American Airlines recently put its first retrofit 777-200 with a 2-cabin configuration into service. The plane is still flying long-haul routes but as of early October American now serves some 777 intercontinental destinations without a first class option. And, despite having what many consider to be a perfectly good business class seat option available (and installed on more than a dozen newly delivered 777-300ERs) for the 777 American chose to get creative with the new 777-200 seats. So much so that it now holds a patent on the design. The new American Airlines business class seats are being installed in American’s 787 Dreamliner as well. This new design would appear to be the long-term future for 2-cabin aircraft at American Airlines.
In many regards the decision makes sense. Seat designs are ever-evolving and airlines and seat manufacturers continually strive to make more out of the limited space available in an aircraft cabin. There are certain operational efficiencies and passenger comfort factors at play when the carrier chooses a standard offering across its fleet. But when given the proper motivation, an airline must be ready to make a change and shift the cabin interior. For the new “Business Suite” on the 777-200 American believes that the time was right to make a jump in designs.
Why new American Airlines Business Class Seats?
This is how Alice Liu, American’s Managing Director of Onboard Product explained the design decisions surrounding the new American Airlines business class seats during a panel discussion session at the Future Travel Experience conference in Las Vegas last month:
We own the patent on the 777-200 seat. Our thought is that if we’re going to put something on the airplane we need to leapfrog ahead of the industry. It is not that we had to design something from scratch, and I think that’s key to understand. And, again – Eames, I’m quoting my idol, says – ‘It is about taking something already available and improving it to the next level.’ So we know customers are looking for direct aisle access. They are looking for open space. They are looking for more work space. So those are three key attributes that we have improved by understanding what customers want. And that’s what that business suite will provide on the 777-200.
The American Airlines business class seats include a few changes, most notably alternating between forward and rear facing rather than using the reverse herringbone layout of the prior generation of seats. It still provides direct aisle access for each passenger, both USB and 110v power and a full AVOD entertainment system. It is unclear, however, that the density of the seats is increased significantly (or at all) with the new design compared to the herringbone layouts. American fits 21 seats in the space between the forward two doors on the 777-200 using the new seats; Cathay Pacific and Delta each get 26 in the same space.
Where the new seat may really shine is on the 787s which are joining the fleet very soon. The 787-8 aircraft will fit 20 of the Business Suite seats in the forward zone on the aircraft. This is a higher density than United Airlines (only 18 seats) and many other 787 operators. The AA version includes direct aisle access, something the United layout does not offer. British Airways fits 21 in the same space and Qatar Airways has 20. Aeromexico gets up to 24, but without direct aisle access.
By creating a new seat layout and design and patenting it American Airlines hopes that it can hold a bit of an advantage over the competition for the near future. Plus, more seats in less space is good for the airline. Being able to accomplish that without sacrificing passenger comfort makes for happy travelers, too. And American Airlines clearly believes that this new seat is a key factor in realizing both of those goals.
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