American Announces Their New Business Class Seat Fleet-wide and Other Premium Cabin News

I flew out to Dallas for an American Airlines media event focused on new premium cabin enhancements.

Folks were directed through the main security checkpoint in D, by the Grand Hyatt. Boarding passes were apparently a bit confusing at first for the TSA, since they read as being “from Dallas” and “to Dallas.” But American managed to straighten that out before I turned up.

An American widebody was parked at Gate 23 and our boarding passes got us on.

When I walked on the plane I immediately recognized one of the flight attendants from the oneworld Mega DO charter, and as it happened we had three of them onboard for the event.

Some American Airlines regulars may recognize her as well, from the safety video.

Rob Friedman, American’s Vice President of Marketing and a former head of the AAdvantage program, was onboard. So was Maya Leibman, Chief Information Officer and another former head of the AAdvantage program. They were joined by Virasb Vahidi, Chief Commercial Officer.

Maya was demonstrating American’s mobile devices, the Samsung Galaxy tablet for inflight entertainment and also talking up their mobile apps and the handheld they are trialing for flight attendants. Apparently 40 flight attendants are using them now, and they include customer information (elite status, connecting flight information, special service requests) and provide a way to input feedback for the airline on maintenance or other issues they run into.

There was a first class seat converted into a bed with mattress pad and duvet as well as the thinner blanket offerings. It — and all of the business class seats where we’d be sitting for the press conference — had pajamas and an amenity kit.

When the event was called to order everyone went over to their seats, I ran into The Points Guy in the business class seat across the aisle from me. First up was a drink service, the Marcus Samuelsson nuts, and a meal.

I had a chance to try out and review American’s new premium meal service on the oneworld Mega DO back in January and quite liked it, which is to say I am happier with the Richard Sandoval halibut than I am with anything being offered by a US carrier currently. I also love the Marcus Samuelsson nuts and wish American would replace their current first class nut mix with them. Fortunately when I was stuck in coach on the way to Dallas I grabbed a pack as my complimentary Executive Platinum buy on board.

We got breakfast, though, Richard Sandoval’s scrambled eggs over a buttermilk biscuit and topped with a creamy poblano sauce, with potatoes gratin on the side.

Then it was time for the press conference. The three American senior executives each spoke, reviewing the recently announced product improvements — the inflight entertainment, the meals, the pajamas, etc.

But the big deal was the new business class seat discussion. With American’s announcement of their plans for the 777-300 back in January, we learned that they had selected the current best business seat on the market — which is also Cathay Pacific’s business seat (a slightly earlier version of which was actually first introduced by US Airways, something they don’t get enough credit for, but the US folks still haven’t rolled it out across their entire international fleet).

The big question at the time, though, was what about the rest of the international fleet? Put a different way, when do we get rid of angled flat? I don’t see the current American business seat as behind the current Lufthansa or Air France seat — I hate them all — but they’ve been behind the curve doing true lie flat for awhile, something which United has (except on a few 777s still….) and something that Delta has and something that British Airways has.

Now we know — the full international widebody fleet is getting this industry leading business class seat, with about twice the space as the current business seat and aisle access for every seat (configured 1-2-1). It’s going to take awhile, the 777-300s will all get them fresh from the factory but the first refitted aircraft won’t have the new seats until first quarter of 2014. That’s two years away. The overwater 757s aren’t getting a new seat.

Here are renderings of the new seat:

This really is the best seat there is, and blows away any other business class seat I’ve sat in. But it seems a bit early to promote it — you don’t want customers expecting the great new product and being disappointed when their flight has the old seats. Goodness knows that I’m not looking forward to American’s current angled seats next week now that I have the “Cathay new seat-transplated-to-American” stuck in my brain.

United’s business class is a mess, with legacy United seats and legacy Continental seats and no intention to rationalize them even across the same aircraft type (not to mention that there are still United 777s flying with the old bucket recliner style seats out there!).

American will clearly best the competition, at least anything that’s been announced, but… not for several years.

