Hello, Live From My Longest Economy Flight In Years!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the potential for my first longhaul economy flight in 10+ years.

As I explained at the time, I haven’t flown longhaul economy in over 10 years. It’s not that I’m not willing to fly longhaul economy, but rather thanks to miles & points there hasn’t really been a need to.

My approach to avoiding economy on longhaul flights is generally as follows:

  • My typical strategy is to pay for my domestic flights and then redeem miles for my international flights, so by redeeming miles for first & business class I’m guaranteed the seat I want.
  • As an American AAdvantage Executive Platinum member, I receive eight systemwide upgrades per year, which are great for upgrading international flights, like Dallas to Hong Kong. I’m very selective with which flights I use these on, as I always want to make sure my upgrade odds are very good. I do this by:
    • Trying to find flights with upgrade space confirmable at booking, though that’s extremely rare nowadays, as American tends to hold back upgrade space
    • Booking on off peak days
    • Checking the business class seatmap before I book, to be sure not too many seats are occupied yet
    • Checking the economy class seatmap, and in particular the “preferred” economy seats, to see how much potential competition there is for those upgrades

Well, today I’m headed to Madrid, and it seems like I may have gambled badly. Very badly. I’m flying from Los Angeles to New York to Madrid.

My upgrade on Los Angeles to New York didn’t clear (I missed the upgrade by two people), and I haven’t cleared for my New York to Madrid flight for tonight, which is sold out in business class as of the time I’m writing this post (~12PM ET).

Now, admittedly Los Angeles to New York isn’t a “longhaul” flight, though it is my first transcon flight in economy in years. Yes, once in a while my upgrades don’t clear on midcons, but I don’t remember the last transcon I’ve done in economy.

In and of itself that’s totally fine, though going from my first transcon in economy in years to my first transatlantic flight in economy in 10+ years is a bit more jarring for me.

So I’m presently flying American’s A321 from Los Angeles to New York. I’ve flown this plane about a dozen times before, but always in first class, which is a great product.

American-A321-First-Class-01

I was dreading the thought of the flight in economy (again, not because I’m not willing to fly economy, but rather because I haven’t done it in so long). What are my initial thoughts?

It’s actually not bad at all… it’s almost pleasant. I guess you could say “the bark is worse than the bite” when it comes to anticipating economy travel, even as someone who hasn’t done it in eons.

But I have come to a few conclusions based on this:

Seats, legroom, and seatmates matter

I thought I’d feel squished in economy, but that really isn’t the case. I’m in a window seat in Main Cabin Extra. Legroom is excellent, the seat is comfortable, the seat is reasonably wide, etc. And my seatmate is quite small, so that helps as well.

American-A321-Economy-1

American-A321-Economy-3

American-A321-Economy-2

I’m actually able to comfortably work on my laptop, despite the fact that the person in front of me is reclined all the way.

Beyond that, the fact that the seat has conveniently placed power outlets, wifi, and inflight entertainment really helps.

So I’m really not physically uncomfortable in the slightest… even in economy. That’s a testament to extra legroom economy seating, and really how airlines are investing in the onboard product overall.

Back in the day when I frequently flew economy, there were no power outlets, no wifi, no individual entertainment screens, and extra legroom seating as an option was the exception rather than the norm.

I feel more recognized in economy than first class

As an Executive Platinum member you receive a free drink and snack in economy. I’m generally not a fan of airplane breakfast, but the turkey croissant on the economy menu sounded decent, so I ordered it.

American-A321-Economy-4

The flight attendant looked at her little tablet and said “thanks for your loyalty, Mr. Schlappig. This one is on us.”

And frankly the turkey croissant was about as good as any dish I’ve had in first class.

American-A321-Economy-5

The view from behind the wing is kind of awesome

As an aviation geek it’s really fun to sit behind the wing. I love looking out and watching the world go by, and the view is just that much better when you have the wing as the backdrop.

