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.
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.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) October 10, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- American Airlines announces updates to long-haul fleet
- A different take on the new American Airlines 777-300ER interior
- Seat map now available for American Airlines’ 777-300
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