Short Flight in the Back of a Fancy Airplane: American 787-9 (Trip Report)

American, Trip Reports

It’s February and that means it’s time to take my annual pilgrimmage to Dallas/Ft Worth for American’s Annual Leadership Conference. The ALC is a great event that’s for managers in the company to learn more about how the last year has gone, see what’s in store for the future, and schmooze with other managers. American also invites a handful of media to attend, and that’s great… but it’s all off the record. So you won’t be getting any reports from me except on my flights, the eastbound of which was my first American 787 ride.

[Disclosure: American provided flight and hotel without charge]

When American invites you to go to the ALC, you just pick the flights you want and send to them for booking. So I sent some Delta options… ok, just kidding. But I was excited to see that a morning flight to DFW is now operated by a 787-9 that flies in from Sydney overnight, so naturally I chose that one.

I was booked in regular coach and was happy to see I snagged the last window on the flight. I was actually interested in trying the new premium economy seats, but for whatever reason, my ticket didn’t allow for any paid upgrade options. I just saw everything on the seat map grayed out. Oh well.

Traffic was brutal, and after parking at Quikpark, I saw my gate had shifted to the Bradley Terminal. I was cutting it a bit close as we left the garage with less than an hour to go until departure. I could have gone through security at the Bradley Terminal, but they don’t have Pre Check there, so I went to Terminal 4 instead where things were not moving quickly.

Once through I started walking over to the connector to Bradley when I saw the escalator going up was out of service. There was a mass of people huddling to get into the elevator. I don’t think they realized there were functioning stairs right next to it. I took those. On my walk over, I noticed that the security checkpoint at Bradley was mostly empty. That may have been a quicker option. But then I would have missed this view.

I got to the gate and boarding was just beginning. The 787-9 was looking pretty sharp in the early morning light.

Since I have the American credit card, I was in boarding group 5. By the time it was my turn to go, the line had backed up all the way up the jet bridge and nearly to the point where they take boarding passes. This was going to take awhile.

February 14, 2018
American 2459 Lv Los Angeles 820a Arr Dallas/Ft Worth 127p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 135, Runway 25L, Depart 2m Early
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate D23, Runway 18R, Arrive 24m Early
N821AN, Boeing 787-9, Ugly Flag colors, ~85% Full
Seat 35A, Coach
Flight Time 2h17m

As soon as I got onboard, I liked what I saw. Those big, sexy windows just call out to me every time I see them. I walked pass the premium economy section and thought it looked like a solid offering in that kind of cabin. The seats on the side hadn’t filled up yet, so I was able to snag a photo.

Then I kept trudging back until I was just a couple rows from the rear. Now I see why this was the last window seat. It has no window.

To be fair, the windows are so enormous on this airplane that I could lean forward and look out the one in front fairly well.

We pushed back and one of the pilots came on with a sound of surprise in his voice. Despite one runway being closed for construction at LAX, we were taxiing out quickly and would be airborne soon. He said it would be bumpy at first but it would smooth out once we got into Arizona.

Sure enough, after we got in the air, it got bouncy and the flight attendants stayed seated for awhile. I suppose the only fun part of this was being able to watch the inboard ailerons flutter up and down to try and smooth out the ride. I opted to watch a movie and flipped on Logan Lucky. Not a bad airplane flick, even if Daniel Craig doing a southern accent just seems so wrong.

The chop continued well past Arizona, but the flight attendants were able to get up. It was about an hour and fifteen minutes before I was given a Biscoff and some water though that certainly wasn’t their fault. I alternated between the movie and looking out the window where we moved in and out of a high overcast. Boooo.

I was going to log on and test out the satellite wifi, but by the time I did, there was only about an hour left of usable time (it warns at what point you’re expected to not be able to use wifi anymore, which is nice), so I decided it wasn’t worth the $12 for that.

Once we got into Texas, the chop finally calmed down and the seatbelt sign came off. One of the pilots came on the horn to give us an update. It was very clear he was from Texas when he said “I want to be the first to welcome you to Texas. The skies are clearing and temperatures are in the 60s. Welcome to paradise.” I’ve heard people call Texas a lot of things, both good and bad, but “paradise” is not one of them.

