My First Flight in American’s New Slimline Seats (Trip Report)

American, Trip Reports

By my standards, I’ve been traveling a lot. It’s been a draining and emotional couple weeks, and to make things more challenging, I’ve been fighting a head cold. I had already committed to attending American’s Annual Leadership Conference, but I wavered since I just wasn’t feeling great. In the end, I went, and I’m glad I did. I was able to experience the new American coach seat for the first time. It’s not bad.

[Disclosure: American provided flights and hotel]

American 321 In Seat Video

I was originally going to fly on Tuesday and I had picked a flight on a 767 (pre-refurb, so it would have been… not great). But I was just finishing antibiotics for a sinus infection and I wasn’t really up to it. Instead, I asked American if they could push me to the next day and on a slightly later flight so I could rest. The flight, on a brand new A321, was pretty open and they were happy to help.

I was really glad to see American give me a seat in regular coach and not in Main Cabin Extra. On domestic flights, I really like trying out the standard coach products. That’s especially true when slimline seats are involved.

On the morning of the flight, I still wasn’t feeling great, so it was time for drugs. I had been told by a doctor that I should shoot some Afrin up my nose an hour or two before the flight and I’d be good to go. Holy crap. That’s an understatement.

Afrin is some serious stuff. I shot it up my nose and it burned like a mofo. After that, I think it started to eat my brain from the inside. My heart started racing and I got a bit dizzy. But sure enough, my head was cleared out.

I left home at 10a, parked at Quikpark, and made my way to Terminal 4. As usual, the Pre Check line was empty and I was on my way to the gate. It’s a much nicer experience when I’m not sitting in rush hour traffic.

I passed one gate showing an earlier DFW flight had canceled, so I knew my flight wouldn’t have an empty seat. As usual, there was a crowd of my nemeses, the “group 3” people, just blocking the boarding area. I had to weave through before I could get into the jet bridge with my group 2 boarding pass.

February 18, 2015
American 2419 Lv Los Angeles 1144a Arr Dallas/Ft Worth 445p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 49A, Runway 25R, Depart 2m Late
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate C2, Runway 18R, Arrive 4m Early
N126AN, Airbus A321-231, Ugly Flag colors, ~99% Full
Seat 30A
Flight Time 2h28m

Boarding took forever. I finally made it all the way to the back and took my seat. This was my first time in American’s new coach seats (other than a visit on the new A321T that I didn’t fly on), and it looked pretty good.

I took my seat and found plenty of legroom, but as with other slimline seats, the magazine pocket and the screen seemed pretty close. I decided to reserve judgment until I had been in them for a couple hours.

View From Gate 49A at LAX

The flight attendant that was manning the PA was not in a good mood. She barked that people better hurry up and sit down because we were 5 minutes from departure time (we were really more like 10). Then a couple minutes before, she came on again sounding resigned to a late departure. Turns out we pushed 2 minutes late.

I had started my inflight entertainment on the ground. The NBC in-flight stuff that’s usually on an overhead screen was free. Movies were $5 to $8. I just flipped on the NBC stuff and used it as background noise.

IFE Options American

We taxied down and then took off into a soupy murk. It was a foggy/hazy mess just off the coast of LA, but we were above it soon enough. By the time we had turned back around over land, I was able to break out my laptop and log on. I was shocked that I was able to open it up and put it on my tray table with no trouble. If the guy in front of me had leaned back, it would have been bad, but this was still better than my experience on United’s seat on the A320.

I started working and the flight attendants came by with drinks. I just had water, and was feeling pretty good in my Afrin-induced state. But they didn’t do another service and I started coughing toward the end. Sorry about that, seat 30B.

After a couple hours, I decided to really evaluate the seat. First off, it was comfortable. I couldn’t believe it. Thirty minutes into a Southwest flight and I’m in pain. That United A320 was torture. But this? I was totally fine with one big problem, as you can see below.

Big Entertainment Boxes on American

The inflight entertainment system was good, and the interface was well-done, but there is a massive box under the seat for both the window and middle. It’s awful. I’d much rather just scrap the screens entirely on a domestic flight. Give me wifi and a working power outlet and I’m good. International is a different story.

The flight attendants have a different aspect of the inflight entertainment system they hate. The call button on the screen is really easy to hit accidentally. It was going off constantly on our flight, and you could see the frustration on the faces of the flight attendants.

Flight Attendant Call Button on American

A couple hours in, we were rudely interrupted by the famously despised US Airways-era credit card pitch. If you’re going to put inflight entertainment on the airplane, you really shouldn’t interrupt me to sell a credit card. Not cool.

