I’m in Chicago this weekend to see my family, and I flew here on American, as I usually do. I prefer United or Alaska on this route, but American is almost always cheaper in first class. Sometimes it will be on an A321 with individual screens (piloted by the father of a guy I went to college with), but most of the time it’s on a 737 with passably comfortable seats and direct-to-device streaming. It’s not the best value in the world for a first class product, but it’s still worth it to me to avoid wedging my fat ass into economy for four hours.
I got a real treat this trip though, since the flight at the time I needed was operated by a 787-8. I’ve been chasing widebodies on this route for years, but every time I book a United 777, it gets equipment-swapped at the last minute. I figured the same thing would happen here, so I was happily surprised when I saw it waiting at the gate, dwarfing all the other planes at SFO Terminal 2. (While it’s annoying I don’t have any lounge access in this terminal, sitting in a seat next to the window with this view was certainly a nice way to pass the time before the flight…)
Even better, on domestic flights, the lie-flat seats in business class are sold as “first class,” so you get WAY more for your money than you normally would on a flight like this. The only bummer was that this plane had the worse of American’s two business class configurations used on the 787. The superior one is a reverse herringbone seat called the “Super Diamond,” and it’s my favorite business class seat I haven’t tried yet. (If I don’t switch my flight coming back from Europe next year, I’ll get to try it twice on Air Canada — until then, all I can do is read review after review thinking about how nice it must be.)
The Super Diamond seat was actually a replacement when the manufacturer of American’s original design couldn’t actually make enough of the seats to fill all of American’s planes. It’s an odd design, with seats facing both forward and backward — and since they’re diagonal, that also means that some of them face the window and others face the aisle. Supposedly there are a number of shortcomings in the construction, most notably that entire groups of seats will shake when one passenger moves around.
However, the two last seats in the cabin (7A and 7K) don’t have this problem, and they face the “right” way, meaning they face forward and are angled toward the window like a normal reverse herringbone seat. Still, from all the images I’ve seen, these seats look super narrow and uncomfortable, so I’ve never been too sad that American is absolutely god-awful when it comes to opening business class awards on most long haul flights. On the other hand, for a domestic flight even United’s 8-across “hostel-style” business class seats would be an upgrade over the norm.
The main drawback of the seat is that it is actually pretty narrow, especially at the shoulders. I kept bumping into the panel that runs along the inside of the seat, where the seat controls, entertainment controller, and reading light are. Since it sticks out from the wall, it’s kind of uncomfortable unless you make a point to sit in a way where you don’t lean against it. I really like that the armrest can be raised or lowered, since it makes the seat feel much wider in bed mode. (Notably, the rear-facing seats have fixed armrests on both sides, so I would imagine they feel even narrower than this one.)
Storage also isn’t great, though it’s better than a lot of seats. There are a bunch of little spaces to stash odds-and-ends, but the compartment under the ottoman is pretty small, so you’re going to have to keep your carry-on bag in the overhead bin if it isn’t sitting at your feet.
One other thing I like about this seat is that the foot area is totally open. Unlike other reverse herringbone seats I’ve tried, I felt this seat was less claustrophobic, since my feet weren’t going under anything. I remember feeling kind of wedged-in on KLM’s 787 seat, and American’s A321 first class seat (which is pretty much the same as what’s on KLM) felt especially narrow — and I also hit my knees repeatedly on the bottom of the screen when I tried to move around while reclining.
I was surprised that the flight attendants came through the cabin to open all the screens before takeoff (so passengers could watch the safety video) but then didn’t make an announcement about closing them when the video was over. Gate to gate entertainment? In any case, the screen never got in my way while relaxing, as you can see here:
While it was a daytime flight, I did try reclining the seat into bed mode using the little control panel. Although the control panel looks pretty slick, it worked like crap, and I had to keep messing with it in order to make the bed go flat. I’m not sure if my particular seat was just glitchy or if this is common, but I found the presets to be almost useless, so I adjusted the seat piece-by-piece using the “custom” option instead.
I did notice that the seat felt a little narrow in bed mode around the head/shoulder area, but my legs had plenty of room. Basically the opposite of any other business class seat I’ve ever sat in. After lying down for a few minutes, I decided that I probably wouldn’t be too happy with the seat after a 14-hour flight to China or something… but I would feel the same way about a lot of business class seats, so that’s not too much of a dig.
In the end, I liked American’s seat a lot more than I expected to, and the only seats on US carriers that I’d prefer would be the United Polaris seat, the new Delta One Suite, or American’s other configurations on the 777/787. Just make sure you pay attention to seat selection, since it makes a big difference (just like it does on Polaris). I especially like row 7, since it’s in a two-row mini-cabin behind the main business class cabin, so it’s much quieter during the flight. I should also point out that one of the bathrooms is very large for a 787, and extra space in a bathroom is not something I’ve come to expect from American. Plus, row 7 gives you a great view of the amazing Dreamliner wing, and if you get some turbulence, you can really see it start to flex.
This ended up being a really fun flight due to the novelty of flying a Dreamliner on a short(ish) hop, and plus I watched a hilarious movie, and the pasta thing they served me for lunch was even sort of edible, which is pretty good for American. Now I just have to get over the disappointment of flying a crappy 737 back home, since I didn’t want to wake up in the middle of the night in order to catch the 787 out of Chicago at 7:10AM.
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