Review: American 787 Business Class Dallas To Beijing
Review: Sheraton Grand Beijing Dongcheng
Touring Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, And The Great Wall
Review: American 787 Business Class Beijing To Dallas
We had taken a 5AM flight from Los Angeles to Dallas, and only had a 65 minute connection in Dallas. Since we had to switch concourses, we headed straight to our departure gate. Our flight was departing from the international terminal, which is Concourse D. This is where the Amex Centurion Lounge and American Flagship Dining are located, though we didn’t have time to use either in this instance.
Our 787 was parked at gate D33, located towards the end of the concourse. While the 787 is a nice enough looking plane, it’s not nearly as sleek as the A350, in my opinion, as it doesn’t have the same sharp lines.
We met our friend Alex at the gate, who was coming in on a different flight, but would be joining us from Dallas to Beijing.
Boarding for our flight was called at around 10:40AM, which was 35 minutes before departure. Boarding began with business class, and upon presenting our boarding passes and passports (oddly they didn’t actually look at the insides of our passports, but rather just verified that we had them), we were admitted onboard.
Dallas (DFW) – Beijing (PEK)
Thursday, March 31
Arrive: 2:15PM (+1 day)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 3A (Business Class)
Upon boarding through the second door we were greeted by the purser and the Chinese speaking flight attendant, who pointed us left towards the forward business class cabin. American’s 787 business class cabin consists of a total of 28 seats, spread across seven rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. There are five rows in the forward cabin, and then two rows in the rear cabin, behind the bathrooms and walk-up bar.
While the business class seats on American’s 777-300ERs are in a reverse herringbone configuration, on the 787-8 they alternate between being forward facing and rear facing. There are pros and cons to each type of seat, which I outlined in the previous post, so I won’t get into that in great detail here.
Ford was seated in seat 2A, which is a rear facing business class seat.
Meanwhile I was in seat 3A, which was the forward facing seat immediately behind him, and Alex was in 4A, a rear facing seat behind me.
Every other set of center seats has the barrier permanently raised (due to problems with the seats, which is why American is looking for a new seat vendor), which really pissed off two of the people in center seats across from me. They had selected the center seats because they wanted to sit together, so were pissed when they found out there would be a shield between them. American really could do a better job communicating that at the time of seat selection.
American’s new business class seats are clearly designed with the tech-savvy passenger in mind. There are two USB outlets and two 110v outlets at each seat. In addition to that there’s an exposed storage compartment where you can put a pair of headphones, glasses, etc.
Then next to that are the entertainment controls and seat controls, as well as a reading light. The seat controls are easy to use, as you simply push buttons on the small screen which display what you’d like to do with your seat.
However, I find the entertainment controller to be a pain to use. I just can’t figure out what any of the buttons are for, though fortunately the entertainment screen is touchscreen, so I could do everything I wanted without using the controller. I’d also note that the controller is very poorly placed. It’s right next to where your shoulder usually is, so I kept accidentally hitting the controller with my shoulder, causing my entertainment selection to fast forward, rewind, etc.
On the bottom left of the seat is the magazine pocket, as well as an area where you can theoretically store more items, though there’s nothing really holding the items back there.
The entertainment screen was attached to the same area of the seat as the ottoman. With the push of a button it would swing out so you could watch it head on.
The one thing that’s awkward about the seat is that for the most part someone is staring right at you, or you’re staring right at someone, depending on whether you have a forward or rear facing seat.
Already waiting at my seat upon boarding were a pillow and blanket. American’s pillows and blankets are fine. They’re not as bad as the paper thin pillows which British Airways or Iberia offer, but also aren’t as good as the Westin Heavenly Bedding which Delta offers.
There was a bunch of stuff already waiting at my seat on boarding, including headphones, an amenity kit, slippers, and the menu.
American offers Bose headphones in business class, which are fantastic. This is an area where American really excels, as there are plenty of top airlines which offer crap headphones even in first class.
The slippers American offers are a nice touch as well. They’re not the thickest slippers out there, but they do the trick for walking around without having to put on your shoes.
American has a new partnership with Cole Haan for their amenity kits, so I got one of their international business class amenity kits on this flight. In the past I’ve reviewed the kits they offer in premium transcon business class and premium transcon first class, though these are a bit different.
The amenities come in a dopp kit designed by Cole Haan. The business class kits have C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries products, including lip balm, body lotion, mouthwash, tissues, a pen, and foam headphone covers. On top of that there are coupons for discounts on Cole Haan and C.O. Bigelow products, which is a nice bonus.
