American unveils snazzy new business and premium economy cabins at the expense of first class


American Airlines focuses on the premium experience – with a twist.

The Fort Worth-based airline on Tuesday unveiled all-new business class and premium economy cabins that will debut in 2024 aboard newly delivered Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A321XLR aircraft.

The airline will also be retrofitting two of its premium aircraft with new products, albeit at the expense of first class on aircraft that currently also have business class.

There’s a lot to unpack about the announcement, so read on for more details.

American introduces new business class suites

The headline in the news is the launch of a brand new business class product for American. The airline will install private forward cabin suites on all new 787-9 Dreamliners beginning in 2024.

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These so-called flagship suites will be arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration and will have direct aisle access for each passenger. In addition, each seat has a private door, lounge seating option and an expanded personal area. It seems there will also be a privacy divider between the middle seats.

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Engineered specifically for the wearer, American’s new seat is based on the standard inverted herringbone design. All seats face away from the aisle for additional privacy and personal space.

This step is a long time coming for American. The rumor that the airline would be adding private suites in business class to its latest Dreamliners has been around for a long time and now it has been officially confirmed.

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In fact, in April, news leaked that American would be outfitting its latest Dreamliners with all-new seats in a premium-heavy configuration. These new jets, designated 787-9P, will have 51 business class pods, 32 premium economy lounge chairs, 18 extra legroom coach seats and 143 standard economy seats.

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American’s existing 787-9s have 30 business pods and 21 premium economy lounge chairs, so the new jets will offer significantly more premium. It wasn’t immediately clear if American plans to retrofit its existing Dreamliners with the new product, and we’ll update the story as we learn more.

The Airbus A321XLR is also getting a new seat

In addition to the large-capacity Dreamliner, American’s narrow-body fleet is also getting an upgrade.

When the airline unveils the Airbus A321XLR in 2024, this single aisle jet will feature an all-new business class product for the airline.

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It will feature 20 flagship suites arranged in a 1-1 configuration, similar to JetBlue Airways’ new Mint business class pods on the Airbus A321neo.

These seats will also feature sliding privacy doors, larger storage areas and personal HDTVs. Unlike the new long-haul business class suite, these seats face the aisle in a herringbone configuration.

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These A321XLRs will also be fitted with 12 premium economy berths.

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American plans to use these jets on transatlantic routes, which may not have enough demand for larger, widebody jets, and it’s likely these planes will also be used on premium transcontinental routes — more on that below.

Premium Economy gets an upgrade

While the most noticeable changes will be in business class, American is also introducing a new premium economy recliner on the new 787-9 and A321XLR fleet.

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With new privacy wings and additional storage space, these seats will likely be popular with those looking to enhance the travel experience without breaking the bank for a business-class seat. Based on the renderings, it doesn’t appear that these seats will have a footrest.

These seats look quite similar to Delta’s new custom first-class lounge chairs that debuted aboard the Airbus A321neo earlier this year.

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American will install 32 of these seats on the 787-9 Dreamliner and 12 on the A321XLR.

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Notably, this will be the first time an American narrowbody aircraft will feature Premium Economy. However, given the airline’s schedule of operations for the jet — on long and thin transatlantic routes — it makes sense that the airline would add this popular cabin.

Goodbye to flagship first

Along with the new cabins, American is officially retiring its flagship First cabin.

Because from the end of 2024, the airline will be retrofitting its existing jet fleet with these exclusive seats: the Boeing 777-300ER and the Airbus A321T.

Historically, the Airbus A321T was one of the premium aircraft in the United States, as the airline used it exclusively on premium transcontinental routes from New York and Boston to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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This A321 sub-fleet currently has 10 flagship first pods, 20 flagship business lie-flat seats and 72 economy seats, half of which are in an extra legroom configuration.

Going forward, American will align the 16 A321Ts with the rest of the A321 fleet, although the airline promises it will continue to offer lie-flat seats on its premium transcontinental routes out of New York and Boston.

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Meanwhile, the airline’s 20 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft currently have eight flagship first pods, 52 flagship business lie flats, 28 premium economy lounge chairs and 216 economy seats.

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After the retrofit, they’ll have a whopping 70 flagship business class suites and 44 premium economy seats — but no flagship first pods.

It wasn’t immediately clear what American would do with its flagship First airport dining facilities, which currently offer the airline’s premium fliers a restaurant-style dining experience before departure.

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Perhaps the airline will keep those outposts open and sell access for a premium — a move the airline began experimenting with earlier this year.

bottom line

While the big story is that American is investing in the premium experience, it’s worth noting that the airline will still suffer from many product inconsistencies.

While the newly delivered Dreamliner, 777-300 and A321XLR will feature new seats, the airline has not announced any plans to upgrade its remaining widebody aircraft.

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This means that the existing 787-8 and -9 Dreamliners will continue to feature a different product along with the 777-200. Worse, the airline will continue to fly its vastly inferior Safran Concept D business class seats in a zig-zag style, which alternately faces forward and backward.

Of course, the airline could decide to retrofit more of its existing aircraft, but only time will tell if the airline decides to do so.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking until American Airlines brings its newest seats into service, beginning with the newly delivered jets in 2024.



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