Fifteen hours trapped in a flying metal tube isn’t exactly my idea of a good time. The long flight from the U.S. to Australia is part of the reason I decided to stay for a whole month—any less almost didn’t seem worth the trouble.
Luckily, I spotted a deal American Airlines offered back in June to fly nonstop from Los Angeles to Sydney in their new Premium Economy section for the same price as Main Cabin—about $1,500 roundtrip starting in November. Premium Economy seats are a little wider and offer more leg room, a fold out foot rest, thicker blanket and a handful of amenities. The ticket is also supposed to come with Business Class-level food and beverage service, but that wasn’t the case on my flight—more on that later.
American Airlines developed Premium Economy seating in response to feedback from budget-conscience customers who said they wanted an experience somewhere between Main Cabin and Business Class. The company has been rolling out retrofitted planes throughout the year.
On board the Boeing 787-9 that carried me across the Pacific, Business Class passengers basically have their own bedrooms, complete with a seat that lies flat into a bed and a door you can close to block out the rest of the cabin. They also paid at least $8,000.
Premium Economy is definitely closer to Main Cabin than Business Class on the comfort spectrum, but the small improvements made a huge difference. The seat was wide enough for me to sit cross-legged when I got cold, and you can lower the aisle-side arm rest for even more space. The seats recline a little more than those in the Main Cabin, and the footrest tricked me into thinking I was more horizontal than I actually was.
If you really want to get your money’s worth, snag a seat in the first row. My feet couldn’t even reach the wall in front of me, and the foot rest and entertainment screen are better than those in the next few rows.
Speaking of, the available in-flight entertainment was off the charts. They have every Harry Potter movie! I went with The Beguiled (meh), An Education (a personal fav) and Bridesmaids (classic).
The Premium Economy ticket also includes a little bag with headphones, a sleeping mask, ear plugs, a tooth brush and tooth paste and socks. It was a bit overkill (who gets on a 15 hours flight without their own pair of headphones and socks?) but appreciated nonetheless.
I made fast friends with the woman next to me as we struggled to figure out which buttons raised the footrest, entertainment screen and arm rests. The flight attendants tried to help, but were equally as unfamiliar with the new aircraft. By the end of the flight we had figured out every button except one.
After talking for awhile, my new friend asked me how much I paid for my ticket, and I told her it was around $1,600 after taxes. She said she paid about $600 more. I attribute my good fortune to First Class Flyer, a site that tracks anomaly fares like the one I snagged.
I saw the deal and bought my ticket during the two-day window it was available in June, but it looks like American ran a similar deal again last month, so I’d keep an eye out.
As for the food situation…American sent out an email the morning of my flight saying they had stopped using one of their onboard caterers based in Los Angeles, resulting in "limited service" on my flight. A quick Google search revealed that listeria was discovered at the caterer's facility.
From Business Insider: "According to American, the airlines use a total of three catering companies and is working on securing alternative food service for its flights out of the LA. Some flights were able to secure snacks while others were made to do without food service at all. A person at the airline told Business Insider that some of the company’s flagship Los Angeles-New York flights were reduced to only drink service on Wednesday."
Worried that meant 15 hours with no food, I stocked up on snacks before I boarded. But American managed to pull through. We were served two meals (dinner and breakfast) and one snack-type thing in between that resembled a hot pocket. (TBH I was in a ZzzQuil haze at that point).
Regardless, American Airlines issued $200 vouchers for those of us in Business and Premium Economy, presumably because the food is supposed to be substantially better than what we received. I'll be sure to give a full account following my flight home.
Premium Economy is definitely worth a few extra bucks on long flights, especially if the first row is available. But temper your expectations—you still can’t lay flat for 15 hours, and you never know when the airline is going to run out of food.