I flew American in economy from Dallas to New York. The plane had a tablet-holder instead of seatback screens and I prefer it that way.

I flew American in economy from Dallas to New York. The plane had a tablet-holder instead of seatback screens and I prefer it that way.
  • American Airlines is regaining my trust after a bad experience flying home from Colombia in 2021.

  • My recent flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to New York in economy was comfortable and on time.

  • The Boeing 737-800 is retrofitted with tablet holders instead of TV screens. I prefer it that way.

I'll be honest: American Airlines hasn't been my go-to airline since a last-minute flight cancellation left me stranded overnight in Colombia in 2021 with little help from customer service.

The communication was lacking from start to finish. There was no clear indication of my rights to a hotel, and I never found out why the flight was canceled in the first place.

Nevertheless, the carrier has been slowly regaining my trust.

I recently flew in economy on an American Boeing 737-800 from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to New York's LaGuardia Airport.

Like the handful I've taken since the 2021 fiasco, the flight was perfectly on time, and I found the communication has definitely improved.

And, although not a fan-favorite, I actually prefer American's retrofitted narrowbody cabin compared to competitors.

My journey started at American's giant hub, the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Man walking through DFW with black suitcase.
Dallas/Fort Worth is among the busiest airports in the world, according to data from the trade association Airports Council International.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

American had dozens of kiosks and counters available, but I went straight to security as I only had a carry-on and checked in online.

From security, an automated train transports passengers between gates and terminals.

I was through TSA PreCheck and onboard the Boeing 737 within about 25 minutes of arriving.

Gate C7 at DFW airport with an agent a the counter.
I was on a previous-generation 737, not the problem-ridden Max. Taylor Rains/Business Insider

I've noticed the TSA PreCheck lines getting longer as we approach the summer months.

I waited about 15 minutes, so I recommend budgeting extra time to clear security, especially at big airports like Dallas/Fort Worth.

The plane offered all basics: 172 seats in 3x3 rows, each with power, a tray table, acceptable padding, and an adjustable headrest.

Inside an AA 737-800.
An adjustable headrest is a must for me if I plan to sleep on an airplane.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

The aircraft has 16 first-class recliners, 24 main-cabin-extra seats with more legroom, and 132 standard economy seats.

I was seated in 32B, a middle seat in the second-to-last row.

Regular coach offers 30 inches of pitch, which was fine for my five-foot-three-inch self but likely cramped for taller travelers.

The author's legroom in American's 737-800.
The author's legoom. Some of United's 737-800s offer the same 30 inches of pitch, per SeatGuru.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

I'm small and fit into most airline seats, so I had plenty of legroom.

Taller people may want to upgrade if they can afford it or book an airline offering more legroom, like the 31-32 inches of pitch on Delta Air Lines' 737-800 or JetBlue Airways' at least 32 inches on its family of A320s.

The legroom results from American's cabin retrofit project meant to standardize its inflight experience.

Inside American's 737-800 with headrests.
The legroom is fine for shorter people.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

Known as "Project Oasis," American retrofitted many of its narrowbody Airbus and Boeing planes with uniform cabins. This simplifies the fleet, and the extra seats generate more revenue — but at the expense of legroom.

According to The Points Guy, the 737-800s were done in 2021, and the Airbus A321s followed.

I understand the frustration of American's cattle-like economy cabin, but I don't think the design is a total bust.

Inside the American Airlines Boeing 737-800.
Many customers were upset when American added more seats at the expense of legroom.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

I've recently flown on American, Delta, and United in economy on their narrowbody planes, and the most noticeable difference is the inflight entertainment options.

Instead of TV screens, American offers inflight entertainment streamed to a personal device that can be propped on a seatback holder.

Reality television on my tablet on the seatback.
Watching Deal or No Deal Island on the tablet.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

Tablet holders are something I have started seeing more on airlines.

For example, Breeze Airways has the holders on its fleet of Airbus A220s, while renderings of Southwest Airlines' new cabin show seatback tablet holders.

This is common across American's narrowbody fleet and differs from Delta and United's TV-equipped airplanes.

The inflight screen on Delta's A220.
The inflight screen on Delta's A220.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

United Airlines, for example, is welcoming brand new narrowbody aircraft fit with seatback screens and Bluetooth capabilities.

Delta boasts a similar strategy, saying in March that it "leads the industry with over 161,000 seatback screens across more than 850 aircraft."

I travel with a Kindle Fire 10, which fit into the slot with a little bit of stretch to spare.

The tablet holder stowed in the seats.
American has fit tablet holders on its Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A321 planes, but not all aircraft have them.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

In a statement to Business Insider, American said the tablet holders can "accommodate the largest iPad size."

The airline confirmed that almost all its mainline narrowbodies are equipped with the amenity, minus the Airbus A320 and Airbus A319 fleets. American noted the A319s have seatback IFE.

