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.

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