American’s new transcon A321 config announced


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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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, LinkedIn and .

18 Comments

  1. I wonder why AA is adding Airbus planes, when Boeing would seem to make more since, as they are exclusively a Boeing shop. Maintenance, pilot training, etc would have been easier.

  2. AA and UA will be competing head to head with the same seats in C and AVOD throughout, as well as both offering extra legroom. DL and VX will be behind up front, but in the back it will all be even. B6 will be interesting to watch, because they have more legroom in the back but inferior IFE. And VX is dumping F?

  3. Thats the recaro bl3250 with ife in coach. Ie the LH NEK seat. Ouch for a transcon.

  4. Looks pretty solid. Having the only first class service on the market might actually make a business case for itself.

    I’m a bit surprised about the IFE options, thought they might go with the weight savings model + streaming.

    As for the seats – the IFE might make them a bit to thick for the short haul LH model, so I’d hope they offer a bit more padding and comfort.

  5. My presumption is that AA has corporate contracts that necessitate an F cabin on the routes, otherwise it would be pulled. It will be interesting to see DL and VXs response; considering the substational ammount of premium seats on UA and AA compared to them. I am also curious to see how all the carriers compete with soft products.

  6. I love it! It is exactly what UA should have done with p.s.!

    Also, with only 102 seats, boarding should be a breeze.

    1. I know that many people think that UA should’ve put in a fancy F product but I just don’t see the market for it. Ditto for operating the plane with only 102 seats. That’s a density which – even with the more fuel efficient brand new planes – just doesn’t seem sufficient to serve the market.

      We’ll see how well it works soon enough, I suppose.

  7. downhillcrasher. You are absolutely right. American has hit a homerun with their new config while United strikes out. When I fly International First Class to Asia/Australia from New York on United I would like to be in First all the way. Maybe I can fly American to LA/SF.

    1. Sure, you can fly AA to LA or SF. And then what? Onward to Oz means flying on QF metal. So unless you’re paying for the F outright that’s not going to work out so well. And if you are then why wouldn’t you fly QF the whole way?

      To Asia the only real option on AA is NRT. And if you’re doing that in paid F from NYC why not just take JAL’s non-stop?

  8. Seth.
    I’m being facetious. Since I have endured so many miles with UA I will continue to fly them but it is just too bad that they are ruining the PS service. They should have done what AA is doing. Oh well. This reminds me of when AA put in those tilt-flat seats in business class while UA went with a lie-flat seat only the roles are reversed in this case with AA calling the right shots.
    All the best.

    1. I guess I just don’t understand why it is so wrong to operate a very good 2-cabin product when that’s what people are actually paying for. I’d love 3-cabin service, too, but I’m not going to be paying for it. Neither is nearly anyone else. SO when it comes to a decision on whether to fly around a bunch of empty (or Op-Up’d) seats just to have “prestige” versus flying a fleet where passengers are actually buying the seats I’ll say that the latter is the smart play.

      Yes, AA’s product looks swankier. But if no one is buying it they’re just accelerating the demise, not building up value.

  9. Seth:

    No problem with a very good 2-cabin service but is United really doing this? The economy cabin which used to be all economy plus is being downgraded by making this a mix of economy plus and regular economy. What was nice about PS was it was different than the typical domestic in all the cabins. Also, there are some fools who do pay for first and some fools who pay for business and upgrade to first. The businessfirst is going to be better than the old cabin, it’s just too bad that the other cabins are going to suffer. I used to make an effort to always fly PS when traveling transcontinental even though JFK is not all that convenient but who knows now. Oh well.

  10. I do think that UA is really doing it. The new C is going to be a better seat and better IFE than the C or F on the old configs. If someone really is mad that they cannot pay extra for the worse F product then they deserve the idiocy they draw upon themselves. That’s not to say the AA F won’t be a better seat – it will – and AA might pick up the folks who used to fly UA but only want F. More power to them. I’m willing to bet that the revenue they produce doesn’t make up for the amount of space those seats consume relative to the C option.

    As for the economy section, the ps E+ was pretty much the worst on the fleet, tied with the 747. The new E+ will have AVOD at every seat and equal, if not better, pitch for roughly the same number of seats. There will be some extra E- seats, too, but even those will have AVOD and power.

    No, it isn’t a spacious 3-cabin configuration on a widebody, but the new ps config is pretty darn competitive for most customers compared to what the rest of the competition is flying.

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