American Airlines plans to be the first major carrier from the United States to offer a true Premium Economy cabin on all long haul international widebody aircraft starting by the end of 2016. The new cabin will take economy class to new heights and be a midpoint between Business Class and Economy Class. With the introduction of this new class, AA will be the ONLY airline to feature a 4 cabin aircraft flying from North America, but only on VERY select routes, such as to London which is served from several destinations on the 777-300ER.
As the airline industry has changed, Business Class has become increasing nicer than what use to be known as First Class. Lay flat seats and all aisle access became available and started to replicate what use to be known as First Class. Meanwhile, Economy Class has become butt numbing and bone crunching and seat pitch has been reduced along with all comforts of flying! With the vast difference between classes, this reopens the possibility of a mid-point class, hence Premium Economy. Yet, what we are really seeing is History repeating itself, Why they airline doesn’t just rename it First, Business, Economy bemuses me, but it’s all a marketing ploy and a lot hinges on what corporations will pay for.
The new American Airlines Premium Economy will build on American Airlines Fleet renewal and will first take to the skies on newly delivered 787-900 and A350XWB, all other internationally equipped aircraft will have to be refurbished to add the new cabin. Every AA/US plane from the A330 to the B777-300/200 will be refurbished to include the new cabin, only the B767 will not, but that is because the 767 is planned to be phased out once more 787 and A350s come online.
American Airlines Premium Economy Features
American Airline Premium Economy is not ground breaking or industry leading, but the new seat in the mock up does look quite comfortable and very similar to what is seen on OneWorld Partners British Airways and Cathay Pacific. The seat features 2 inches of additional leg room over Main Cabin Extra, a foot rest, more personal space, and other features to improve the flying experience.
“Customers sitting in Premium Economy will enjoy a leather seat featuring 38 inches of pitch, personal on-demand entertainment systems, larger touchscreen monitors with access to movies, TV shows, music and games, and noise reducing headphones.
On the ground, customers will be able to check up to two bags free of charge and board earlier with priority boarding. In the air they will enjoy an enhanced meal service, access to global Wi-Fi connectivity, hours of on-demand entertainment, as well as complimentary wine, beer and spirits.”
American Airlines Premium Economy Cabin Planes
As mentioned above, American Airlines plans to introduce new aircrafts with these seats in late 2016. New generation aircrafts will come figured with the new premium economy, however aircrafts in operation will have to be reconfigured to add the new cabin. Currently at this time we do not know if the 787-800 or the 777-200/300 will have their business class cabin reduced to add this new mini cabin, or if Premium Economy will come at the expense of Economy class seats.
American’s first plane with Premium Economy seating will be its Boeing 787-9, which is expected to enter service in late 2016. The 787-9 will offer Business Class, three rows of Premium Economy in a 2-3-2 configuration, Main Cabin Extra, which offers customers up to 6 inches of additional leg room, and Main Cabin seats. Premium Economy will also be installed on the Airbus A350, which arrives in 2017.
American will also add Premium Economy to all Boeing 777-300ERs, 777-200ERs, 787-8s and Airbus A330s over the next three years. The 777-300ER will feature First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy, Main Cabin Extra and Main Cabin seating options for customers. All other retrofitted aircraft will continue to offer all-aisle access, lie-flat seats in Business Class, as well as Main Cabin Extra and Main Cabin seats.”
The media release tells us that American’s largest jet, the B777-300ER will feature all four cabins plus main cabin extra (MCE), and the 787-900 will feature both Premium Economy and MCE, however if MCE will survive on the smaller widebody planes, such as the A330 or B787-800 is left unknown. My guess is that AA will follow pre-merger US and instead consider bulkhead/exit rows MCE and charge extra for these seats to non-elites, but give them away to top tier elites as an “incentive”. On single aisle jets, there’s no doubt that MCE will remain.
American Airlines Premium Economy Unknowns
There is still a lot unknown about the roll out of Premium Economy and for now we can only speculate. But here are some unanswered questions and my best answers.
Q: Will System Wide Upgrades (SWU) only count towards one class of service?. Meaning if you buy an economy class ticket, can you upgrade to Business or only to Premium Economy.
A: Most airlines that offer a true premium economy class only allow customers to upgrade one class of service. Thus meaning from Economy to Premium Economy, or Business to First, or Premium Economy to Business. I would imagine that AA devalues their SWU and requires customers to purchase premium economy to upgrade to business class. Currently, someone cannot double upgrade to First on the B777-300ER if using a SWU from Economy, so why would it be any different when AA rolls out 4 class of service
Q: How large will the Premium Economy Cabins be?
A: Currently we only know that the 787-900 will have three rows of Premium Economy in a 2-3-2 configuration. The cabin size on other aircrafts has yet to be announced.
Q: Will the same food and booze be served in Premium Economy as other parts of the plane?
A: On many international carriers, such as British Airways Premium economy offers the same food option as Business class, but platted and served at one time, instead of in courses. Currently we do not know what American Airlines planes to do, but they have claimed that food will be upgraded over economy class. I would imagine the spirits would be the same as Business Class, with the exception of wine being of even more cut-rate, at $4.99/bottle vs $8.99 wine that is currently served in Business.
Again there are MANY questions left unanswered about Premium Economy and until American Airlines launches the product we will not know. If you have any question, please ask them and I will try my best to speculate or get an answer from AA.
What do you think of this new offering? Are you excited for American Airlines Premium Economy or does all of this seem like an oxymoron to those who traveled in the 80s and 90s and remember business class being the mid-point offering?