American’s Boeing 777-300ER Reconfiguration Plan Revealed

American’s Boeing 787-9s were the first to offer a premium economy cabin, delivered that way from the factory. Their Boeing 777-200s have been reconfigured to offer premium economy, except for the the subfleet of 13 planes that have 45 of the Zodiac ‘Concept D’ business class seats. And reconfiguration of Airbus A330-200s are underway.

American Airlines Premium Economy Boeing 787-9

There hasn’t been a plan to reconfigure Airbus A330-300s or Boeing 767s. Both aircraft types are supposed to leave the fleet in a few years, though it looks like the 767s are sticking around longer than originally planned.

That leaves two aircraft types to reconfigure with premium economy: Boeing 777-300ERs and Boeing 787-;8s. The 777-300s are my favorite plane in the fleet.

  • They offer a first class cabin
  • They’re premium-heavy, with 52 business class seats
  • They have a great business class seat
  • Main Cabin Extra is 9-across seating in coach, rather than 10-across

American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER Business Class

American hasn’t publicly shared details of what the configuration of the 777-300ERs (“77W”) would look like once premium economy is added — what those seats will trade off with.

  • I’ve expected American to keep first class on these planes
  • I assumed we might see fewer business class seats. When US Airways management took over they changed the configuration of 777-200s to go from 45 to 37 business class seats

However it looks like premium economy just comes out of the coach cabin. Of course we’ll lose 9-across Main Cabin Extra seats, that beautiful feature of the plane was never going to survive US Airways management and the push towards ‘densification’.

American Airlines Premium Economy Boeing 787-9

American’s plan for retrofitting these planes has been to start at the very end of 2017 and fully retrofit these 20 planes in the first half of 2018.

The first plane with the new cabin was flown from Dallas Fort-Worth to Paine Field on December 3.

According to the unofficial American Airlines fleet site this plane has gone from 8 first class, 52 business class, 44 main cabin extra, and 202 coach to 8 first class, 52 business class, to 8 first class, 52 business class, 28 premium economy, 28 main cabin extra and 188 coach. (The current configuration Main Cabin Extra has 30 seats in the 9-across forward section of coach, while the other 14 seats come from the exit rows in 10-across economy further back.)

Traveling for Miles points out that American seems to have loaded a new seat map for all of its 777-300ERs effective April 19th showing premium economy but with those seats blocked. In other words, they haven’t loaded which planes will fly which routes as of which dates — but they don’t want anyone booking a coach ticket and securing themselves premium economy without an upcharge (or for Executive Platinums and Concierge Key members, a last minute upgrade).

Today rows 16-19 are 9-across Main Cabin Extra. Seat maps in mid-April show 8-across (i.e. premium economy) for rows 16-19, with those seats blocked.

It appears that American fits premium economy into the same cabin that Main Cabin Extra sits today. Of course American’s Main Cabin Extra on the Boeing 777-300ER in that section is generous with 36 inch pitch. On the Boeing 787-9 premium economy has 38 inch pitch. It wouldn’t surprise me to see 37 inch pitch premium economy meaning they need to find 3 inches in that portion of the aircraft.

What I’m not certain I understand is rows 20 and 21, currently assignable and showing 8-across rather than 10-across seating but that shouldn’t be premium economy seats in the coach cabin (given that the forward premium economy fits all the seats of that type we expect the plane to have, and that these rows are assignable).

With American’s international fleet largely re-configured to offer premium economy, there are two risks that I’ve written about in the past.

  1. Systemwide upgrades become valid for a one class of service upgrade only. Want business class? You’ll have to buy premium economy. Buy coach and your upgrade only gets you premium economy. I’d be surprised if this didn’t happen it’s just a matter of when.

  2. Award chart devaluation to make room for premium economy. When American finally makes it possible to redeem for premium economy awards (and upgrades), the price of business and first class awards may rise. Take Europe, where one way coach is 30,000 miles and one way business is 57,500. Say that premium economy is priced at 45,000 miles the increment to redeem for business class isn’t “enough.”

Update: @AirlineFlyer points out that American is selling premium economy on Boeing 777-300ERs effective June 26 for Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York JFK – London Heathrow as well as Dallas – Hong Kong. I see it on Miami – Buenos Aires and Miami – Sao Paulo as well, so it seems as though this is an effective date for 77W routes generally.

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. They should move the PE seats back and replace regular non-MCE seats or move the MCE rows back. It would give them a better chance to monetize the buy up to MCE on the long hauls that these planes usually fly.

  2. Premium Economy is a waste. Whats the purpose of shelling out all that extra money when you still cant sleep to lie down. To me…its sit down or lie down. Im not paying $1000 extra just for a couple inches of width. MCE on the 77W was fantastic and I flew it MANY times MIa-LHR. I guess its goodbye American. If the seat is going to suck anyway, better off on Virgin Atlantic where the service is usually better.

