After months of leaks and speculation, American has made it official. It will be launching a brand new business class in the next couple of years, and when that happens, First Class will officially go away. It probably won’t be missed.
The plan is to introduce this fancy pants new business class offering which has a door on each suite.
This so-called Flagship Suite — the Adient Ascent — will roll out first on the 30 new 787-9 aircraft that are on order for delivery from 2024 (if Boeing figures out how to deliver an airplane on time). The 787-9s in the fleet today do not have First Class, but these new airplanes will differ in other ways… they’ll be much less dense.
Today, the 787-9s have 30 flat beds in business, 21 recliners in premium economy, 36 Main Cabin Extra coach seats, and 198 regular coach seats for a total of 285 seats. These new deliveries will have room for maybe a coach seat or two, but the focus will be on installing a whopping 51 Flaship Suites and 32 new premium economy seats from Safran with what I’m calling ear shades.
As of now, no existing aircraft will be retrofitted with the exception of the 20-strong 777-300ER fleet. Why would that get an update and nothing else? Well, the 777-300ER is the only widebody in American’s fleet to have a true First Class onboard. Those aircraft are fitted with 8 in First, 52 flat beds in business, 28 recliners in premium economy, 28 Main Cabin Extra, 188 regular coach seats, and a partridge in a pear tree.
The new configuration is again very premium-heavy with a remarkable 70 Flagship Suites along with 44 premium economy seats. This layout has me wondering exactly how these seats will fit into the aircraft’s existing footprint. American couldn’t tell me whether any aircraft monuments would be moved during the retrofit since it’s far too early, but one thing we know can’t change is where the doors are. Here’s a look at the premium cabins on the 777-300ER today along with door locations in green.
Including First and Business, there are 60 seats in blue. Can American fit another 10 in this space? That depends upon how much space the seat will take up on the aircraft. If we assume American isn’t going to put business class behind door 3L/3R, that means this seat likely needs a smaller footprint than what American has today. That would be good news.
With the elimination of First Class, I’d think American could add an extra row in the front. Then if this seat does require less room, you’d imagine that American could probably fit another row in that big back cabin. Where do the extra two come from to reach 70? I bet there’s a way to eliminate part of the galley now that you have a single business class cabin, and that could yield an extra couple of seats.
The math isn’t the same in premium economy. There’s no way that the updated Collins MIQ seat they’re using — which will be basically the same as the Safran seat on the 787-9 — can magically turn 28 premium economy seats into 44. More likely, this will just push the start of the coach cabin back by a couple rows.
That is the current entirety of the plan for the widebodies. Could there be changes in coach? Yes. Could more retrofits be coming? Yes. This is a partial announcement considering how far out things are from actually happening.
In the narrowbodies, we have some changes as well. First, the A321T will be refit into the standard A321 configuration. There are 16 of those airplanes left in the fleet today in a layout with 10 First, 20 in business, 36 in Main Cabin Extra, and 36 in coach. They regularly service JFK to LA, Orange County, and San Francisco along with Boston to LA.
American has committed to keeping flat beds on these routes, but you can just assume it will now follow the same path as United when it removed the p.s. subfleet for transcon flying. Expect to see a mix of widebodies doing turns after European or Latin flying populating these routes… along with the possibility of A321XLRs as well.
The A321XLR will be fitted with 20 Collins Aurora flat beds with doors up front along with 12 Recaro premium economy seats that will, fear not, still have ear shades and look similar to the rest.
JetBlue currently offers 24 of this kind of suite on its low density Mint A321neos. That goes all the way back to the overwing exits. It seems to me that in that same space, American can put 20 of those along with 3 rows of premium economy in a 2-2 configuration. Then coach can be behind the exit rows.
This is also a premium-heavy configuration, though not as heavy as JetBlue’s. That makes sense, because JetBlue uses these airplanes on prime business markets, so far, New York and Boston to London. American will use this for thinner markets but these will be markets that still have to have a solid level of premium demand in this kind of configuration.
Across the board, American is betting that it will have a whole lot of premium demand and then will begrudgingly fill the back with riff-raff to help push the plane toward profitability. At least, that’s the plan for now. We’ll see what happens when 2024 rolls around.