American-A321-Economy-6

It makes you appreciate premium cabins

Over the years I’ve come to take premium cabins for granted. Not because I somehow think I’m “entitled” to them, but rather because I’ve been fortunate enough to consistently sit there on longer flights thanks to this game we play.

This morning I walked through first class, then business class, and then to economy. I’ve never even been as far back as business class on this particular plane, but boy did those seats look comfortable. You can bet the next time I get on an A321 in first or business class I’ll be saying “ahhhh, this is nice.”

American-A321-Business

I’m dreading my connection

I’m not someone who cares about inflight entertainment, since I always bring my laptop and iPad, as I’m either working or watching my own shows.

I don’t think I ever fully appreciated how much of a difference a “wired” seat makes, though. Power ports, wifi, and a moving map make all the difference for me in being “comfortable.”

Assuming my upgrade doesn’t clear on my connecting flight, I’ll be stuck in economy on a plane with no personal entertainment, no power ports, old seats, and most likely inedible (complimentary) food. At least domestically I have the option of buying edible food (and getting it comped as an Executive Platinum member).

So I’m still hoping that upgrade clears, because I may have a different impression of economy when I land in Madrid tomorrow morning. 😉

Bottom line

Admittedly this isn’t a 15+ hour flight, but it is the longest economy flight I’ve taken in a long time. And it isn’t half bad. With extra legroom economy seating, wifi, and power ports, I’m a happy camper.

I won’t be dreading economy in the future, though I’ll still be doing all I can to avoid it using the power of miles & points.

Now let’s see how I feel after the next flight (still crossing my fingers that my upgrade clears)!

Comments

  1. Good luck Lucky! I hope the some AAngels can get you upgrades to business class on the transatlantic flight

  2. Oh, on a 763, are we? 😉

    I did SEA-JFK-LHR and ZRH-JFK-SEA in 2013/2104 to visit Europe over Christmas that year with my daughter on combined AS/AA awards for 20K in coach and survived just fine… and because AA won’t sell you MCE on an award, I had to spend some of it in… coach without extra legroom. OH TEH HORROR.

    The food was nothing special but edible. There was even Laughing Cow spreadable cheese to put on crackers and a dinner roll.

    Try not to wake up confused and ask the flight attendants where the shower and bar, though… 😉

  3. Good perspective. MCE still makes it easy. To really feel what it’s like to be “normal” you need to be in regular Y.

  4. I’ve always said the only way to truly appreciate flying business/first class is by flying economy class every now and then. 😉
    Enjoy the trip and I’m confident you’ll survive… though I do hope your upgrade clears!

  5. Damnit Man! If you are flying economy what hope is there for us common folk to be at the front of the plane?

  6. Did you give those business/first class snobs the evil eye as you trudged back to steerage+ ? 😉 Are you hinting at a new blog title: “View from behind the Wing”? 🙂 However, you don’t want to be the thought emulator in travel!

  7. I had no idea AA has planes over the ocean without personal video monitors. What plans do this? It’s as bad as UA 747 in Y?

  8. It is very important to chose the airline as there is a big variation in economy class. Personally in my experience (which is of course very limited) the best economy was on Qatar airways while the worst was on Etihad. I dare you travel from SFO-AUH on Jetihad in economy because after that you will really understand how sardines are packed in a tin container. Most of my life I have traveled in cattle class and it was only in the last few years (after being introduced to various travel blogs), I realized what I have missed.

  9. trying to figure out how you do 400k a year when you haven’t done a transcend in years…you don’t fly far enough to make the mileage claimed..

  10. Am I the only one hoping that your upgrade doesn’t clear so we can have your honest thoughts on a transatlantic flight in economy?

    I don’t like to wish bad things to people, but I can’t help myself but hope that your upgrade doesn’t clear! 😉

  11. 32B in Y eastbound from CA is a cake walk. i even do redeyes in the back that aren’t so bad, and i’m a tall dude. 737 in Y — going the long route via ORD or DFW — forget it. what a miserable aircraft.

