Airline review: American Airlines premium economy, Sydney-Los Angeles

THE ROUTE

AA72 Sydney to Los Angeles

THE AIRCRAFT

Boeing 787-9; AA has 20 Dreamliners of this configuration with another 27 on order.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Members of AAdvantage program earn points on American Airlines flights, as well as oneworld and other participating airlines. Partner programs for earning points include hotel stays, car rental and shopping.

CLASS

Premium economy, seat 10A

DURATION

Thirteen hours, six minutes.

FREQUENCY

American Airlines operates daily flights between Sydney and Los Angeles.

CHECKING IN

Check-in at Sydney Airport was a breeze, with no queue I went straight to the counter. One of the perks of flying premium economy is priority boarding and it was nice to walk onto the aircraft ahead of the scrum.

THE SEAT

There are a total of 21 seats in premium economy, three rows of 2-3-2 configuration. The cabin sits directly behind the business class cabin.

I'm in the middle row, in a window seat. It's conveniently located near the exit, the toilets and the galley, where complimentary drinks and snacks are available. A curtain separates the premium economy cabin from economy, creating a boutique atmosphere that feels spacious and cosy at the same time.

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BAGGAGE

Premium economy passengers may check two bags free of charge. A weight limit of 23 kilograms per bag applies. Carry-on luggage is limited to one personal item that must fit under the seat in front, and one bag not exceeding 56 x 36 x 23 centimetres. There are no unoccupied seats in premium economy cabin on my flight but there's still plenty of space in the overhead bins, which are deep and roomy.

COMFORT

American Airlines was the first US carrier to launch premium economy and it has had time to perfect the product on many of its international routes. It's a very well thought-out cabin experience, with just 21 seats and ample space.

The grey leather seats are comfortable and spacious, with 19 inches between armrests (2 more inches than economy seats) and a pitch of 38 inches. The seats recline to a considerable degree, and create an ergonomically appealing nest when the recline is utilised in conjunction with the foot rest and adjustable headrest.

The amenities pack is housed in a smart red and black Cole Haan bag, and comes with fashionable socks, eye mask, earplugs, C.O. Bigelow lip balm and moisturiser. Disposable slippers are provided, along with a premium Casper-branded pillow and blanket.

If we have any complaints it's that the seatback pocket doesn't extend out far enough, making it difficult to fit a couple of magazines and an iPad in there. The tray table in the armrest is a bit tricky to eject, though once out it can be folded in half, which is handy for resting a drink.

The high-tech Dreamliner windows don't have a manually adjustable shade and this too, takes some getting used to.

ENTERTAINMENT

The personal on-demand seatback entertainment system is impressive, loaded with 300 movies (48 are new release), as well as TV shows, games and audio (new releases, classics, American radio and more). Noise-reducing over-ear headphones are offered to premium economy passengers.

Unable to sleep during this daytime flight, and finding it hard to work with all the cabin lights turned off, I surrender to binge watching. I watch new releases Book Club, Beirut, Blockers and miniseries Top of the Lake. There are some good HBO shows, and also live TV (CNN, BBC, CNBC and Sport24). A dedicated Disney channel offers movies, music and TV.

The screen also displays an e-reader with digital editions of the inflight magazines, American Way, Celebrated Living and Nexos. Printed magazines are in the seatback pocket.

Inflight Wi-Fi is available for purchase: $US12 for two hours, $US17 for four hours and $US19 for the flight duration.

A USB port for charging devices is a welcome touch.

SERVICE

Efficient and businesslike, the American crew gets the job done but lacks the warmth we can usually expect from Asian and Middle Eastern airline crews. Dressed in classic navy and white uniforms, there's a focus on functionality over elegance.

FOOD

A lunch/dinner service is offered soon after our 10.15am departure. My choice of apricot and olive chicken breast with mashed potatoes, carrot and greens tastes fresh and flavoursome. Other choices are Thai yellow vegetable curry or a chilled smoked salmon plate. All are served with green salad, cheese and crackers, and a cold bread roll. The dessert tart is underwhelming.

Midway through the flight, a snack of mini beef hot dogs and Weis mango ice-cream bar is offered. At other times, self-serve snacks including Tim Tams and pretzels are available in the galley.

About two hours before arrival, we are offered a breakfast tray with fresh fruit (passionfruit, pineapple, watermelon and honeydew), apple cinnamon muffin, granola and Greek yoghurt. A hot dish features scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, bacon and grilled tomato.

The complimentary beverage choices in premium economy are impressive, with a wide range of non-alcoholic drinks (19 options) and beer (eight varieties, including Dos Equis, Pure Blonde and a Belgian IPA). Spirits on offer include Tito's vodka and Bombay Sapphire gin, while wines hail from France (Colombard-Chardonnay) and Spain (Tempranillo Syrah).

ONE MORE THING

American has committed significant investments to improve LAX terminal 4 and 5 over the next 15 years. Its newly renovated Flagship First Lounge for first class passengers is worth aspiring to. Premium economy passengers with oneworld Emerald or Sapphire status may access the Admirals Club lounge. Frequent flyers to the US might consider building up their status with American for this purpose. As the world's largest airline with many thousands of flights every day, the airline offers great onward connectivity.

If only it could do something to improve the wait times at LAX immigration. Two hours in a sweaty line after flying for 13 hours was not the welcome to the US I was hoping for.

THE VERDICT

This premium economy offering is a great option for travellers who crave more comfort, space and amenities than economy class provides, but can't justify the expense of business class. I enjoyed this flight considerably more than I have in business class on some other, older fleets.

Our rating out of five: 4.5

Kristie Kellahan travelled as a guest of American Airlines

See also: AirAsia's Premium Flatbed is business class for economy price

See also: Is Virgin's 'Economy X' class worth the extra $149?

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