Regardless of what they call it, no U.S. carrier has a premium economy cabin; it’s just some extra legroom. American Airlines announced this morning that they plan to change that by rolling out a true premium economy cabin in late 2016. It will begin by putting these seats on its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and then rolling out the product throughout the longhaul fleet. (Boeing 767 aircraft are excluded because they will eventually be phased out.)
Creating a premium economy section will help American align with its partners who also offer premium economy as well as stand out from domestic competitors who haven’t yet taken this step. However, I remain unconvinced that it’s enough to pay the premium price.
There is significant variation among premium economy products. Air New Zealand’s is perhaps the best and looks almost like a business class seat.
Then you have sad examples like World Traveler Plus on British Airways. I’ve flown this premium economy product on both its newer and older planes and found it difficult to identify any meaningful improvement over coach. The seat was still cramped and uncomfortable. Adding a footrest really didn’t help me sleep any better. The amenity kit was worthless — but even in business class, I usually bring my own eye mask and earplugs rather than use the ones provided.
Given the sketchy details from American in terms of amenities, pricing, and the application of upgrades, we can’t really pass a verdict yet. It does appear to be better than my British Airways experience (which I’ll never book again). That was in a 2-4-2 configuration, while American will use a 2-3-2. American will also have newer seats, but those seats still look close together. This could be a consequence of the computer renderings used instead of actual photographs.
Poke around on the microsite to learn more about American’s plans for the new cabin. Here’s what we can expect on board:
- A spacious environment with more legroom and wider seats
- Adjustable leather seats with extendable foot, leg and head rests
- An enhanced dining experience
- Personal on-demand entertainment at every seat
- Noise-reducing headphones
- AC power outlets and USB ports at every seat
- Amenity kits
- Priority boarding
Most of that list includes things already available at every seat or which you can provide yourself by virtue of status or by brining a few comfort items along with the trip. When flying in economy — even premium economy — I think the seat matters above all else. It’s the one thing out of your control that you definitely want the carrier to invest in. The question is: does American feel the same way?