American’s New Pimped Out Airbus A319s

I had a chance to crawl around American’s new Airbus A319 in a hanger during a layover a DFW. They had the plane parked and they were doing media tours. Turns out the tours were scheduled for the afternoon I was coming through in late morning but they were happy to accommodate.

There were several planes parked, both in the old and new livery.

I actually like the new American logo, overall the paint job has grown on me and even the tail looks a lot better in person than it did in the renderings the day it was released. The planes parked side by side, viewed from the terminal, are actually quite nice. But I do find the tail to be a bit much.

I climbed on board to get a closer look at the A319.

When the seatmap for the aircraft first came out I said I was going to avoid it. That’s for one simple reason: there aren’t many first class seats so upgrades will be tough on many routes.

The plane has just 8 first class seats, compared to 16 on American’s 737s and MD80s (the latter being the plane that these new aircraft are ostensibly intended to replace). Cutting the number of first class seats in half is not conducive to complimentary upgrades, so as an elite flying I don’t want to see them scheduled. There are too many coach seats!

And while the seats themselves seem quite nice and reasonably comfortable, coach is coach with tight pitch.

But if I were confirmed in first class, or if I was going to be flying in coach regardless, this is the plane I’d want to be on in American’s domestic fleet for short and medium-distance flights. Because it’s seriously pimped out.

The exit rows and ‘main cabin extra’ are much more desirable of course.

In fact, I thought I was onboard a Delta Song aircraft (back in the day Delta’s low cost carrier provided a better coach flying experience than mainline did). Actually it was like being on a Delta plane, only brand new and with better seats.

If I can actually get into the front cabin it offers a comfortable experience.

The A319 features all leather seats even in coach, naturally it is equipped with wireless internet, and every seat has power and USB outlets. There’s a personal TV at each seat as well, with plenty of options (some complimentary, some for pay, and the pay options are free up front).

In fact, the A319 will have a more advance Gogo internet system than existing American aircraft, offering triple the bandwidth. That’s great, because internet was crawling on my flight yesterday. This should make the experience far better and give me tons more value out of my monthly Gogo membership. (American has plans to upgrade the internet speed on their existing fleet as well.)

Even the overhead bins are sleek and stylish, with a brushed metal finish on the handle.

Of course, having full sized overhead bins on each side of the aircraft will be an improvement over the MD80s these are slated to replace though it comes at the expense of having only 2 seats on one side of the aircraft in coach. On the other hand it’s a tradeoff I’m actually happy with because the Airbus A319 has an extra inch of width in each coach seat compared to a Boeing 737.

Overall the Main Cabin Extra product is one I’d be happy to fly for a couple of hours, and I’d be thrilled with being up front for a transcon flight — though if I was going to be flying this on a flight over three hours I think I’d want to confirm my upgrade in advance rather than chancing getting one of only eight seats on a complimentary basis.

The new plane that I’m really looking forward to seeing enter American’s fleet (now that the 777-300ER is becoming a mainstay) is the A321 that will fly New York JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco. I only have to wait until January for that one!

Here are the routes that the A319 will be initially rolling out on:

  • September 16th: Dallas – Charlotte, Cleveland, Memphis, Wichita
  • October 1: Dallas – Dayton, Huntsville
  • October 14: Dallas – McAllen, Toronto
  • November 21: Dallas – Atlanta, Bogota, Corpus Christi
  • December 19: Dallas – Vail, Gunnison/Crested Butte, Jackson Hole
  • December 19: Los Angeles – Vail

The theory is to use this plane for greater frequencies than previously offered on MD80s or 737s. But I don’t ever take that at face value, deployment decisions will certainly change over time and this plane lets American throw capacity at different markets in more granular ways — both more capacity and greater frequencies as well as offering fewer seats.

Regardless, it should represent a better flying experience overall even if it also represents a much tougher upgrade for American’s elites.

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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. What’s the pricing for movies? The options in the photo only include TV shows.

    Apparently United even charges to see the live map. That’s kind of shady. Wonder if AA will too.

  2. Looks like the first rom of first class has reduced legroom due to the bulkhead. Brand new plane but no cut-outs – means only 4 good seats per plane in F?

  3. Gary, what is your specific rationale for thinking that these will be tough upgrades? Just curious. I understand the supply argument, obviously, but fo you have demand data? Do you have stats on these routes specifically? Do you know existing load factors in F on these routes? Some of them I could see being elite-heavy, like the run to Huntsville. And for the ski routes, they could probably run an all-F, all-revenue craft if they wanted to really maximize income. But most of these are short regional routes.