But at least they don’t need to interrupt with connecting gate info anymore. That’s all on the screen. We landed right on time.

The Annual Leadership Conference was interesting, as always. But most interesting was the briefing we had afterwards about the complaint against the Middle East carriers. I’ve seen the information that was given to the feds, and it’s certainly thought-provoking. I wondered before what they knew that we didn’t. Now I know. I can’t write specifics yet, but hopefully it won’t be too long.

For my return, I had asked them to put me on a later flight than originally scheduled so I could at least sleep in and rest a bit. That was helpful, and I made my way to the airport for the noon flight.

We were at gate C33, and I quickly learned that checkpoint didn’t have Pre Check. So I walked to the next one down since I didn’t have a time crunch. Once though security, I found the gate and prepared for boarding.

Incredibly, there were not a million people blocking the boarding entrance. The guy doing the announcements had the most pleasantly-mellowing voice. It was a surprisingly nice boarding experience.

February 20, 2015
American 2433 Lv Dallas/Ft Worth 1210p Arr Los Angeles 133p
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate C33, Runway 18L, Depart 1m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 48B, Runway 25L, Arrive 7m Early
N852NN, Boeing 737-823, Silver Eagle colors, ~99% Full
Seat 24A
Flight Time 2h59m

Once onboard, I found that I was on a 737 with the older interior and the old paint job. It’s always a guessing game with these guys, but at least I was able to admire the shiny fuselage on the way on to the airplane. I still don’t like the new livery.

I took my seat and read as we taxied out on a cloudy day. We were told it would be a long three hour flight with hefty headwinds. Oh well.

We took off into the low clouds and made it into the sunshine shortly after. I logged on to wifi and did work the entire way. We sat in a high cloud layer much of the way, and that’s no fun. It was a little bumpy so the seatbelt sign stayed on most of the time, but it wasn’t anything notable.

Sitting in a Cloud Layer

The flight attendants came through and did two drink services. I had some water and that was it. I did pay close attention to the seat since this was an older interior. You know what? My legs were more fatigued on this one than they were on the new seats coming out. That was a surprise.

American 777 and 737 with Winglet

We finally came out of the cloud layer over Palm Springs and descended in for an early landing. By this time, my head was pounding so I was really glad to be home.

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38 comments on “My First Flight in American’s New Slimline Seats (Trip Report)

  1. I flew AA from LAX last week and was confused by the boarding process. There was pre-boarding for various elite groups, but not for families with children. We were group 3, and at some point the monitors were showing boarding for groups 2-4 even though they had only announced group 2. They also announced that they would check all rollerboards for groups 3 and 4 to save time, and some people did go ahead and check them, even though in the end there was plenty of room in the overhead bins. Overall rather confusing and disorganized.

    Also, they don’t allow online check-in without assigned seats, and all they could offer us (a family of 5) was a bunch of scattered middle seats, or else a buy-up to main cabin extra with seats that still weren’t quite together. At the airport we got 5 seats together in one row. So why can’t they offer this online 24 hours prior? It’s not like their upsale options are even attractive.

    1. Greg – It’s entirely possible it was a perfectly clear day and I was just drugged out of my mind. Good point.

  2. I’ve heard that the AA Slimline IFE screens don’t tilt or don’t tilt much so if the person in front of you reclines it’s hard to see the screen. It doesn’t sound like you had a chance to test that rumor. Thoughts?

    1. They actually don’t tilt at all. This is also the case, I believe, on AA 77W. If the person in front of you reclines, you’re pretty much SOL in this respect. It stinks and is a huge design oversight (or maybe not oversight, but a cost decision)

    2. DaninMCI – I didn’t test it, but sounds like Jason knows it to be true. For me, I was working and just using the TV as background noise, so I wasn’t really trying to watch anyway.

  3. One thing that I found that worked well when flying with a head cold was a product called Ear Planes. These little ear plugs have a valve that relieves the pressure slowly so that your ears don’t “pop”. You put them in before take off and remove them after you have reached cruising altitude. You put them in again when the announcement is made to turn off all your electronic devices before you land. They are sold in drug stores and some airport shops. They also have some for children now. Try them the next time you fly with a head cold – they work. No, I do not work for this company but as someone who flew weekly for 20 years for work, every little bit helps.

      1. My wife uses earplanes or a competitor Flents flitemates on every trip. Years ago she flew when she had major congestion and the problems and pain persisted on later fights. These products are easy to use and solve the problem. One set is good for a round trip.Te two brands are similar in cost and effectiveness.

