American Airlines Is Designing Its New A321XLR And Boeing 787-9 Cabins

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.

Isom explained,

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.”

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, 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. Hoping they intro a suite concept on the 787’s. Now that QR and BA are committed to suites I assume AA will follow from the rear and come up with their version.

  2. This is the America West Gang, they will find a way to screw it up. Until AA’s board wakes up and kicks the them to the curb I have no faith in AA’s ability to run a competitive airline.

  3. Is there a particular reason why someone bringing down a $6+ Million salary talks like a Bubba drinking a few bottles of PBR with his buddies?

  4. Saving money is their #1 priority. Making it comfortable for passengers and crew is last. BTW, if they create a ULCC product, then crews should refuse to fly it. As a passenger, I know I will.

  5. For wheelchair and. passengers of size make two wide seats instead of three across in bulkhead. If not needed they will upsell so no money lost but these two groups need a better alternative

  6. Dear Ms Ross, Kindly define the minimum size to occupy your innovative design. And does that include height as well as girth? Inches for both would be fine. Are they measured at check-in?

  7. That’s pure BS. Carriers, iincluding AA reconfigure seats day in, day out if they really want to.

    Isom explained that the current Airbus A321 and Boeing 737 layouts are fixed – we’re stuck with the new layouts

  8. It is beyond me why this blog is not called ‘View Only From an American Airlines Wing”

  9. This is great and all – but what about their domestic product that is quickly becoming the trashiest of the US3? Still no power on LUS 321s, and still ripping out PTVs from the nice LAA 321s. LCC management has it completely backwards IMO.

  10. The number of first class / flatbed seats AA installs on their planes is downright pitiful compared to what DL/UA have. It’s embarrassing.

  11. When we were PI, inflight and the company always worked together on the a/c coming on line……old or new. That philosphy served them well over the years and kept both crew and paxs happy 99% of the time. Since others took over, everything seems to have gone down hill, across the board with one excuse after another. And the succeeding companies have paid a price with upset paxs and crew. Just how many millions do these executives need to live on, at what point do they start thinking about someone other than self??

    Agreed I have been gone since 9/11, but the discourse on the various FB threads covers the same thing over and over. This past weekend I flew DCA/PDX on a 321 on a thin seat, and it was miserable for the 5-6 hr flight…….By not providing appropriate amenities across the board AA will only continue to go down hill, and that is a sorry state of affairs…….

  12. How many aircraft interiors have any of us designed? All any of us can do is comment from the perspective of passengers. But there are a lot more things at work in any design than how it accommodates passengers (although that’s extremely important). Personally, I haven’t seen a whole lot of real-world – repeat real-world – differences among the major airlines. I’ve had excellent flights on all of them, and a few that weren’t so good. Airlines are run and staffed by human beings. They have good days and not-so-good days at the office, so to speak. Based on my observations, most of what I’ve read on airline blogs is from a few disgruntled people who simply love to whine or have an ax to grind against a particular carrier based on one or two bad experiences.

  13. Another observation comes to mind: One culprit few of us seem to blame for the apparent reduction in quality is the person who looks at us in the mirror every morning. Generally speaking, the most profitable airlines in this country are those that don’t offer a lot of onboard amenities. Cheap cuts both ways. If amenities were as important as those who comment on airline blogs allege, then Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant, et. al. wouldn’t be among the most profitable airlines in the country and ULCCs wouldn’t be the fastest-growing segment in the industry. How many legacy-style start-ups are out there? How many new upscale, business-oriented common carriers have been consistently profitable? Virtual every airline in the latter category went out of business. Money talks and ________ walks.

  14. It’s the same discredited AA management team which has a deplorable record over many years of exceedingly poor customer service and especially passenger discomfort on aircraft! Confidence will only return to AA with a completely new management team. Doug Parker, Robert Isom and their minions must leave AA to effect any significant change. Sadly, it’s long overdue! Also, I continue to evade flying AA!

  15. I’m a KC Royals fan, and it’s amazing the similarities between them and AA – they talk about the right things (winning games, serving passengers), but do nothing to actually achieve those goals, and in fact seem to take steps or fall into patterns that actively hinder these objectives.

