American Airlines has announced its plans to roll out an economy plus product fleet wide, They’re calling it Main Cabin Extra.

They’re following United’s Economy Plus, and Delta which offers far fewer rows of Economy Comfort. And of course American used to have an extra legroom offering throughout the entire plan, it was called More Room Throughout Coach, and the original name of this blog in 2002 was even inspired by that. They didn’t find the product to be profitable, offered to everyone and it didn’t generate a competitive advantage, people still made their decisions on price rather than booking over to American in sufficient numbers or generating enough of a revenue premium to justify the product financially.

United, when they rolled out economy plus, offered it complimentary to its own elites and to full fare passengers, as well as Star Alliance partner elites. They eventually cut off access to Star Alliance partner elites — and to full fare customers. This created the Bizarro World scenario where United paid first class passengers, say from London to Las Vegas via Washington Dulles, would wind up in coach on Ted for the Washington Dulles – Las Vegas portion of their trip and either be refused the opportunity for Economy Plus if it wasn’t available, or be asked to ‘buy up’ to economy plus for the segment.

Fortunately, American hasn’t fallen into that absurd trap. They are planning to offer it complimentary to their Executive Platinum and Platinum members, and also complimentary to Gold members through 2013 (presumably because it’s being rolled out across the existing fleet slowly so won’t be available on all flights in the interim). United of course has eliminated the ability for their first-tier elites to confirm economy plus free at booking this year. And this move makes me especially glad to be a lifetime Platinum (something American awards at 2 million miles lifetime), in addition to being an Executive Platinum.

American will be offering the seats for sale from $8 to $108 per segment depending on length. One thing that American is doing right with Main Cabin Extra is including priority boarding, that’s a lesson that United learned the hard way when initially adopting Continental’s boarding procedure of back to front, they were upselling customers these seats at the front of the plane and then those customers were being boarded last and having to gate check their carryons. Not good delivery of value, customers resented the payments.

The one question I have is which seats will be coming out of aircraft to provide the additional legroom for Main Cabin Extra, as long as it’s not first class seats then it’s a clear improvement in the value proposition that American Airlines offers. As an elite, the one concern versus United is that sitting in coach doesn’t necessarily provide extra legroom. I can swallow lack of an upgrade on most United flights knowing that there’s at least a few extra inches of legroom. Fortunately I haven’t been in coach other than an exit row on American, except for a single flight back from Miami on New Year’s Day. But American solves a real elite value proposition issue in comparison to United with this. In fact, the only area in which I feel American still lags is route network, if you want to upgrade United provides more places on their own metal for you to upgrade to (although I find securing advance upgrade space on American far easier than on United).

Another excellent move in a long succession of improvements in American’s premium products, such as Flagship checkin, their new meal service, and their their new business class (which can’t come soon enough).

Meanwhile, another improvement for top tier elites: For several years American has offered complimentary food and beverage items to Executive Platinums and ConciergeKey members sitting in coach (incidentally, with a few specific exceptions, ConciergeKey status now automatically comes with Executive Platinum status as well, a linkage that United made with their Global Services and 1K levels a few years ago also). It’s something that’s been occasionally inconsistent in its execution. But now the benefit is formalized, and should be far less ad hoc in its delivery. As noted by JonNYC at TravelingBetter:

New Elite Benefits Announced Today

AA is formalizing a program to offer all Executive Platinum and ConciergeKey members traveling in the Main Cabin a complimentary food item (on Food for Sale flights) and a complimentary alcoholic beverage on all flights.

The drink benefit is something that many other carriers do for elites in coach, American doesn’t limit the number via drink chits or link it to kiosk check-in, it’s just a benefit. And they throw in a buy on board food item as well, which is extremely classy in my opinion.

  1. phil said,

    wow i never knew you named it view from the wing after aa mrtc. i always assumed it was based on the wonderful view from the wing one has sitting in the wing f lounge in hkg!!!!! maybe thatis what it has transformed into over the years……

  2. aadvantagegeek said,

    Great analysis (as always)!

    Any thoughts as to how AA compares with Delta when it come to selling a premium economy product as well as making it available to their elites (paid or upgrade)?

  3. ed said,

    I missed this.. you’re saying “Premiere” on UA will no longer get Economy plus seating? When does that take effect? And what’s the point of status at all then? For the free bag that I’ll carry on anyway?

  4. Andrew said,

    As an elite on US Airways, I can’t help but say “wow, you guys are spoiled” when UA/AA fliers talk about potentially losing a row of F seats. AA has 22 F seats on a 757, which is a ridiculously high number…god forbid it should drop to 18, which would still be a whole extra row more than the highest number of F seats US has on a 757!

    I realize your opinion as someone who actually flies AA is going to be different, but can’t help but comment on it. I suppose ultimately, it’s probably jealously speaking…

  5. Matt said,

    Andrew, even 22 domestic F seats on a 757 is on the low end of normal in terms of US domestic carriers. US is just really bad in that regard and the only legacy not in the 22-26 range. 16 seats or fewer only when international biz seats are installed.

  6. Eric said,

    Dot know how your upgrades are so high on AA. I’m EXP and I’m only at 2 of 12 this year. They give away too much status to make it good for upgrades.

  7. Dan said,

    I still have a pair of mrtc socks. Wonder how long this ‘experiment’ will last this time?

  8. tivoboy said,

    sounds like a pretty good copy of what say Virgin American is doing, except of course that VA calls it MAIN CABIN SELECT and it isn’t the whole cabin. Pricing about the same too.

  9. Robert Hanson said,

    I have my usual complaint about these AA annoucements. Its something we are supposed to be excited about, but without any sort of timeframe. BA has been installing their “new” hard product for a number of years now, and last I heard, you still have no way of being sure your flight will have it.

    AA’s new 777-300s will probably have it right away. But the booking sites only say 777, not the type of 777. LHR routes are supposed to be the first ones to get the new planes, so will my LHR flight next August be on one? No way to tell.

    Basically, AA is saying to get excited about a new seating possibility that a few random planes will have sometime this year. But that I may not see in person for 2, 3, maybe 4 years. I can barely contain my excitement….

  10. iahphx said,

    As a new UA 1K (from the CO side of their business), I would love a free snack when I wind up in domestic coach. I can use coupons for the drinks but who wants to drink on an empty stomach? They even took away the free pretzels last year.

    Give me Economy Plus, a free drink and a free snack, and I’m really not going to care very much if you upgrade me. I suspect many others would feel the same way, and that this would be enough “recognition” for us (especially the mid-tier elites who aren’t even going to achieve a 50% upgrade percentage). Any idea how the powers-that-be feel about this? The cost of this enhancement is really quite modest (give a little food out to your best travellers, when you used to give this food for free to everyone anyway).

  11. Gary said,

    @Phil I originally named it “More Room Throughout Coach: the Blog of Free Miles and Free Markets” and later changed it to View from the Wing (actually Randy Petersen named it that for me).

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