In-flight: New York to London on American Airlines


When American Airlines announced their new 777-300ER cabin layout there was much rejoicing, mostly by people excited by the upgrades to the business class and first class products on board. Among other things, the new plane represented the first flat-beds in business class on the carrier’s fleet. But the new layout also included a rather unpleasant change for economy class passengers: The coach cabin would be 10-abreast rather than the traditional 9 on the 777. American Airlines is not the only carrier to choose such a layout but they are the only US-based carrier to do so. The arrangement is nearly universally hated by passengers (no surprise there) so I was not particularly excited to find myself staring down a schedule change on a trip to Europe which necessitated swapping from the relatively spacious economy seating on a US Airways A330 to the rather cramped 77W. But actually being able to make the flight trumped the comfort factor. And I figured it was time to finally have an experience in the new American Airlines 777 seating for myself.

The American Airlines terminal at JFK
The American Airlines terminal at JFK

Pre-flight was the typical JFK T8 evening experience, which is to say it was a complete mess. As I searched for the proper check-in counter the first agent sent me to the wrong location. Once I found the correct counter we were quickly checked in (no OLCI because there was a BA segment on the flight and AA cannot handle that online) and learned that the flight was relatively lightly loaded. That would turn out to be spectacular news, or at least as good as it would get on the flight, but more on that soon. Next up was the debacle which is the TSA at T8 in the evening. There are several wide-body departures between 7-11pm, many with customers who are not native English speakers. This leads to long lines and, for the TSA, an opportunity to speak with greater volume and condescension. I’m embarrassed by my country. We eventually made it past the 30+ minute line which was blocking the PreCheck entry and got in relatively quickly, despite the abuse the agents heaped on the families ahead of and behind us in the queue. After a quick dinner in the terminal (to maximize sleep time on board the 6 hour redeye) we headed to the gate area and eventually boarded the plane.

Economy Class (Main Cabin)  in the new American Airlines 777 seating

Walking through the business class cabin I can see why people like the product, though my wife did note that the seats look a bit narrow. Next up was Main Cabin Extra, with its comfortable and reasonably spaced seats. There were no pairs together by the time I booked or I likely would have paid up for that; the small incremental cost for the extra legroom – and, in the case of AA’s 77W, seat width – is often worthwhile to me. Instead we made our way through to the second row of the Main Cabin section. It is definitely a tighter experience.

Our location also gave me the opportunity to hear probably half of the passengers coming through note how the aisle narrows (rolling a bag through is mostly not possible) and observe the cramped quarters. Also, bright new IFE screens.

The 3-4-3 American Airlines 777 seating layout makes for a tight squeeze
The 3-4-3 American Airlines 777 seating layout makes for a tight squeeze

As the boarding process slowed and it was clear that the light loads really were very, very light I jumped at the opportunity to secure another 3 seat section which had remained empty to that point. My wife and I ended up with lie-flat coach for the flight. Given the price paid (very little, relatively speaking) and the part where we got the most space we could possibly expect for a coach ticket (OK, a few got lie-flat 4-across, but I’m not the jealous type) I don’t have a ton I can complain about.

Lie-flat coach: King of the (cheap) skies!
Lie-flat coach: King of the (cheap) skies!

Still, there were a few design decisions made by AA which made things even worse than just the 3-4-3 layout in Recaro slimline seats with 31″ pitch.

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The seats still recline a decent amount. With only 31″ pitch that can mean a seat back rather close to your face if you do not recline. More troubling to me, however, is that the IFE screens cannot tilt within the seat. So when the guy in front of me reclined it put the screen at a terrible angle. Watching a movie was mostly out of the question at that point unless I either slouched down a lot or also reclined, neither of which were my choice for remaining relatively comfortable.

Hard to watch the screen when the passenger in front is reclined
Hard to watch the screen when the passenger in front is reclined

Also slightly strange to me is that the galley at the rear has almost no counter space. For longer flights where the company might want to have snacks or drinks available for passengers there is not much room to do so.

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On the plus side, the AVOD selection on the IFE is pretty darn good. And both the 110v and USB outlets are front and center for the passenger.

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And, of course, the best part is that we flew over London as we landed. I know that’s typical but I don’t connect there all that often (I mostly try to avoid it, actually) and I do enjoy the views when I get them.

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Will I still fly the plane if the price is right? Sure. I can put up with discomfort for a few hours to save some cash. But it is most definitely NOT going to be my first choice for an aircraft to fly on, at least not in economy. And I say that as a guy who spends a lot of time crossing oceans in coach. The IFE is a decent distraction, but it is clear that the space is very tight, and the distractions only last so long.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

6 Comments

  1. thanks for the nice trip report. it’s probably doable for a quick 6.5 hr hop from JFK to LHR, but I can’t imagine doing that Y- seat for 16.5 DFW-HKG if the cabin is full and no “free 3 seats” row to lie down upon

  2. Thanks for the tip! I mostly fly in coach whenever I fly transatlantic JFK-LHR given how “short” the flight is. I agree with patricia.

  3. I recall this flight back in January and it was one of the few overnight Europe flights where I wasn’t able to sleep much (it was the night of your Finnair debacle). It was a relatively full flight and I had only the seat next to me open (middle 4). Having a stock of *A miles to burn, I avoid this 10 across on AC for the same comfort factor.

  4. I flew this route MCO to London on this aircraft in March in MCE. It was the most uncomfortable and horrible flight ever. In MCE! In a bulkhead seat. Cramped, extra skinny seats that were so uncomfortable. I purposefully chose this metal and was very upset with my choice. Seriously worst flight ever (I can’t stress that enough).

  5. i just did this crap seat. same issues with the screen not movable, the pitch, the width, could go on and on. i was in the middle aisle with 2 open and it still was miserable.

    these seats have gone too far, i have never flown spirit, but at at least those seats don’t recline.

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