American Screwed Up Its Brand New Business Class Seat

American’s new business class seat is the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond going into their Boeing 787-9, Airbus A350, and later retrofits of Boeing 777-200s. Here’s that seat:


Source: American Airlines

There is currently one Boeing 777-200 flying with this seat. They did that retrofit early for certification. American has taken delivery of its first 787-9 with this seat and with premium economy. That plane will fly Dallas – London on October 4, back October 5, and then enter domestic service for about a month.

The B/E Aerospace Super Diamond is one of the world’s best business class seats, but American seems to have made one very poor decision customizing theirs.

This is a Fabulous Seat, Potentially the Best in the World, But…

Virgin Australia uses the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond as its new business class seat. So does Qatar. This is a fantastic seat overall, arguably better than the one on American’s Boeing 777-300ER.

A conversation earlier today made me wonder what was up with one key feature of the seat, however: privacy dividers between the center seats.

American’s Boeing 787-8s and 777-200s have an issue with these dividers, they’re generally stuck in the up position or the down position but cannot be moved by passengers.

Airlines use dividers to create a sense of privacy for middle seat passengers, so that they are acceptable both for couples traveling together and for solo passengers. When going into sleep mode especially having an extra sense of separation from a stranger is a must.

JonNYC tweeted,

reports and photos of AA’s version of super diamond seat lead me to conclude that AA has decided to forego the divider feature on it’s version of the seat.

American Airlines confirms to me that “the business class does not have privacy dividers.”

I’m genuinely shocked. The Qatar version of the seat has a divider that can be pushed down between the seats. The Virgin Australia seat’s divider moves forward and backward. American chose not to have a divider at all. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this decision.

These are expensive seats. They take up a lot of real estate in the plane. But for solo passengers stuck in the middle seats it’s better than six across seating without direct aisle access, but it doesn’t provide privacy. Solo business travelers stuck in those seats will not be happy, and may start actively avoiding the seats.

Aisle seats on the planes are at a huge premium for solo travelers of course those tend to fill up first leaving last minute high fare passengers left with an inferior experience. It’s almost unfathomable that American decided to buy these seats… without the dividers. There has to be a backstory to why they would make what seems like such a collosal mistake — which, on a Friday afternoon, will have to wait.

This Seat Joins American’s Other Business Class Seats

American introduced the Boeing 777-300ER with their first lie flat business class seat, an outstanding off the shelf Cirrus version that’s found in Cathay Pacific and EVA Air business class.


Boeing 777-300ER Business Class

The seat for American’s 767s is fully flat with all seats having direct aisle access. But 767s are narrower aircraft, so they selected the narrower Thompson Vantage seat for this aircraft. I find them claustrophobic for sleeping.


Boeing 767 New Business Class

American worked on their own concept seat that was going to be even more spacious for the conversion of 777-200s and for Boeing 787s. The design got cut back, there were delays, and indeed Boeing 777-200s aren’t even close to done with the conversion.


Boeing 777-200 New Business Class (Zodiac)

Delivery of American’s Boeing 787s were delayed because this new seat wasn’t available from manufacturer Zodiac.


Boeing 787 Business Class

So American terminated its contract and sued Zodiac, and went shopping for a new seat — the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond.

Meanwhile American has started to equip their international 757s with lie flat seats. This is the only aircraft that isn’t going to offer direct aisle access, it’s a 2-by-2 configuration similar to what United is retiring in favor of the new Polaris product. There’s also no inflight entertainment built into the seat.


Boeing 757 Business Class, credit: American Airlines

Meanwhile, until retrofits are done, there are international flights still running with the old angled business seat.


Boeing 767, Old Business Class

How Does This New Seat Compare?

I haven’t flown this year, though have a few trips booked on the new 787-9. I anticipate that for a solo traveler in the window seats, and for couples traveling together in the middle, this should be American’s best business class products and indeed should give American one of the best business class seats in the world.

But for solo travelers in the middle seat it will fall behind American’s Boeing 777-300ER seat, and potentially behind the 777-200 and 787-8 seat if those seats have their dividers stuck in the down position on a given flight.

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 InsideFlyer.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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Comments

  1. The issue here is Doug Parker. His cheapness and disregard for passenger is showing throughout the airline. American has very quickly become the worst of three legacy US airlines. No one should be surprised at anything other than how fast they’ve accomplished this feat. Well done!

