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Perfectly fine but nothing more: American Airlines premium economy across the Atlantic

June 03, 2022
11 min read
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Although all three of the big U.S. airlines now offer a true premium economy product, American Airlines leads the way by being the only one to offer it across its entire wide-body fleet.

Unlike its business class, which varies significantly from one plane to the next, American's premium economy seat experience is fairly consistent across its fleet. It's also very similar to what you'll find in American’s domestic first class. But is that consistency a good thing? A recent trip to Germany was the perfect opportunity to find out, as the price difference between economy and premium economy was relatively small.

Here's what my experience flying American Airlines premium economy from Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA) on the Boeing 777-200 was like.

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Booking

Round-trip premium economy fares between the U.S. and Germany typically range from $1,200 to $2,000. However, I only needed a one-way ticket as I was reviewing a completely different airline on the way back.

We ended up paying about $860 for a one-way ticket from my home airport of John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Frankfurt, via Charlotte. That was a roughly $200 premium over the Main Cabin fare, which was not bad considering American's extra-legroom Main Cabin Extra seats can be over $100 more each way than regular Main Cabin seats on this route.

Alternatively, we could have redeemed 40,000 American AAdvantage miles for this flight, but there wasn't any saver award availability on the date I needed to travel.

After booking, I was offered an upgrade to business class for just $490, which I'd consider pretty great, but I declined since I wanted to review premium economy.

(Screenshot from aa.com)

Related: The best credit cards for booking flights

Ground experience

As mentioned, my journey began at JFK airport in New York. Premium economy passengers had access to the same priority check-in desks as business-class and elite passengers. There was only one agent working when I arrived but that was fine because there was no line at all. I was allowed to check up to two bags for free and they were tagged for priority delivery.

Premium economy passengers normally don't get lounge access, but I did, thanks to my Oneworld Emerald status. In Charlotte, I originally planned to stop by the Concourse B Admirals Club, located between gates 3 and 5, but there was a long line to get in. The much larger Concourse C club was still closed for renovations, and unfortunately, Charlotte doesn't have a Flagship Lounge.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Instead, I ended up checking out the new The Club CLT, which I had access to through my Priority Pass membership. While on the smaller side, I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the space was, and it wasn't crowded at all. The food wasn't extraordinary (fried green tomato sliders, fried pickles and cornbread), but still tasted fine and the fact that it was served a la carte made it feel a bit more premium. For a closer look at the space and amenities, see our full review of the lounge.

Before I knew it, it was time to board. Premium economy passengers boarded in Group 4, alongside AAdvantage Gold elite members and cardholders of American's premium cobranded credit card.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

This particular 777-200, registered N782AN, was first delivered to American in February of 2000, making it over 20 years old, but it was in relatively good condition and didn’t feel dated thanks to its cabin retrofits over the years.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Cabin and seat

American's premium economy cabin aboard the 777-200 consists of three rows laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration for a total of 24 seats. In addition to the bulkhead walls, there are curtains separating the cabin from business class, but not from regular economy.

The seats share the bones of the domestic first-class product you see on most American narrow-body jets. The main difference is that these have seatback entertainment screens. The seats measure 19 inches wide, offer 38 inches of pitch and recline 6 inches, which is fairly standard for premium economy products.

The seats offer a limited amount of storage. In addition to the usual seatback pocket, there is a literature compartment below the screen and a storage cubby under the middle armrest. Given the low number of seats in the cabin, there is also plenty of storage space in the overhead bins.

Bi-fold tray tables are built into the armrests and measure 16 inches wide by 10 inches long, large enough to comfortably fit my 15-inch MacBook. There are also small drink trays that fold out from the middle armrests.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Those sitting by the aisle can lower their armrests for easier access or to get some extra space.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

I sat in Seat 15L on this flight, a window seat in the last row on the starboard side of the plane. Despite being in the last row, my seat appeared to recline the same amount as any other seat in the cabin. However, the recline still felt a bit limited.

As with most other seats in the cabin, there was a footrest protruding from the preceding seat that could be manually lowered, though I didn't think it added any comfort.

Meanwhile, those sitting in the bulkhead row have a retractable leg rest and a retractable footrest. Each seat also has an adjustable headrest with bendable wings to provide support when sleeping.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Premium economy passengers share lavatories with economy passengers. There are three halfway through the economy cabin and two at the very back.

