Airline review: American Airlines premium economy

THE ROUTE

Milan (Malpensa) to New York (JFK) 

THE PLANE

Boeing 767-300. Business class has 28 seats, Premium Economy (aka Main Cabin Extra) has 21 seats and Economy class has 160 seats. 

CLASS 

Economy class, seats 29B, C, E and G.  

DURATION

Nine hours and five minutes, a little more than the average flight time of eight hours and 48 minutes. 

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

AAdvantage​ and One World. 

THE SEAT

Economy seats are in a 2-3-2 layout with 31-inch (79-centimetre) pitch and 17.2-inch (44-centimetre) width. Frustratingly, seat numbers don't line up across the aisle so one member of our family of four was essentially sitting in the row behind. To add to the confusion, there's no 'D', 'F' or 'I'. The seats go AB-CEG-HJ. There was no bassinet seat, but E was 'blocked' for our 18 month old (who didn't have a ticketed seat). This is sometimes offered, but it's a good idea to ask up front when you're checking in with a child under two. 

BAGGAGE

Checked luggage up to 23 kilograms per passenger and two carry-on bags. I also checked in a pram which I haven't seen since I handed it to staff at the boarding gate. I picture it now, on a beach in Hawaii, celebrating its freedom.  

COMFORT 

For a long-haul flight, this ageing  aircraft feels more like a cheap airline than one that should be code-sharing our round-the-world tickets on Cathay Pacific (though the airline is currently in the process of a major upgrade of its fleet). While some elements, like the seats and fold-down tables have been 'retro-fitted', the plane – inside and out - looks a tad too much yesteryear. For example, in a Flying High moment during turbulence, multiple baggage compartments open simultaneously overhead. There are none of the little niceties like menu cards, bottled water or duty free, least of all comfort packs or diaper and kids' packs, which we've come to expect from Cathay. It is a daytime flight so sleep isn't essential, but given that the pleather​ seats have flexible headrests and tip back, and we get blankets and pillows, we do manage some zzzzs.  

ENTERTAINMENT

I am flummoxed - the screens are oversized drop-down 10.4 inch LCD monitors, the centre-aisle-only variety that were all the go in the 1980s. On a nine-hour flight with a four-year-old this is like some kind of cruel joke. Luckily, I brought the iPad for just such an emergency. But wait, it's not charged and the electricity outlets  - if your seat happens to have one - are the old cigarette lighter variety. I overcome the crisis by piling blankets and pillows high on the chair so my son can see over the top of the seat to the screen. In one final twist of the knife, I have to sit through The Lego Movie and Night at the Museum for the hundredth time.  

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FOOD

The food and service are the surprise element. Lunch, served shortly after takeoff, is a choice between curried chicken and rice, and pasta al pomodoro​. The ex-Italy flight makes the pasta a good choice, the trofie​ pasta reminiscent of the variety we've been eating around Tuscany. Mid-flight we are served chocolate ice cream. An hour before landing, tomato and pesto wraps are handed out. 

ONE MORE THING

The staff are mostly helpful and attentive, except for one occasion when I'm told there's no food for my 18 month old because she's flying on an unticketed seat. "Baby meals finished years ago" apparently. I am told to wait until end of service to see if there is a meal left over. There was. 

Tested by Penny Watson, who flew at her own expense. 

See also: American Airlines returns to Australian route with newest plane
See also: Flight test: Airline treats economy passengers to lounge, top food

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