  12. There’s really not a darn thing wrong with Economy (much less E+) for any flight under 4 hours or on which you don’t need to get some sleep. But get back to us if you end up behind the wing for that TATL hop.

  13. On the one hand, you have my condolences. On the other hand, I’m with Marc – would love to see a trip report from you on a transcon in Y class. 😉

  14. You should take a normal economy long hall(not extra legroom). This will allow you to see how 99% of people travel. Having 31in of legroom on a 8hr+ flight is horrible.

  15. Eponymous: worse! Looks like that flight to MAD is on a 752!! Oh the horror! Seriously, going anywhere in Y in a 752 leaves a mark.

  16. OK Lucky. To be honest, you really should change the blog title to “premium economy” since you are getting more leg space on the domestic flight. 🙂

    I’ll be awaiting your update on how the across the pond portion of your trip progresses in the cattle car, if you don’t get upgraded. Hope you do!

  17. As others have said, flying MCE is not the same as flying economy. It makes a huge difference. I’m glad you’re getting some perspective, but let us know once you fly true economy for 6+ hours. It’s not fun at all.

  18. I’ve flown coach on a few longish Y hops — DTW-FRA (return), SIN-NRT, and NRT-SEA. I was an NW plat at the time, so was able to book bulkheads at time of booking. What I found is that if I don’t intend to sleep on the flight, the bulkhead is sufficient. Really. At least for those 8 hour flights anyway.

    Not long after that, I flew DL J from CVG-CDG on a 763. I was pretty miserable actually.

  19. Seeing as you’re basically now the Kardashian of the points world (in that none of us personally know you but live vicariously through you) I actually can’t wait for the long haul economy review. This late into the series we need a few curveballs like that to liven things up.

  20. Honestly I have never taken Y in years. But back in the days I spend 13 hours in Y to transport between Asia and Americas. It’s not until when CZ retired their 772 and made YVR-CAN 787 and then I never flew Y again..

  21. Lucky – Better close that window shade and stop looking out at the world below or the guy next you will block you from leaving! Hey, but that may actually work as you might miss traveling on a real Y seat TATL;-)

  22. lol. Maybe next time, just buy the ticket instead of complaining so much. It’s one flight. Grow up and stop being such a spoilt child

  23. Last Thursday my upgrade home from work didn’t clear and I actually enjoyed MCE. I rarely eat the meals in first as I get dinner on arrival and generally just chug drink red wine. In MCE, I ordered a Jack and coke zero and the goldfish snack, was given a double without being asked and then thanked for being an EXP.

    For a 78 minute flight, it was all I needed.

  24. Come on Ben, how can you say ” frankly, the turkey croissant was as good as anything you gave had in first class” with a straight face. If this is really true, then all your posts over the years touting the “wonderful meals that you can order in advance on TG , LH, Cathay, Singapore, etc. are really exaggerations and standard meals like lobster, filet, etc. are lies. I think if you flew Econ consistently you would realize how
    LUCKY you are!

  25. So did the JFK – MAD upgrade clear ??

    I’m looking in the GDS right now and its indeed sold out on both AA/IB flights tonight

    1AA/IB 8644 J0 R0 D0 I0 Y0 B0 H0 JFKMAD 635P 640A‡1 DCA /E
    K0 M0 L0 V0 G0 S0 N0 O0 Q0
    2AA 94 J0 R0 D0 I0 Y0 B0 H0 JFKMAD 655P 715A‡1 DCA /E
    K0 M0 L0 V0 G0 S0 N0 O0 Q0
    3AA/IB 8646 J0 R0 D0 I0 Y0 B0 H0 JFKMAD 935P 940A‡1

  26. Up until the summer of 2010 I had not flown in the main cabin long haul since 1996. Then at the last minute I had to fly to HNL for work; all premium cabins were sold out. So I flew ANA economy class from NRT-HNL and was actually surprised and very pleased. ANA kept feeding us on this short seven hour flight. And to my amazement I slept for a few hours too.