I tried out the live TV in the seatback, and it was ok. Options were very limited to only BBC News, CNN International, CNBC, and Sport24. I opted to turn on some music instead as we descended into DFW.

We landed early and our gate was waiting. I was off for a whirlwind couple of days. As usual, I crammed in a bunch of meetings/beers and was completely exhausted when my alarm went off far too early for my flight home.

I hopped in a Lyft and met Casey Norton for some pancakes. Casey used to be in corp comm at American, but these days he’s heading up the effort for DFW Airport. Since I don’t get to talk to him as often as I used to, I really enjoyed having some time to catch up and talk shop. Once we finished, he dropped me off at the airport right around 9. I was leaving from Terminal A, so I went into the line that had Pre Check and then promptly stopped moving.

I have no idea what the heck was going on, but it looked like there was a group of high school students who somehow all had Pre Check despite not really knowing what to do with it. People were taking their shoes off, their belts, etc. To make things worse, the TSA officer working the metal detector apparently really did not want to send anyone to get a secondary check. The person in front of me was directed to come through 6 separate times. She told him to take his belt off, then his shoes. Then she asked him if he was touching the gate when he walked through. It was as if she just didn’t want to be bothered with calling someone over. Finally after 6 tries, she did make him step aside, and the line started moving again.

On the other side, I had time to kill, so I logged on and worked. Wifi was humming along quite nicely at DFW that morning. All I had to do was try to mentally block out the loud TVs blaring overheard, and I was good to go. Our airplane came in from Austin, and it was ready to board on time. I got on in group 5 again and went straight to the back.

February 16, 2018
American 2404 Lv Dallas/Ft Worth 1045a Arr Los Angeles 1227p
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate A15, Runway 36R, Depart 4m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 48A, Runway 24L, Arrive 35m Early
N908AA, Airbus A321-231, Ugly Flag colors, 99% Full
Seat 33A, Coach
Flight Time 2h50m

Again I found myself in a seat on the window on the left. Once boarding completed, we were on our way to the runway. Winds were howling out of the north, so we had to taxi to the southern end before rocketing into the air. Nothing like a stiff headwind to get things moving upward quickly. As on the way out, we soon settled into a high overcast, only occasionally poking out. That is just so frustrating since I love me some window watching. This was one of the more clear moments of the flight.

This time, the flight attendants were up quickly and slinging drinks and Biscoff. I watched another movie (the truly awful “Geostorm”) and waited as we winged our way westward. Other than a “flight attendants prepare for departure” and “flight attendants prepare for landing announcement,” the cockpit was completely silent. It got to the point where the flight attendant began relaying messages to us. The seatbelt sign came on somewhere over New Mexico, and once in Arizona, the flight attendant came on to tell us that moderate chop was expected, so everyone needed to stay seated.

We descended down to 26,000 feet at that point and found slightly smoother air below the clouds. After we crossed into California, it got bouncy again and we went down to 24,000 feet until we began our descent.

Even sunny Palm Springs was cloudy that day, but just a bit further west, the skies cleared and it was a beautiful day in LA. We landed really early, and I figured that meant we’d head to the penalty box… but no, we had a gate waiting for us. WHAT IS THIS SORCERY!? I was already in my car by the time our original arrival time came around.

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27 comments on “Short Flight in the Back of a Fancy Airplane: American 787-9 (Trip Report)

  1. Seems to me that while at ALC you could have wangled a premium economy seat for your return flight, especially if you were willing to pay for the upgrade.


    1. Buzzygo – Since the return was on an A321, there was no premium econ. I actually asked them about why I couldn’t buy a seat up in prem econ on the way out while I was there. The people I spoke with weren’t sure, but it’s probably because it wasn’t booked as a normal revenue ticket.

  2. It seems to me if you have a window row seat and there’s no window, or only a limited one, you should be given a little refund for the shortcoming.

    Oh, I forgot, airlines can only charge more, never less. The legacy of tariffs, long-dead, but still lurking in the shadows!

    1. Does the airline charge a premium for a window seat? Do they base their prices and benefits on getting a window? If not, why do they owe you anything if you don’t actually get a window? It’s the location…aka not a middle seat. I get what you’re saying though..frustration is real if you expect a window.