Dallas to Beijing is a very senior route for American (Dallas is American’s most senior base, and these trips to Asia with one day layovers are very desirable for crews, since they only have to work 3-4 of these per month, meaning they get to spend a vast majority of their time at home). As a result, I find the crews on these routes to Asia to be a mixed bag, ranging from American’s worst to American’s best.
This crew was definitely above average, and quite friendly. Working our aisle was Pam, a big haired Texan who was hilarious. The purser was a slightly younger lady who was every bit as nice.
Once settled in they offered us pre-departure beverages. American serves cheaper champagne on the ground than in the air, since they have to pay taxes on it. So in general I’d advise waiting until after takeoff for the “good stuff” (in relative terms).
Boarding was efficient, probably because the 787 is a pretty small plane, and this flight was only about two thirds full in economy.
At 11:10AM the door closed with a full business class cabin, at which point the purser (who referred to herself as the inflight service coordinator) made her welcome aboard announcement. She informed us that our flight time was 13hr37min, that we had four pilots (one captain and three first officers), and nine flight attendants (two were Mandarin speaking).
Moments after the door closed we began our pushback, and by 11:15AM our engines were started and we were taxiing to the runway, at which point the safety video began to play.
We taxied out past some of the other American widebodies, and also past an Emirates 777 (this flight was recently downgraded from an A380), Korean 777, and Japan Airlines 787.
As many of you probably know, the 787 doesn’t have window shades. Instead it has a built-in dimmer, so you can select which setting you want it at. Personally I’m not a fan of this (it’s one of the reasons I prefer the A350), partly because it never gets completely dark, and partly because I find the dimmer a pain to use. For example, during the taxi out, the window kept auto-dimming. I kept trying to make it brighter, but after a few moments it dimmed again.
I brought this attention to the crew, though they weren’t of much help. I should have known better than to ask, much like I know better than to ask my mom for help with my iPhone. 😉
We had a fairly quick taxi, and as we approached the runway the very Texan captain made his welcome aboard announcement. His announcements were adorable, as he clearly loved making them, which is refreshing after him having presumably been with American for 20+ years (based on him being a captain on a widebody).
“Laaaaaadies aaaaand genttttttllllleeeeemen…”
We made it to runway 17R at 11:30AM, at which point we were immediately cleared for takeoff.
Our takeoff roll was quick, and it was awesome to watch the 787’s wing flex as we gained speed.
We had a great view of the airfield shortly after takeoff.
Our climb out was smooth and gradual, though within about 30 minutes we reached our initial cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.
I turned on the airshow, which I kept on in the background for the next few hours.
American has wifi on their 787s, which is a service offered through T-Mobile. A pass for the entire flight costs just $19, with no data caps. The quality of American’s wifi is fantastic, among the best of any carrier. Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means high speed, but it’s better than OnAir.
American has the best value international wifi of any airline I know. $19 for an entire flight with no data caps is great.
As we climbed out the flight attendants dimmed all the windows. Since the windows have dimmers and not shades, the crew can centrally control the brightness of the cabin. It’s a blessing and a curse, since they’ll almost always make it as dark as possible so that people sleep. That’s great when you want to sleep, but not so great when you’re on a 14 hour flight and want to stay awake and feel adjusted to daytime.
The flight attendants distributed hot towels, and then tablecloths. At that point the meal service began. The lunch menu read as follows:
And the wine & beverage list read as follows:
The flight attendants rolled through the cabin with the drink trolley. I just had an ice water, which was served with warm mixed nuts.
About 15 minutes later they rolled through the appetizer cart. On a single tray I was served the appetizer and salad, and also offered a selection from the breadbasket.
The appetizer consisted of Thai chicken, pineapple, and watermelon. It was a good concept, but the execution was rather bland, in my opinion.
The salad was small but tasty, especially with the spicy sesame dressing I had with it.
The highlight of the starter was the pretzel bread, as usual. 😉
For the main course I ordered the cashew chicken, which was surprisingly good. The chicken itself was moist, the sauce was flavorful, and the rice wasn’t hard-as-a-rock for once.
Alex had the halibut, which looked decent as well.
For dessert I had a sundae with berries and nuts. What’s not to love?
The entire meal service took about two hours, and was quite good. The food wasn’t memorable, but it was perfectly edible, and the crew was efficient and attentive.
I worked for about an hour after lunch, and eventually we were already three hours into the flight, approaching the state of Washington.