    And while that experience was great, I have not flown in economy since that flight. I’m looking forward to reading your JFK-MAD review – I think you’re going to be fine.

  27. @Sam If you fly full time like Ben does 400k really isn’t all that far. It comes down to about 33k a month which can easily be done with 2 international trips a month.

  28. @Richard: I think the turkey croissant reference was restricted to American operators, where the food offerings are consistently ‘ordinary’ and is the butt of derision and endless jokes for those living outside the USA. So, consequently setting a very low bar for comparison purposes. The international examples you mention all have much superior F&B service.

  29. In September 2014 I took a long-haul economy flight. It was my first trip in economy since the 1980’s. DCA-DTW-AMS in Delta’s economy comfort. Surprisingly, it was very tolerable. Not bad at all. The delicious bloody marys certainly smoothed over many of economy’s rough edges.

    I’m really sick of all the snarky comments about Ben flying MCE instead of regular economy. Why would any sane person pass up flying a premium economy product in favor of standard economy? For those of you who want a review of standard economy, well here you go: the seat was cramped, there was no leg room, the food sucked, the flight attendants ignored the passengers, there was a bunch of screaming kids, the lavs stunk.

    That’s pretty much going to be the review of any long-haul economy flight.

  30. Ben,

    I’ll pile on that MCE isn’t half bad– and it’s generally business guys-and-gals in there, unlike my favorite nemesis Delta.

    With the integration of routes and US/AA aircraft it’s going to be bewildering to sort out the Airbus seat configurations.

    I’m on two different A321T configurations home to Hawaii, then back to DC next week. And, even
    the seating even on the TransCon 321T variants is different. I’m in MCE obviously, but am hoping the upgrades clear.

    As you said, always check the load and seat map before booking.
    Have good flights.

    Tachyon

  31. Hey Ben,

    I have a question. How do you manage earning miles on flights while you used miles for this flight? You can’t earn miles on redeemed mile flights, right?

  32. As far as I’m concerned, most domestic flights are whatever anyway. If you sit in first, you may or may not get entertainment, depending on the airline/aircraft; the food is always so-so anyway; the seats are recliners. It’s a mixed bag.
    Transcons are different. The airlines do what they can. I recently flew Delta Economy Comfort JFK-LAX and was pretty impressed. They served us dinner! They gave us all kinds of snacks! I probably could have gotten a drink if I wanted (which I didn’t because I was flying home early because I was sick). I still prefer business/first on the transcon (because I mean, come on), but it’s not completely essential.

  33. @nick

    The cynic in me suggested this post was written for them. But who am I to make such pronouncements? I’d much rather travel up front. Glad it worked out for him. Although there’s a part of me that would have found the novelty of reading an international coach review on this site interesting!

  34. @David – I guess I could have used an emoji as it was meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I don’t for a second, though, doubt that AA would bend over far more backwards for someone with a large readership than for a run of the mill EXP.

  35. Is the free sandwich given to EPs flying on an award (either AA or BA/other)? I know upgrades are not possible, but the food perk would be nice.

  36. For me it’s 90% about legroom, so add me to the majority sneering a little at considering E+ “economy.”
    E+ is my splurge when I’ve been very good!
    I think most of us would have liked to have you stuck there because we secretly wanted to feel admired for our ability to put up with the horrific conditions back there and we thought you’d be the perfect person to express that admiration.

  37. I think it’s important to keep in mind that the economy seats on the A321T are NOT the same economy seats in 99% of the other AA aircraft. The entire plane was designed to be premium, even in Y. I’d be very interested to get your take of Y on the 772/3, 767, or 787.

    I do agree that I feel more recognized in Y than in J or F, but that may because of the snack/drink – we don’t get any extras up front. I think AA has a way to go for welcoming EXPs in J and F – I get more recognition on QF and LA.

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