American is Upgrading Its 767s, but Only the Front Half

Before the US Airways merger, American had said it would eventually refit some of its 767 fleet with flat beds in Business Class, but we didn’t really have much more insight into when or what would actually happen. Now we know, and it’s not good news for those in the back where overhead video screens will continue to exist. In fact, the only good news is that American doesn’t expect to keep these airplanes flying all that much longer. I was able to speak with American’s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer (and a planner at heart), Andrew Nocella about why this decision was made.

American 767-300 New Biz

The email I got from American’s PR agency (they still use Weber Shandwick for now) crowed about how great the new upgrades on the 767-300 were going to be. Oh sure, there were plenty of pretty pictures of the new flat beds in business (above), but something didn’t smell quite right. One of these new upgrades caught my eye.

The project included “the installation of new LCD drop-down monitors onboard.” Wait a minute. Did that mean there wouldn’t be in-seat video on this airplane? A quick email back to Weber got me the answer.

That’s correct – we don’t have plans to install in-seat video on our retrofitted planes, that’s something that will be available on all of American’s new planes. The retrofitted 767-300s will continue to have overhead video, with the new LCD drop-down monitors.

You have got to be friggin’ kidding me. If you’re trying to compete with United’s 747s, then good job, American. You’ve successfully created an equally sub-standard product for those in coach. How does a decision like this get made?

When I spoke with Andrew Nocella, he got right to the point, saying that the 767-300 is “not long for our fleet, for the most part.” Out of the 50+ airplanes, only about 25 (give or take) will get the new upgrades. The rest are expected to be gone with 3 years or so. This doesn’t sound much different than the previous American’s plan. Even the aircraft that are getting upgrades, however, aren’t likely to stick around more than about 5 years. As 787s and A350s come on the property, the 767-300s will be the first to go.

Actually, the old US Airways 767-200s will be the first to go. They actually anticipate keeping them flying through the summer of 2015 for one reason – it allows them to accelerate the work being done upgrading the 767-300s. But after summer 2015, those airplanes will finally become beer cans.

If this shows anything, it shows how important the airline views flat beds in business class. After all, they are going to spend a ton of money to upgrade airplanes that will only be around for 5 more years. But they still couldn’t be bothered to put in-seat video in coach as part of the process. Suck.

But let’s talk about the international fleet in general. The standard for all new deliveries will be audio/video on demand. The 777-300s and the A330s already have it. Though plans for the 777-200 haven’t been announced, I have to assume (I hope) that they’ll get that treatment as well. The 767-200s and -300s will soldier on with overhead video, though many of those airplanes will leave the fleet quickly. Then there’s the international 757s. No decision has been made on what to do with those yet.

Andrew made it clear that while the 767-300 is a big part of the fleet today, it’s going to be a much smaller part of it going forward. It seems like this is going to be the workhorse airplane that goes where others can’t do it profitably. In other words, it can be used in secondary markets. Think about places with thinner demand that could still use a longer haul airplane. Andrew mentioned Brasilia as a possible example. I suggested they put them in Venezuela. Maybe they can get them stolen by the government and they can make insurance pay for them.

In about 5 years, they’ll all be gone and the international fleet will all have flat beds up front and in-seat video in the back. But it’ll be a long 5 years until we get to that point. And the spin that’s being put out there is so sickeningly thick. I gagged when I read about “new seat covers and cushions in the Main Cabin that mirror the design of American’s 777-300ER fleet for a more consistent widebody experience.”

Yes, the seat covers make it look more consistent, as long as you view it from the front and ignore the lack of in-seat entertainment. Very poor indeed.

Of course, if you’re flying up front, you won’t care. The new seat up there is a tremendous improvement over what I consider to be one of the worst Business Class seats flying today.

Next time you’re looking at flights, keep in mind that if you’re on an American 767, you’ll want to bring your own tablet.

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