American is Bringing New Premium Cabins to their New York – Los Angeles and San Francisco Routes

I popped into the exhibit hall at the Global Business Travel Association convention and stopped by the American Airlines booth. They were featuring 3D video of the new Airbus A321s that they’ll be bringing into the fleet to replace the 767-200s flying their New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco transcon flights.

I admit I was surprised by the announcement of a dedicated fleet of Airbus A321s for this route. They’ve been the only remaining carrier with plans to operate widebodies on their premium transcon routes, and they’re ending that.

When American goes to a narrowbody fleet for the route, though, they’re keeping first class. United is getting rid of their first class, and Delta only operates two-cabin planes. It’s interesting that American is keeping first class only on their Boeing 777-300 aircraft, it’s going away on the 777-200s, but they’re keeping it on this domestic route.

Rob Friedman (American’s Vice President of Marketing who used to run the AAdvantage program), who showed me the 3D video, says that their movie studio clients are ecstatic about this. I’m not an expert at all in the area of movie studio corporate contracts. I assume they must have had these conversations, and that these corporate contracts were a big driver of their decision to keep three classes of service on the flights. But my rudimentary understanding was that studios no longer had to buy as many first class seats on cross country flights, that Screen Actors Guild contracts allowed for business class if that was the top cabin offered.

Bottom-line, though, if you secure first class seats on the JFK-Los Angeles routes, you can expect to see some recognizable faces — especially since the only opportunity for three-cabin first class will remain on American. But then again you often do just transiting Los Angeles, earlier in the year I was followed through security and then into the lounge by Billy Crystal, and sat across the aisle from Randy Jackson.

The first class cabin will be five rows of two seats across going fully flat. That’s the same number of first class seats currently offered on American’s 767-200s.

They’re shrinking the business class cabin, though, from 30 seats down to 20. There will be five rows that are two-by-two with lie flat seats similar to what they’re bringing into the international fleet.

The coach cabin will be split evenly between “Main Cabin Extra” (six rows of extra legroom seats) and regular economy (six rows).

Overall, the Airbus A321s will have 102 seats versus more than 160 on the 767s they’re currently flying. So while there are fewer business class seats, premium seats as a percentage of total seats is much higher. That’s the metric I usually look to when I try to figure out my upgrade chances.

What’s going to be really important here is the total number of flights they’re offering. Friedman said that hadn’t been determined yet, so they weren’t saying that the total number of seats in the market would shrink. The smaller plane gives them the chance to either increase frequency or fares, and they’re still a bit coy on which one to expect.

We can expect to see the first delivery at the end of 2013, so we’ll have to wait awhile before flying one of these. I know I’d really love to get my bum into one of their first class seats…

I also took the opportunity to ask Rob about the business class seats on the Boeing 777-200s. We know the exact seats that are being installed on the 777-300s coming later this year, but we don’t actually know what’s going into the 200 series planes when those are retrofitted. Apparently they’ve made the decisions, they’re still in the design phase. They are similar to the seats that have been revealed and are coming online in December but with some minor differences and there should be news “in a couple of months.” He insisted that the new business class seats on the 777-200s would be wider than those going into the -300s though I’m not sure how that could be the case.

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. […] View From The Wing got more of a first-hand look at the new product (okay, a 3D version on tape).  Gary brings up the point that the A321 will have significantly less seats than the 767 that currently services the route.  I’d be thrilled to see more frequency, but I suspect it will be higher price.  In the end, that’s okay too, especially if AA stays independent. […]

  2. […] of the nine new Los Angeles routes they announced last month. I’m really looking forward to trying out American’s new narrow-body A321 premium cabin seats between New York and Los Angele…. While competitors offer lie-flat products, American’s will be the only three-cabin offering […]


  1. Isn’t First on the transcon A321 more similar to what they’re bringing to the international fleet?

  2. How many points is it to travel on business or first? I’m assuming the 25K standard doesn’t apply here.

  3. Increasing frequencies would mean cutting other flights at JFK or otherwise finding slots.

    As for the C seats being similar to the international fleet, the better comparison is probably to the seats on the legacy CO planes on the United fleet. Because they’re the same thing. UA and AA are going to have basically identical seats in the transcon market.

    Also, the number of Y seats is going to be low; only 72 total split between MCE and regular Y. United has 70 E+ seats in their config. And more C seats to upgrade in to.

    Unless you’re confirming that C seat at booking on the new AA planes I’d say that’s a big risk.

  4. As someone who knows nothing, I’m curious about the A321, since it seems as though that’s not exactly the newest model aircraft–I would have thought that a “next generation” fleet would have tried for the newest aircraft. Has it been updated much since it’s initial release?

  5. Yeah, that makes sense. Make more seats at a HIGHER $$ price point, and reduce the seats at a somewhat LOWER price point. Makes all the sense in the world. Unless of course, companies and consumers are going to remain slight more price sensitive and would prefer the moderately lower PP till later.

    I know, I know, “build it and they will come” but I really don’t think that is where domestic aviation is going

  6. I’m thrilled that American differentiates itself by remaining a true premium carrier
    Thank god I had the smarts to dump United years ago even before it became
    The Titanic with the Contiental merger
    I left sometime after Ted and the removal of 767s for 757 ps
    Which sucks
    I can only hope now that AAs world class program doesn’t become anything like UsAir or United

  7. This is great, but I just don’t go to NY that often. I’m presuming that they are keeping the mediocre 737-800s on LAX-BOS, LAX-IAD, and LAX-YYZ

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