I do understand American’s narrative in sending the message now, though, which is that they see their business plan succeeding as a premium carrier. They want to get that message out now. They want to offer a positive narrative during their Chapter 11 process. And they want to rally their employees around a positive future vision for the airline. Several times I heard about American’s aspiration as “worthy of being the nation’s flag carrier”

Some other tidbits, which may not be new:

  • Over 400 aircraft will have inflight wireless internet by end of year, with the whole domestic narrowbody fleet fitted by summer 2013.
  • The 777-300s and 777-200s are getting inflight overwater wifi, but they haven’t announced a vendor for that yet. The 767-300s will not get inflight wifi, they’re retiring the aircraft that aren’t being refitted but the rest of the ones that will be will stay in the fleet less time than the 777s will.
  • Oneworld partner elites will get complimentary main cabin extra. Presumably this will apply only to partner elites that are equivalent of American’s Platinum level (e.g. which British Airways Silver is considered to be), since American will only be offering the product free to their own Golds through 2013.
  • Cabin configuration is not final so American describes “up to” a number of seats in each category. They list the 777-200 as “up to” 45 business class, 45 Main Cabin Extra, and 170 coach seats. It will not have a first class. Coach seating layout across the fleet will be a a mix of 3-3-3 seating and 2-5-2 seating. Every seat, including coach, will have an AC outlet, USB jacks, and a touchscreen entertainment system.
  • The refitted 767-300s will have 28 business class, 14 Main Cabin Extra, and 167 economy seats. Business class was described as “up to” but the coach cabin seat numbers were offered without that qualifier.
  • Half the 737-800s are being refit with new seats and entertainment. 51 757s are being refit as well, along with 20 overwater 757s.
  • They begin taking delivery of the first of 42 Boeing 787s in 2014

All in all a good day, the big news was that the new seats previously announced for the 777-300 would be rolled out across all international widebodies at the airline. But we won’t see the first retrofit for two years.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It’s my understanding that US has rolled out the new product on all the A330 aircraft. The last pair of A333 to be refit were in the shop having it done, as far as I knew. No 767 plans as far as I know. Or am I mistaken on that?

  2. I am glad AA is finally stepping forward and revamping their C cabin even though the current C/J product is relatively new [compared to UA/CO/DL/US’s old products]. The F seats look the same and I thought they would at least revamp the IFE system.

    As for which US based carrier will have the best C/J seats, AA will be on par with US’s new Envoy seats IMO. I guess the soft product will differentiate the two, only time will tell.

    My only disappointment is the # of Main Cabin Extra seats and if they will allow OW Sapphire+ elites book those for free, good luck to AA elites trying to get those seats, particularly on the 763s. We know how difficult it is on UA to get E+ sometimes already on certain routes.

    Other than that, it is a net positive overall. Thumbs up to AA.

  3. Finally some movement away from their angled seats. I think the future is going to be business class seats that are as good as the best current biz seats, economy plus equal to domestic first and economy on pretty much every airline’s longhaul planes.

  4. @ArizonaGuy I believe you are correct, the idea with the 767s was to retire those so they weren’t ever going to refit them

  5. No upgrade for F? Assuming you get a plane with new-business class what’s the reason to splurge for F?

  6. @Kevin The 777-300s get a new first class seat, that was already announced back in January. It’s better than status quo but not a private suite like the best products out there. Honestly the difference between business and first shrinks with the new biz seat, it’s a VERY good business seat and the first seat is only average at best.

  7. This sounds very comfortable, but what gives me the chills is how much more difficult it will be for EXPs to use their SWUs… I seriously cannot complain about angled biz seats when it’s for the price of deep discounted coach. Suddenly I’m satisfied with angled biz!

  8. Are you sure Econ is 3-3-3 ? Is that in some official press release ? The running rumor is that it might be 3-4-3…..

  9. @Jck I sorta believe that in the end it is 3-4-3. But they answered the question about configuration, actually said 3-4-3 and then CORRECTED to say 3-3-3. So they did specifically answer this question, and you sort of do the math I don’t think you get to the # of seats they’re talking about without doing 10 across in back. So we’ll have to see.

  10. I think I saw that the domestic 763s are getting this up front too – but what about J on the 3 class domestic 762s that run JFK-SFO and JFK-LAX?

    Also is capacity shrinking to accommodate the larger seats? That might make SWU upgrades more challenging. I’m still waiting for my SWU to clear for Saturday’s JFK-BRU, (which, as a 757, wouldn’t change anyway), but that’s always at the top of my mind.

  11. @Corey on the 772s it looks to me like there will be more business seats, though a few less total premium seats with the elimination of F. The only aircraft getting these new seats are the international widebodies. International widebodies flying domestic routes would have them. But not the 767-200s.

  12. @ArizonaGuy, you are correct, US has completed their retrofit of the entire A330 fleet with the Envoy Suite. 767’s won’t get the suite as they’ll be retired soon (as A330 delivery’s resume next year, and eventually with the A350), and overwater 757’s won’t get the seat either (same with American) due to space issues with fitting the suites in the narrowbody, if I recall correctly.