I prefer the tablet holder because it creates a better viewing angle for people, like myself, who bring our own inflight intertainment.

The tablet on the holder with someone playing the Switch in the seat next to the author on their's.
My neighbor used his holder to play his Nintendo Switch.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

When I fly, I like to catch up on the various reality TV shows that airlines typically don't stream, like Big Brother, Survivor, Deal or No Deal Island, The Circle, etc.

I typically have to set the tablet on the tray table to watch my pre-downloaded content, but the holder location on the seatback is much more comfortable.

I may be an outlier, however, as many friends and family say they prefer having that inflight screen for convenience.

American's tablet holder.
The tablet holder on American's 737-800.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

Some travelers don't have a tablet to watch shows on, or they don't like to use the smaller screen on their phone.

For those reasons, a guaranteed inflight television on a different carrier would be better for those travelers.

Aside from the tablet holder, my American flight was smooth and comfortable.

Diet Coke and Biscoff cookies on the tray table.
The Biscoff cookies were good and I was happy the flight attendant gave me the entire can of soda.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

I browsed American's inflight entertainment options, which were comparable to Delta, United, and Southwest.

I'm sure I could find something if I didn't have my own pre-downloaded movies and shows.

I was particuarly happy with the T-Mobile WiFi, which allowed me to stream stuff I couldn't download.

A screenshot of AA.com website with T-Mobile offer.
Screenshot of the T-Mobile inflight connection option on the author's iPhone, which is also available on carriers like Alaska and Delta.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

The Paramount+ app on my Kindle doesn't let me download episodes (maybe there's a fix I haven't found yet), so I use my iPhone for things like Survivor.

However, because the WiFi was so good, I was able to just stream it right from the app on my Kindle.

The T-Mobile partnership is much better than the carrier's paid and ad WiFi options.

A screenshot of AA.com website with T-Mobile offer.
Screenshot of the free WiFi option on the author's iPhone.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

Unlike Delta or JetBlue's complimentary internet, American offers a limited free WiFi session if you watch a short ad. On my flight, the session was 20 minutes and then shut off.

The strategy is likely to show people what the WiFi is like and entice them to buy a flight pass, but the up to $20 price for internet on my trip may be a little steep for some travelers.

Overall, the fast WiFi, the tablet holder, and on-time arrival made for a solid three-hour journey to New York.

First class on AA 737-800.
The first-class seats had the same tablet holder.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

As someone who prioritizes convenience and price over airline loyalty, I wouldn't be worried about booking American after my recent flight.

Still far from perfect, American's reliability and customer service have improved since my 2021 fiasco.

AA rebooking center line in Miami.
This is the queue of people in Miami in 2021 waiting to speak to an AA customer service agent after I landed from Colombia. The poor logistics and communication shocked me.Taylor Rains/Insider

I've had low expectations for American since 2021, but they're improving thanks to new customer service tools and a better focus on consistency and proactivity, American's VP of customer experience, Kim Cisek, told BI in an interview.

For example, I got an email more than 24 hours before departure looking for volunteers to take a different flight.

Screenshot from American asking if plans are flexible.
Screenshot of an email from American asking if plans are flexible.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

American told BI during a tour of its dispatch center in mid-May that it has been building its system with better protections against disruptions — like preemptively remedying oversold flights well before everyone is already at the gate.

The gate agent also proactively told customers in groups 8 and 9 that we would be checking carry-ons as the flight was completely full.

The bag size checker on American.
American has never checked the size of my carry-on but still has the checker available, just in case.Taylor Rains/Business Insider

The announcement came before boarding, giving everyone time to organize their items or talk to the agent in case there was a problem.

I noticed boarding wasn't impacted by all of the gate-checked bags, and luckily, my suitcase was small enough to fit under the seat, so I was allowed to take it on.

However, I'm still holding out for one improvement — disruption transparency.

American Airlines Boeing 737-823 takes off at Los Angeles international Airport on July 30, 2022 in Los Angeles, California
An American Airlines Boeing 737.AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

While American has built systems to better manage and communicate things like misconnects, weather-related cancellations, and oversold flights, it still isn't fully transparent about the reason for flight disruptions.

United, for instance, tells travelers the exact reason for a delay or cancellation, whether it be maintenance or weather — making it easier to know your rights as a passenger.

Cisek said the company is setting the foundation for its communication efforts, noting the chat function it has launched to ease flight changes.

A passenger checks in for an American Airlines in Terminal D at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) on March 13, 2020 in Dallas, Texas.
The American Airlines check-in desk at Dallas Fort Worth Airport.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

"If we were to come out right now with messaging and it doesn't land, it could get confusing, so we are trying to be thoughtful in how we build up to it," she said. "But I know our customers want it, and it's on the table and something we want to look at and introduce the right way."

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