    1. Have you flown on a DL MD90 lately? Those seats are extremely narrow and tiny. Luckily I’m pretty short and I fit in them well, but someone who’s wide or tall wouldn’t find them comfy.

    2. MeanMeosh – The Southwest seats are actually the same old seat frames they had, but they just lowered them and put new cushioning. Those are evil. These are actually the Recaro seats which I believe are the same ones United uses on the A320. The difference is that American has an extra inch of pitch (I don’t need the legroom but it’s noticeably less cramped at eye level) and the cushioning is different. United says the cushioning gets better once they’re worn in, but I don’t know about that.

  4. I would love to hear a comparison of this new AA interior vs. what DL has on their newer planes. I’m quite fond of the Delta coach product on their 737-900’s and hopefully coming soon to all their aircraft. Looks like AA has similar quality/comfort, although I’m not sure if DL has a big control box under the seats. I’m an aisle person so wouldn’t know.

    As for IFE on domestic flights, I do enjoy it on the longer 2+ hour flights. If you can’t even watch a movie over the course of a flight, why bother, but transcons can be long flights. I have also noticed on flights with IFE there is far less milling around the cabin by the “tourists.” Hello Florida flights.

    It does baffle me why the call button can’t just stay above even with IFE. I’m sure it’s a cost thing but why change something that was never broke?

  5. Are the seats on the 321 better than the 319…I found AA’s 319 the most uncomfortable ride in Y…and that was on IAH-DFW! The IFE was great though. I try and avoid UA 319/320 with the refurb as well.

    1. Dr Jordan – Same seats but the 319 has one inch less pitch. I’ve heard it makes a huge difference and the 319 is miserable compared to the 321. (The 319 has the same pitch as United does on its 320s.)

    2. I found the same issue in VX on the 319 vs. the 320. The 320 was fine in coach, even on the long-ish flight from DFW to SFO. The return on the 319, though, was not good. My thighs were killing me after about an hour and a half, just like they did on Southwest’s Devolve seats. It was odd, as I don’t believe there’s any difference in pitch between the 319 an 320 on VX. Maybe it was just me being super tired after a day full of walking.

  6. ” I’ve seen the information that was given to the feds, and it’s certainly thought-provoking. I wondered before what they knew that we didn’t. Now I know. I can’t write specifics yet, but hopefully it won’t be too long.”

    You big tease…

      1. The fact that they’re suppressing the publication of this dossier raises red flags for me. If they really had the goods you’d think they’d want to shout it from the rooftops not engage in backroom tittle tattle…

  7. thanks CF for the trip report. i continue to live vicariously, but little by little my passion for airlines is fading.

  8. Love your trip reports. My guess is that you don’t comment in each of these report on half the things about your travel experience that drive you crazy. Thank you.

    I suppose each of us look at the travel experience from a perspecive that is our and ours alone and things that seem to drive others crazy don’t register. Experience, I suppose.

    Bottom line with the trip: were you comfortable? Today, I find the answer is absolutely NO. Either they don’t know what basic “comfort” is, or if they do, and they know you’re not comfortable, the basic purpose of any airline today is to offer you things to make you forget why your are miserable.

    Admittedly, I grew up in an era differently from that today. Back then (and memory fails me, I’m sure) wasn’t it: “Dear traveler, please line up and get into the cabin as quickly as possible. Stow your things quickly and do so without causing a fuss for everyone around you. Sit down. Shut up. Buckle up. Listen to instructions from the cabin crew. Get things from your personal carry-ons to occupy you for the duration of the trip–newspapers, books, any reading material, things on you personal machines.”

    “Yes, we have restrooms onboard. We serve you water to drink. Sorry, we don’t feed you anymore. We decided we don’t know how to run a restaurant or a fast-food joint. If you have to eat something, bring it along. Oh yeh, all this high tech stuff. We don’t believe we have to replicate your office or your home at your seat. The purpose of this aircraft is to get you to your destination.

    Sorry, comfort is not in our lexicon. If we find a seat in which you’re comfortable, somebody is going to get fired. You think you hated a 28” seat pitch? You haven’t seen anything yet!

    Oh yes, head cold? Stay home!

  9. Back to sinuses. I didn’t see anyone mention the idea of using saline spray to prevent/cure sinus problems. I’ve always had a terrible time (my first time flying was in 1970) with descents, especially to airports at or near sea level, since my home altitude is just short of 7,500 ft. Many years ago my doctor suggested I try Ocean (brand of saline spray – generic substitutes are a lot cheaper and every bit as good). I’ve hardly had any trouble since. I start with a little spray about 2/3 of the way through a flight, with an extra dose as descent starts, with a cough drop (usually Ricola lemon mint). Usually, no problem. The trouble with medicated sprays is that they tend to have a rebound effect, although of course your mileage may vary. Actually, pressurization systems are SO much easier on my poor aching head than they were back in the days of the early-model DC9s, et al, that changed pressure in steps, that on some flights I’m able to get by without the spray.

