American continues to leak bits and pieces of its planned onboard improvements, and now we know some more about its planned offering for domestic flights. What do I think? The amenities all sound great to me as a traveler, but I’m not sure they make sense for a domestic fleet.
Yesterday’s announcement was about what will happen on the new A319/A321/737-800 deliveries that will come into the fleet starting next July. These 230 airplanes will replace a lot of the MD-80s, 757s, and yes, the 767-200s that currently fly from New York to LA and San Francisco. Want to see what they’ll look like? Watch the first part of this video:
Now, don’t get too excited. The only thing you see here that will be on the entire new domestic fleet is the coach cabin. There will be Main Cabin Extra (extra legroom) seating in addition to regular coach. Every seat will have full in-seat video (which it seems will not be free in coach) along with a power outlet (which I assume will be free in coach). There will, of course, be wifi onboard.
So what about the rest of those fancy seats in the video? Those are supposed to be for the small subset of A321s that will replace the airline’s 767-200s on the New York to LA and San Francisco runs. American is effectively planning to build its own version of United’s p.s., soon after United has decided to mostly dismantle it.
There will be 36 seats in coach along with another 36 in Main Cabin Extra. Then there will be 20 flat beds in business class along with 10 flat beds in first class (the same seat American will have as international business class). These airplanes first get delivered starting in November 2013. That means those tired old 767-200s still have a couple years left in them.
So what do I think of all this? As a passenger, I love it. I mean, who doesn’t want in-seat video, power outlets, and wifi? Isn’t that why everyone fawns over Virgin America? But the real question is whether or not people will pay extra for all these goodies or if this will shift high dollar business traffic from other airlines. One of those need to happen for this to succeed.
For starters, I’m a little surprised that American is planning on putting in-seat video in every seat. Other airlines don’t seem to think that’s a worthwhile investment. Delta has some airplanes with it, but it has backed off ever since it realized that inflight internet could provide a great passenger experience without such heavy investment in infrastructure. US Airways, clearly an airline with an extreme view on this, hasn’t seen the point of any kind of video for years (domestically). It just doesn’t see it as something that drives ticket purchase on domestic runs. And as frustrating as I find it, just about every other airline seems to think that investing in power outlets is unnecessary as battery life grows.
Second, what about first class on those transcontinental flights? Nobody else sees value in that offering anymore either. Even United is going to just coach and business. Of course, maybe that’s why American has decided to stick with it. It thinks there’s still some demand for it, and now it has a captive audience. But enough for 10 seats per flight? I don’t know. Regardless, American is coming to different conclusions from other airlines that are currently doing quite well for themselves and that should make people wary.
How is it that American is coming to such different conclusions? This is an airline that has long complained about having costs higher than others and is saying it needed to file bankruptcy just to make cuts in those areas. But all of these bells and whistles are going to add costs. Like I said, I love the idea as a passenger, but then again, that’s how I feel about Virgin America’s onboard product. It doesn’t mean I’ll pay more to fly them.
The cynical side of me might think American was cooking up this plan on paper in order to curry favor with those who will determine its fate in bankruptcy; to show that it has some kind of concrete plan. Maybe this won’t ever happen. But I don’t think that’s the case. With deliveries starting next July, things probably need to be finalized fairly soon. Of course, if a merger ends up happening, things can change quickly.
For me, the jury is still out. American is trying to go upscale across the board, matching more of a long haul product offering on the domestic fleet. I’m actually really curious to see if American can move high-dollar market share with all these bells and whistles, when they’re finally installed. It’s failed in that effort before.
Remember More Room Throughout Coach? American made a mistake rolling out extra legroom to the entire coach cabin instead of having a sub-cabin like United because a lot of people just want cheap fares, especially on domestic flights. And with this kind of heavy investment, American will have a lot of cost to cover that its competitors won’t have. That makes it tougher to offer low fares.
As a passenger, I hope it works. But I’m highly skeptical.