American Airlines was kind enough to invite me out to JFK this week to get a “sneak peek” on board their new A321T transcon aircraft. And, given that there were also cupcakes to be had, how could I possibly say no??
I got some encouragement to grab a new avatar photo; alas that didn’t work out so well once actually on the plane. Something about possibly breaking their brand new aircraft.
— American Airlines (@AmericanAir) December 17, 2013
Even without getting into the overhead bin I was able to try out all the “normal” seating options on the plane. All things considered, I’d say that the A321T is going to be a pretty nice ride across the USA. Prior to letting us on board there was a brief presentation by Jim Carter, Managing Director for Eastern Division Sales. He touched repeatedly on “Comfort and Connectivity” as the keys to the success of the aircraft for customers. On the connectivity front the answer is Gogo‘s ATG4 service. It is no longer the most bandwidth available in the sky but the 10 megabit bandwidth is a significant upgrade from the current Gogo service on the 767-200s AA is flying on transcons. No word on whether AA will pursue the GTO offering from Gogo. There is also personal AVOD at every seat, with NBC TV shows, short videos and movies. The bad news for customers on that front is that passengers in the economy class cabin can expect to pay for much of the IFE content. Some will remain free but the movies and many other bits will come with a surcharge. All of it will remain free in the business and first class cabins, though Gogo will carry a charge for everyone.
As expected, the first class cabin offers a ton of privacy and a quite comfortable seat. It is more or less the same seat as what AA is flying for their new intercontinental business class product on the 777-300ERs. Lots of room in the bed and all the typical comforts one would expect for a first class seat. Also, the part where American is the only carrier with a first class seat on transcons probably doesn’t hurt their chances in the market. Worth noting that the screen is recessed into the sidewall at an angle so it will need to be stowed during take-off/landing phases of the flight. That’s not an issue in the other cabins.
Does the business class seat look familiar? If you’ve seen the business class seat on the United p.s. planes or on United’s 2-cabin international configs then you should be quite familiar with this new offering from AA. It is, essentially, the exact same seat. I happen to like it pretty well, though I’ll concede that it is not incredibly wide. Neither am I and the layout works for me. There is also the same issue as UA has with respect to the smaller foot-well other than in the bulkhead seats. The IFE kit on the AA version is a bit more advanced than the UA version, with a nifty touch-screen controller for the system rather than a traditional controller pad.
Most passengers are going to be in the Main Cabin or Main Cabin Extra seats and that’s also where I spent most of my time during the tour. I have to say that I’m reasonably impressed. Yes, they are slimline seats, but they are pretty well padded (more so in the seat bottom than the back, though both are clearly augmented from the base model). The 31″ pitch Main Cabin seats had a decent amount of knee room and the MCE seats were very generous on that front. The width of the seats in the 3-3 layout on the Airbus is notable compared to a similar layout on the Boeing planes; that’s also nice for AA customers on this plane. The slimline seats do have their faults, of course. The arm rests are lower relative to the seat bottom and also shorter front-to-back than older seat models. I’m not sure that’s bad so much as different, but it will take some getting used to.
Also, the screens have the USB and audio jacks built in rather than on the arm rest. I like that layout.
Overall I like the layout. With only 102 seats on the plane it has the spacious feel that the old UA p.s. config did, but with much nicer premium cabins than the old UA layout. And they’ve got the only first class cabin flying, though I still question just how compelling that is as a motivation for most passengers (I do understand that when those seats do sell it is typically for a lot of $$). I am not a huge fan of the freemium model for IFE in the main cabin seats but American is not alone in that approach. And the seat comfort should be reasonable overall. At the end of the day that’s probably what matters most.
Finally, to celebrate the new service AA is offering bonus miles on the JFK-LAX route from 7 January 2014 to 31 March 2014. It is a sliding scale based on fare class but a decent promo, even if only for RDMs. Registration is required.
- JetBlue Mint introduced to the premium transcon market
- Gogo’s GTO: faster speeds, but still some limits
- Comparing the players in the “Transcon Wars”
- Delta’s new transcon product: Also flat beds
- JetBlue’s Suite Seats, and how they compete in the transcon premium market
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