Trip Report: American Premium Economy LAX – Tokyo (Narita)

Time for another trip report! Recently returned from Japan (I’m making it a mission to go several times a year – you should too!) and flew the outbound trip from LAX to Narita in American’s new Prem. Economy class of service. The next report will be the return flight on Japan Airlines in Business class.

These two flights couldn’t have been more different. Read on for more.

Since Premium Economy (W class) is new for US airlines I was really excited to try this product on American. I’ll admit – I usually fly Delta but American had prices that were under $700 o/w to Tokyo from LAX. That’s only $100 more than Main Cabin so it was the perfect opportunity to try something new since they just started W class on LAX-NRT.

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Our bird for today’s flight – 787-9 N826AN under one year old!

Now since this is a new hard and soft product I honestly didn’t get my expectations up. Previous review I read were a mixed bag – and I did notice some inconsistencies in the product and the service. More on that later – let’s talk cabin. Here’s the seatguru.com  map for the Bowing 787-9 with American’s layout. W class is only 21 seats and the way they curtain off this section from the rest of the plane – it creates the sense of a very intimate cabin. Personally I loved the layout and the Business class lavs that were for us to use. One complaint – the galley right in front of our cabin was never used to put out water and snacks and the LED lights were left on for the entire 11+hour flight.

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787-9 J and W cabin. W class uses the lavs at the rear of J class. Curtains have been moved so that J and W are almost a single cabin separating off from Economy.

Seats and Cabin

 The seats are essentially domestic First class seats with a ton of extras. (Armrest storage, remote for the IFE, power and USB and screens in front of you that rotate when someone reclines.) However in terms of seat width and legroom – it’s basically the same as flying First in the US. Totally doable for a flight of this length. Row 9 and 11 are marked yellow from SeatGuru due to the fact that row 11 is very close to the bulkhead and noise from Economy and row 9 can be a little tight given that this row has fold out foot rests, and rows 10 and 11 have flip down foot rest attached to the seat in front of you. I chose seat 10L, a window reserved for Elite AAdvantage members. Row 9 would have been more comfortable to sleep in but 10L meant no one on the aisle seat. You can see below that the seat is very smart but a bit boring looking and the cabin is very small and quiet.

 

IMG_1450American shows off 787-9 pr

As you can see on each seat is an upgraded pillow and blanket, amenity kit and Bose headphones. To be honest the headphones were the only thing worth picking up. I was a bit taken back that not even slippers were offered on a flight to Japan – every airline I know of does them even in Economy. That’s a fail on Americans part. The amenity kit wasn’t much either – just some cheap socks, eye mask and ear plugs. They put lotion in the restrooms but you don’t even get lip balm. Lucky for me I always make my own amenity kit so I was set. This time I had an Ethiad First Class kit which was amazing!

If you want me to make a fabulous amenity kit for you hit me up in the comments below! 🙂 

 

The seat itself is very comfortable but a bit hard to sleep in as it’s not flush with the sidewall. I ended up finding an extra pillow and blanket to stuff in the void so I could sleep a bit better. These seats do have much better lumbar support than most seats I’ve been in so that’s a bonus. Also – top tip – if you’re in an aisle seat, there is a lever that will lower your outer armrest to seat cushion level – give you a bit more wiggle room for sleeping. The storage area in the armrest was nice since you can fit your phone and chargers in one place – and your 110V outlet is in the armrest while USB is on the seat back screen. Attached next to the arm rest is the IFE remote control which is a blessing as the Panasonic system American uses is awesome but the touch screen is a bit sensitive.

Service : Hit or miss so standard for a US airline.

First up my usual – Gin and Tonic 🙂

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For all the money US airlines are making with bag fees, change fees, and fees to change your fees – you’d think that instead of complaining about airlines like the ME3 (Emirates, Qatar and Ethiad) or Norwegian, etc. – that they would invest that money in better products onboard. I feel the bulk of that money should be spent on customer service training for the cabin crew. They came across as nice but they were just going through the motions and when I chatted some of them up, complained about the aircraft and staffing issues. They did seem overworked and I never noticed anyone take a break.

