When American Airlines first introduced Premium Economy I knew I wanted to give it a try. Luckily, as American tends to do when launching a new product or service, the airline started selling Premium Economy seats as Main Cabin Extra for the first few months of service. For a few months American flew their 787-900 with Premium Economy domestically, but then expanded service to several select long-haul markets departing from Dallas Fort Worth. I was lucky enough to find a great deal on a Dallas to Paris flight serviced by a 787-900 late last year. Because I maintained Advantage Platinum Elite Status I could select a Premium Economy seat for free (as MCE) at the time of booking.
When American introduced their new boarding process the airline decided to include Premium Economy passengers in Group 4. Group 4 is the last group eligible to use the Priority Boarding lane. This means customers can of course board with their group number, but can skip the main cabin line and board through the priority lane at any point after that.. This is nice because when flying in a “Premium Cabin” you generally don’t have to worry about overhead space or anything else. Since you’re not stressing about the boarding process you can relax in the lounge until the boarding announcement.
For our flight this was perfect we ended up spending a lot of time in the American Express Centurion Lounge and arrived to the gate about halfway through the boarding process. Group 6 was boarding at the time we arrived to the gate, but because we had Priority AAcess we were able to skip to the front of the line and board easily.
American’s Premium Economy Seat
At face value the new American Airlines Premium Economy seat is basically a domestic first class seat. The seats are wider and recline more than standard economy seat, but are a far cry from a current business class seat. Premium Economy seats in row 9 feature a leg-rest and a flip-up personal entertainment screen.
I wish I could say the PE seat was significantly better than a standard economy seat, but I really didn’t care about it. Sure it’s nice to get a little wider seat and some extra recline, but I’d argue the seat is no more comfortable than a standard economy seat with a missing neighbor. I expected to get a great night sleep on my flight, but that didn’t really happen. Also I found the leg-rest overall annoying. It didn’t make my flight any more comfortable and halfway through the flight I ended up putting it down and sitting more comfortably.
One interesting feature is that the aisle seat armrest can be lowered by a small button on the front of the seat. I found the seat most comfortable when fully reclined, leg rest stowed, and armrest lowered.
Premium Economy Amenities
American Airlines Premium Economy seats come with slightly better amenities than those offered in coach. Sitting on our seats when we boarded the plane were the standard pillow and blanket packages, but included in the plastic wrap was an “amenity kit” and “Noise reducing headphones.”
First off, anyone hoping to reduce noise on the flight needs to bring their own headphones. The headphones provided in Premium Economy were bulky over the ear headphones which offered no notable noise reduction.
The “Amenity Kits” are a nice touch, but almost completely worthless in the long run. My kit was the cloth pouch version which I can see no future use for. Inside were earplugs (which you shouldn’t need thanks to the headphones…), travel socks, and a little dental kit. Overall the “Amenity Kit” is a nice touch to prime customers to believe they are getting a premium experience, but is overall worthless. My girlfriend did receive a different kit with a zipper which I could see her using to store toiletries or other smaller items in the future.
Premium Economy “Premium Dining”
Shortly after taking off the flight attendant offered us drinks and handed an American Premium Economy branded “menu.” The menu basically tells you what’s being served rather than giving you options. For our flight we had a choice between beef or pasta, but the appetizer, salad, dessert, and breakfast were all fixed.
Shortly after making our entrée selections the flight attendant delivered our entire meal to our seats. The whole dining experience is exactly what you’ll find on a domestic first class flight. Premium economy meals are served on real plates and you are given metal utensils. Our meal featured a small plate (Shrimp Remoulade), a salad (Seasonal Greens), an entrée (I had the beef), and a dessert (lemon coconut layer cake). Overall I found the small plate and salad enjoyable, but the beef tenderloin was anything but tender. Also, I’m not sure why the beef dish included soggy asparagus. I don’t know who thought serving asparagus on a flight where everyone shares a tiny restroom was a good idea (stinky). I am happy to report however than the lemon layer cake was fantastic.
About an hour before landing the flight attendants came around to deliver our “wake up breakfast.” Breakfast was simply various slices of fruit, greek yogurt, and a delicious cinnamon roll. The cinnamon roll was so good we asked for seconds and the flight attendant gladly accommodated us.
My Overall Impression On American Airlines Premium Economy
Honestly if I had paid a premium to sit in American’s Premium Economy cabin I would be fairly upset. Not that the experience was bad by any means, but it’s just not nearly as good a their current business class. Yes you’re getting a bigger seat with more recline, but you’re still basically sitting upright. The food was only slightly better than what I’ve been served in regular economy, the seats were marginally more comfortable, and the service was nothing spectacular. I was happy to find an expanded alcoholic beverage menu and a self-service snack bar in the premium cabin galley, but those were the only things that set PE apart from traditional economy.
I don’t think I’m going to go out of my way to pay for premium economy on future flights. I’d much rather continue to buy the cheapest economy class ticket available when crossing the atlantic.
I’m glad I finally got a chance to fly in American’s new Premium Economy cabin. It was nice to have a larger and more comfortable seats for our transatlantic crossing, but I don’t see myself paying a premium to sit in PE on future flights. Sure the overall experience is a slight step up from regular economy on the 787, but it is a HUGE step down from business class. I’d much rather save my money at the time of booking and pay for a miles & co-pay upgrade to business on future flights.
Honestly, this flight makes me question the entire PE product. I’m not really sure if the differentiation is enough to justify the added premium cost. I also really don’t see a huge market for people paying nearly double the cost of a regular seat to get an only slightly more comfortable seat and only slightly better in-flight experience. The only real value I see in buying PE in the future is the increase EQM earning rate.