American Rolls Out Its Version of Economy Plus, er Economy Comfort, er . . .

When it first started talking about the interiors of its new 777-300ER aircraft, American said it would have a premium economy section. I secretly More Room In Parts of Coachhoped that it would be the first true premium economy cabin in the US, but we later learned that it would be a coach section with more legroom just like Delta’s and United’s. Now, we have more details on the product, and there’s really nothing too exciting and different here. It’s all rather expected.

American will introduce Main Cabin Extra this year, and it will be basically be the same thing as United’s Economy Plus and Delta’s Economy Comfort. The seats will simply be coach seats with four to six inches more legroom. So is this news? Well, sort of. I mean, it’s news that American is doing it, but there’s nothing really new here.

This doesn’t mean it’s a carbon copy of the United and Delta programs. There are a few subtle differences.

American Delta United

Free with Full Fare Coach? Yes Yes (Y/B/M) No

Free for top tier elites? Yes Yes Yes

Free for entry tier elites? For Gold until end of 2013 25 to 50% discount for Gold/Silver For Silver free at check-in only

Additional recline? Not stated On international aircraft No

Priority boarding? Yes Yes No

Free drink? No (but already free for long haul coach) On international flights No

The onboard product is really just more legroom on all three airlines. In a way, I’m glad to see that American is finally deciding to join the ranks of the other legacy carriers in the US with a premium economy section, but on the other hand, I’m kind of bummed they didn’t try to do something more. International airlines have worked hard to create a true premium economy cabin – different seats, meals, etc. No US-based airline has done that, and I had hoped that American might leap ahead of the rest. It didn’t.

It is kind of funny to think about this. American was ahead of the curve when it rolled out More Room Throughout Coach many years ago. In that plan, everyone got extra legroom. United opted for Economy Plus where it was just a small cabin, and that turned out to be the right way to go. American led with a bold plan that was ultimately a failure because you’ll never get everyone onboard to pay more for extra legroom. But at least it led. Now, it’s the last of the big three to add this offering and it’s not leading in any way.

I shouldn’t get down on American for this. It’s better to have this type of cabin than nothing at all, and it does give American the ability to sell this type of offering on its flights while British Airways sells a true premium economy product. But I can’t help it. American keeps talking about how it’s going to really invest in its product and do something amazing when really it’s just continuing to play catch-up.

For those who are looking forward to taking advantage of these seats, you’ll have to wait awhile in most cases. The 777-300ERs will have the extra legroom section upon delivery. New aircraft deliveries of 737s starting this fall will also have it, but the rest of the fleet will take a long 18 months before it’s outfitted. No other timeline was given regarding when certain fleets would be done, but hopefully more info will be shared eventually.

34 Responses to American Rolls Out Its Version of Economy Plus, er Economy Comfort, er . . .

  1. Chris says:

    It’s worth noting that AA announced a while back that they would be giving out free beer/wine on (some) international flights. The distinction between a free drink for being in their premium economy isn’t necessary in that case.

  2. In addition to the better known Delta, United, and now AA… Doesn’t Frontier also offer an extra legroom seat option?

    • XJT DX says:

      Yup: Sretch Class. As does JetBlue: Even More Space. Thing is JetBlue needs it the least as their regular economy is the most generous already with 33″-34″. EcoPlus/Comfort/Extra = JetBlue back-of-the-bus.

    • CF says:

      And Virgin America does as well, if you count bulkheads and exit rows under the “Main Cabin Select” banner.

  3. Dan says:

    CF,

    On the one hand, I get your disappointment about how AA isn’t innovating in this area. OTOH, maybe that’s a good thing. After looking at several non-standard economy options for a trip to Europe next year (and Asia in the past), I don’t like the price points of a “true” premium economy. They typically price out at double the cost of plain coach. Although a far cry from J fares, they still hurt… especially when Europe is an 8 hour flight, if that, from the east coast. What I really need is extra leg room, the rest are just frills.