  4. @CW – half the seats, half the percentage of seats in the forward cabin… American’s current revenue management makes much of first class open to anyone wanting to spend miles to upgrade, and that’s frequently how a good chunk of the current cabins fill up. If they restricted only to routes without many elites then perhaps that would mean upgrades were still possible, but remember these planes are REPLACING aircraft with twice the first class seats both in total and as a percentage of total seats. And since they’re bringing hundreds of Airbus aircraft into the fleet don’t expect these to stay on routes that aren’t elite heavy.

  5. Thanks, Gary, for the response. It will certainly be interesting to see how things shake out once they implement the conversion on more and more routes in the future…

    Of course, the availablity of F seats is inherently tied to elite program rules and paid upgrade policies. Which is tied to the fate of the US/AA merger. Which is a whole other issue altogether. Going to be real interesting!!!

  6. I agree that the interior looks pretty sweet–but is this actually going to drive business to AA, at the margins? I think this plane may make people who are already going to fly AA a bit happier (minus the considerations about less seats in F) due to the IFE, but are many people going to book towards AA simply due to the IFE?

    Also, to be nit-picky, while the number of F seats is dropping by 50%, from 16 to 8, the actual ratio of coach to F isn’t dropping by quite that much, because there are fewer total seats on the 319 than on the MD80 fleet. It’s still a big drop, but it’s not quite as high as 50%.

  7. @M – Yes. Airbus’ 319,320 and 231 family has a slightly wider fuselage which allows for wider seats.

  8. Yikes. I just looked at the seat map, and it’s not just the ratio of F seats that is diminished.

    The 321 has 20 rows of coach. Of these, just the front 3 rows and the 1 exit row are MCE (and the front row can’t be reserved in advance). That’s 24 out of 120, just 20% MCE seating.

    Compare that to the MD80, which has 25 coach rows (subtract 6 seats), 10 of which are MCE, including 2 exit rows. In total, that’s 50 MCE seats out of 119, or 42%, more than twice what the 319 offers.

    Unlike upgrades, though, I guess you can check MCE seating availability and confirm at time of booking.

  9. I have to say, the A319 premium cabin looks horrendous. Number of seats notwithstanding, *all* the seats look bad, at least from the photos. The first row has very little leg room due to the bulkhead, which has no cutout. And the second row looks like there is either *no* recline, or at most an inch or two. That’s pretty grim.

  10. Eight seats in F is pathetic, as is the lack of bulkhead cutouts in row one, but I appreciate the hard bulkhead between F and Y. By contrast, Delta has been converting to soft bulkheads as it renovates its interiors, though its A319/A320 F cabin thankfully retains twelve F seats. That said, the same cabin once housed sixteen seats under NW.

  11. I don’t quite understand, but did the photos miss something? The ‘F’ cabin looks like it has legroom no bigger than MCE, the front row has if anything reduced legroom due to the bulkhead and the 2nd row looks like it has limited recline due to the cabin divider??

  12. My home airport is ORD. I primarily fly to LAX, LAS, CLT, DCA, SEA and LGA. Almost every flight I take is 100% filled. How does it make any sense to reduce the number of seats (from MD80s)? Now if they were using them to replace the embarrasing RJ’s it would be an upgrade.

  13. We just flew one of these A319’s on an overnight from Manaus (MAO) to Miami (MIA) and all I can say it that they are horrible – and we had exit row seating. The seats are not good for long flights, the lumbar support from old seats is gone and the headrest is not adjustable in any way that you can be comfortable. I usually can fall asleep in an seat before we take off and don’t even need to recline, but in these there is no way – both my wife and I had a long overnight flight where our plans to sleep never materialized. Exit window seat has no armrest against the wall, and the entertainment boxes under the window and center seats eats up a lot of storage space/leg room.

    For the seat back, the new reduced pocket for the magazine makes it hard to pull that out, the touch screen with no remote is awkward to use since you need to have your arm up to scan and press for selecting anything. I tried playing a game since it was a free option before takeoff, but my arm quit on me before I had a chance to lose money at blackjack. I had several issues with the double tap to select – but maybe it was only hard for me since we did have that exit row with the additional space.

    We had surmised that it was an old USAirways jet and that we were glad they would be phasing them out – if this is the new normal that we are going to, then I believe that it is going to be a hard adjustment for many of us….

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