American’s First Boeing 787 is in the Shop to Have Some Business Class Seats Removed

On September 4, American’s Boeing 787-8 registration number N800AN arrived at Chicago O’Hare from London Heathrow. Then it flew the next day to Everett, Washington’s Paine Field. And it’s been sitting in the Pacific Northwest ever since.

This was the very first Boeing 787 delivered to American at the start of 2015. And the reason for it’s visit to Everett? Removal of 8 of the plane’s 28 business class seats to make room for premium economy.

Boeing 787-8 Concept D Business Class

Back in February I wrote that it seemed likely that American Airlines would be removing business class seats from Boeing 787-8 aircraft. That’s on top of removing business class seats from some Boeing 777-200s.

This makes awards and upgrades super difficult on the aircraft (awards are nearly impossible now in business class as it is). A 20 passenger business class cabin is a loss of 28% of the business class seats on the aircraft. In contrast United’s Boeing 787-8s have 36 business class seats. British Airways 787-8s have 35 business class seats.

Boeing 787-9 Premium Economy

American does not yet offer the ability to confirm upgrades to or redeem miles for premium economy. Premium economy is selling well for American. Airline President Robert Isom reported at the Cowen and Company transportation conference that they’re earning double the fares of coach. Separately executives have said they believe customers are predominantly buying up from economy rather than trading down from business.

The first Boeing 787-8 that American Airlines received is the first one to be receiving a premium economy retrofit, and will become the first one in the fleet with only 20 seats up front.

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, 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. Now people will need to buy business class. No more free upgrades. This is just another devaluation of the Advantage program.

  2. The issue I have here is not with award seats or upgrades, but with availability for last minute paid seats. My business is unpredictable. I often have less than a week’s notice before I have to travel and even more rarely fly home on the day I originally planned. Without the ability to book/change at the last minute, I cannot perform my job. A massive reduction in seats makes it more likely that I have to fly a competitor and AA loses my lucrative last minute paid-J business.

  3. The other thing terrible about this reduction, is that they are removing 4 of the seats not affected by the shared mount / motion transfer issue (6A, 7A, 6L, 7L). This leaves only 3 desirable business class seats on this aircraft, since 1A is generally blocked as a crew rest (leaving really only 19 seats in the cabin)

  4. @Ryan

    In a perfect world, this would not change last minute availability, all this should do is drive down discounted inventory buckets. The question is going to be is AA willing to sweat it out with higher fares far out while their competitors fill up their larger cabins, in hope last minute buyers like you eventually show up? If they miscalculate that, they are going to be forced to compete and sell their limited seats for cheap and fill up the cabins too soon.

    UA tried to do the former a couple years back and got absolutely hammered in the market and to their stock price.

  5. @AdamH — Right, the whole business of these widebody flights — the reason they exist — is to sell premium class full fare seats to customers like Ryan. I am sure that inventory will be managed to the best of the airline’s ability to have a couple of seats to sell to customers like Ryan. Of course, stuff happens, but the airlines seem to do an excellent job of predicting last minute demand.
    The people who will be hurt by this are the folks who are upgrading and seeking award travel. It’s obviously going to be harder to do this. I doubt this troubles AA. They’re a business. Most businesses sell their product and not give it away. If you want to fly up front, you’ll likely have to pay more or give your business to a less profit-oriented company.

  6. I just don’t get premium economy. For.just a couple of dollars more then premium economy one can usually buy business class with a flat seat. Now if they made premium economy with lay flat even at an angle I would buy. The big difference is transcontinental flights are overnight and sleeping makes a huge difference.

    Anyhow if AA reduces discount business I will look elsewhere. It will not drive me to premium economy.

  7. Ryan has it exactly right. Because if business isn’t available on AA and that’s what you are looking for why fly them? It’s not like there aren’t other airlines (especially internationally) who have more seats available and even if I was going to book a Premium Economy product AA would be the lowest on my list. So many other choices in that segment.

    As Warren Buffet said: “You only know who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.” If a recession hits I predict big problems for the airlines and in particular for American as all these little decisions they are making will bring them a world of hurt. The torture 737 Max configuration without IFE makes them look less like a LCC so why not fly an LCC? The unbundling of almost all frequent flyer benefits means you just shop for the airline that gives you the best experience for the lowest price. So who cares about American Advantage if there is no advantage? These are no longer loyalty programs in that they have a lock-in.

    Like Ryan I buy premium tickets but with a different purchase pattern. In advance, with flexibility of departing city, zero loyalty to any frequent flyer program, all that counts to me is the best price for the service I’m buying. Frequent flyer miles and program perks have zero hold over me (you get most of the goodies with a premium fare anywhere). The only thing I watch is to make sure that my miles don’t expire and bank them.

    American thinks that just because they reduce the amount of business class seats this creates scarcity. When in fact for most routes it leaves more seats for competitors to sell. What American should consider doing is removing a few routes in economy instead of business to make room for their premium economy offering. I really question AA’s CEO judgement.

  8. Business Class is more then “a few dollars more then PE”, it’s several thousand more. A recent trip to the UK PE was about $1800 r/t and FBC was $7,000. BIG DIFFERENCE. Given the 787-8 is replacing the 767 which has 24 FBC seats (and not good ones at that) and no PE, this is a better situation in the long run, plus you gain WIFI, IFE, and plugs that work.

    Totally agree that upgrades will be more difficult, but even so, AA is trying to make money and not give away seats. I will miss that “mini” FBC cabin however, but the business case supports this even it the emotional case doesn’t.

  9. I’d like to know when upgrading from Economy to Premium Economy is going to be available. No one seems to have the answer

  10. @SunViking. With advance planning I’m able to fly international business for $1300-2000. You just have to be flexible with carriers/alliances and not be tied down to any particular airline and ideally have departure airport flexibility.

  11. @ EndlosLuft…I guess you feel nearly everyone has advanced planning windows and opportunities and can take advantage of that luxury.

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