Blast From the Past: American Airlines 757-200 Main Cabin Extra From Amsterdam to Philadelphia
In the days of ultra-low-cost carriers, passengers generally aren't expecting much in the way of amenities, even on intercontinental flights. But, full-service carriers have maintained at least a minimum level of amenities — such as complimentary seat-back entertainment and meals, and power at every seat — to distinguish themselves from their bargain-basement competitors. American's internationally configured 757-200, however, doesn't quite feel like it meets the mark, despite the aircraft being recently retrofitted. Here's my experience on a recent flight between Amsterdam (AMS) and Philadelphia (PHL).
Booking and Check-in
I'd booked a round-trip economy ticket from Houston (IAH) to Amsterdam (AMS) via Philadelphia (PHL) so I could use to use a systemwide upgrade that was going to expire. I successfully used that certificate to immediately upgrade my outbound trip to business class, but I wasn't willing to use any of my remaining systemwide upgrades for the return flight.
I booked my round-trip through American Airlines Vacations as a flight and hotel package. The package for flights and four nights in a hotel cost $440.14. However, $405.21 in the form of carrier imposed fees and taxes was added to the total, bringing the grand total to $845.35.
No breakdown is provided regarding the hotel and airfare costs, which is why booking through American Airlines Vacations is one way to get special fares. When airfare is cheap, booking special fares can result in more award miles and elite-qualifying dollars (EQDs). In this case, I earned 1,014 EQDs and 11,138 award miles — instead of the ~500 EQD and ~5,500 award miles that I'd have earned if I booked just the flight alone through AA.com.
When I checked in about 14 hours before my flight, I was offered the chance to buy an upgrade to business class on the AMS-PHL leg for just $500. The offer was surprisingly reasonable, but I still didn't feel like it was worth it, especially because the upgrade would be to one of American's worst premium hard products.
Once at the airport, I endured pre-check-in questioning before queuing for the check-in desk. Interestingly, there was no line for main cabin check-in but the Priority Line had three groups waiting. The line cleared quickly, though.
Lounge and Boarding
Even though I was flying in economy, I had access to the British Airways Galleries lounge thanks to my American Airlines Executive Platinum status. This lounge featured impressive views of the apron and gates as well as a variety of seating options.
The food options in the lounge were limited — only mushroom soup, breads, cheeses and yogurt. There was a larger variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, however.
Boarding started ten minutes later than scheduled. Although additional security questions were asked of all passengers at the gate, no additional baggage checks were completed.
Although boarding began late, the boarding door closed ten minutes prior to scheduled departure.
Cabin and Seat
The economy cabin is arranged in a 3-3 configuration. There are nine rows of Main Cabin Extra seating near the front of the cabin and 18 rows of Main Cabin seating in the rest of the cabin.
Although this aircraft was recently retrofitted with new seats, the cabin still feels old due to old-school buttons and placards as well as overhead screens.
Main Cabin Extra seating — which I was able to select at booking for free because of my elite status — remained fairly open in the days leading up to the flight. I was tempted to move to a completely open Main Cabin Extra row. I'm glad I held off, though, as these rows almost completely filled in. However, on a flight with a lighter load, you might be able to snag a row for yourself in Main Cabin Extra.
My seat for this flight was 10F, a well-positioned window seat behind a two-seat row by an emergency exit. This particular seat featured great legroom and a narrow path through which you can reach the main aisle. Pictured here is the mirror of my seat — 10A.
A major problem with this seat, however, is that there's absolutely no storage to speak of — no seatback pocket, no underseat space and no space between the window and the seat. You can get your carry-on bag and put it between your seat and the exit door during the flight — but during take off and landing you'll need to stow your bag in the overhead compartment and awkwardly hold anything you want.
Another downside of this seat — and any other that don't have seatback tray tables in front of them — is that the tray that extends from the armrest is very small — not good for those looking to use their laptops.
I got lucky in this seat in that the seat next to me, 10E, remained empty. This made my own seat feel reasonably spacious — at least for economy. I didn't bring my measuring tape on this flight, but according to SeatGuru, these seats feature 35"-37" of pitch and are 16.6" wide, which seemed spot-on to me.
The Main Cabin is tighter with 31" pitch and was completely filled to capacity on this flight. It was difficult to walk down the aisle in the Main Cabin without bumping into shoulders and legs.
All seats had headrests that could be adjusted upward for taller passengers. The headrests also had bendable wings, which are useful for sleeping.
The seats had modest recline. Based on seeing 9E 's recline, I certainly could have worked in the seat directly behind with my 13.3-inch laptop even when 9E reclined. But it would have been tight, so I doubt there'd be room to work on a laptop in the Main Cabin if the passenger ahead of you reclined.