The food in W on AA is basically the domestic First Class menu upgraded a bit for international routes. After boarding we were handed a menu that essentially tells you what you’ll be eating rather than much choice. This flight was Salmon or Beef – that’s it. Luckily I ordered the beef when booking the ticket – but almost didn’t get my choice since the FA’s never asked or checked to see who ordered what. One of the biggest let downs for me is that the entire drink service was done in plastic, despite meal trays that would come out with a glass on it. So basically over the duration of the flight and three meals, I “collected” my own glassware but was served each time in paper or plastic cups. Not a big deal but it did make the meal seem a bit cheaper since it came out on proper flatware with cutlery.

Here’s a promo image for a meal:

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…and here’s the beef as it came out to my seat…

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The meal was actually great. Large portions, a proven menu and clearly was catered in Business class so while it was the “all on one tray” service – the taste was very much like business class dining. My steak looks horrible but was perfectly cooked. I skipped the mid-flight snack (standard Ice Cream and a Turkey Pesto sandwich) and was delighted to find out that the pre-arrival meal was a choice of Western Style Eggs or Beef Curry and Rice. It was 3:30pm Tokyo time when they served this – most of us chose the beef to adjust to the time zone change. Sorry no pics of mid-flight or pre-arrival meal. I was pretty jet lagged at this point and was ready to get to my destination.

Economy looked cramped with the 3-3-3 across on this plane. Also, the lavs for Economy are in the middle of the cabin so the entire aft section is the galley. There wasn’t much of a place to stand or stretch in this area as you felt like you were in the crews way. Premium was better as they didn’t use the galley near our lavs. It made for a great and really private area to just stand and not get in the way. They missed a really great opportunity to put something cool in this area for Premium passengers.

I did sneak all the way back to Economy to get a jump seat shot 🙂

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One thing to note about the 787. It has a lower cabin altitude (6000′ vs. 8000′) and higher humidity in the cabin. I was skeptical but after nearly 12 hours in the air I could tell a dramatic difference. My nose and throat weren’t dried out and I did feel a bit more rested – which is much-needed as you need to have your A-game ready to navigate Narita airport. The dimmable window shades were nice as the cabin crew could black out the aircraft but you could still see a bit outside. Here’s a few pics along with the best moving map for an aviation lover in the sky!

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Conclusion : They have a possible winner of a new product. 

I can honestly say from the data I’ve seen that American will have more success than Delta if they just get a few teething issues worked out. Such a small cabin – use glasses! Slippers are mandatory on any flight to Japan. Snacks and self service bar! Dedicated cabin crew that are from J class would be nice. Welcome drinks please! Lounge access, etc. There are so many things they can do to really make it feel more premium than it actually is. I’m sure they will adjust as the airline rolls this seat out across the entire fleet.

For the price increase over Economy it’s almost a no brainer! It will be interesting to see how they price this product once it’s rolled out to additional aircraft. Right now the only aircraft that have W class are the 787-9, select A330 and 777’s.

Pro’s

  • Great seat that is an upgrade to what US flyers have in a Premium Eco. product.
  • American has a great First class menu they carried over and added regional dishes.
  • Feeling part of business class – including things like Priority Baggage.
  • Beautiful restrooms with plenty of amenities and room to change clothes.

Con’s

  • No lounge access (without status) and hit or miss Priority Security.
  • Amenity kit lacking but headphones and upgraded pillow and blanket make up.
  • No slippers or Sake on a flight to Japan! Drinks served in plastic – no good wines.
  • Rushed crew who still doesn’t understand the service but they are getting there.

 

More info on American Premium Economy and routes that can be booked now. 

Questions? Leave me a note in the comments and let’s start a conversation.

Cheers,

Tre

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