American Airlines announces updates to long-haul fleet


American Airlines announced that they are moving forward with a retrofit of their long-haul fleet, updating the cabin interiors to improve the premium cabin experience. Mostly. The upgrades will expand the deployment of the new business class product, previously announced for the 777-300s which the company will begin receiving later this year. It will also mean the removal of the first class cabin on those aircraft, continuing a trend in both the global and the US markets to limit the long-haul premium cabin offerings to select markets with demonstrated demand. The retrofits are slated to begin in 2014.

The new business class seats will be retrofit into the carrier’s 777-200ER aircraft and into a portion of their 767-300ER aircraft. The 767-300s which are not reconfigured will be retired from the fleet.

The carrier has also indicated that their Main Cabin Extra configuration, offering an additional 4-6″ of legroom, will be part of the redesign on the 763s and 772s. On the 772s there will be 5 rows of these seats, 45 of the 215 total economy seats. On the 763s there will be only two rows of Main Cabin Extra, 14 of the 181 total economy seats. Customers holding elite status in the AAdvantage program, as well as with oneworld partners, will have access to the MCE seats.

The new cabin configuration will also include major upgrades to the in-flight entertainment systems and in-flight connectivity options. The IFE system for the 772s has impressive spec’s. It will have roughly 700 hours of audio and video available, up to 120 movies, 180 TV programs, 350 audio selections and 30 games. In business class the screens will be 15.4″ while economy will have quite generous 9″ screens. All seats on the 772s will have 110V outlets and USB plugs as well.

UPDATE: AA has confirmed that the regular main cabin seats will be 3-4-3 on both the 777-200 and 777-300ERs, and without any extra pitch. That’s going to be quite tight.

The satellite-based WiFi service will allow for global connectivity for customers. That said, no vendor has been chosen for the implementation yet so there is plenty of time for the company to see how the various options in the market shake out in the coming months, particularly as others add similar service, to pick the correct product for their fleet.

The 763 refits will not include the new IFE systems; the company will continue to rely on personal tablets for business class passengers on those aircraft for the IFE systems. The 763s will also not receive the WiFi connectivity. Combine that with the very limited MCE seating and those might just become the aircraft to avoid in the American long-haul fleet.

I’ve read through the release now a few times, looking for some hint of a magic paragraph previously missed which makes the planned upgrades tremendous. I still cannot find it. The release has many exciting phrases like “among the first in the industry” and “Business Class suite.” These plans, unfortunately, seem to be mostly playing catch-up to the rest of the industry. The “new” business class seats are based on the same product that US Airways just completed deployment of on their A330 fleet. The IFE upgrades are great, assuming you’re on the 77s; the 763s, not so much. And the seating density of the new seats raises a few red flags.

Type for type, United will offer more premium cabin seats (admittedly not all with direct aisle access) and more economy seats with increased legroom., along with a comparable IFE and connectivity scheme. And United is rolling out the seating and IFE config this year, not starting in 18 months. Delta is similarly ahead of American in the offering, both in terms of timing and product.

I have to give AA credit for trying to build a buzz about the announcements. The press conference included a number of bloggers and other social media folks, trying to tap in to the newer venues for sharing such announcements. And the bit I managed to catch on Twitter suggests that it has worked in come circles. Still, the implementation of these changes are 20 months off. It is going to be hard to keep the buzz alive that long.

There is no doubt that it is increasingly difficult to both offer a top-notch product and to do so in a manner that allows a company to remain competitive in the ever-changing market. In this case, however, it seems that American is barely even able to play catch-up, much less leap ahead. And if this is supposed to revitalize the company, inspiring creditors to ride out the bankruptcy and see a strong future for the carrier I’m very concerned about their strategy. The phrase “too little, too late” comes to mind.

For a different, and somewhat more positive, take on the new seats check out Gary’s post here; he was at the event where they were unveiled.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
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