  2. I wouldn’t call this “screwed up” as the new seats are light years ahead of many products and the lack of dividers won’t make or break a purchasing decision really. There is plenty of space between both customers that while it will be a bit of a nuisance seeing your seat mate in plain sight it is not making a solid product a terrible one.

    You want to know what product they screwed up? The flimsy new A319 seats they installed on legacy US planes. Wait a year or two and you will start noticing armrests will start falling a part (due to lack of underhand support and with the constant weight pressure on those armrest the armrest will finally give away over time). Heck I have seen a couple with tapes on them already and they aren’t that old.

  3. Well – my folks were on an AA award in J a few months ago – on a reconfigured 767, I think, and they’d complained to me that flight attendants wouldn’t allow them to LOWER the privacy divider – something about FAA regulations or security risk or some other seemingly nonsensical excuse.

    With that anecdote from them and this item read together – I wonder if there isn’t somewhere a story of ham-handedly “solving” the “problem” my parents faced, by removing the divider altogether…

  4. Doug and Scott strike again. They’ve talked themselves into believing they are never going to lose money again, so it’s hardly surprising to think that they could talk themselves into believing that the dividers don’t matter. And even though they’ve parted ways you can bet that both Doug and Scott are both going to be crunching the numbers on BA’s water fee innovation over the weekend, they are both embarrassed that they weren’t the first to the market with that enhancement.

  5. Here, I rewrote this post so it’s to-the-point:

    American Screwed Up Its Brand New Business Class Seat

    When AA legally terminated their contract with Zodiac over delays in delivering the business class seats for the 772 and 787, they had to chose a new supplier. Rather than choosing one of their other existing suppliers with perfectly fine seats, they probably went out to bid and got the best deal from B/E Aerospace because AA is led by Doug Parker who is famous for being a cheap asshole with contempt for his airline’s customers. The new seats are among the best on the market, but AA being Doug Parker’s cost-cutting factory, they opted against a divider between the middle seats. Solo business travelers may find this unpleasant. Couples flying together may not mind. I personally find this decision to be mind boggling, until I remember that the Doug Parker MO is to relentlessly focus on cost savings instead of customer experience.

    Here are some pics
    Here are some links to previous posts about 772/787 business class seat drama

    END

  6. Think about this as a reincarnation of USAiways or, perhaps, America West spirit. American Airlines now exists in its name

  7. I was on NRT-DFW 2 weeks ago with the Super Diamond seat. The FA told me to open the storage compartments to use as a privacy divider. The seat is very nice but this is a BIG FAIL on AA’s new seat.

  8. @ DK
    Haha! Next time ask them for newspaper and tape and make your own partition. Then send a photo to AA customer service.

  9. Regarding the divider, American could do worse.

    I flew business class BKK-HKT on the fourth flight of Thai airways A350-900. It’s a 1-2-1, lie-flat, all-aisle-access configuration. The window seats are OK. The real problem on Thai’s A350-900 is the two seats in the middle. All seats face directly forward. On every other row, the middle seats actually touch with no divider between the upper and lower bodies. Good for couples. If travelling alone, not so much. On the other center rows, the two seats have separation. The problem with these seats is they are right on the aisle and the foot well is not enclosed.

    Thai will fly these aircraft internationally first on Australian routes, then to Europe. This is is very “bare bones” business-class hard product compared to Qatar”s magnificent A350-9s.

  10. I’m so happy that Qatar, Emirates and Etihad are coming to the US….teqching the US carriers what quality is. And do not tell me their quality is only because of the money they have….. It’s also higher motivation and knowledge.

  11. Q: Does anyone in the real world outside of FT and Blog-o-sphere even think about seat dividers when making a purchasing decision?

    A: Not enough to make any material difference in the airline’s passenger counts or revenue.

    A large amount of flyers don’t know or care about the difference in a 767 vs 777-200 vs. 777W (etc…) let alone differences in seat products.

    Tempest in a teacup.

  12. “Dan R says:
    September 30, 2016 at 3:45 pm
    #greatflyers just get used to staring at other #greatflyers”

    this is great.

