Trip Review: First Class On American’s Retrofitted Boeing 737-800

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American Airlines is working on retrofitting its Boeing 737 aircraft with a new configuration that will standardize the planes with the new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Simple Flying had a chance to fly in first class on a retrofitted 737-800 flying between Austin and Charlotte. Here’s what we thought.

American Airlines getty
Simple Flying flew a retrofitted Boeing 737-800 between Austin and Charlotte. Photo: Getty Images

The seat

The retrofitted Boeing 737-800s have 16 seats in first class. These are recliner-style premium seats in a 2-2 configuration, similar to American’s international premium economy product on its widebodies.

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The new Boeing 737-800 first class seat. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Compared to the previous generation of first class seats on American’s 737s, these seats offer less padding and are a little more rigid. For a shorter flight of under two hours, the seat is just fine. The flight from Austin to Charlotte, with nice tailwinds, ended up being a little over two hours, and by the end of it, I was getting ready to get off.

The legroom was less than that of American’s previous generation of seats, but it was still great– especially for my 5’8″ frame. If you want to recline a little, the button is located on the center armrest.

Legroom in first class
The legroom onboard was pretty standard for a domestic premium cabin. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

American Airlines is no longer offering seatback screens on its planes. These aircraft did not have any screens onboard, not even the older drop-downs that used to display announcements, advertisements, etc.

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Seatback
Seatback screens are absent on the new configuration. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Instead, American encourages passengers to watch complimentary streaming entertainment on their own devices. To this extent, passengers can choose a handheld smartphone or a larger device. If you want to use a laptop, the tray table offers plenty of room for a computer.

Tray table
The tray table was large enough for a laptop and room for a cup or two. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Since you have to bring your own device, American offers power. Power outlets are located in the center armrest in a little storage cubby.

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Amenities

Given the ongoing state of the global health crisis, American Airlines did not offer passengers any amenities like a blanket or pillow. Pre-crisis, American did offer passengers a blanket in first class.

However, on the flight, it was unnecessary since the temperature was just fine for the flight.

Food

Much like the lack of amenities, American has pared down its domestic first class meal service. There are no pre-departure beverages, and food options are limited. On this flight, at the time of boarding, passengers were handed a plastic bag with a couple of snacks, a water bottle, and a sanitizing wipe inside.

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Snack offerings
The snack offerings were standard in both economy and first class. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

After we had reached our cruising altitude, flight attendants came around to offer a more substantive snack. The options on this flight, an afternoon departure to Charlotte, were a fruit and cheese plate or a chicken burger. I selected the latter, which was served in a paper bag. There was a full selection of drinks available onboard as well.

Chicken burger
The chicken burger on American Airlines. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

It seemed to have been served a little warm. However, I chose to wait a bit to eat. American Airlines is not blocking out any seats, and I wanted to wait until after my seatmate had put their mask back on before I began eating. So, when I did start eating, it was a little cold.

The burger itself was packaged and small. It was not very substantive, but it was nice to at least have some food options on this flight. Traditionally, a flight like this would come with a hot meal choice served on a tray with real plates. Whether that ever comes back, however, remains to be seen.

Overall impressions of the flight

The flight attendants seemed glad to be onboard and were welcoming of all passengers. Given the state of affairs around the world, I did not have a lot of interaction with them, but they were warm and inviting on the whole.

As for the seat itself, well, it is not the best domestic cabin in the world. The seats are a little uncomfortable for longer flights, but that is not necessarily out of line with some other carriers. Product standardization also works in favor of American Airlines, though passengers might not be too happy with it.

At the end of the day, I would not go out of my way to fly American’s retrofitted Boeing 737s again. However, if it is a convenient schedule and price, I would not hesitate to book in first class. Having flown the same retrofitted configuration in coach before, I would book it on a short flight, but on a longer flight, I might look at other options.

Have you flown American’s retrofitted Boeing 737? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments!

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