    Both orgs just keep doing what they’ve always done, and somehow expect different results.

    Doug Parker is more obsessed with being a woke limousine leftist than with running a successful airline, and Royals GM Dayton Moore is absurdly loyal to players because they’re good people and/or good Christians – his identity is more wrapped up in the personalities of individual players than their performance – it’s two sides of the same coin.

    FWIW I’ve given up on the Royals and will not attend or watch their games, even though I love baseball, and I have started booking away from AA, even when their schedules are more convenient. (Booked vacation to PLS not long ago and selected Delta’s brutally early departure through ATL over AA’s later DFW connection, because I will not spend 4+ hours on an AA 737-800, even in First.)

  16. Radio,
    while your post is passionate, it is not accurate.
    For most of the decade before covid, Delta was the most profitable airline in the world. Delta and Southwest had nearly identical net income margins right before covid. DL was also the highest revenue carrier in the world right before covid but has traded that title back and forth with AA.
    Nobody has been profitable on their own merits since.
    The legacy carrier model is not a sentence to be unprofitable. AS is also a legacy carrier (interstate travel pre-deregulation) and was one of the most profitable in the industry for years. They just happened to spend alot of energy – and cash – to take over Virgin America and have dropped from the list of most profitable carriers on a margin basis since they are obviously smaller than DL but I expect they will return.

    None of which changes that AA is badly needing to define its long-haul products but most people recognize that hard product is not AA”s primary problem. The A321XLR will be a chance for them to try to make transatlantic narrowbody flights work but I am skeptical that they can be cost competitive given that you still need 3 pilots for flights over 8 hours (for US pilots) and the same 3 pilots spread over 50 to 75 to 100 more passengers on a widebody makes a big difference in costs; fuel burn per passenger is not that much different when you configure an A321NEO in a transatlantic configuration. And of course you can’t cargo much if any cargo on a narrowbody.

    The 787-9 will be more interesting to watch. AA’s 787 fleet is not that old and their 777-300ERs aren’t either – and all will be around for a good long time.

  17. @Tim Dunn,
    Based on the sources I read pre-pandemic (including SEC filings), Allegiant, Spirit, Frontier, etc, consistently had a better overall rate of return than Delta and Southwest. Obviously, based strictly on dollar amounts, Delta earned more. Obviously, all airlines have been hemorrhaging money during the pandemic. and to that point, I was happy to see Delta’s latest earnings report.

    I should have made it clear that I categorize Southwest with Allegiant, Spirit, etc. as its business model is much more akin to ULCCs than to Delta’s. Among other things, Southwest doesn’t have clubs, inflight entertainment, multiple cabin seating, meals, etc. Alaska doesn’t have the international exposure Delta, American, and United do. Its business model is rather akin to what America West’s was, a hybrid.

    Who are “most” people? You and Gary Leff? Maybe the others who whine about American on other blogs. I really don’t find much substantive difference among the legacies. None of them, including Southwest, have decent coach seats. But at least the legacies offer the option to buy up. The best coach seat I ever sat in was on Midwest Airlines. But like most carriers that offered a better than average level of service, it isn’t around anymore. While the Allegiants of the world, with bare-bones service and park benches for seats, make relatively good rates of return. Go figure. I don’t understand the desire to try to make all legacy carriers exactly the same. Why can’t each be a bit different?

  18. You should read actual financial data yourself.
    Delta and Southwest were within one-tenth of one percent at the top of the US airline industry in terms of margins, regardless of what you have read.
    American made more in absolute dollar amounts than ULCCs (which are much smaller) but AAL’s margins were at the bottom of the industry.
    Southwest is not more like an ULCC. Southwest offers a more consistent, all-in price than legacy carriers; unbundled pricing is the hallmark of ULCCs.
    and the people that comment to articles here – whether they are representative of the world as a whole – are who I was referring to.
    and specific to American’s product, they are clearly trying to replace with product what they have been unable to do with their route system. AA execs themselves have said that American lost money flying 50-60 widebody aircraft worth of flying for years (which represents 1/3 of AA’s longhaul fleet) including to Asia and much of continental Europe. Having a competitive product might look good but there are much deeper reasons why Delta and United are increasing becoming the US’ two global carriers.

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