  13. @Bob – for a one off traveler, they won’t know the difference prior to purchase. for a frequent business traveler who generates a disproportionate share of revenue for an airline, they absolutely learn the difference and stay away from subpar products.

    if your argument was right there would be no reason to offer direct aisle access…

  14. Doug Parker strikes again. He will make his money by screwing the best and most loyal customers. This will force a mass defection that the next CEO will have to clean up. Long live short term thinking!

  15. The Cirrus seats on the 300 are fine for non sleeping activities but give me claustrophobia when trying to sleep because the leg room is funneled down to a very narrow space. Too cocoon-like for my liking. Not bad if you fall asleep and never budge until you wake up. Not so good if you need to stretch or turn over to help your back.

  16. Bring a piece of cardboard and some duct tape. I’m sure the other passenger will be appreciative too. Besides, Flexseal is overpriced, takes time to dry, and the airline will likely get a little upset .

    #DUCTTAPESOLVESALLPROBLEMS
    You can even express your displeasure about AA’s lack of a divider by handwriting a snarky message on the cardboard.

  17. And you complain yet say you have several trips booked…I bet they’re C/upgrade inventory PNRs. (Although you may have splurge and strategically buy a cheap domestic F fare operated on this equipment, so there). Sorry they didn’t consult with you before deciding on the seats. The company has extensive focus groups and channels to connect with actual high value customers which apparently you are not since you weren’t on the list! You are a Mr. Thinks he Knows it all who is just an observer and has never worked in the industry.

    Take off your rose colored glasses. People who fly extensively on their company or client dime aren’t browsing here and aside from a vocal minority won’t care too terribly much.

  18. @Josh G extensive focus groups? this seat was chosen more quickly than the usual process (eg contrast to united’s 3 years with the polaris product), they killed the zodiac deal and needed to sub something in pretty quickly.

    The question here is does privacy matter to a high yield solo traveler, and does it affect choice of carrier?

    Once again, like with most of your comments, you say you disagree but don’t offer an argument why, or rather you simply insult me. That’s not an argument.

  19. The reason why AA chooses to do the things they do is beachside they have Morons running the company.
    Parker is a drunk and the rest are ignorant thieves.
    The whole AA mgmt team should be 6ft under.

  20. Gene “fast becoming the worst….” I flew SEA-AMS on Dirty Delta yesterday, appalling.

    Not even a bulls roar close to the likes of KLM ( KLM, my new airline of the Year ) and I do a fair amount of it

    flightdiary.net/Willett

    Dirty Delta food was the worst I have ever had in years, I thought airline food was getting good again, FA’s running around like blue-arse flys at the beginning to get it done, and then not seen for the next 7 hours. Bloody awful.

    Seat was uncomfortable and hard, in-flight entertainment the most limited I have seen in this day and age.

    But I flew AA earlier this month CDG-CLT and earlier DUB-JFK and both times, bloody fantastic.

    As for UA, I boycott them now when I can, they shit me, but I had to do a LAX-LIM flight with them and not even worth commenting on. The usual old grannies and fairies in the aisles, the usual old planes on Latin America flights.

    So your claim AA “fast becoming the worst….” might be coming true with AA, but they are still a long way above the others.

  21. I’m with Gary I would never pay $4000-$5000 to sleep right next to a stranger with no divider. That’s just creepy.

    I was getting excited that all the carriers are upgrading their premium cabins, so maybe it wouldn’t be such a challenge to figure out what kind of seat you’re getting because they are all good. But it’s sadly not the case. We will still have to spend hours googling to see if a seat is good. Thank god for sites like this that come up when you google it.

  22. I was on a Asiana 777 business class with 2-2-2 and it was a nightmare climbing over someone on a 10hour flight to go to the bathroom. I will never pick that type of seat again

  23. This just doesn’t seem that bad… I think all the comments here about this being Doug Parker’s work are getting excessive – this was almost certainly not a cost saving decision. In this layout, 50% of the cabin will still be devoted to solo travelers, and in my experience as a frequent CX and QR traveler in this layout, solo travelers already avoid the center seats anyway, while couples seek them out.

    The lack of dividers is a minor annoyance at best for solo travelers who already avoid these seats, while you can be sure that if they had installed fixed dividers coupled travelers would be complaining all the time.

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