    I happen to like the price point on “extra leg room” seats. I’ve checked out a number of carriers (Delta, United, KLM, Finnair) and they all give you some more inches for knees for a couple of hundred round trip. That’s all I need and am able to pay for.

    So, thumbs down to AA for not innovating, but thumbs up for them putting it in at a reasonable price point.

    • CF says:

      Yeah, it’s true. The pricepoint on this is much lower. But I find the true premium economy pricepoint to be very reasonable for what you end up getting. I can rarely consider paying for a business class ticket, but premium economy isn’t as much of a stretch. I think it’s a good middle option to have, but I get that BA can offer it while American can offer something else at that lower pricepoint.

  4. Remember the old days when the ‘special’ coach seats while still 3-across seating would have the center seat folded down so it was window-table-aisle. I think more people would be willing to pay more for that type premium coach seating then still being jammed elbow-to-elbow-to-elbow with just a tab more room for your knees. Not everyone needs more knee room but having a guaranteed empty space next to you would be worth more.

  5. SEAN says:

    Interesting timeing for this post since Delta started running radio ads in the NYC area for there larger first class section wich includes such things as more leg room & greater oppertunities “to ride up in the front of the plane” as the ad goes.

  6. Mark says:

    David SF East Bay:
    I absolutely love that idea! Unfortunately it might be a significant revenue loser :(

  7. surprised to see that UACO does not offer free E+ with full fare coach!

    • CF says:

      They used to, actually. But then the option was taken away.

      • Joe says:

        If I can remember correctly, E+ passengers also used to get free meals, even on domestic flights. I experienced this last time I flew United back in 2006, in which I was in E+ on a p.s. flight between LAX-JFK.

  8. David T says:

    @Dan

    Check out summer fares for British Airways World Traveller Plus. Some legs I’m finding there is no premium for other BA fares and only ~15% premium over best price of competitors in economy. I couldn’t believe it, actually.

  9. skyguyj says:

    Ok….so “Premium Economy” is SUPPOSED to be PREMIUM!

    United/Continental’s Economy Plus is a joke. I am “guesiing so is American’s.

    I have flown MANY airlines in “Premium”…I will take Air New Zealand or Virgin Atlantic ANYTIME! The US carriers are a joke! Premium in the US means 3 Inches-TOPS. I just flew ‘Economy Comfort” on Deltra from BKK-via NRT-to-LAX. The seats (old NW) SUCK.

    If Airlines are going to offer a “PREMIUM” product……then they need to OFFER it…..seats alone don’t cut it!

    (Just my humble opinion)

    xoxo
    skyguyj@yahoo.com

    • andrew says:

      To be fair, none of the US carriers are marketing this as a “premium” economy product. Rather, it’s primarily a “more legroom” option, with DL also giving you a drink on international long-hauls.

  10. Gary says:

    Even before these efforts, there was TWA’s “Comfort Class.” After emerging from one of its bankruptcies in the 1990’s, and getting rid of the Icahn ownership, the airline needed a game changer to get people thinking “TWA” again. We reconfigured all the coach sections to add extra leg room (and, obviously, fewer seats)….. the whole cabin. We advertised it with NBA stars and the Rockettes. Big spash. It brought people back and we had high load factors. However, long-term, it didn’t pay the bills and people were not willing to pay even a modest “premium” for the extra legroom. “Comfort Class” went away… only to be reincarnated in one shape or another with these various premium subsets of coach.

  11. AndrewB says:

    The US carriers need to take a look at the pioneer of ‘Premium Economy’ and see what it should really be about…Virgin Atlantic!! Nothing beats their Premium Economy cabin. A truly seperate cabin, check-in, meals, you name it…they have it.

