Review: American Airlines Business Class 787 Dreamliner Chicago to Beijing

Flight info

  • American Airlines (AA) 187
  • Chicago O'Hare (ORD) - Beijing, China (PEK)
  • Aircraft: Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
  • Depart: Friday 3:45pm
  • Arrive: Saturday: 7:25pm
  • Seat: 2A
  • Cabin: Business Class

Boarding

On a quick trip to China, I flew out of Chicago O'Hare on American's new 787 Dreamliner in Business Class.

Flight AA 187 was initially delayed about 90 minutes due to a late inbound aircraft. Chicago had snow flurries earlier in the day, which may have contributed to the delay.

The flight boarded from gate K13, just around the corner from the American Airlines Flagship Lounge

 American Airlines 787-8 Dreamliner

American Airlines 787-8 Dreamliner

Boarding was initially called a few minutes before 5pm. As the first business class passenger in line was scanned in, one of the the agents working the gate said there was a maintenance delay and we'd board in 5 minutes. A few minutes later, we were asked to take our seats at the gate or go back to the lounges, as there was a more significant maintenance issue. That's never a good sign.

I returned to the Flagship Lounge and the agent checking me back in said that there was some sort of leak from the aircraft and they would be swapping in another 787 that just landed. She mentioned the replacement aircraft would need to be deplaned, cleaned, and catered, so it would be a while. Also, she noted that if we weren't airborne by 8:04pm, the crew would time-out. With a revised departure time listed as 7pm and a new plane already reserved, I was still optimistic about getting out that night. 

To their credit, American put out snacks and bottled water at the gate for passengers on the delayed flight, which I thought was a nice touch. 

 American Airlines ORD delay amenities at the gate

American Airlines ORD delay amenities at the gate

At 7pm the replacement 787 pulled in to gate K13. This was going to be a nail biter to make it airborne by ~8pm. 

Boarding

Around 7:20pm, the flight began boarding via door 2L. I entered and turned left to the larger, forward business class cabin with 5 rows of seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. There is a smaller 2-row business class cabin separated by a galley and restrooms. All seats have direct aisle access.

At each seat were AA's standard Cole Haan business class amenity kit, a pillow, comforter, and slippers. 

 AA 787 Business Class Seat 2A

AA 787 Business Class Seat 2A

The amenity kit contained:

  • Eye mask
  • Pen
  • Socks
  • Tissues
  • Dental kit
  • Headphone covers
  • CO Bigelow refreshing travel kit
  • Cole Haan discount code
 AA business class amenity kit

AA business class amenity kit

One of the flight attendants quickly offered me a choice of pre-departure beverage: water, champagne, or orange juice. 

The purser, Victoria, came around to introduce herself and confirm my pre-ordered vegetarian meal. She kindly left the menu for me to refer to the dessert selection. 

The business class cabin slowly filled to about 50% capacity. Surprisingly, there was no one on the upgrade wait list.

The seat

I chose seat 2A, a rear-facing seat in this configuration. I prefer the rear-facing seats for several reasons:

  • More private when sleeping (as your head is further from the aisle)
  • More 'counter' space (rear-facing seats have a left and right counter, vs just 1 on forward-facing seats)
  • No required shoulder belt for taxi, takeoff, and landing
  • No one staring directly at you (though you will likely be staring at another passenger)
  • More storage pockets around the seat
 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class rear-facing seat footrest and monitor

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class rear-facing seat footrest and monitor

The forward-facing seats may offer more shoulder room, as well as better views from window seats.

 AA 787 business class forward-facing seat 2D

AA 787 business class forward-facing seat 2D

These particular Business Class suite seats are notorious for shaking/see-sawing when your neighbor (whose seat shares the same underpinnings) shifts their weight. It was very noticeable throughout the flight and I'm glad AA has chosen to phase in a new seat design going forward. 

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class forward/rear-facing seat pair

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class forward/rear-facing seat pair

That said, the rest of the seat is pretty well laid out. There are 2 universal electrical outlets and 2 USB ports, pockets along the seat for storage, a cubby under the ottoman for shoes, an HD flip-out touch-screen monitor, multiple reading lights (2 overhead, 1 over shoulder), and air vents!

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class power and USB ports

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class power and USB ports

Each suite also has soft lights that illuminate various storage areas around the seat.

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class suite lights

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class suite lights

The seat position is controlled from a dedicated touch-screen. There are some pre-set options (takeoff, reclined, sleep) and you can also position each part of the seat individually, which I appreciated.

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class seat control touchscreen

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class seat control touchscreen

There are also 2 hardware buttons for upright and lie-flat positions behind the shoulder that are only reachable when the seat is heavily reclined. I wish these were more accessible, as I tend to prefer quickly hitting a hardware button, rather than tapping a dark touchscreen to wake it up, then finding the right on-screen 'soft' button to hold.

