Four cabins, one flight: Putting American Airlines’ Boeing 777-300 from New York to Miami to the test
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With long-haul international travel largely off-limits, select domestic travelers are in for a big (plane) upgrade.
The big 3 U.S. carriers — American, Delta and United — have plenty of spare wide-body jets at the moment. Instead of parking them in the desert, they’re being deployed on some high-profile domestic routes, like Newark (EWR) to Denver (DEN) and New York-JFK to Seattle (SEA).
These planes generally offer a massively improved passenger experience compared to their domestic counterparts, especially for premium-cabin flyers. They all sport lie-flat seats up front, and some feature a separate first-class and premium economy cabin.
With domestic travel ramping up this summer, it’s easier than ever to find a domestic flight operated by a wide-body, especially if you’re flying American Airlines. In June, 2,855 domestic flights will be operated by AA’s largest jets, per Cirium schedules.
In fact, two routes — Miami (MIA) to New York-JFK and MIA to Los Angeles (LAX) — will even exclusively be operated by Boeing 777 jets.
With just two weeks left until these routes go all-Boeing 777, we decided to put it to the test — but not just in first or business class. TPG sent four reporters with a range of flight review experience on AA’s flagship jet, the 304-seat Boeing 777-300ER, from JFK to Miami and back.
On this flight, travel editor Madison Blancaflor was seated in first, cards and loyalty senior reporter Andrew Kunesh was in biz, reporter Chris Dong was in premium economy and senior reporter Zach Griff was in coach.
Here’s how it went.
Just note that given the short flight time and pandemic-related adjustments, we’re going to focus on the product and seats, as opposed to the food, beverages and inflight service.
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Flagship First from New York to Miami
As a reminder, this comes from travel editor Madison Blancaflor.
Fun fact: Before this flight, I’d actually never flown first class. Well, unless you count sitting up front in one of the small regional jets where “first class” really just means a slightly larger seat.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m now ruined for coach, but it was definitely a significant upgrade from my typical seat at the back of the plane.
On AA’s Boeing 777-300ER, there are two rows of first-class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, making it the only wide-body jet in the fleet to feature a separate Flagship First cabin.
Despite featuring both a first and biz cabin, American was only selling two fares on this flight, Main Cabin and First. As such, you’ll want to make sure you grab a seat in those first two rows for the best flying experience — especially since it’ll be the same price whether you get a seat up in the plane’s dedicated first-class cabin or in the “standard” biz one.
For a standard domestic flight, American doesn’t offer many of the amenities you’d typically find in international first class, like an amenity kit or wine list. So, the main benefit of flying first right now is the hard product.
The seat itself is comfortable with plenty of room with a 64-inch pitch and 21.5-inch width.
There is a small tablet right next to the seat that controls the seat. There are presets available that will adjust your seat for activities such as relaxing, watching TV, working and takeoff and landing. But you can also fine-tune as needed.
I personally like getting work done on flights, and the first-class seat has two setups for working. The seat itself swivels a full 90 degrees to face the windows, and there is a built-in tray that flips out for your laptop or tablet. This provides a more traditional “desk” set-up, and it gives you easy access to the power outlet just to the right.
If you’re facing forward, there is an even larger (read: massive) tray table that folds out of a storage compartment to the side of the seat where you can eat or get work done. Unfortunately, the Panasonic Wi-Fi was subpar for a domestic flight, so I gave up any hope of getting work done about halfway through the flight.
The meal service has been reduced because of the pandemic, so I was given a choice between a snack box or an individually wrapped turkey and cheese croissant — the same offerings you’ll find in biz. I chose the sandwich, which tasted fine.
One of the cool features of this seat is that the ottoman doubles as a buddy seat if you wanted to dine with someone. However, it was a tight squeeze for my colleague once the tray table was pulled out.
The seats do recline into a lie-flat bed, but on such a short flight I didn’t attempt to sleep.
Overall, it was a great experience — and certainly a more comfortable flight than my usual seat in coach. However, with limited service, I’m not sure I’d splurge just for the upgraded seat for a two-and-a-half-hour flight from JFK to MIA.
– Madison Blancaflor
Flagship Business from New York to Miami
As a reminder, this comes from cards and loyalty senior reporter Andrew Kunesh.
I’ve flown American Flagship business class a handful of times over the years, mostly on flights to Europe. It was a treat to see American’s 777-300ER on the JFK to Miami route, and I went into the flight with high expectations.
The 13-row 777-300ER is equipped with what TPG considers to be the best American business class hard product, the Safran Cirrus seat. I was in seat 15J, but try and sit in row 3 or 4 if you can. These seats are in a two-row mini-cabin at the front of the plane, so you’ll have a little more privacy.
The seat lives up to expectations too. It’s 20.5 inches wide with 43 inches of pitch, so legroom isn’t an issue for most travelers. You’ll also find a touch-screen inflight entertainment system with a remote control that’s conveniently placed in the storage console. There’s also a standard AC power and USB port for charging your phone or tablet.
The lie-flat seat is comfortable enough to catch an hour or two of sleep on a short flight, but I forced myself to stay awake. Don’t get me wrong, though, sleep was tempting after waking up at 3 a.m. to meet with the TPG team.
You can adjust the seat with buttons placed underneath the entertainment remote and AC outlets. I had mine in a lounge position for most of the flight and found it very comfortable.
The seat has a pop-out table more than large enough for my 15” MacBook Pro and a cup of coffee to fit comfortably. Plus, the storage console has a small surface area that’s perfect for placing your phone or other electronics in flight.