  12. CP says:

    I suspect that one reason AA did not offer a true Premium Economy product (as Qantas and British do) is that American (the country, not the airline) companies don’t pay for it — I think they either pay business or coach. In my experience, the Premium Economy product on BA and QA is twice as much as regular economy. Cranky, you’re right in that it’s a good product for the price — slightly wider seat, more legroom, meals on china and of higher quality, etc. Yet, I know many people who work for companies that will not pay for the QF or BA Premium Economy product but will pay for “more legroom.” Innovative as Premium Economy may be, if people don’t pay for it…

  13. Cook says:

    Sorry to say it, but COACH is still coach. The added fees for this ‘Coach Plus’ are mostly a non-funny joke and not worth the bucks. WHen on wants (or can) spend a bit more, the only reasonable buy-up is BC (J or similar). Short of BC, the experience is not going to improve a lot. Sorry, but it really is that simple.

  14. Jesse says:

    I can’t help but grin by just reading the title of this post. Economy and comfort may not be a good term for that. :P

  15. Ian L says:

    Depending on what prices end up being and how much extra legroom you get, I might buy this on AA flights. No, it’s not Premium Economy, but I wouldn’t want to pay what they’d want to charge for that anyway (sad to see AirTran Business Class go, despite never having flown AirTran).

    That said, 3″ of legroom on even a four-hour flight isn’t worth much in my book (haven’t done a really long flight yet). Frontier’s prices for more legroom are low enough, and the additional seat pitch high enough (five inches or so) that I’ve upgraded a few times there. I wouldn’t count on American to be as reasonable with price or as generous with legroom, but it’d be nice…

  16. Bryce says:

    It’s so sad how American has fallen behind. It used to truly be “America’s” airline. Now it just seems to be moving with “also-ran” strategies and being second or third movers in adoption of industry trends. It’ll be interesting to watch how the U.S.’s most interesting airline case develops.

  17. Alex Hill says:

    True premium economy looks to me to be a lot like domestic first class in the US. With the enormous gap in both product and price between long haul coach and long haul flat bed business, it seems like there really is a place for something in between. (Wasn’t that the original idea of business class, in a day when first class was less fancy that today’s business class and coach was much nicer than today’s coach?)

    That said, I’m in the camp that will pay for DL/UA/CO-style economy plus (or choose an airline on which I have elite status to get it for free/reduced price), but probably can’t afford even true premium economy in nearly all cases.

  18. Any clue what took AA so long? Or are they just tryin to gussie up things do they can claim to their creditors that they’re running the business properly?

    • CF says:

      My guess is that it might very well be the insular nature of the company’s management. American has a history of thinking that it knows best, and that’s because in the past, it often did things best and first. But that doesn’t really apply anymore.

      American was stung by More Room Throughout Coach when that project failed, so that may have very well built it into the institutional memory that more room doesn’t work. Of course, it’s completely different when it’s a small section that you can charge extra for than when it’s the whole airplane.

      But when Delta put it on making American the lone big holdout in the US, it probably started thinking twice. And it wouldn’t surprise me if BA and Iberia played a hand in this as well. BA might have pushed to get American to get its revenues up on its airplanes now that they share revenue on a big chunk of their flying.

  19. E. says:

    I would do pretty much anything to have a more comfortable flight–well except pay exorbitant first class fees. I’m glad that more airlines are listening to customers about wanting more leg room, free drinks, etc. I’m super glad American is doing its best–let’s hope they’re telling the truth about these improvements.

  20. Joshua says:

    I am nearly a million miler with American, and have been platinum with them for 10 years (50,000 mile status). I have to say that having this section in flights to Europe is nice when I’ve not made the cut to a Business up grade. It lessens the pain of being bumped back .. and generally Exec Plat fill these cabins first, so when I loose upgrades to them I take their seat in the section if I booked to late to get there from the start .. it might not be business.. but it sure beats coach..

  21. Joe says:

    I’ve actually flown in premium coach on all 3 airlines.I personally try to get extra legroom when I fly due to my height. From my perspective, the legroom amount on all 3 airlines is pretty close, about 36″ average, but it’s still a good amount of legroom and within premium coach standards. Also, both Main Cabin Extra and Economy Plus seats do offer more recline, up to 2″ more. Plus the Main Cabin Extra seats on AA’s 777-300 are also both wider and in a less dense 9 across setup instead of the tight 10 across setup in coach.

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