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.