Each economy seat was stocked with a packaged pillow and blanket. The pillow was of the small, disposable variety, while the blanket was made of thin fleece. Strangely, no ear buds were provided or sold despite a large bag of them sitting in an unused business-class seat during boarding.
Despite retrofitting this aircraft with new upholstery, American didn't install seat-back IFE.
Although business-class passengers are provided with tablets pre-loaded with entertainment, economy passengers are stuck with overhead screens located throughout the cabin. This is less than ideal (to put it nicely), but to be fair, the screens are of a reasonable size and sport decent resolution.
On this flight, these screens played Murder on the Orient Express, NBC TV shows and two other movies. When entertainment wasn't being played, the screens showed flight information in many languages — none of which were Dutch or English.
Although all Main Cabin Extra seats (rows 9-18) have universal power outlets between seats (two outlets per row), the Main Cabin seats are generally left without power, as power is only offered every three to four rows, and there are no USB power outlets in the Main Cabin.
Wi-Fi was available for purchase at a cost of $12 for two hours, $17 for four hours and $19 for a full-flight pass. I found the Wi-Fi to be excruciatingly slow though, so much so that Gmail wouldn't even load completely on my laptop. A speed test after the departure meal showed 2.75Mbps download and 0.11Mbps upload while a test shortly before landing showed 2.50Mbps download and 0.10Mbps upload.
Food and Beverage
The meal service schedule was announced right before push-back: We were to receive a meal and beverages shortly after departure as well as a lunch and more beverages about 90 minutes before landing.
The departure meal service began 40 minutes after take-off. Meal choices were
- Beef meatballs with green beans and rice
- Penne pasta in a yogurt sauce.
I chose the pasta. Although the pasta looked pretty sad, it actually tasted good, with the exception of a few overcooked and crispy noodles.
Both meal options came with a cold-packaged pretzel roll, butter, a salad with cucumbers and radish, salad dressing, crackers, spreadable cheese, a mini bottle of water and a packaged cherry crumble dessert. The pretzel roll was a pleasant surprise, the salad was simple and fresh and the cherry crumble dessert was good but not overly sweet.
A drink cart came around about ten minutes after the meals were served. Although wine and non-alcoholic drinks were complimentary, spirits cost $8. Tray pick-up was delayed, occurring a full 40 minutes after meals were served.
About four hours after take-off, Beckleberry's Vanilla Bean ice cream cups were served, along with more beverages. The ice cream was tasty but the plastic spoon that came in the top of the ice cream cup was rather flimsy. Trash from the snack service was collected about 45 minutes after the service.
Arrival meal drinks — including more complimentary wine for those who wanted it — were served almost sever hours after take-off. Although other rows around mine received meals with the drink service, my row got skipped. I pointed this out the next time a flight attendant came by and received a meal box soon after.
The Monty's Bakehouse box contained a tomato, red onion and black olive lattice pastry and a raspberry coconut sponge cake filled with hot raspberry filling. The vegetarian pastry reheated well and really did taste like a pizza. Trash was collected promptly this time, about 10 minutes after I'd received my meal box.
Three flight attendants worked the economy cabin, One young flight attendant was friendly but seemed like he hadn't served meals on an aircraft before. The other flight attendants were surly to both passengers and this young flight attendant - I noticed them publicly criticize him multiple times. I'm not sure why the young flight attendant was so inexperienced, but critiquing him in front of passengers was unprofessional.
On final approach, we unexpectedly pulled up and went around. Six minutes later one of the pilots announced that another plane had still been on the runway. As I was deplaning, however, I overheard one of the pilots tell a flight attendant that there wasn't an obstacle but that "it's just easier to say there's an obstacle" and avoid upsetting the passengers. Although some passengers didn't seem to notice the aborted landing, others were getting upset as more time passed and no explanation was given. Although I agree with not causing panic, I would've appreciated a truthful explanation in a more timely manner.
I had a pretty decent flight in general — but this was aided by several specific things:
- having the seat next to me empty
- not having a seat directly in front of me
- having a power outlet at my seat
- bringing enough work to keep me busy during the flight.
I certainly lucked out on this flight, but for passengers in the completely full Main Cabin it looked to be much less enjoyable. American made a poor decision when deciding to exclude seatback IFE and power at every seat when it retrofitted these intercontinental 757-200s. Unfortunately, they're here to stay — AA's going to have 34 of them in the fleet through the end of 2019 and only 10 scheduled for retirement in 2020. My recommendation: Avoid this aircraft if you're flying internationally with American. If you absolutely must fly it, though, make sure you choose your seat carefully, charge your devices before boarding and bring enough entertainment to keep you occupied during the flight.