Could this be the end of first class on international routes and premium cross country flights on American Airlines? Or the introduction of a really stepped up business class, or both?
Wednesday evening American was marketing cross country flights on its premium Airbus A321T aircraft as offering “Flagship Business” and “Flagship Business Plus,” the latter instead of first class, even though the more expensive ‘business plus’ was still booking into the ‘F’ fare class. Indeed, the column heading where ‘First’ used to be was replaced with ‘Premier’ at aa.com. (Update: See American Airlines response at the bottom)
This morning, however, it appears they are simply marketing both business and first as ‘Flagship’ which is their moniker for premium, and the column header has reverted to ‘first’. This tells me that American Airlines is re-working the branding of at least these flights.
Currently first class – the top cabin on some international flights and on New York – Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange County and at times on Los Angeles – Miami, exists on the airline’s Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A321T aircraft. It’s a true lie flat seat that’s more spacious than business class.
Generally speaking American Airlines differentiates it with better ground service such as private check-in and sit-down Flagship First Dining at some airports, but only modest differentiation in onboard catering. I’ve written about the steps they could take to offer a truly competitive international first class though it seems unlikely they’d do that.
American Airlines Airbus A321T First Class Cabin
American Airlines Airbus A321T First Class Seat
I’ve reached out to American for an explanation of what this temporary branding change means. It appears to have been replaced prematurely, but isn’t clear whether it’s ‘the end of first class’ and whether this will apply just to Airbus A321T or to their international routes as well.
There’s a trend in the industry for some airlines to drop first class and market former first class seats as premium business class seats. That’s what Malaysia Airlines and Asiana have done, for instance. (Etihad is referring to its new business class product as ‘Business Plus’ rather than referring to former first class seats with that name.)
Leaving first class seats in planes, but selling them as business class – with an upcharge – is what outgoing American Airlines CEO Doug Parker did at US Airways with that airline’s Airbus A330-300s. Row 1 had been international first class with sleeper seats and a divider from the rest of the aircraft, but instead of spending money to retrofit the plane with consistent seats when US Airways dropped first class they offered those seats for an upcharge (and free to top tier Chairmans Preferred elites) but with the same meals and service as business class.
This strategy both saves money (on new seats) and reduces costs (on differentiated inflight product). It also creates a separate upsell opportunity for those better seats offered to business class customers.
Overall American Airlines is planning to offer more business class seats and this would be one way to get there though it wouldn’t mean more premium seats overall. While at the same time there’s been discussion of retrofitting Airbus A321T aircraft to a less premium configuration and first class seats could just be an upsell opportunity during a retrofit where only certain aircraft have this option.
Here are some possibilities.
- If they did this on cross country flights only, dropping first class would bring their product into line with Delta, United, and JetBlue – the latter is an alignment that makes sense given the two carriers’ Northeast Alliance. However as the only airline with first class from Los Angeles to New York they’ve had an advantage with some Hollywood studios.
- However when American introduces its speculated new business class for international that could be marketed as ‘flagship business plus” to differentiate it from standard lie flat business class, a branding play along the lines of United Polaris and DeltaOne.
Credit: Adient Aerospace
Aviation watchdog JonNYC discusses this possibility.
And, of course, at such time– not -all- that long from now– when there are newer/better J seats (321XLR and incoming 789s at first) one could understand the marketing of it being a "business plus" seat, even a "flagship business plus" etc
(? -> https://t.co/7cVMUKkFLa )
— ˜”*° JonNYC °*”˜ (@xJonNYC) January 20, 2022
- As an upsell opportunity it could come bundled with some premium services like Flagship first class check-in.
Either way; Biz Plus fare I'd say will access to Flagship First check in areas (but not lounge), ticket flexibility and other nuances that you get with a ‘higher fare’ biz product.
And then I'd **speculate** that some flights that now have F will either be:
— ˜”*° JonNYC °*”˜ (@xJonNYC) January 20, 2022
- Although it would also be interesting if, to encourage upsales, American offered standard business class as a more stripped-down ‘basic business’ product that might not come with Flagship lounge access, or even seat assignments the way that joint venture partner British Airways does (charging a la carte for those, except for full fare business passengers and mid-tier elites and above).
- If they do drop international first class and premium cross country first class, that calls into question the outstanding Flagship First Dining project, since those passengers currently gain access to these exclusive rooms with sit down meals and greater privacy.
Flagship First Dining New York JFK
Miami Corn Chowder With Corn Fritters
It’s not yet clear exactly what “Flagship Business Plus” presages. It appears to have been released as a marketing term earlier than intended. But it does seem as though it’s a replacement for first class on at least some routes, the implications of which should become evident shortly.
Update: American shares the following response,
We are not getting rid of our first class product. An error due to testing caused the temporary removal of our Flagship First fare product. We have resolved the issue, and the fare is once again available for booking on our A321T and 777