Amenities and inflight entertainment

Waiting at each seat during boarding was a plastic-wrapped Casper-branded lumbar pillow and day blanket — the same as those provided in Flagship First (in addition to their more substantial bedding). Both were a big step up from what's given to economy passengers, though it would've been nice if American provided a slightly larger pillow, similar to what's offered in business and first class.

Also at my seat upon boarding was a set of over-the-ear “noise-reducing” headphones. They provided decent-quality sound and were relatively comfortable, though I ultimately ended up switching to my personal headphones.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Strangely, only about half of the seats in the cabin were stocked with amenity kits. Mine was not, but the flight attendant was able to find me one after asking.

The Shinola-branded bag was a bit smaller than what was provided in business class but had the same exact content: a dental kit, socks, an eye mask, earplugs, a small pen and D.S. & Durga lotion. It's the same kit as when flying business class on a premium transcontinental route. While the bag was flimsy and not the most practical, I thought the contents were useful and of good quality.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

On the seatbacks in premium economy are 11 1/2-inch inflight entertainment screens. They can be controlled via touch or a remote that is stored in the side of the middle armrest, though based on my experiences, the remote is sometimes hard to pull out. There were hundreds of movies and TV shows to choose from, including newer releases like "The Commando" and "The King's Daughter," as well as a selection of Apple TV+ content.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Additional features of the seats include a coat hook built into the seatback, as well as a universal power outlet and USB-A port under the middle armrest.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Finally, there was Panasonic Wi-Fi available on this flight. However, it was pricey — a two-hour session cost $29, while a flight pass cost $35 — and extremely slow. I wasn't able to do much more than send texts. I attempted to run multiple speed tests, but they all failed.

Food and beverage

Unfortunately, there were no predeparture beverages offered in the premium economy cabin, though flight attendants passed out water bottles shortly after boarding was complete. Oddly, there were no printed menus available either, even though American used to offer them in premium economy. This would have been an easy way to help differentiate the premium economy meal experience from that of regular economy.

The first beverage service began about two hours after takeoff, which seemed to be forever considering most passengers wanted to sleep as soon as possible. There was complimentary beer, wine and spirits, but regular economy passengers got that, too. Like in economy, drinks were served in plastic cups.

Luckily, dinner was served shortly after the beverages. The choices on this flight were a Korean chicken bulgogi with rice and vegetables, or a vegetable lasagna with pico de gallo, roasted eggplant and zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, pecorino cheese and bechamel sauce. I preordered the lasagna so I got my first meal choice, but not everyone was as lucky. There was no more chicken left by the time the flight attendants got to my row, despite the premium economy cabin only being half full.

The presentation of the meal was a notable step above economy as it was served in proper dishware, but it was otherwise forgettable. The entree was served in foil wrapping and was accompanied by a sad salad, cold plastic-wrapped roll, packaged crackers, a wedge of cheddar cheese and a slice of tiramisu cake. I'm not a coffee person but the tiramisu ended up being the highlight of the meal.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

After the dinner trays were collected, there was a second beverage service, accompanied by the same packaged pretzels served in domestic economy. Otherwise, there were no midflight snacks available. When I went to the galley to ask for a snack, I was handed more pretzels.

Breakfast was served about two hours before landing. The meal was a fruit plate, along with a cinnamon roll, yogurt and granola. Although the fruit plate seemed to be an upgrade from economy, a hot entree would have made the meal feel more premium.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Service

The flight attendants weren’t rude by any means, but weren't particularly warm or inviting either. It felt like everything was done at a bare minimum effortwise. Meals were served with the foil wrapping still on and it almost felt like I was inconveniencing the crew by asking for an amenity kit. A flight attendant passed through the cabin once midflight with cups of water but otherwise, there were no check-ins between services. It felt no different than flying in the main cabin.

Overall impression

My American Airlines premium economy experience was nothing worth writing home about, but wasn't anything to complain about either. It got the job done. The price to buy up from economy was relatively reasonable and in turn, I got a larger seat with much more personal space. This alone makes a huge difference on long-haul flights and can certainly be worth paying an extra couple hundred dollars for. While the upgraded dining and amenities were appreciated, the service felt more akin to regular economy than business class.

Featured image by (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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