  10. I was surprised that you called the seats “not bad” given the actual review you gave them and since you said they were better than both United and Southwest. I would have expected maybe “ok” or “fair”.

    1. Scott – I really just was surprised at the comfort level of the cushion.
      That’s where seats have fallen down for me before, and this one didn’t hurt at all.

  11. We are a local limo company in miami and tend to pick up a large number of travellers from miami, ft lauderdale and west palm beach airports.. i must admit, many of our chauffeurs can tell you countless stories about flights, seating and the constant corner cutting airlines tend to take. We’ve discussed this a few times in the office and we, just like airlines, can have slightly fluctuating rates depending on gas prices.. the past few months, we were actually able to lower our prices – although slightly – but we’re doing just as fine. why can’t airlines elevate it’s standard abit.. this trend of cutting down on features and increasing profit really did start around the economic crisis of 2007 and they haven’t stopped if you think about it. American has done well but with seats that narrow, they really do need to think things through abit. Travellers deserve a little more!

    Great article CF by the way

  12. Things certainly have changed over the years. One drink service LAX-DFW. That’s not good, but AA does serve the full can. Just hope a mid-flight request for another cup of ice is met with a smile.

  13. it’s amazing that the giant infotainment boxes under the seats make the entire system seem like a relic, even though it has just been rolled out. although Delta Studio can be clunky to use, i’d much rather have something like that as an option so that the already cramped coach seating can have just a bit more legroom

  14. But Cranky, that credit card pitch is “an exciting limited time offer ONLY available in-flight”!!! I know because they’ve been telling me about it every flight for the past five years.

  15. 1) on the LAX to DFW segment they probably did one service because under 2:30 flying time that is all that is required. It’s can be as much as 45 minutes shorter due to the winds when you go west to east.
    Even if they had wanted to do a second service, there was probably minimal left to do one with.
    2) the AA 319 seat is the most torturous thing I have ever experienced. I simply cannot imagine Spirit using a 28 pitch when, at 30 pitch, my knees were crammed against the seat in front of me. I do not believe it is safe. You could no more bend down and grab your ankles in an emergency landing than you could have a full hot meal in coach!
    3) I completely agree about the IFE box under the seat in front. Incredibly restrictive of stowage and leg room. I am sure there must be other places for it, but I would guess it’s all about cost. Also what’s to prevent some angry passenger to kick the hell out of it? I don’t get it.
    4) Flight attendants get $50 for every credit card app that ends up being approved. Some participate in it, most don’t. A friend of mine has already made $500. He just walks through the aisle holding up the application. Isn’t overbearing about it.

  16. I’m really glad you got through these flights without damage to your sinuses or eardrums. In eight years of long-haul flying, I had more than a few passengers and fellow crew members who, even though they had followed their physician’s advice, were not so fortunate. Flying with a sinus or ear infection at the altitudes that commercial jet passenger a/c fly is a real risk, even with medication.

  17. In July last year I got to ride in a brand new AA 738 and was appalled by those boxes.

    Back then the IFE was free so I didn’t mind them (I picked the right seat, actually. An A seat.) but now that you have to pay I too find them borderline worthless….but not completely.

    I linked my name to a trip report I wrote about it (in Spanish but check the pictures) with some more detail.

    Also got to ride on MCE on a 321recently …the mini cabin with 3 rows, I believe. It was insanely spacious!

  18. One of the main comments of the review is the leg fatigue. Has anyone developed any trick to minimize this fatigue???

  19. Your report was actually sent to me by another airline with a particualr emphasis on those boxes under the seat. I can’t stand them either. Years ago I decided, after numerous flights where it was a constant fight between my feet and my briefcase as to which would rest on my lap, I decided my company would design a method to re-locate them off the seat and out of the passnger cabin. We’ve implemented this design onto 200+ commercial aircraft over the years during retrofits. We call it iCACHE and it removes all those boxes and their associated wires from the passenger cabin. Where there is a will, there is a way although it helps to own a commercial aviation design company to create space.

  20. Flew this and actually really liked the seat, even more than the old version, which I also flew. The underseat entertainment box is absurd. I believe all BCDE seats have them, i.e. all aisles and middles.

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