Best For: A comfortable seat and plenty of reliable in-seat power
Price: A weekday premium economy round trip in November starts at $1,940.
Flight time: 9 hours and 45 minutes
VERDICT This is a comfortable Premium Economy seat with all the power you need to work and enough room to sleep. It’s a shame the IFE and WiFi were not working. I probably wouldn’t have used the WiFi, but I would certainly have enjoyed watching a film or tracking the progress of the flight.
CHECK-IN I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 3 at 7:00 AM for my departure on AA51 at 9:15 AM, a flight of some nine hours and 45 minutes. Check-in at the airport is either in Zone B for Premium passengers or Zone E some distance away for all others.
THE LOUNGE Premium Economy passengers do not get the use of either of American’s two lounges at Terminal 3. For those with status either with the airline’s loyalty program, AAdvantage, or in Oneworld, the options are the Admirals Club or the International First Class Lounge, both accessed through the same entrance (in the same area as the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse). The International First Class lounge is what American calls its top lounges in airports where it has yet to refurbish them. Once refurbished and made like new, they are renamed Flagship lounges.
BOARDING Boarding took place at Gate 31 with priority to first and business class passengers followed by those in Premium Economy, main cabin extra and then economy seating. This was well organized and efficiently done.
THE SEAT The premium economy cabin on this 777-300ER is separated from business class by four washrooms, two for business class passengers and two for Premium Economy and economy passengers.
The configuration is 2-4-2 (AC – DEGH –JL) with three rows at the sides (16-18) and four rows in the center (16-19), making a total of 28 seats. Each has power, both from a traditional socket (EU, US or UK) and a USB port for digital devices, though it can be tricky to find and access – it is hidden under the armrest.
The comfortable, dark-grey leather seats have a pitch of 38 inches and are noticeably more spacious than those behind in economy. By choosing Premium Economy, you also avoid the new 3-4-3 seating (ten-across) in economy, which may be reason enough to pay the extra.
No matter how much airlines try to convince us that new economy seats offer enhanced levels of comfort over the previous cabins (a 3-3-3 configuration), space is tight, which makes it difficult to work or sleep. For a long day flight like this, being able to work was important, and this seat in Premium Economy meant I had the space and the power supplies to do so.
There is a limited amount of overhead bin space in the premium economy cabin. The presence of the over-wing doors means there are no overheads in those areas and the center bins are smaller capacity than the side ones. However, on this flight it wasn’t a problem, despite the cabin being full, perhaps because more passengers had checked their bags.
There are two places to store books and magazines in the seatback pockets, though bulky items wouldn’t fit. A small bag could easily go under the seat in front. Footrests come down from the seat in front (apart from the front row) and, when you recline, there’s also an electronically controlled leg rest if desired. These features make it a lot more comfortable for a long haul flight, as does the adjustable headrest, though lots of people had brought their own neck pillows (including me).
It’s worth noting that, while flight loads differ throughout the year, in this case both Premium Economy and business were full or close to it. However, economy was probably half empty, leaving a few lucky passengers the option of stretching out across two or three seats and thus having more space than those who had paid for Premium Economy.
BEST SEAT Avoid the center seats E and G. The best seats are those in the front row, particularly at the doors (16AC and 16JL), though bear in mind people will end up standing here either to stretch their legs or wait to use the washrooms, so they aren’t perhaps the quietest choice. These washrooms are also used by economy passengers from the front of the main cabin. If you do choose these front row seats by the doors, you might get cold feet, so pack an extra pair of socks.
I was in the back row in 19H, which meant I could recline my seat without worrying about encroaching on anyone’s space and also wasn’t knocked by any passengers sitting behind. However, one potential problem with this row is that there may be a bassinet at the front of the economy cabin and so just behind you, in which case all bets are off.
THE FLIGHT When we boarded we were told that the IFE system wasn’t working. This would have been a bitter blow for many, but I was working, so the main inconvenience was not having access to the flight maps and WiFi.
There was a small amenity bag at the seat containing an eye mask, ear plugs, toothbrush and toothpaste and CO Bigelow moisturizer and lip balm.
We departed on time and the meal service began once we were in the air. The starter was a salad of seasonal greens with balsamic vinaigrette. Mains were coconut curry chicken, rice and vegetables or tomato- and mozzarella-filled fiorelli pasta, leek sauce and pickled peppers with Grana Padano. I chose the latter, which was fine though hardly exciting. Dessert was apple crumble with fresh cream and blueberries.
Not everyone got the full choice – I got one of the last pasta dishes. As it says on the menu, “If we reach your seat, and have run out of your meal of choice, we apologize and hope you will still enjoy your flight.”
There was a choice of several different beers including Sam Adams, and a white wine – Reserve de Sainte-Hélène Colombard-Chardonnay, France – or a red – Villa Chavin Reserve Tempranillo Syrah, Spain. I had the red, which was acceptable.
Although this was a long flight, it passed quickly as I worked, read and slept a fair bit. The person on the inside of me in 19G was a heavy sleeper and so didn’t disturb me by getting up very often. About halfway through the flight I was hungry and walked to the back of the aircraft through the main economy cabin and found some chips and chocolate bars to eat.
There were some bouts of mild turbulence and, as has become the norm, the seat belt sign would be left on for prolonged periods. Many passengers ignored it to go to use the washroom or retrieve something from an overhead locker, with flight attendants in turn overlooking this behavior.
Around 90 minutes before landing there was another meal of Mediterranean salad, tzatziki, sautéed asparagus, roasted aubergine, roasted bell peppers, fusilli pasta, and chocolate and salted caramel pudding.
ARRIVAL We arrived on time and were quickly disembarked. There was no queue at immigration.