Review: Does American Airlines’ new Premium Economy cabin live up to the hype?

Long-haul flights on an economy-class budget may not be as miserable as they’ve become for many airline passengers. By the end of the year, all three U.S. legacy carriers will offer a premium economy experience on international flights.

For a fraction of the cost of First or Business Class fares, travelers can expect enhanced seating and amenities, improved in-flight entertainment, better meals, and access to faster security and boarding lines. The new ticket class offerings are fairly consistent among carriers.

American Airlines and Delta already market their fourth cabin class as ‘Premium Economy’ and ‘Premium Select’ respectively, while United Airlines is expected to begin selling tickets for ‘Premium Plus’ seats later this year.

American Airlines says it’s continuing to roll out more flights featuring its new cabin as it modifies its existing fleet. ‘Premium Economy’ will be available on the following aircraft: 777-300s, 787-9s, A330-200 and select 777-200s flying internationally and to Hawaii.

I recently purchased an upgrade to Premium Economy on a 14-hour flight from Dallas, Texas to Beijing, China.

Here’s how American delivered on its promise of an elevated experience in several key areas of the flight:

AIRPORT ACCESS

Ticketed ‘Premium’ passengers receive access to dedicated lanes at the check-in counter, the security checkpoint and in the boarding process. Look for ‘Priority’ printed on your boarding pass to take advantage of these privileges. These services and any time savings can vary by airport and congestion. You’ll also board in the earlier group, immediately after First and Business classes. One clear advantage comes with checked luggage, which receives a ‘priority’ tag and will come out of the baggage carousel first. The only drawback — Premium Economy doesn’t include access to the Admirals Club lounge.

Review: Does American Airlines' new Premium Economy cabin live up to the hype? 2
Premium Economy tickets come with priority access during check-in, security screenings, boarding, and checked baggage.

SEATS

You’ll find the Premium Economy cabin located to the aft of American’s Flagship First and Business Class cabins and to the forward of Economy. Three rows of larger recliner seats, arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration, offer more space than those in the main cabin. According to its website, American’s Premium Economy seats are 19″ wide and feature 18″ pitch, which is essentially the amount of space between you and the next row. I was pleasantly surprised there was enough room to cross my leg on my knee or recline my seat without feeling guilty about encroaching on the precious personal space of others. Another nice feature — seats facing the bulkhead have an extendable foot and leg rest, while the other two rows only have a foot rest similar to those on buses. The tray table is stowed inside the arm rest, which makes it possible to work on a laptop or eat a meal without the seat in front of you doing serious damage. A slim cubby area inside the other arm rest is a perfect place to store a passport, water bottle or other quick-access items. The leather upholstery and adjustable headrest give these seats a plush feel.

American’s Premium Economy seats on international flights are comparable to the recliner-style seen in the airline’s domestic First Class cabins.

AMENITIES

Waiting in my seat was a set of accessories noticeably different from the standard economy offerings. A small pillow and plush blanket designed by Casper were a welcome addition to my trans-Pacific flight. The blanket felt like a sweat-shirt material and was substantially larger than the usual slip of fabric that’s barely wider than your legs. While the pillow was great in concept, I couldn’t find a suitable use for its oblong shape. This is certainly a personal preference, but I felt it only supported unnatural positions while propping up my head or cushioning my lower back. A Cole Haan amenities kit and Casper slippers were also tucked into the seat back pocket. Inside the simple bag — a blindfold, pair of socks, ear plugs, C.O. Bigelow hand lotion, and a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Casper-designed blankets and pillows make relaxing a little more comfortable.

ENTERTAINMENT

The in-flight entertainment system in Premium Economy is fairly comparable to those in other cabins. Seats in the bulkhead row feature a screen attached to a fold-able arm, while the others are built into the seat back. I’ve found American’s IFE interface is much more responsive and easier to navigate than many other U.S. carriers. The selection of movies, TV shows, music, audiobooks, games and live TV is updated regularly. One small complaint might be the location of the socket for the retractable corded IFE remote control. When stowed, the bottom of the remote disappears below the seat cushion and can easily bump the reading light or attendant call buttons. Premium Economy passengers are given a pair of noise reducing headphones, though these are not the Bose Noise-Cancelling headphones available in Flagship First. Multiple headphone jacks, USB ports, and power outlets will keep all of your devices charged throughout the flight.

img_3192
American Airline’s in-flight entertainment system features video on demand, music, audio books, live TV, games, and more.

FOOD

Onboard dining gets an upgrade in Premium Economy as well. Hot towels and bottled water accompany the first wave of in-flight services. A selection of complementary beer, wine, and spirits are also available. Chef-inspired meals served on flatware with silverware made this feel more of an experience than a compulsory act. This Asia route featured several options for the dinner service, a mid-flight snack, and breakfast.

img_3204
Dinner service included a plated multiple course meal.

For dinner, I went with grilled beef short rib, chimichurri sauce, and a twice-baked potato. It was served with a green salad, edamame, and cheesecake for dessert.

img_3213
The mid-flight snack on a 14-hour flight to Asia.

About eight hours into the flight, flight attendants served a tuscan turkey sandwich, penne pasta, and gelato.

img_3217
Chinese dim sum was a welcome addition to the breakfast menu.

I’ve always followed advice to avoid egg-based options, so for breakfast, I opted for Chinese dim sum. This delectable dish consisted of a char siu pork bao bun, chicken gyoza, shrimp shumai, stir-fried noodles and a selection of fresh fruit and Greek yogurt.

img_3189
Complementary wine, beer, and spirits are offered throughout the flight.

Meal service may have been the most noticeable difference in American’s premium services.

OVERALL

For my particular situation, this offering was a game-changer. For me, boarding position, blankets and hand lotion typically don’t have much impact on my experience. However, as a taller person on a 14-hour trek across the Pacific, I welcomed the extra room in a secluded cabin. No crying children and no strangers performing yoga while carrying on loud conversations. Several small enhancements, such the filling and flavorful meals, created noticeably different environment. If you’re looking for an upgraded experience for a fraction of the cost of First or Business classes, the value is well worth it.

My 15-hour return flight on another U.S. carrier was in Economy class. While that experience wasn’t as pleasant as Premium Economy, it also wasn’t as miserable as I had expected.

Have you flown in American Airlines new Premium Economy cabin? How did your experience differ?  Is it worth the added cost? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a professional journalist, I did not receive any form of compensation or incentive to produce this review. These are my honest opinions on my experience. I hope it is of interest or holds value for you.

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of KLTV/KTRE-TV or Raycom Media. They are solely the opinion of the author. All content © Copyright 2018 Lane Luckie

Advertisements

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s