Inflight service was identical to Flagship First. There were no amenity kits, pillows or blankets like you’d find on cross-country or long-haul flights. Instead, I was offered earbuds after boarding, and the choice of a breakfast snack box or croissant sandwich mid-way through the flight. I went with the snack box, which had cheese, fruit and granola.
American also offers full drink service in business class. I had a cup of coffee first and later had a Diet Coke when the flight attendant came around for refills. Despite minimal service, I found the inflight crew to be attentive. It’s clear they wanted to make this mid-pandemic flight as comfortable as possible.
I worked on my laptop for most of the flight and found the Panasonic inflight Wi-Fi to be OK at best. An internet pass was $25 and — after we were in the air — it worked for about 75% of the flight. I was able to send emails without issue, but I wouldn’t try and stream music.
All in all, the business class experience was great for such a short flight. I won’t go out of my way to book it in the future — especially if I can fly from LaGuardia, which is significantly closer to my apartment — but it’s sure to be a pleasant surprise if you score a complimentary upgrade.
– Andrew Kunesh
Premium economy from New York to Miami
As a reminder, this comes from reporter Chris Dong.
“Premium economy? Sounds like a pen for dirty animals.”
That infamous quote comes from Rose Byrne’s character in the movie Spy, upon learning about this type of cabin while flying in her private jet. But Byrne is flat-out wrong. Here’s why.
For those who value extra comfort without the lie-flat price tag, premium economy can be a worthwhile option.
In fact, American’s premium economy seat is a solid (albeit, aesthetically boring) product — and one I’d gladly fly in for hours at a time.
First, let’s get this straight since it’s a point of confusion for some travelers: International premium economy is typically considered an entirely separate class of service and is different from an extra-legroom coach seat.
In addition to extra legroom compared to coach, the premium economy seats are wider and there are often additional service elements, such as improved catering.
However, domestically — when flying within the continental U.S. — premium economy is sold as extra-legroom coach. And with many wide-body jets flying within our borders this summer, the odds are high you’ll come across this cabin type.
Sure enough, if you’re booked on most of American’s wide-body planes in the lower 48, premium economy is sold as Main Cabin Extra. While you won’t get any onboard perks in premium economy domestically, you will get a much better seat.
If you’re an AAdvantage elite member, as I am, you have access to these premium economy-sold-as-extra-legroom seats free of charge. If you’re not elite, you can pay a modest surcharge to select one.
Savvy domestic flyers know that you’re getting a much better seat (hard product) but will get the same service (soft product) as you would receive in coach.
For this flight, that service meant your run-of-the-mill, pandemic-style snack bag with a small bottle of water, pretzels and disinfectant wipe. Any additional non-alcoholic beverages, including coffee and soft drinks, were on a by-request basis only.
I found these seats, each equipped with a footrest (or a leg rest in the bulkhead row), to be quite comfortable for the short two-and-a-half-hour jaunt down to Miami.
On the Boeing 777-300ER, the 28 recliners in the premium economy cabin are arranged in a 2-3-2 layout, with each seat measuring 18.5″ inches wide. Compared to the tight 3-4-3 configuration in coach, this is a massive improvement.
If you fly American with any regularity and think these premium economy loungers look familiar, you’re absolutely right. These seats are the same “bones” as the domestic first-class product you see on refurbished American narrow-body jets, as well as on the new Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A321neo.
The wide-body versions of this seat are definitely an upgrade though, with seat-back entertainment screens and a place to rest your feet.
I think of this premium economy seat as business class-lite, as opposed to a better version of economy.
Regardless of how you consider it, I’d recommend snagging these seats at the first available opportunity for the most comfortable coach experience possible.
– Chris Dong
Coach from New York to Miami
As a reminder, this comes from senior reporter Zach Griff.
We saved the best for last. Just kidding, of course.
As one of TPG’s most senior flight reviewers, it was naturally my turn to see how American’s coach product stacked up against the others. Turns out, I’d actually consider doing it again.
For one, the 216-seat cabin is more tech advanced compared to the normal narrow-body jets flying between New York and Miami. Each seat sports an entertainment monitor, with tons of preloaded content including Apple TV+ originals.
American Airlines is actively removing seat-back entertainment from its domestic fleet. So, if you’re trying to entertain kids or don’t have enough phones or tablets for everyone in your party, flying a wide-body is a great way to ensure everyone is entertained.
The seat had a power outlet and USB port, just like you’d find on a narrow-body. The rest of the experience was about as you’d expect for coach.
Seats are arranged in a 3-4-3 configuration, so you’re nearly 20% more likely to end up in a middle on the 777 compared to a standard domestic jet like the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737, all else being equal.
I’d recommend checking the seat map before booking to ensure your preferred seat is available for selection.
Fortunately, we were on the 6:30 a.m. departure, which was less crowded than AA’s other flights that day, so I managed to snag an empty seat.
One benefit to AA’s wide-body coach configuration is that select seats are arranged in a couple layout, with no middle seat. I’d do everything I could to assign one of these, especially when traveling solo.
We traveled before AA’s expanded inflight service began, so carts came through the aisle passing around the airline’s all-in-one snack pack. Drinks were available on request in the galleys.
Otherwise, I used the 16.5-inch wide and 10.5-inch long tray table to get some work done on the hop to Miami.
One notable downside to flying a wide-body is that the inflight Wi-Fi is much slower and less reliable than AA’s domestic fleet — something my colleagues noticed as well. These 777s feature global connectivity through Panasonic, which works well on long-haul flights, but isn’t as speedy as the ViaSat satellite you’ll find on most of AA’s domestic workhorses.
At the end of the day, however, coach is still coach — regardless of how big of a plane you’re flying.
– Zach Griff
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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