  13. A bit surprised to see the dig at United, given that they’ll be flat on all intercontinental aircraft by the end of this year and will be starting the WiFi before AA, too. Not all identical across the fleet, but still all flat.

    The 773s were announced as 3-4-3, I believe. The 772s, seem to be 3-3-3. That’s going to be quite interesting for passengers.

    The limited number of MCE seats, especially on the 763s, is pretty bad. Especially if they are giving them for free to all OW elites (which I think one of you guys tweeted about).

  14. As a UA loyalist, I was also surprised by the way you characterized UA’s best in class Business and Business First product.

    Next time you are going to make a comment like that, make sure AA comps you the trip! 🙂

  15. @Wandering Aramean I absolutely agree with you, United is almost all flat! I was just making a point about long rollouts, and inconsistent products which is what American is going to have, it’s been really annoying with United… a six year conversion, and even now the 777s are in 3 different configurations (the ex-Contienental one being much better)

    They will be comping Main Cabin Extra to all elites through 2013, Golds lose out after that.

  16. @Lark BusinessFirst is a great product, 777 Business is really really right, lacks privacy, involves climbing over people. Though with the exception of the 777s still with recliner seats, United’s business is better than American’s current product.

  17. @Z concomitant wiith the refurbish or delivery of new aircraft.. so it starts with the 777-300s coming at the end of the year

  18. Am I the only one who thinks that the DL 777 BE flat seat is horribly uncomfortable? Hard, not easily adjusted, poorly designed storage.

    Very limited sample size (1 flight), but even so…I was in love with NCW before I was off the ground, ditto the Flagship Suite.

  19. Hey Gary,

    The images from “Renderings from the New Seats” don’t look like the seats are fully-lie flat, they kinda still look Angled-flat to me as the foot end seems to be tumbling towards the floor. Can you please tell me if this is the case or if its just an apparition?

  20. Kudos to American. I like the fact that 2 pax flying together can ‘sorta’ face each other by leaning forward a bit. While Delta’s 777 product is really nice, this is one drawback to their herringbone design.

  21. @ Gary – Thanks for the clarification.

    I have never been in AA’s C product, so I cannot compare. I do like UA’s (mostly) lie flat C fleet…

    It is good to see AA making these investments in an improved flying experience for those who fly them.

  22. Two questions:

    (1) What are the Marcus Samuelsson nuts? (I wasn’t able to get a ticket for the MegaDO).

    (2) How much storage space is there in the new J seats? E.g., current J you can’t put anything on the floor or you block seat recline, so you just have the cubby slot. Is there more space, perhaps on the floor, with the new J?

  23. @Gary, you wrote:

    “@Kevin The 777-300s get a new first class seat, that was already announced back in January. It’s better than status quo but not a private suite like the best products out there. Honestly the difference between business and first shrinks with the new biz seat, it’s a VERY good business seat and the first seat is only average at best.”

    In my view, AA’s current 777 F is quite nice. I personally prefer it to BA’s F (both old and new). As you say, it’s not a private suite, but you do get a very large amount of personal space, oodles of surface area (I love the pop-out desk that can hold a laptop without taking away from meal space), and plenty of handy storage area (under the ottoman is room for a computer bag or backpack).

  24. The “first” retrofitted aircraft are two years away, but as you observed, it has taken UA some six years to complete it’s refitting. Assuming an equivilant timeframe, we may be still getting the old seats on some flights up to 8 years from now? I’m quite certain the flights AA opens for award travel will not be the retrofitted ones until the very end of the upgrade process.

    This doesn’t get me excited, it gets me depressed. AA dangles these seats in front of me, then says that in 8 YEARS I may get to fly in one of them. Just like that very cute and oh so friendly FA in your photo. I’m never going to find her crewing any AA flight I take either. Sigh…..

  25. Two questions:

    (1) What are the Marcus Samuelsson nuts? (I wasn’t able to get a ticket for the MegaDO).

    (2) How much storage space is there in the new J seats? E.g., current J you can’t put anything on the floor or you block seat recline, so you just have the cubby slot. Is there more space, perhaps on the floor, with the new J?

  26. Does AA start to give away PJ for business passenger as shown in the above picture or this is for the new business class only? I will fly AA from JFK to Tokyo Handa in May. Can I expect new business class and PJ on the route?

  27. @Robert Hanson don’t be depressed just got two of the new business seats on the 77W with an award.

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