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.
It’s still funny to me why we no longer have much first class on international routes.
The reason is simple… Corporate travel departments will not pay for first class for their people. But what’s dumb is that they will pay the exact same first class fare for a product labeled “business”.
Most overseas flights these days have a few very well heeled leisure passengers that will pay first class prices, and more business types whose travel departments won’t pay for anything called first class. This is American realizing that reality, and also realizing that they can still get the same fare for something valued business and still make money off the richest leisure travelers.
Marketing is everything.
If the speculation I’m seeing becomes reality, the front rows of these Flagship cabins will have enhanced features a la JetBlue’s Mint Suites. That would amount to a net reduction of four enhanced (i.e., “first class” ) seats on the 777-300ERs. I’m also seeing reports/speculation that the A321XLRs will take over for most of the A321Ts now in use. And since there are 50 on order, there may be some added domestic/short-haul international routes these aircraft could fly. The 32 premium seats on the XLR compare favorably to the 30 now available on the Ts. And the XLRs have enhanced capabilities. The new configurations will allow for more flexibility in assigning aircraft, as the product will be relatively uniform across multiple platforms. I’m wondering if the current Boeing 787-9s will retain their 385 seats, as all routes aren’t created equal. It also begs the question about how long it will take to replace the 47 777-200s in American’s fleet and what will replace them, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Ghost – I wouldn’t believe the speculation about the XLR being a replacement for the 321T. That’s just the easy way to think about it, but more likely than not, it will be a mix of aircraft the way United does today. It will be all about how to fit flat beds into the schedule. Think about it this way. In Oct, there are flights from Tel Aviv, Delhi, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Doha that all arrive in the morning. The only outbound flights before 5pm on widebodies are a daylight trip to London and one down to Miami. Those airplanes could be deployed on 2 to 3 of the morning flights to LA with ease. Other flights can be covered with XLRs, sure, but I think it’s unlikely that we’ll see any single fleet. Then, this is so far away, we have no idea what the schedule will look like then anyway.
As for the 787-9s, no decisions have been made, I’m told officially. They say they don’t like subfleets, but these could serve different types of markets and might make it worthwhile.
Thanks for the insight.
I wonder how AA will keep flat beds flying to SNA, I would be surprised if the runway is long enough for a transcon wide body. Maybe they’ll keep 321Ts around until XLRs arrive?
Brendan – I’m not so sure they will. That may very well disappear. They can still keep their promises even if they kill that one.
So when they do that it will be like the 5th time that they pull out from the SNA-JFK market then. They have restarted that route so many times and never hold on to it. LOL
This is a continuation of a trend we’ve been seeing for many years: Business is replacing First, and Premium is replacing the old Business, filling the gap between Coach and Business that was created as the quality and comfort (and footprint) of Business leaped forward. But in all configurations, American is putting many more Business seats than Premium seats. Why is this the case? Is there such weak business justification for a mid-level seat?
That’s an interesting question. I’d guess that premium economy is mostly a leisure product, as few corporate policies that don’t allow business would allow PE. And there just isn’t that much leisure demand.
But I’m just blowing smoke. Anybody with any actual knowledge want to comment?
It’s all about revenue dilution – key thing to note is that on most aircraft the number of economy seats that have to be removed for premium economy runs high, something along the lines of 4 eco out for 3 prem eco in. So while it might make sense to add one or two extra rows from a revenue standpoint, it’s go big or go home. The cabin has been gangbusters for revenue (especially this past summer), largely because there’s such limited capacity that it can be inventory controlled to higher fares, and the fear is that adding another section (say a minimum of 21 seats on your average 787) would have a negative effect on yields. The discourse among a lot of execs is that if fares then are attractive enough the would-be business class traveler would see PY as too good a deal to turn down and buy down from biz, especially relevant given the growth of the premium leisure segment since COVID.
As an aside, @grichard, you’re right that it’s mostly a leisure product but there’s a not-insignificant segment of biz travelers that have to fly economy (maybe a flight is too short for them to get J or their company just has a stingy travel policy) and pay out of pocket to upgrade to Prem Eco, since the cost is far more palatable than Biz and the increase in marginal comfort is still pretty high vs 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 eco.
Should note I don’t work for AA and their calculus might be different, but this is the thinking at my airline
Didn’t Continental do this twenty years ago?
Over 20 years ago. Marketing name was Business First.
Will American call this Flagship Class for branding so Will have Flagship vs. Polaris, vs. One?
Presumably, especially with the Flagship moniker on the bulkhead in the A321XLR mockup.
Simultaneously heard on Wall St., “Corporations announce the end of Business Class travel”