American Sends Bigger Planes to Chicago – Because They’re Taking Business Seats Away From Smaller Planes

American Airlines is taking business class seats out of their Boeing 787-8 aircraft. Those planes are going from 28 business class seats down to 20, so that the “mini cabin” at the back of business class can be used for premium economy.

Chicago is American’s 787-8 city. The airline likes to base a specific aircraft type in each city to the extent possible, because it makes their operation simpler. When a plane goes mechanical, they have more of that aircraft. They have people used to working on those planes all the time. And they have the parts. They also have more crew qualified to operate the aircraft.

  • That’s why Miami is the 737 MAX.
  • They’ve moved Boeing 767s — the cheap plane the airline throws on routes they want to test at low cost — out of New York (except, last I looked, for New York JFK – Miami).
  • The Airbus A321neo will base on the West Coast in Los Angeles and Phoenix.

American Airlines Boeing 787-8 in Chicago

As JonNYC points out, American’s plan for simplicity has run into the need to actually sell seats to passengers. They’re sending two larger Boeing 787-9s to fly Chicago – London.

Back in June I explained this would have to happen. At the time American’s Vice President – Planning Vasu Raja complained that the airline doesn’t have “enough seats, and not enough business class seats” to London.

American sees Heathrow as a hub by virtue of their anti-trust immunized joint venture with British Airways which is facing a new review by the U.K. government. That agreement is approaching ten years, and certain assurances were given for the first 10 years of its life. Those were commitments to the E.U., so the U.K. is starting to look into it in advance of Brexit.

Raja said at the time that they would need to “fly bigger and bigger jets from the hubs that we have” and that included Heathrow. So Chicago has to see 787-9s which have 30 business class seats, since American’s 787-8s will no longer have 28 seats in business class.

American Airlines Boeing 787-9 in Los Angeles

Of course once they give up basing a single aircraft type for international and add more fleet types into the mix, they could consider sending Boeing 777-200s to fly Chicago – London.

  • American has removed business class seats from some of those, too, in order to standardize at 37 business seats (down from 45 on 13 of their aircraft).
  • That would have the added benefit of helping to streamline the Heathrow side of the equation with Boeing 777s. Even Raleigh – London Heathrow now has a Boeing 777-200 in the schedule, and American’s new Phoenix – London fligth will be operated by a Boeing 777-200.
  • Since they’ve gotten their flight attendants onto a single scheduling system they could look at Charlotte and Philadelphia service with Boeing 777-200s too, rather than the Airbus A330-300s flying today.

Of course with New York JFK moving to Boeing 777-200s for international, they may just not have enough of these aircraft to go around.

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. The 767 hasn’t been taken out of NY as much as you suggest. It’s now being used JFK-MXP and JFK-MAD to name at least two routes.

  2. I dont understand the point of this? You’re just telling us that AA is putting seats where the demand is? Or am I missing something bigger?

  3. I would bet that the 787-8 and 787-9 are the same fleet type for pilot staffing purposes, the same fleet type for flight attendant training, and have near identical maintenance stores requirements. Thus adding a few 9’s to ORD doesn’t require too many changes. Adding a different aircraft entirely (like a 777) is probably more complicated.

  4. It makes no sense that they are taking business class seats out of the 787-800s. It’s so hard to find seats close to departure as it is now, it will only drive away last minute, high revenue business. There’s no reason they can’t keep 28 seats and remove a few coach seats to make room for premium economy.

  5. Cut, cut, cut – that’s all HPdbaAA does. Every one of those seats taken out is less value for eVIP upgrades.

  6. Brian, The 787-8 and the 787-9 are not as similar as you think. The “near identical maintenance stores requirements” is not a true statement. The heaver 787-9 and 787-10 share more parts than with each other than they do with the 787-8.

  7. Really appalling to see AA cutting even more premium capacity out of their planes. Well, maybe not, given the level of service and F&B on AA these days… but seriously, can’t they see JL and BA both have twice as many business class seats (and first class!) in the same markets? Can AA even sell all those economy seats?! To me this is truly a huge head scratcher and another symptom of the lack of vision of AA leadership and middle management. Will happily stick to DL and UA.

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