American Airlines is in the process of upgrading the cabins on their youngest Boeing 767-300ERs, which fly to destinations in South American and Europe. The main attraction is a new business class cabin. But what is the new interior like for economy passengers? Join me for a three-hour hop on economy class aboard one of these upgraded 767s from Miami International Airport (MIA) to El Dorado International Airport (BOG) in Bogota, Colombia.
I’ve been flying the MIA-BOG route on American for more than 20 years on American Airlines. American has operated this service using the Airbus A300, Boeing 757 and Boeing 767. Since the retirement of the A300 in 2009, the 757 and 767 have been flying between both cities. When I booked a vacation to Bogota with my family, I opted for the flights aboard the redesigned 767 cabin.
I currently have Platinum status (the middle of the two elite tiers) in the American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flier program, which means I can check in at the business class counter. The process was quickly handled by a very friendly agent, who joked with my children. I also applied for a TSA PreCheck status to avoid long security lines, which meant we were quickly inside the secure area.
Elite status also allows me to use the Admirals Club before my flight. American has two clubs at MIA, one near gate D30 and the other by D15. Despite having Gate 25 as a departure gate, I opted fo the one by D15 since it has a playroom that offers TV, video games, lemonade, apples and cookies for the little ones. This was a hit last year with mine, and it did the job again this year.
We proceeded to the gate 45 minutes before departure and boarded immediately after the business class passengers since this is another privilege of elite status. We had row 13, which is the second row of the economy section. Platinum status allows travelers to choose American’s Main Cabin Extra seats free of charge at the time of booking, and these offer 35 inches of legroom, compared to the standard 31. In addition, rows 12 and 13 are located between two partitions, which create a very cozy feel.
This flight was probably half full. I asked the boarding agents to see if my family and I could get upgraded with miles since I was particularly interested in the new business class product, but she replied that they needed more lead time for such a request on an international flight for security reasons. I did take an opportunity to explore the upgraded business class cabin for a few minutes. Having flown on the older version, this new arrangement is definitely a step up. Seats now recline to a full 180 degrees, and every business customer has direct isle access.
The business class seats are 30 inches wide with 60 inches of pitch, and they are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuation. It is a tight space compared to other international premium cabins, but it is still a major improvement. Despite the fact that American received some brand-new 767-300ERs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the refurbished cabin does not include integrated inflight entertainment (IFE) screens. Passengers in business get complimentary use of Samsung tablets and Bose headsets for IFE. Furthermore, these 767s do not have the international Wi-Fi option American introduced with the 777-300ER in 2013 and which also comes with the new 787s and is being installed on the 777-200ER fleet.
In the economy section, the seats were reupholstered, but there were no seatback IFE screens, just older overhead screens offering single programming and a moving map display before and after the block of programs. The armrests also had remote controls designed for older IFE screens, but their only function was to control the volume of what was playing on the overhead screens, as well as a few audio channels.
I saw the lack of IFE as a minor inconvenience, since I usually have my tablet and phone with me. However, the power ports are the old round socket, which is common in many cars. This means people wishing to charge their personal electronic devices (PEDs) will need an adapter.
A very nice flight attendant told me he had a few USB adapters, available on a first-come-first-served basis, which I could use for the duration of the flight. Typical flight time from MIA to BOG is just over three hours, which should be no problem for someone using a fully charged PED. Since many of these 767s fly across the Atlantic or to the South America’s “southern cone,” any passenger wishing for an IFE experience on these six- to eight-hour flights will definitely want to bring an adapter.
We pushed back at our 9:50 a.m. scheduled departure time. With many simultaneous departures, we waited 20 minutes behind other aircraft and were eventually airborne. Our flight path took us over Cuba, Jamaica, and two hours later, we crossed the Colombian coast over the city of Cartagena.
One of the services I had not seen in a while on a medium-haul flight was a complementary meal. Lunch options were either macaroni or chicken, both accompanied by salad, bread, and dessert, along with a beverage of our choice. In the main cabin, alcoholic beverages are not complimentary. The food was actually good, which was a pleasant surprise. We also came prepared with games and coloring books for my children to enjoy, so the lack of IFE was not noticeable to them.
With 20 minutes to go, initial descent started. BOG is located at 8,360 ft (2,550 m) above sea level, which means some passengers will feel some symptoms, such as headache, increased heartbeat or upset stomach. Based on my frequent travel there, I recommend plenty of hydration every day and rest the first full day there. The pilots made up for lost time at MIA, and we touched down on time.
We deplaned and proceeded to immigration. One of the nice courtesies in every passport control line I have experienced in Colombia when traveling with my family is that agents always open up a separate lane for people with small children. This meant we were quickly at baggage claim, where our bags were already waiting since they had “priority” tags, another perk from elite status. The customs line was quick, and soon we met our driver and were ready to enjoy our vacation.
American’s MIA-BOG service is usually staffed by very friendly and attentive bilingual BOG-based crews. This flight was no exception. They go out of their way especially for kids to make sure they are enjoying the flight. Moreover, it is refreshing to get a full meal on a relatively short fight. Given what the competition has to offer from the U.S. to Europe and Latin America on similar aircraft, American’s product is behind other mainline carriers, despite the recent cabin retrofit.
American is refurbishing 29 of its 58 767-300ERs into the new cabin configuration, while the rest will retire this year. Many of the remaining 767s were delivered in the late 1990s to the early 2000s, yet American chose not to bring the IFE standard up to the level of its newer Airbus A319s and A321s, and Boeing 737s and 777s.
For travelers, who enjoy integrated IFE, this could be a disappointment. Even passengers who bring their own PEDs will have to remember to bring an adapter for the old-fashioned sockets beneath the seats. Finally, having extra perks like elite status, TSA PreCheck, or Global Entry will make the time at the airport of a hassle, especially for economy passengers.