      1. My suggestion is to stop using “back of the bus” because it is considered racist. In fact, some airlines won’t allow that term any longer!

    1. Christophe – As noted, this was the only window seat on the airplane. I don’t bother looking at Seatguru when I have no choice.

  3. As a lifelong Texan, I can tell you it’s most definitely not paradise, at least as far as the weather is concerned, but you can get some pretty good BBQ around these parts. :)

    AA also runs a 789 going the other direction (DFW-LAX) in the evening, usually a 6-7 pm departure. It’s the 789 coming in from ICN. I believe the PE cabin is sold as MCE on those flights. (I flew in that cabin shortly after the 789 launched; it is nice, especially at the modest fare premium over regular Y.) For that matter, as cheap as fares are between Dallas and LA right now, you can often snag one of the really fancy seats in the J cabin for around $250 each way.

  4. There’s a trick for free WiFi on any Gogo equipped flight in the US. Gogo offers 1 hour of free WiFi for TMobile customers, but you don’t have to actually have TMobile. They just ask for your phone number, so if you know anyone that has TMobile you can use theirs.

  5. Last year I flew the Boeing 787 Dreamliner twice. First time was a flight from ORD-LAX and that was the 787-8 and I was in seat 14L at or near the front of regular economy (there was MCE but no PE on that model) and I tell you it was tight with the 3-3-3 configuration. All 226 seats were filled.

    Second time was on a flight from LAX-DFW (my final destination was STL to see the Eclipse) and that was the 787-9 and I used miles and was in seat 8L the rearmost seat in Business Class. That was a lot more pleasant than the previous flight and all 285 seats were filled. That model did have Business Class, Premium Economy, Main Cabin Extra and Main Cabin.

    1. Southbay – Didn’t bother me. I’m not particularly wide, but it wasn’t an issue. Then again, I had a little kid next to me, so there was no fight over the armrest or anything like that.

    2. Haven’t done regular coach in the 789 yet, but have in the 788, and yes, they are tight. I’m pretty tiny (5’7″, 140), but I felt the shoulder squeeze in the window seat. OTOH, the padding beats the A321 slimlines. The 32B is a nice plane, but those seats get my thighs aching after 90 minutes tops. I didn’t really get the same feeling in the 788.

  6. > Since I have the American credit card, I was in boarding group 5.

    If I didn’t know they have now roughly 73 boarding groups, I would have thought they were punishing you for having the AA card. :)

  7. Ugly flag colors!? I think that American’s livery is the best in the sky, of any airline worldwide. And I don’t even fly AA, I’m a Delta guy!

    1. DD stands for Drunk Dougie. We know HE doesn’t fly the new AA 737 Max.

      There were far better alternatives

    2. DD: you’re barking up the wrong tree here. The vast majority of readers of this blog agree with Cranky about it. Besides, at this point it’s as much of a meme as that hilarious Tokyo map.

  8. “American also invites a handful of media to attend, and that’s great… but it’s all off the record.” Who are the other media that are invited? Is this exclusive access you receive the reason you keep quiet about the ongoing labor problems and other failings of the new management team?

  9. Flying in the front of the 787 Dreamliner is better than your experience flying in the back row.

    We traveled to Sydney, Australia early in Feb from Tampa and returned last week. We traveled from Houston to Sydney and return, nonstop, on the 787 Dreamliner with United Airlines.

    On our connecting flight from Tampa to Houston, we received a thank you note from United Captain Joe Hayes written on his business card. I am impressed by this note. On the outbound long haul flight, the lead flight attendant came to each person and personally thanked us for flying the ‘Friendly Skies.’ It appears United is trying to reshape their image and I think they are doing a good job.

    The meal selection and meals themselves were good and service was good too.

    I enjoy the Dreamliner window control which allows passengers at the window to let in full sun or power it down full to black which allows no light to enter. There’s also a master control which the flight attendant used to allow all the windows to be dark when it was time to sleep.

    The bedding was fresh and wrapped in plastic. It smelled good and was very comfortable. We received a ‘goodie’ box with flight amenities each way.

    On the return to Tampa, we were surprised to find the United terminal area full of people waiting for outbound or connecting flights.

    We booked with United because they offered the best round trip business class fare from Tampa to Sydney that we could find.

    Carmen Anderson

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