As American Airlines prepares to roll out their Premium Economy class on 777-300ER aircraft, flyers are starting to speculate what that could mean for future configurations. We asked American about their plans and what it could mean for flyers as they prepare for their international adventures.
In 2016, American Airlines made an announcement that would potentially put them alongside international counterparts in the customer comfort category: the carrier would be the first of the legacy three to launch a true premium economy product. The new sub-class would launch with their deliveries of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which were expected to begin commercial service on April 2, 2017.
While the new Dreamliners were the first to get the upgrade, they wouldn’t be the only ones to receive the new seats, offering legrests and wider cushions akin to what flyers may see in a domestic first class product. American also promised to add the new class to their fleet of Airbus A330-200 airframes, alongside their Boeing 777-200 and -300ER aircraft.
As American begins to retrofit their aircraft, FlyerTalkers began to speculate what the future of American’s Premium Economy product would look like. In a thread started in February, discussions started about the possibility of lay-flat seating disappearing from current aircraft, or a possible change in the 777-300ER refitting plan.
“Looking at this more strategically over the past 25 years International F has all but disappeared, International J has become the new ‘First Class’, and International PEY has become the new ‘Business Class’,” FlyerTalker formeraa wrote. “So, we are just seeing history repeat itself.”
“I think a premium economy product on US carriers is a good idea, but I don’t see why it would be the demise of First and Business,” FlyerTalker Schultzois countered. “Unless we’re dealing with an airline that just still hasn’t learned how to sell First and Business.”
To get answers, we went to American directly to find out how the Premium Economy refitting was going and if there were any changes to the program. We then compared those to previous configurations of American aircraft to see how the carrier has historically refitted their widebody aircraft.
A spokesperson for American told FlyerTalk there are currently 64 aircraft outfitted with Premium Economy seats: 15 Airbus A330-200s, 34 Boeing 777-200s, 14 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners (all came with the seats installed) and are in the process of retrofitting 777-300ER aircraft. When we asked, only one 777-300ER was fully refitted with premium economy.
When the 777-300ER seats are finally installed on the aircraft, the new configuration will consist of 8 Flagship First suites, 52 fully lie-flat business class seats, 28 premium economy seats, 28 Main Cabin Extra seats and 188 main cabin (or economy) seats. The reduction of what flyers may consider true “first class” seating aboard long-haul American flights is in-line with the legacy carrier trends, since Delta Air Lines introduced Delta One in 2014, followed by United Airlines’ Polaris announcement in 2016 (which has received criticism for inconsistent amenities and uneven rollout across aircraft).
How has this compared to previous American aircraft configurations? On the Boeing 767-200ER, 45 business class seats are available, followed by 55 Main Cabin Extra seats, with the rest being economy. Aboard the counterpart 767-200, the number of business class seats were reduced to 37, while regular economy seats were cut down to 146. These reductions made the way for 24 Premium Economy seats and 66 Main Cabin Extra seats.
In a previous version of the aircraft seat map, only 58 seats were dedicated as Main Cabin Extra, while 194 seats were main economy in a 3-4-3 configuration – for a total capacity of 289. With the refitting, more room is made for the “premium” products of Premium Economy and Main Cabin Extra, cutting down the capacity to 273. While no business class seats were removed for Premium Economy, more economy upgrades were added at the sacrifice of regular seating.
In the end, will an airline reduce premium cabin space in the front of the airplane to accommodate more economy passengers? Although it is a plausible outcome, it may not be immediately probable: all three legacy carriers are conditioning passengers to pay more for in-flight comfort, ranging from sacrificing pitch to add more economy seats, to introducing basic economy fares on select routes. Economics also plays a part into this equation, and if passengers eschew paying for business and first class accommodations, it is entirely possible a further reduction in lay-flat seating could be coming for more economy seats.