Will American Airlines Be the First US Carrier to Introduce Premium Economy?

Premium economy is an important product throughout the world, positioning itself between business class and economy. It’s usually offered on long haul flights and depending on the carrier approximates domestic first class in the US perhaps with foot rests. There may be an upgraded meal and beverages as well.

US airlines on the other hand have extra legroom sections with generally the same seat width. American Airlines, at least, has had 9-abreast seating in their “Main Cabin Extra” extra legroom sections on Boeing 777s but is moving those to 10-abreast in their denser-configuration Boeing 777-200s. And 9-across just kept seat width at what it “used to be” in coach.

American, Delta, and United do not offer a true premium economy though Delta is apparently adding curtain dividers between “Comfort+” and standard economy on some aircraft. But it’s still the same coach seeats.

Could American be the first to change that with a true premium economy product? According to Australian Business Traveller it’s under consideration:

American Airlines and Malaysia Airlines could both launch premium economy class next year, although Oneworld partner Qatar Airways has ruled out adopting better-than-economy seating.

…”We’re looking at it,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told Australian Business Traveller earlier this month, after a pause to carefully choose his words. “We think there’s a lot of opportunity there.”

The Singapore Airlines premium economy product has ~ 19 inches of width, 38 inch pitch, and a 13.3-inch HD monitor. Passengers receive noise-cancelling headphones. There’s seat power, 2 USB ports, and designated storage for water bottle, mobile phone and laptop.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a US airline go for this, at least with the hard product. I can’t imagine them following Singapore’s lead with an extensive “Book the Cook” pre-order meal option like Singapore now extensds to premium economy (albeit with more limited choices). Nor will they offer Singapore’s respectable champagne.

I don’t think any of the US carriers will make the big bet on premium economy that Turkish Airlines did. There’s a limited market for sure. But there is a market for something between a dreadful economy long haul experience and a super-luxe business class one.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I was thinking Delta might be first, the way they’ve been marketing C+ and what with their latest changes to the C+ fare buckets and elite access.

  2. I dumped aadvantage in 2014 and aside from being a domestic free agent, I’ve been flying LH Premium Economy on 5 annual transatlantics for the last 2 years, and it has been awesome…especially with the wifi across the atlantic. Never looked back.

    AA doesn’t come close….no US carrier does. Will be interesting to see what they come up with….especially since they still haven’t finished upgrading the inclined business seats. It’s like UA some time back, where they were flying with 3 different paint jobs at one point.


  3. I was a loyal British Airways flyer for more than a decade and BA’s economy plus (World Traveler Plus) was wonderful, especially for really long flights like LHR-CPT. Separate cabin, nicer seats, and – most importantly – allowed me to get silver elite status and access to BA lounges. But over the years the premium you have to pay for WTP vs. Economy has become much steeper. What used to cost a few hundred dollars more now can cost double that of Economy (depending on the route). Add in the fact that BA gutted Executive Club flyers like me can’t retain elite status by flying WTP. That was the last straw for me. I now have no loyalty and while I REALLY miss the lounges, and miss the benefit of premium economy,

  4. My guess is AA won’t beat Delta to a true premium economy. Rumors are they have something big planned for Comfort+ on the new A350s with the 767s and 777s being retrofitted shortly after. There’s nothing left to do except upgrade the seat as it already includes free IFE, drinks and snacks, in addition to priority boarding. I think Delta actually making Comfort+ a totally different fare class is a pretty big tell that they are closing in on finalizing a true premium economy product.

  5. There is no market for short haul premium economy, which is basically all flights within the lower-48. Most Americans are too cheap to even pay for basic things like seat assignments, much less E+ and hence the popularity of ultra-LCCs and WN. SQ can charge for a premium product because it flies long haul routes where business travelers who don’t have paid-C are willing to pay a reasonable amount for what basically amounts to a 1980s business class product.

    It is kind of amusing to see AA do a 180% about-face again on MRTC. Give UA credit for inventing E+ and also for being smart enough not to think the entire cabin would pay eextra for it. Give SQ credit for implementing a better version, marketing it as a premium product and collecting extra $$.

  6. Indeed, as @Lonjax points out, on Tansatlantic and TPAC routes ex-US, the price differential between PEY and Y can often be between 50% to 100%… Yet a typical PEY seat has roughly 30% more space than a Y seat… So if airlines can manage inventory/fares correctly, the economics behind PEY can make sense. Each of the big three here in the US has JV partners offering the product… AC, LH and NH for UA; BA, JL and QF for AA; and AF, AZ, VS and VA for DL

  7. Hmm, I wonder if AA is going to allow elites to sit in an actual Y+ cabin for free AND allow them to upgrade Y+ -> J with SWUs.

    Imagine AA making a separate Y+ cabin from MCE… 😉

  8. Hard to imagine that there is room for MCE and Y+ on an AA overseas. At least on the LHR flights, A and J are full, so you’re not taking premium space on those flights. It would have to look like the 321 trans-con flights, where here is very little standard coach left. Not seeing enough Y+ demand to make that a good play. But, I’ve been wrong before, and I don’t know Parker’s head yet.

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