The rumors are true: American Airlines will phase out long-haul first class over the next few years.
But wealthy travelers need not worry too much. The airline is planning to integrate its flagship first and flagship business class into a new flagship suite configuration on its most premium heavy-duty aircraft, promising direct access and privacy doors for everyone on many of its high-value routes.
As part of the overhaul, American will also update and expand the premium economy cabin on these planes, installing new seats with headrest wings for greater privacy.
“Central to all of this is that American Airlines continues to listen to and continue to get feedback from our customers,” Julie Rath, American’s vice president of customer experience, told USA TODAY. “The flagship suites we offer are truly what customers expect from premium cabins.”
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What will American’s new flagship suites look like?
The flagship suite seats will feature privacy doors and direct aisle access for each passenger, as well as increased personal space compared to the existing flagship business class seats. Every new flagship seat will convert to a full-flat bed.
“Privacy gates are really important to our clients,” Russ said. Passenger feedback has also encouraged airlines to focus on maximizing personal space when designing new products.
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“We really work with all of our partners, whether it’s the company where we buy the seats or the interior designers we do the lounge,” Russ said. “How do we tune and deliver the right product for American Airlines customers?”
Renderings show the new suites will feature dark interiors and carpets, offset by light grey and wood trim around the entertainment system and partitions.
What will American Airlines’ new premium economy seats look like?
About six years ago, American was the first to introduce dedicated premium economy class on its long-haul jets, and plans to update many of those seats show the class’s popularity.
Renderings show that the new premium economy seats will feature privacy wings near the headrests and updated multi-tone upholstery.
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“The demand for premium products will definitely increase,” Ruth said. “It’s another step in really listening to customers.”
When will customers see these updates?
It will be some time before these new seats enter passenger service. American Airlines said its first aircraft in the new configuration are expected to be delivered in 2024, with a full retrofit of existing aircraft not expected to be completed until late 2025 or early 2026.
American Airlines said the new Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A321XLR will be delivered in 2024 along with the new seats. Its flagship long-haul Boeing 777-300ER will be retrofitted at a later date, and its existing Airbus A321T, currently used in premium transcontinental service, will be retrofitted to align with the airline’s other A320 configurations. The plan suggests that, once delivered, these premium single-aisle aircraft will be replaced by XLRs for service between coasts.
Currently, American has no plans to reconfigure its 777-200 or 787-8 aircraft, which would maintain the existing business and premium economy layouts.