American Will Add a 5th Row of First Class to Airbus A321s — and More Coach Seats

American has been flying their new domestic configuration planes since last November. First introduced with the Boeing 737 MAX 8, and in the process of retrofitting existing Boeing 737-800s, that means:

  • Less distance between seats for first class, extra legroom Main Cabin Extra, and regular economy which is down to 30 inches of pitch
  • Slimmer seats with less padding to make up for seats being tighter together (coach seats also have less recline)
  • No seat back entertainment, customers can stream on their own devices
  • Smaller lavatories
  • Bigger overhead bins
  • Faster satellite-based wireless internet, which is happening on its own separate and more rapid schedule

The 737s went from 150 seats under previous American Airlines management to 160 seats after the merger and now to 172 seats. The plan is to extend this concept of squeezing more people onto planes with American’s Airbus narrowbody fleet as well, and we’ve just learned a bit about what that is going to look like.

JonNYC shares that the new American Airlines configuration for the Airbus A321 will have 20 first class seats (one more row of first class) and 176 coach seats. A second source confirms this as well.

This is 9 – 15 additional seats compared to American’s existing Airbus A321s. Today the Airbus A321 (other than the premium version flying cross country) has:

  • Legacy US Airways: 187 seats including 16 first class with 36 inch pitch, 18 main cabin extra, and 153 standard coach
  • Legacy American: 181 seats including 16 first class with 38 inch pitch, 38 main cabin extra, and 127 standard coach


American Airlines Airbus A321

American will begin taking delivery of Airbus A321neo aircraft in January (‘new engine option’) and they’ll have this new configuration.

Then, as I reported back in August, American will begin to retrofit existing Airbus A321s (A312ceo or ‘current engine option’):

According to David Seymour, American’s Senior Vice President of Integrated Operations, when they take the A321neo starting in January “that will actually serve as the platform to get certification for our refurbishment and standardization of the 321s..so we can go common configuration.” That effort will start in February.

Last week American executives talked about the Airbus A321 not carrying as many passengers as the 757 but this configuration would actually cram more people into a smaller airframe than the current dense 757 American uses for Hawaii flights which has 188 seats.

The addition of a row of first class is a positive for the aircraft. US Airways A321s already had the reduced (36 inch pitch) legroom in first class. And this means more seats to escape the back. A321s are larger aircraft than Boeing 737s, and on a percentage basis ought to have more first class. With 20 first class seats that’ll be about 10% of the plane, comparable to what 737s offered prior to having 12 seats added (where 16/172 is 9%).


American’s New MiQ Domestic First Class Seat

Nonetheless this is big for possible upgrades on A321s, and it’s important for Hawaii where getting even paid premium seats can be challenging at times. Although I do wonder about the likelihood of predeparture beverages with 20 passengers to serve rather than 16.

Of course adding a row of first class means 6 additional inches out of seats in the back, compared to an additional row of coach seats. I admit I’m surprised they get to 196 seats while adding first class seats and main cabin extra seats. That’s going to be a tight cabin.

If there’s one time we can thank government regulation for customer experience it’s this: one additional row of seats would have pushed them over 200 and required an additional flight attendant. Indeed that may be why there’s an emphasis on adding seats with additional legroom.

The A321neo will be focused on West Coast flying. They’ll start with Phoenix – Hawaii and Los Angeles – Hawaii as well as Los Angeles-based cross country flights to destinations other than New York JFK. The airline tries to base a single aircraft type in a specific area, for instance the 737 MAX began in Miami. Other Airbus A321s, as they’re converted, will get assigned elsewhere.

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. Gary- It may be helpful to point out that this is pretty close to what Delta offers on their A321 as I’m sure about everyone is going to now complain this is worse than any competitor. Just seems like another example of American following Delta….

  2. Andy I agree. Delta’s A321 with the entertainment boxes and IFE screen are cramped. I was surprised by the extra coach row on AA, but excited to finally be rid of the LUS A321 (which I fly often) in favor of new seats, more MCE and FC seats, power and satellite Wi-Fi. Plus larger overhead bins which DL doesn’t have. We will have to wait for the AA haters, but this IMO is an huge improvement. Can’t come soon enough!

  3. Yes, those screens really make the space cramped. *rolls eyes* How utterly ridiculous.

    They’re built right in to the seat—-I’m not sure how anyone believes that nonsense. And I’m not sure why some customers are so insistent on cheering on a poorer service offering unless you’re being paid by Dougie.

    This configuration has four MORE seats than Delta’s A321, just as AA’s new 738 configuration has TWELVE more seats than DL’s 738’s.

  4. Surely they can try harder. Spirit has 218 seats on their 321’s and this is with only 1 or 2 rows of “big front seats”. If AA took out 3 of these first class rows and reduced the first class cabin to 8 seats they could managed to get closer.

    I’m surprised AA hasn’t gone to the BA (or europe model) where the seats are all 3-3 economy seats and just block the middle for “first class” customers. BA has like 205 seats on their 321’s and 31+ pitch.

  5. UA’s 739 has 20F. DL’s 739 and 321 both have 20F.

    But apparently, AA’s standards have fallen so far that even bringing the seat count back to par with the competition is something worth hyping about.

  6. I am a trapped DFW flyer who once loved AA.

    There’s not a lot here to like but my first emotion was relief. I expected worse and so I’m relieved with this plan. Isn’t that a terrible thing to say about a service provider.

    I do not mind the decision to get rid of the IFE. I think that the extra leg space more than makes up for the lost map (which really was the only thing I used the IFE for). I also am pleased about the larger bins, seat power (finally and let’s hope it’s maintained), and improved WiFi.

    My concerns are the lack of specificity about the number of MCE seats. Is it disclosed anywhere? If so, I missed it. I don’t think that the extra F seats will have me in them with my upgrade potential as low as it is. My better option is to move into an MCE seat.

    I feel nostalgia for the days of more room in coach but those days are gone. I too am concerned about whether the US airlines will adopt the truly horrible Euro model and go with slimline seats throughout the plane with a blocked middle for business.

  7. United’s flight attendants have no problem serving pre-departure beverages on the 737-900, which has 20 first-class seats.

    Why would AA flight attendants have an issue? Are they too LAAZY?

  8. Yikes, Dug!
    Just wait until your FA’s next contract is up for renewal.
    That should be interesting especially when you find room for those additional 3 seats.

  9. It’s worth noting when talking about Density the the High Density (non Mint) 321 at JetBlue seats 200 in all economy. So now American with 5 rows of F is only giving up 4 seats. Ouch.

  10. Gary,

    For comparison, Hawaiian’s A321neo’s seat 189: 16 F, 44 Y+ and 129Y. The AA A321neo’s will be competing directly with Hawaiian’s on the west coast-Hawaii routes.

    Hawaiian’s F seat on the A321neo is the same as AA’s except Hawaiian includes a swiveling footrest.

  11. These NEOS are likely to have an over wing exit rather than the door 2 allowing for additional seating. See pictures of new BA A321 NEO for reference from Airliners.net

  12. More MCE at what? 32″ pitch? More F at what? 36″ pitch? And if you don’t like seatback IFE, why not just not use it? Why celebrate fewer services being offered to customers who appreciate them?

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