  3. “1. Systemwide upgrades become valid for a one class of service upgrade only.
    2.Award chart devaluation to make room for premium economy. ”

    very well said Gary. This is exactly why I’m not all that excited about PE as it will serve to ruin accessibility to J. DL’s massive shrinkage of the J cabin on their A350 is further proof of this trend. The only people truly cheering for PE are always those who financially benefit from such a move, like airline employees and contractors.

    ps : on a side note, beware when Google Flights list a very cheap “premium econ” for DL – many times those are Comfort+ and not true PE.

  4. I’m fine with a premium economy offering, it offers the right sweet spot between Y and J; and it also might make things better with upgrades. But US Airways management is doing a crap job with aircraft retrofits in general. I was shocked to see cloth seats disappear in MCE on the 77W two weeks ago. Pleather seats are fine for short haul aircraft, but for transcon and long haul, cloth seat covers are far more comfortable. Also, 10 across is an abomination. I’ve flown a 77W in non-MCE once when I changed flights at the last minute. And while I was lucky to have the middle 4 to myself, you can’t pull anything through that aisle.

  5. I’m really not sure what they’ve done and I think you may have mis-edited this paragraph:

    “According to the unofficial American Airlines fleet site this plane has gone from 8 first class, 52 business class, 44 main cabin extra, and 202 coach to 8 first class, 52 business class, to 8 first class, 52 business class, 28 main cabin extra, and 188 coach. (The current configuration Main Cabin Extra has 30 seats in the 9-across forward section of coach, while the other 14 seats come from the exit rows in 10-across economy further back.)”

    I think you left out how many premium economy there are in this list.

  6. Delta allows upgrades with Global Upgrade Certificates from coach to business class skipping Premium Select (premium economy) on its A350-900s. That means AA will follow suit under the DWDD theory of airline management.

    Premium economy adds further complications to the use of already complicated GUCs and SWUs. I think upgrades to the Delta Suites will be extremely hard to get and few if any will clear before departure. So it is risky to even request an upgrade to Delta Suites because if it doesn’t clear, there may be no premium economy seats left and one will be stuck in regular economy (there are no comfort plus seats on the DL A350). Delta reps say one can make separate requests for upgrades to business class and premium economy on the same flight but are unable to provide guidance on how these separate requests would be prioritized. DL and AA need to put their procedures and practices for upgrades in these situations in writing.

    Separately, what is the MCE configuration and seat specs on the remodeled 77W and where are those seats located?

  7. Not to worry on the possible change wherein you have to purchase Premium Economy in order to upgrade into Business with a System Wide Upgrade.

    There’s rarely available space to use the SWU’s now….

  8. Hay asshole. It’s not USAirways management it’s American management. It’s been way to many years to try to ride that horse.

  9. So will they try and keep any MCE seats on board at all (maybe the exit rows)? On most international carriers PE as a separate cabin class replaces simple extra-legroom seats in economy. Would assume American follows that too? I am sure they will ny allow two-cabin upgrades so Economy-business upgrades will disappear, as happened on CX and BA and JL.

  10. @Gary, According to AA 77W seat maps, row 20 is MCE. The rest of MCE is scattered but includes rows 31 and 32 with two seats each beside the galley and lavs and the center section of rows 33 to 35. From the map these seats are no wider than main cabin seats, and it appears that MCE has no additional legroom other than the bulkhead seats. It seems AA has found a way to devalue MCE too.

  11. Does this comment mean that row 33 (bulkhead) is the way to go if purchasing MCE? I wasn’t sure about the bulkhead (babies), but if that is the only seat with more room…why even pay for MCE? My mom and I already have, just trying to select the best seat.

  12. My perfect itinerary from LIS just evaporated due to a time change on the first flight (making my MAD connection impossible) and I am stuck with several unappealing options to maintain the PE fare I had booked. Basically my options are either the shortest legal LHR connection time–to the last LHR-DFW flight of the day OR a 5 hr LHR layover. I suppose I could also spend an extra night in Lisbon as the good routing remained intact on the Monday, but after two weeks in Portugal I may be ready to go home. The sweet spot is a 2-hr LHR connection with no terminal change but it is on one of these 77W birds with the PE section as yet unbookable, just as you have pictured here. Gold desk phone agent consulted her help desk and said PE is “unavailable.” I am probably going to need to go ahead and accept one of the other options above but wonder if at some point the PE section will open up for booking…and if so, will they let me change a second time without paying, since the original reason was not voluntary? Any theories on when and if those PE seats might be actually bookable as PE or whether I could get a second change for free when and if that happens?

  13. The blocked Premium Economy “cabin” on the my itenerary from HKG > DFW just opened up today for seat selection ( as MCE). This is for 4/30.

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