DALLAS — The new American has a new aircraft. The Boeing 787-9 is now officially in service for American Airlines (AA).
On October 6, 2016, American Airlines operated its first scheduled revenue flight with the Boeing 787-9, flying from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Los Angeles (LAX), AA2401 departed along its maiden voyage at 07:20, exactly on time with its scheduled pushback time.
Airways joined American Airlines on the first flight. In the early morning hours, the aircraft lifted from the runway at its home in Dallas home — the first time of many to come for the new bird.
The new aircraft will fly test runs between DFW and Los Angeles until November 3, when AA will switch the aircraft over to its intended international flying. The airline operated a validation flight between DFW and London-Heathrow on October 4 to obtain long-range certification for the aircraft (which technically counted as the first official first revenue flight, although not a normally scheduled route for the 787-9). The first international routes for the 787-9 are scheduled to be Madrid, Spain (MAD) and Sao Paulo, Brazil (GRU).
American similarly ran test runs with its smaller Boeing 787-8 between DFW and Chicago O’Hare (ORD), before deploying the aircraft on several of its East Asian long-haul routes.
American formally welcomed the 787-9 into its fleet back in September, when it took delivery of the aircraft.
American Operates Inaugural 787-9 Flight
The day kicked off bright and early for American passengers aboard AA 2401.
American Airlines offered the opportunity for media members to step on board prior to general boarding to take pictures. General boarding then commenced without much fanfare.
As passengers embarked on the aircraft, the captain welcomed customers aboard the “inaugural” flight for the Boeing 787-9, the newest addition to American’s fleet. The aircraft pushed back from the gate and headed for the runway on what was an overcast day deep in the heart of Texas.
The flight itself was relatively uneventful. American did not celebrate the inaugural in any extravagant way. Instead, it downplayed the inaugural as compared to some others, especially when compared to the launch of its 787-8. The flight appeared popular predominantly among AvGeeks, but did not seem to receive much attention from outside.
Aside from a few mentions that the flight was the first domestically for the aircraft, it was business as usual as AA2401 approached Los Angeles.
The flight pulled into Gate 43 at LAX just as it departed Gate D29A in Dallas – exactly on time. After passengers disembarked, American again offered an opportunity to see the aircraft up close. Media members were escorted onto the ramp for a close-up with the 787-9.
Los Angeles is a key first stop for the 787-9, even though it will be pulled from the airport once it starts its international service out of DFW. American is investing heavily in the Los Angeles market, leading the market share at the airport, and has repeatedly claimed it wants to be the “best in LAX.”
Airways spoke with Jim Moses, the airline’s Managing Director at LAX, following the arrival of the flight. He emphasized the importance of Los Angeles for American. Los Angeles is a business-heavy market with many “high-value” customers, particularly in the entertainment industry, he said. This plays into American’s long-term strategy in the market.
Moses cited investments in the airport experience, additions of the airline’s newest aircraft for LAX customers, and broader engagement in the community as evidence of its commitment to Los Angeles.
The airline has added capacity rather aggressively at LAX, despite strong presences from all four of the nation’s largest carriers at the airport. More destinations and higher frequency also speak to the airline’s play for business customers, believes Moses.
Los Angeles has come into focus within American’s network as a premier west coast gateway. The airline “continues to evaluate network opportunities,” says Moses, to grow further. This includes potential domestic and East Asian additions, where the 787-9 might fit well, over the long-term. American might also look to add capacity to its Tokyo-Haneda route from Los Angeles, which recently received a daytime slot from the Department of Transportation.
According to Moses, it is critical that American be viewed as the best “in the eyes of our customers” above all else.
Dreamliner Provides Economic Fuel Efficiency, Unlocks New Route Possibilities
The Dreamliner is a game changer for American, as it unlocks many new network possibilities for the airline.
One of the primary benefits of the Dreamliner is its superior fuel efficiency, which allows airlines to fly longer and thinner routes on a profitable basis. The economic advantages are certainly one of the primary benefits of the 787-9, much like the case of its 787-8 sibling.
Speaking for its 787-8 fleet, American has made the decision to deploy its aircraft on many of its East Asian routes, for example. These historically have not made money, according to CEO Doug Parker. We might expect American to similarly place the 787-9 on more financially challenging routes as it takes delivery of more aircraft.
Sao Paulo, Brazil, currently facing strong economic headwinds, is certainly a great example of American positioning the aircraft in rough economic climates. The airline could also look to explore new destinations entirely down the road which were not deemed feasible previously.
The aircraft also has a longer range, allowing airlines to stretch the boundaries for new routes. It has a maximum range of between 8,000 nm and 8,500 nm, placing it as one of the longest range airliners in the world.
The aircraft is, in many ways, the dream plane for the airlines.
A True Premium Economy
From a passenger experience perspective, the 787-9’s strong Premium Economy product takes the spotlight.
Premium Economy seats feature 38 inches of pitch – well above that in standard economy. They come equipped with extendable foot, leg, and hand rests, personal on-demand entertainment systems and larger touchscreen monitors.
Premium Economy will not actually be sold as a stand-alone ticket until early 2017. Until then, American will only offer the fare class to its higher tier AAdvantage members. In addition, Premium Economy soft service does not begin until international flights commence.
The product, a large step up from its Main Cabin Extra seating, looked and felt like business class on a domestic flight. Short of the lie-flats in the front of the aircraft, it is a strong option for passengers looking for a very premium experience without shelling out the money for a full business class ticket.
Passengers booking a Premium Economy ticket will also enjoy complimentary headphones and amenity kits, complimentary alcoholic beverages, an enhanced meal experience, and one checked bag free of charge.
It is a product that some have labeled what is finally a true premium economy, and highlights the revenue potential of the aircraft. With the added fare class, the 787-9 perfectly reflects the broader trend within the industry of further segmenting the cabin in order to achieve a revenue benefit.
American will be the first U.S. carrier to launch a premium economy product on international flights, according to the airline’s chief marketing officer Andrew Nocella: “we continue to innovate new ways to meet our customers’ expectations with the products and service they value,” he previously said. Nocella believes that the aircraft “is going to be a great addition to our widebody fleet.”
The aircraft has 285 seats worth of capacity in total, including 21 Premium Economy seats in a 2-3-2 configuration. It also features 30 fully lie-flat Business Class seats (1-2-1 configuration), 27 Main Cabin Extra seats (3-3-3 configuration), and 207 Main Cabin seats (3-3-3 configuration).
Many have voiced complaints about the aircraft’s Main Cabin product, due to the 3-3-3 configuration with 17” seats. In terms of in-flight experience, however, all economy seats come with seatback entertainment, power accessibility, and what seemed like a suitable wifi connectivity.
More 787-9’s to Take Flight by Year-End
October 6 will officially go down in the books as the date of its first Boeing 787-9 revenue flight. But more are on the way.
American is scheduled to have four 787-9’s in its fleet by the end of the year. The airline took delivery of its second 787-9 on October 5. American has orders for 22 787-9’s, with 20 still yet to be filled.
The airline likely envisions the aircraft as a replacement for its aging 767-300’s. American also has orders for 22 A350-900’s, which is another example of its strategy to phase out older aircraft with new, more fuel efficient planes.
The 787-9 Dreamliner is in action for American Airlines. We look forward to expanded Dreamliner service from American as more enter the airline’s fleet.