With more than 200 new narrow-body aircraft on order American Airlines had the opportunity to make a big move in terms of aircraft interior configurations and passenger experiences on board. The airline announced their move today, with plans to be at the front of the pack in many ways. Eventually.
All seats will have power – both 110V and USB – as well as in-seat IFE systems. The planes will have in-flight internet connectivity. No real surprises with those announcements; the carrier is mostly just keeping pace with this move. The real surprise comes in the announcement of a dedicated A321 fleet for transcon service, replacing the 767s currently flying those routes.
That there is a dedicated transcon fleet makes sense. United Airlines has a similar approach and Delta uses their international configured 757s on the routes. The surprise comes from the fact that American is actually going to keep a first class cabin on these planes. Even while pulling the first class seats out of most of their long-haul aircraft they’re installing it fresh in the A321s running the transcons. United is the other carrier currently offering a transcon first class product (I consider the Virgin America option to be business class for several reasons) and that is going away later this year or early next as they reconfigure to a two cabin product.
The new AA transcon first class cabin will be nice, filling the forward zone on the A321 with 10 seats in a 1-1 configuration. The 10 seats matches the number currently in service on the 762s.
The business class cabin will be smaller, with only 20 seats rather than 30, in a 2-2 configuration. These seats are pretty much the same as those United will be putting on their 757s plying the same route. It won’t be hard for American to market their offering as noting that the best United can offer is a product they consider mid-tier.
And, all the way at the back, the American A321s will have 12 rows of seats in a 3-3 layout for economy class passengers. The section will be split between Main Cabin Extra and regular economy. Half of the seats will have the extra legroom and the other half will not.
These are the Recaro Slimline seats which many other airlines have been installing. Lufthansa has two different versions, one for short-haul and another for long-haul and the experience is quite different between the two. It will be interesting to see how American equips those seats.
With only 102 seats in the new configuration versus 168 on the planes there will be a significant drop in capacity in these markets unless additional frequencies are added. This could result in prices increasing as inventory is pressured when the new aircraft are deployed.
These aircraft will be joining the fleet starting in late 2013 with deliveries continuing through 2014. As exciting as the announcement is customers will be waiting at least a year before these configurations show up in the fleet.
American committed to in-seat IFE and a 3-cabin first class product for domestic flights. They did this in the face of other carriers (and even themselves) cutting 3-cabin service on longer routes and investigating device-based streaming media rather than in-seat. Sheer brilliance or denial of industry trends? I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.
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