American Airlines is currently in the process of designing the cabins of the brand new Airbus A321XLR and Boeing 787-9 aircraft they’ve ordered, and some details that had previously been speculated on are now confirmed.
At an employee question and answer session last week, American Airlines President Robert Isom explained the tradeoffs in designing a plane between cramming in more passengers and giving cabin crew enough space to work. A flight attendant asked about the Airbus A321 where they don’t have enough space away from passengers when seated, and suggested it would be dangerous in an emergency.
Isom explained that the current Airbus A321 and Boeing 737 layouts are fixed – we’re stuck with the new layouts – but the next planes they design could be better.
There’s two manufacturers of aircraft, Boeing and Airbus, and they pretty much tell ya here is the real estate you can work with. Now and that real estate has to be configured to take care of passengers, has to be service items, our flight attendants as well, and especially safety.
..We designed the aircraft because as I said it’s valuable real estate, that’s what you sell, so we provisioned it a way that we hope to get the best in a lot of different places, so yes we have to make compromises – never on safety – but we have to make compromises in terms of how we structure the aircraft. …Please understand this though that we put the right amount of seats on the plane that we think is best for servicing our customers.
…What we have today with the 321s, the 737s, it’s gonna be that configuration and we’re going to have to figure out how to make that work best. And we have to make it work best with passengers that are increasing in size and passengers that are bringing more gear on board.
In June 2019 American ordered 50 Airbus A321XLRs to be delivered between 2023 and 2025, and which are meant to fly to small cities in Europe and to close-in South America. Isom explained they’re designing the interior of this plane now, with lie flat business class and premium economy in the narrowbody plane:
[American is] in the process right now of designing the interior for the 321XLR so we’ll take that input and it’s helpful. That aircraft is not going to be as densely configured as our current 321s because it will have a real lie-flat business class section, it will have a real premium economy section and it will have a smaller coach configuration.”
American also has more larger-type Boeing 787-9s scheduled to begin delivery in 2023. These get a new cabin, too, and won’t just be a rehash of their current product. There’s been a lot of speculation about the airline’s new business class seat that’s supposed to debut on this plane,
With the 787-9s the next block of deliveries we’re also now in the midst of configuring that: how many business class seats, what kind of business class seats, premium economy sections – how big should they be? What kind of range and capacity are we talking about? How many different ovens do we need to have? How big should the galley spaces be? All that work is going on as well.
The good news is that American has learned their lesson. With the Boeing 737 MAX and the cabin product that’s gone in to existing Boeing 737s and Airbus A321s, they didn’t bother with a cabin mockup first, and made mistakes.
American’s Chief Operating Officer David Seymour explained they now mock up cabins instead of just “you know, tap[ing] it out.”
Instead of just looking at it on paper, because paper can show you something, we actually in this building here started mocking up. We do mockups and not just you know ‘tape it out.’ We actually get the seats, we actually build overhead bins that mimic if we can’t get the real ones. We look at galley sections so that we can understand. Because one of the things you have is it looks good on paper but the transition from one class to another creates this really ugly jaunt that is nearly impossible to do with a cart. So we’re involving them in this process here.
A really premium narrowbody aircraft and a new widebody are really exciting – and hopefully this time by actually building a mockup they won’t muck it up like they did the Boeing 737s and Airbus A321s that we now “have to figure out how to make [..] work best.”