At this point I napped for a bit, and ended up waking up several hours later, as we were approaching Asia. I have to say, I slept extremely well, though that may have been a function of just how tired I was, due to the 5AM flight that morning. Aside from the shaking issue with these seats, they’re quite comfortable.
I like that the forward facing seats have more shoulder room, and also that there’s unlimited vertical space on the ottoman, so your feet aren’t confined to some small area. I can even bend my knees while in the reclined position, which isn’t possible in most business class configurations.
I should note that there was a mid-flight snack on offer, though I didn’t have it. The options for the snack were as follows:
Instead I grabbed a few things from the walk-up bar, which is located between the forward and rear business class cabins. This is a very nice offering on the part of American, as they have all kinds of packaged snacks (similar to what you’d find in the snack basket on a domestic flight), fresh fruit, sandwiches, wraps, sweets, etc.
There are two lavatories in the center area of the cabin. The one on the right side of the cabin is significantly more spacious.
After waking up I ordered a cup of coffee and also worked a bit longer. While the crew was friendly, they didn’t really come around much between meals. However, the second the call button was pushed they’d respond quickly. I’m perfectly fine with that system, since it minimizes the noise and movement in the cabin.
Once I finished some more work I browsed American’s entertainment selection, which was extensive. The 787 has a ton of movie options, more than what I’ve found on other planes.
There’s a certain type of movie I like watching on planes (nothing too serious), so after browsing the selection I figured “Sisters,” starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, was the best bet. The movie was… perfect for an airplane.
After that I decided to watch “San Francisco 2.0,” a documentary about the evolution of San Francisco over the years. It was a fascinating show which highlighted the ups and downs of the tech boom.
I worked for a bit longer, and before I knew it we were about 90 minutes outside of Beijing, at which point the next meal service began. The pre-arrival menu read as follows:
Pre-arrival meals on transpacific flights are always a bit confusing, to say the least. This flight was arriving in Beijing in the early afternoon, though based on our body clocks it was around midnight. So there’s not really a “right” meal to serve. So instead they give you a little bit of everything. In this case that included a strata, salad, and carrot cake.
The strata itself was quite good, as it’s also part of the normal breakfast rotation on domestic American flights. It’s light and fluffy, unlike some of American’s omelets, which are filled with an endless amount of cheese (I didn’t have the sausage, though).
I skipped the salad since they only offered a creamy dressing with it. I really wish airlines would more consistently offer a choice of dressing, or if they’re not going to offer a choice, that they at least don’t go with the unhealthiest type imaginable.
The carrot cake for dessert was tasty… and probably not healthy either. 😉
Eventually we were entering Chinese airspace, at which point the wifi cut out (China blocks this feature, unfortunately).
At around 1:20PM in Beijing the captain came on the PA to give us updated arrival information, informing us we’d be landing at around 2PM, which was a bit ahead of schedule.
The views on approach were pretty cool. In this instance we flew past the airport for about 20-30 miles, and then made a 180 degree turn to line up for our approach to the airport.
The flight was exceptionally smooth, and the first bumps we hit were on our final approach, shortly after the landing gear was lowered. It was a windy day in Beijing, so we were swaying side to side a bit on our approach.
Our touchdown at 2PM sharp was smooth, and we even lucked out with which runway we landed on. Beijing Capital Airport is huge, and if you’re assigned one of the far runways it can be a 15-20 minute taxi to the terminal.
In this instance we slowed down not far from the terminal, so it was just a five minute taxi to our arrival stand.
Our side of the terminal wasn’t too busy, aside from a Japan Airlines 787, and an ANA 737, which we parked next to.
We made it to the gate at around 2:05PM, a bit ahead of schedule.
We headed towards customs, where there was just a very short queue, and we were through within about five minutes.
American 787 business class bottom line
This was an enjoyable flight on American. I’ve long said business class is all about the hard product, and that’s an area where American does well.
I like the forward facing seats in this configuration, though the issue is that the seats shake. Aside from that they’re great, and the shaking can even be avoided by selecting the right seat.
The crew on this sector was very good as well. They weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they were friendly, and definitely above average.
Wifi is very important to me on international flights, and it’s an area where American excels. Just $19 for wifi with no data caps represents a great deal. However, I realize not everyone cares about wifi. For the time I wasn’t working, American’s entertainment system kept me entertained.
As far as the food goes, it was fine. There’s room for improvement there, but at least the food isn’t actively bad… well, at least on this flight (stay tuned for the return report).
If you’ve flown American’s 787 business class, what was your experience like?