and reducing light pollution in the cabin.
While those aren't the best premium economy seats you'll find in the skies, the airline looks to make up for this with solid soft product. On international flights, each seat is stocked with a basic, but stylish amenity kit, Casper-branded pillow and Casper-branded blanket. On flights to Asia, Casper-branded slippers are also provided.
Stay tuned for a full review of American Airlines premium economy on an international flight. Here's my take from the first time flying this product when it launched in October 2016 on domestic routes.
Main Cabin Extra
Main Cabin Extra is American Airlines' designation for extra-legroom seats in the economy cabin. In addition to seats at bulkheads and emergency exit rows, most economy cabins on AA internationally-configured aircraft include a section of extra-legroom seats. These seats are complimentary for American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elites. AA Gold elites get 50% off the standard price until check-in, when they too can select these seats for no charge.
On the 787-9, American Airlines has 36 Main Cabin Extra seats — 12 at bulkheads, 6 at emergency exit rows and 18 standard seats in a 3-3-3 arrangement. The bulkhead seats provide plenty of knee room, but limits your ability to stretch out your legs. The first row of economy (row 12) have bassinet holders at both the window and middle sections.
The emergency exit window seats on some aircraft can have restricted legroom due to the protruding slide. That's not much of an issue on the 787-9. However, there isn't much of a view from these seats either.
At each of the bulkhead and emergency exit row seats, the in-flight entertainment screens are on retractable arms and must be stored for taxi, takeoff and landing.
The standard Main Cabin Extra seats are installed with 35 inches of pitch but are otherwise identical to standard economy seats. There are no additional service elements either. However, American Airlines is planning to add free beer, wine and liquor for these seats on all routes soon.
AA's 787-9 has 200 standard economy "Main Cabin" seats. These seats are installed with 31 inches of pitch. As is now the de facto standard on Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, the economy cabin is arranged with 3-3-3 seating. (Only a few airlines opted for the Boeing-recommended 2-4-2 seating). This arrangement necessitates a rather narrow 17-inch seat.
Thankfully, there's plenty of overhead space. So, you shouldn't have to worry about having to gate-check your carry-on bag.
Unlike other aircraft that American Airlines flies internationally, AA installs bright in-flight entertainment screens with plenty of content on its 787-9. There's also a universal power plug installed at each seat.
Unlike on some planes which narrow in the back and thus have fewer seats installed, the 787-9 has 3-3-3 seating throughout. If you get stuck in the back, the good news is that even the seats in the last row of economy can recline fully.
And if you're going to recline to sleep, these seats have an under-appreciated feature: adjustable headrests. The headrest has adjustable wings to help support your head in place while you sleep.
The American Airlines 787-9 is one of the better options in the airline's international fleet. The economy seats are a bit narrow, but it's no worse than the width on AA's retrofit 10-wide 777s. And, having power and in-flight entertainment screen makes the 787 a better option than AA's internationally-operated 757s and 767s.
The premium economy section provides a solid improvement from economy, giving extra legroom, seat width and soft product elements that can justify the ~$200 each way premium for some passengers.
Up front, this is one of my favorite business class cabins in the fleet. The cabin is large — but not massive — and separated from the premium economy by a galley, giving it a more exclusive feel. Combining that with one of the best business class seats in the AA fleet, it's worth seeking out this aircraft when possible.
This article has been updated to reflect American Airlines' order of 47 new Dreamliner aircraft.