American Airlines Announces the Debut of the Boeing 787-9 and Premium Economy

This morning American announced the launch date for their brand new Boeing 787-9 to go into international service. These are the first planes from a US airline with an international premium economy cabin.

Service will commence to Madrid and to Sao Paulo on November 4 with the following schedule. Dallas – Madrid is the inaugural international flight. These flights will be available for booking starting July 10.

The Boeing 787-9 will make its inaugural flight in commercial service on a domestic Dallas – Los Angeles run. They’re currently planning to operate Dallas – Los Angeles between October 6 and November 4.

Boeing has a cool new video out today on the 787-9 (HT: Economy Class and Beyond).

I flew the inaugural domestic Boeing 787-8 flight last year. I found the plane’s business class to be excellent but 9-across economy seating on a 787 is tight.

American Boeing 787-8

American’s Premium Economy Product

Back in December American hastily announced that they would be the first US airline to offer an international premium economy product.

Side View of American Airlines Premium Economy Seats, credit: American Airlines

Think of the seats like domestic first class with footrests. Premium economy will have more legroom than Main Cabin Extra (38 inch pitch) and is configured 2-3-2 abreast rather than 3-3-3 (so it’s a wider seat).

Bulkhead seats have real footrests. The other seats have a foot support bar beneath the seat in front. So bulkhead is what you want.


Premium economy won’t come with premium services like priority check-in, security, or boarding. It apparently comes with one extra checked bag. American already allows economy passengers to check one bag free on transatlantic flights (and two on Brazil flights).

Internationally premium economy flights will come with amenity kits and noise cancelling headsets.

Source: American Airlines

American’s Airbus A350s will be delivered with Premium Economy. Over the next few years American will retrofit existing Boeing 777-300ERs, Boeing 777-200ERs, Boeing 787-8s and Airbus A330s to include Premium Economy.

How to Get Into Premium Economy — and What It Means for Upgrades

While premium economy seats become available when the Boeing 787-9 goes into commercial service, it won’t be available for sale until flights at some point early next year.

As a result Premium Economy is being treated as a Main Cabin Extra seat until that time. That means it’s bookable for an extra charge or assignable complimentary by elites under their normal rules for access to extra legroom seating (Platinum members and above receive it complimentary at booking, Golds at check-in if available).

Until premium economy is available for sale there won’t be any premium economy award tickets and there won’t be any premium economy upgrades, either. I’m told those details “will not be announced until early 2017 when Premium Economy goes on sale.”

I asked American about upgrades to business class on premium economy-operated equipment, and was told “for the time being” economy will still be upgraded into business class. They’re not prepared to announce today that upgrades with miles or systemwide upgrade instruments will be to premium economy and not to business class on planes that have the product.

The Boeing 787-9 Will Be the First Aircraft With Ameican’s New Business Class Seat

American’s new business class seat will be the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond going into their Boeing 787-9, Airbus A350, and later retrofits of Boeing 777-200s. Here’s that seat:

Source: American Airlines

Dense Aircraft Configuration

Last month I shared leaked aircraft configurations from a catering document from January. It turns out that American has added seats to the aircraft since even that dense configuration.

At the time I wrote that “The Boeing 787-9 is expected to accommodate 277 passengers with 28 business class and 21 premium economy seats.”

It turns out that American’s 787-9 will actually have 285 seats (+8):

  • 30 business class seats
  • 21 premium economy seats
  • 234 economy seats (207 regular economy and 27 main cabin extra seats)

American’s existing Boeing 777-300ERs have over 19% business and first class seats (and no premium economy). These have 10.5% business class seats (and no first).

How American’s Premium Economy Fits In

Priced appropriately, premium economy hits a real sweet spot between a modicum of extra comfort and the cost of a lie flat business class seat. Even booking the flat bad on an overnight flight and the ‘domestic first class plus footrest’ seat on the day flight can be a real cost savings while without suffering long haul economy.

American isn’t aiming at the top end of the market here. For instance, the Singapore Airlines premium economy product offers a limited version of “Book the Cook” pre-order meal choices along with respectable champagne. And if you buy premium economy on Singapore you can upgrade to their phenomenal business class with miles almost every time.

Nonetheless it’s a big improvement over just extra legroom coach seating. And with a very small premium economy section on the aircraft it shouldn’t be too difficult to sell on longer routes. That will make upgrades from economy to premium economy, if that’s what’s offered, exceptionally tough however.

Finally there’s no word yet on American’s announced plan to introduce domestic premium economy next year or details on their stripped down basic economy fares.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I think what they’re going to accomplish is getting more people to fly airlines like Wow, Norwegian, Spirit and Frontier instead of American. Lately it seems like they’re in a race to the bottom.

  2. AA should consider keeping SWU and miles upgrades from Y to J, and use sticker upgrades (not currently valid for Intl) to allow elites to move from Y to Premium Y. That would reserve the premium economy for folks willing to pay for it until near to departure day, but still let elites sit there if they remain empty, with an ordered list of priority as opposed to first come first served.

  3. Uh, 2-3-2 is not “eight-across” unless I went very wrong somewhere in my schooling.

  4. Gary – it makes sense that they made the seating more dense because it appears they eliminated the Business Class bar from the 789. Here’s how it’s mentioned on the AA 789 landing page, “Walk-up bar stocked with snacks and refreshments – a first for any U.S. carrier (only available on 788 flights)”. I hope this is a mistake. If this is the case it’s a major downgrade and shows further product inconsistency.

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