So what happens when American changes your aircraft type?

I have recently had a number of flights with American across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, on three occasions the plane booked did not turn out to be the plane that operated the flight. Why does this matter you may ask?

American is in the process of updating the 777-200 planes, changing them from three class (First, Business and Coach) to two classes (Business and Coach) and installing new seats. The seats are very different, as the three class planes have the old sloped seats in Business Class. Of course AA also operates 777-300 plane, which has three classes AND the new seats.

Most of the changes seem to happen on the day, as a result (in my experience) of mechanical problems or planes with the ‘wrong’ layout operating the sector from the USA.

What is worth noting is what American Airlines does when these changes occur.

CHANGE 1 – JFK to LHR – 777-300 to 777-200 with two classes

I had booked a very good seat on the 777-300 – a window in Row 4. When the plane switch happened – due to a breakdown – I found out about this because I happened to be seated next to the desk in the Flagship Lounge when the decision was communicated. Of course, the new plane had no First Class so my predicament was small in comparison to those booked for First. These passengers were called up and either offered a chance to fly with BA in First or to sit in Business.

After these were accommodated I asked about my seat and found that AA had moved me in to the last row of Business.

AA 772

There were no other seats available at the window, and the last row is noisy as it is close to Coach and served last when the crew push the carts down the aisle.


It seems odd that American moves passengers from the front to the back of the cabin when a plane change happens. Although this is a pattern that I noticed it tends to do.

CHANGE 2 – LHR-JFK – 777-200 – new seats two class to old seats three class

AA777-200 3 class

I had reserved a seat on a two class 777-200, again a nice window seat about half way back of the front Business Class cabin. However, on check-in at Amsterdam the boarding pass showed an aisle seat in the middle of the Business Class cabin. Knowing that the plane had sloped seats, I called the AA reservations desk in the UK to ask what had happened. They confirmed that the plane had been changed and they couldn’t change the seat I had been allocated as the plane was now under airport control.

At Heathrow, I called in at the connection desk that American Airlines operates in Terminal 3 and found that they had opened the First Class cabin. To upgrade would have required a certificate or $500 plus 25,000 miles. Faced with a choice of a sloped seat or giving up some miles (recently devalued) I gave in and did the upgrade. For about three hours I was the only passenger in the First cabin, but was quickly joined by a couple of ConciergeKey members upgraded by American. When we boarded, there were three staff allocated seats in the cabin and two last minute upgrades, of what appeared to members of the US military.

Many of the seats had parts that were not working – seat recline or movement, video, audio etc. Worth remembering if you do the upgrade.

American claims to offer flat seats across every flight from London –

Every flight between London Heathrow (LHR) and the U.S. offers fully lie-flat seats in First and Business. And with our partner British Airways, choose from more than 70 daily flights – all featuring fully lie-flat seats. It’s the best premium experience across the Atlantic – flat out.

Not sure whether they think the old seats are flat, just not 180 degrees horizontal, but they are horrid as you slide down them whilst you sleep.

The flight itself was uneventful and I will write about the catering in another post.

CHANGE 3 – DFW-MAD – 777-200 – three class to two class

I had used an voucher to confirm an upgrade to First Class on my Madrid flight many weeks ago. The voucher came from a BusinessExtra redemption. On the day of travel I could not check-in at the point of origin (Santiago). On arrival at Dallas I went to the transfer desk and the system produced a boarding card for a middle seat in row 7. On checking with the agent she revealed a plane switch. I was able to secure a forward facing window seat in the Business cabin but had to spend about ten minutes persuading the agent not to take the voucher. I was on a Business Class ticket so no voucher should have been needed to sit in the Business cabin.

The irony, of course, is that having shelled out 25,000 miles + $500 (See Change 1, above) I could simply have used the Business Extra voucher if I had know that this plane would go back to two class.

Of course no EU compensation is due as AA is a non-EU carrier which matters when flying to an EU country. (It’s arguable any would be due as I was supporting the upgrade using a voucher.)

Separately, this turned out to be one of the worst flights I have ever had with AA, primarily because the crew were awful.

So what do we learn from all this?

Well, check your seats – on the morning of travel, as things do seem to change often and by a lot. If you care about what sort of seat you occupy, where it is in the plane and what level of comfort you should expect be sure you check AA’s web site as often as you can.

American is not very helpful in these circumstances – for example returning the Business Extra cert I could not use for DFW-MAD would cost me $150. Swapping the paid upgrade for LHR-JFK for the certificate is beyond them of course, as with many airlines, joined up thinking is not easy to secure.


  1. I can sympathize with you on the roulette game that is flying AA’s 777 (and 767) fleet these days. Both plane types are in conversion mode and too often the unintended plane configuration arrives. I’ve had this happen with 767s, though more often I get the new cabin on flights booked with the old one. Much of this is caused by problems with AA’s original seat manufacturer having been unable to deliver, and thus a change of seat/supplier midway through the conversion process. While I actually like the old business seat (and love the new ones on the 777s), I’d certainly prefer it to BA’s horrid business class seat and cabin!
    Have you written AA about these changes? I’d suspect they’d at least reimburse you all or some of the miles used to upgrade one of those flights.

  2. American is not a transportation company they are a marketing and sales company. If you happen to get someplace in any kind of seat they don’t mind, but collecting money is their only objective. You apparently got where you wanted to go so their attitude is “sit down and shut up.”

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