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class seat position hardware buttons

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class seat position hardware buttons

At 7:55pm the purser came on the PA to announce the Business Class Bose noise cancelling headsets were inadvertently left on the prior aircraft. She left it up to the business class passengers (by a show of hands!) whether we should wait for maintenance to deliver the headsets and risk the crew timing out and cancelling the flight, or leave without the headsets. Tough choice!

At 8pm we pushed back from the gate. Whew!

We had a short taxi roll and smooth takeoff. I find the Dreamliner to be a remarkably quiet and smooth aircraft. At normal cruising thrust, there is so little engine noise and vibration that it sounds like the turbines are simply idling. 

The seatbelt sign stayed on for about 40 min after takeoff, despite no turbulence. 

 AA inflight airshow map

AA inflight airshow map

Dinner

The inflight service began with water bottles being distributed, quickly followed by hot towels. 

 Business class water bottle

Business class water bottle

Then drinks and mixed warm nuts were served from a cart.

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class drink and warm nuts

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class drink and warm nuts

The menu read as follows:

I had pre-ordered a vegetarian meal. As a starter, I received a salad with vinaigrette dressing. It was fresh, though the choice of dressing was sub-par. I much prefer when AA caters real olive oil and vinegar for their salads.

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class salad

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class salad

The entree consisted of a mixed vegetables over a bed of rice, which was decent. There was also a side of fruit.

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class vegetarian meal entree

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class vegetarian meal entree

For dessert, I chose the cappuccino mousse cake, which was outstanding.

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class cappuccino mousse cake 

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class cappuccino mousse cake 

Entertainment

The entertainment selection was quite good, with many recent big-name movies. Picture clarity and sound were solid as well, with no noticeable hum in the headphones and even left/right audio distribution. One small issue I had was that dark scenes were difficult to see when my seat was in in lie-flat/bed mode, as the screen doesn't tilt down.

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class IFE HD touchscreen monitor

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class IFE HD touchscreen monitor

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class IFE HD touchscreen monitor settings

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class IFE HD touchscreen monitor settings

The IFE can be navigated by touching the screen directly, or using the wired extendable touchscreen handset. I mostly found myself leaning forward to interact with the large monitor when browsing content, and using the smaller handset for play/pause/volume control during the movie.

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class IFE handset, reading light, and seat controls

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class IFE handset, reading light, and seat controls

Satellite Wifi is available on these aircraft and is offered at a very reasonable $19 for unlimited use throughout the flight. Unfortunately, it was mostly unusable the several times I tried to use it. I was able to load a few web pages and exchange messages intermittently, but the connection was very unstable, to say the least. 

Bathrooms

The business class restrooms were very standard, with no extra amenities. There was one restroom just behind the cockpit and two between the two business class cabins. One is an accessible restroom that offered additional space on the right side of the aircraft. I appreciated the motion-sensing toilet flusher and sink faucet. Also, the lighting in the bathrooms fades on and off slowly when you lock/unlock the door. Nice touch.

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class restroom

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class restroom

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class toilet

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class toilet

Bed

After dinner I slept for nearly 8 hours. The seat was extremely comfortable for me, with plenty of room to stretch out. American provides a decent comforter and large pillow, but no mattress pads. 

Breakfast

When I woke up, we were about 2:30 out of Beijing. Victoria passed by and immediately asked if I'd like to have breakfast, to which I said yes. She brought out my special meal tray, which consisted of a cold pasta salad entree, and said she could also prepare the cheese omelette without the sausage from the standard menu if I preferred. What great service! I just went with my vegetarian meal tray, but appreciated her offer for the standard main course.

 AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class vegetarian breakfast

AA 787 Dreamliner Business Class vegetarian breakfast

The pasta was okay, nothing special. It's interesting to note: there is bread served with the dinner meal, but not during breakfast. 

The flight attendants proactively offered the breakfast meal to each passenger as they woke up - there was never a cart in the aisle and the cabin lights remained low. This is a great touch that allowed several passengers to keep sleeping undisturbed until landing.

Soon, we were beginning our descent into Beijing. One of the junior flight attendants told me to stow my television 40 min before landing, even though the safety checks weren't completed until about 20 min before landing. Also, on other flights I've taken on this aircraft, the FAs allowed the screens out during every stage of flight.

We had a smooth landing and short taxi to the gate. A representative from the airport was waiting with a sign with my name at the arrival gate. She escorted me through immigration all the way to a waiting driver in an Audi A6 who would take me to the Westing Beijing Financial Street. 

Summary

This was one of the better long haul American Airlines flights I've been on lately. The crew members were very attentive. Especially the purser, Victoria; she addressed me by name with every interaction and proactively offered food and drinks throughout the flight. Despite the long delay, inconsistent wifi, and an unmemorable entrees, the flight was smooth, the seat comfortable, and the entertainment selection vast. I was able to get great sleep - arguably the most important thing on this type of flight.

Other reviews from this trip:

American Airlines Flagship Lounge O’Hare Airport

American Airlines Business Class Chicago to Beijing

Westin Beijing Financial District

Cathay Pacific Beijing Airport (PEK) lounge

American Airlines Business Class Beijing to Chicago