The ground-breaking Boeing 787-8 is a feat of engineering and efficiency and is one of the tools American Airlines is using to increase its competitive edge across its expansive network through Latin and South America, discovers Nick Walton.
As I had checked in for my flight in Hong Kong, I made my way from my arrival gate in Dallas/Fort Worth International, through a very lengthy immigration process (despite only transiting), and eventually on to American Airlines’ Admiral’s Club in Terminal D. This spacious and well-used lounge features well-appointed shower suites, which are brilliant after the 16-hour flight from Hong Kong, as well as a novel (and appreciated) guacamole stand, a sit-up cocktail bar, ample lounge seating overlooking the apron, and if you’re lucky enough to be flying in the airline’s First Class cabin (only available on selected long-haul routes) a signature dining room. I used the drink voucher I was given when I arrived at the lounge to order a nice Californian chardonnay, and found a cozy corner in anticipation for my next journey.
We boarded the two-class (although it also has the airline’s Main Cabin option) 787-8 at gate D33, entering the first of the aircraft’s two business class cabins, which boasts 20 of the 28 business class seats. Like many new business class products, the cabin initially looked very cramped, especially with the overhead bins open, but once you take a seat you realise there is an intelligent design at work. The cabin quickly filled up for the 9-hour overnight flight to Santiago, Chile.
This was my first time flying American Airlines’ newest generation business class product aboard the 787-8 and only my second ever time flying backwards – the staggered 1-2-1 configuration means some seats face forward and some backwards, although in a far more comfortable style than the fiasco you’ll find on British Airways’ A380.
My seat, 6L on the port side, facing the rear of the aircraft, is clearly well constructed and thoughtfully designed; there’s direct aisle access (which is infinitely better than the side-by-side window seats on United’s 787s), a large personal monitor that hinges out from the seat frame in front, wide arm rests on both sides, space for shoes (even my size 13s) under the ottoman-styled extension, two slots for tablets or magazines, a pair of AC power points, as well as two USB ports, a personal air flow, and two beautifully-large windows with electric ‘blinds’.
To one side is a pair of American Airlines’ signature Bose QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphone, which are truly a brilliant addition to the business class product, a bottle of water, and a chic amenity kit by Cole Haan. Two touchscreen panels, one with buttons, control the seat position and inflight entertainment system.
There is a tradeoff – seats facing forward have arm rests which can be lowered, thus increasing the seat’s 21-inch width to 26-inches, but backward facing seats have more work surfaces. In addition, for couples travelling together, on rear-facing seats the privacy screen between centre seats is permanently up, while on the forward-facing seats it’s permanently down, so make your seat choice accordingly.
After dinner, I converted my seat into a heavenly bed, complete with warm duvet and a pair of pillows. Although the seat is a little shorter and narrower at the feet and shoulders than its brethren on the 777, it still all-but-guarantees a great sleep.
The dinner service on this south-bound flight began with a well-made gin and tonic and a bowl of warm nuts (although it did take quite a while to arrive as you’ll read below). As I had snacked in the Admiral’s Club before the flight and wanted to get as much sleep as possible, I decided to just enjoy the dinner entrée, a beautifully balanced dish of cold chicken with grilled five spiced pineapple and watermelon that was accompanied by a loose-leaf salad with spicy sesame vinaigrette, and the cheese plate, which, as it was on previous flights, was a well-curated selection, served with crackers and a glass of port. Had dinner service been a bit quicker or the Express Option been available I would have opted for that. I also opted to just have coffee and yogurt as breakfast was served 90 minutes out from Santiago and I had another flight to catch soon after arrival.
As the business class cabin filled up crew offered sparkling wine in plastic glasses (I still find it curious that the airline will spend so much money on beautiful new airplanes and then use plastic cups as an initial welcomer) and dinner menus. The menu features an Express Option, which is very popular on late departures – although our departure time was 8pm it was evident that many passengers were opting for the Express Service.
Unfortunately, after takeoff the cabin attendant handling our side of the plane advised that because crew had not taken orders on the ground, the Express Option would not be available. While she said she would try to get meals out as quickly as possible, many passengers chose not to have a late dinner or the early breakfast offered.
It becomes apparent why the regulars all wanted the Express Option when, 80 minutes after takeoff, the crew finally emerge from the galley to offer pre-dinner drinks. They quickly set the table for those passengers dining, which essentially locks you into your seat until service is over. Despite the hiccups, dinner service was quick and efficient and friendly enough when it did start.
As with most overnight flights as soon as the lights were dimmed crew retreated to the galley, which was fine with me as I wanted to make the most of my seat-bed.
What We Liked
The 787-8 seat may not quite offer the market-leading comfort of its 777-300 sibling, but it’s still an inspired piece of hardware and a sign of great things to come at American Airlines. The Dreamliner’s mood lighting is also brilliant; even if it doesn’t help with your jetlag, it’s a great way to create a calm and soothing ambiance in the cabin.
What We Didn’t
The only niggle about the 787 seat is that unlike the 777-300ER set up there is no compartment in which to store the headphones. Service needs to be a bit sharper and more organized as well.
Latin and South America is American Airlines’ turf and the world-class 787 business class product is a sure way to maintain loyalty across the airline’s extensive network.
American Airlines business class Dallas/Fort Worth – Santiago return from US$6,070. www.aa.com