End of an Era: The First ‘Stripped Down’ American Airlines A321T Is About To Enter Service

The best American Airlines domestic aircraft is the one that it flies on premium cross-country routes like New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Airbus A321T (T for transcon) features first class, business class and economy.

American Airlines Airbus A321T First Class

However that plane is on the way out, with the premium cabins being dismantled and even coach being made worse. The first of these – the aircraft registered as N115NN – has already been converted into a standard domestic plane with regular first class, TVs removed, and less legroom. It will soon re-enter service as a stripped-down experience.

American Airlines is ending its Flagship First Class product over the next few years. Only two plane types have it today.

  • When new Boeing 787-9 planes are (eventually) delivered with business class suites with doors, they will also retrofit their Boeing 777-300ER planes – eliminating international first class, and adding these new business class seats.

  • They will drop first class from these A321T planes. In fact they are going to modify the aircraft to a standard A321 Oasis domestic configuration with just recliner seats up front and coach in back. For premium cross country flights they’re expected to use new Airbus A321XLR planes which, once (eventually) delivered, will have business class suites with doors as well.

While the Airbus A321XLR is still in the future – the aircraft hasn’t been certified yet, so Airbus can’t deliver any – American is already in the process of switching its existing fleet of A321T planes into the standard, less luxurious configuration called “A321R.”

American Airlines Airbus A321T Business Class

Already down to just 16 planes in service, these aircraft currently have 10 first class; 20 business class; and 72 coach seats – half of which are extra legroom “main cabin extra” seats. In the new configuration they will go from 102 total seats up to 196 – 20 first class and 176 coach.

Even though American Airlines will be replacing these planes on cross country routes with a new aircraft featuring business class suites and premium economy, there are several losses.

  • These Airbus A321T aircraft will get far less comfortable
  • There will no longer be a true ‘first class’ cabin
  • That also means the premium cabin will no longer come with access to American’s Flagship First Dining and to the Chelsea lounge at New York JFK
  • The biggest difference will actually be in economy, where there will be less legroom, no TVs and fewer Main Cabin Extra seats.

Meanwhile the big changes to the current fleet of aircraft will be:

  • removing seatback entertainment screens
  • Less padded seats and smaller lavatories
  • Even removing a galley – passengers won’t be fed as much

American Airlines A321T Economy

American Airlines planned to eliminate true first class when US Airways management took over a decade ago. US Airways was used to being the low cost leader, rather than a premium airline, and couldn’t fathom selling those seats. They quickly learned that there was demand, especially from corporate buyers out of L.A. That’s dried up somewhat since the pandemic.

On the aircraft’s inaugural flight, right after the takeover, a Vice President that had come over from the US Airways side told me they expected to rip out first class from these new A321Ts back then. There’s always been a bias against premium from this management team.

American Airlines First Class Cabin On The A321T Will Disappear

They’ve believed that if they could only become operationally reliable, they’d be profitable. It turns out that reliability is just table stakes rather than enough, and a high cost airline needs to generate a revenue premium which requires quality product. The Airbus A321XLR should offer a premium product up front… but no longer in back.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if Virasb Vahidi stayed or Tom Horton remained as Ceo.

    The former truly cared about AA, and was the only executive that employees would have died for.

  2. You’re writing as if the service on transcontinental routes is immediately changing. The 321T will continue to fly JFK-LAX/SFO until the XLR and 777/787 replace it. Once the changeover happens, the inflight product will likely be superior to the existing, aging 321T product.

    Once the T is reconfigured into a standard config, it will fly *other routes*. You know as well as everyone else that the premium transcon market will NOT see the standard oasis planes. Get a grip, Gary.

  3. With the potential increase of 94 passengers plus associated luggage, how much extra will it cost to operate this aircraft? Will they need to increase the cost of coach to cover this difference?

  4. Test the oasis plane on some of the off peak hour transcon flights and see how it goes.

  5. So will flagship dining remain? Or will this be kept for BA First passengers?

    BA will pick up the transatlantic first traffic.

  6. Major sectors in the US like delivery (FedEx, DHL, UPS), car rental (Hertz, Avis etc) and commercial aviation is turning into oligopolies focused entirely on cost and clipping service and excellence. Today airlines is about putting bums in seats at low cost and shoveling industrial chemicals called food to the cattle. Oh well

  7. Only one 321T was removed from the sub fleet to undergo change to the standard cabin format, in order to map the process. The remaining ones, 14 or 15 frames, remain and will continue to until the XLR is phased in and will probably follow a pattern similar to how the 762s were removed 1:1 as the 321T took over, from 2013 into 2014. AA has not said whether it would put 777 or 787 aircraft on the transcons but that doesn’t seem like it is in the cards right now.

    The 321T is a nice layout but the interiors are quite worn on some with scratches on seat backs, notably on the shells of the Flagship Business cabin.

  8. Having a premium product only works if you are able to charge a pricing premium for it – true First Class by-and-large has never been something consumers are willing to pay out-of-pocket for. It has relied on corporate or government contracts and agreements.

    Problem is most US companies no longer pay for first-class (business for flights over 3+ hours or economy is common). Same is generally true for the US government. There’s a reason why every other US airline has discontinued first class, and it’s b/c there is no business case. AA is late to the game here, but this was an obvious – it won’t matter if AA started served Krug, lobster, and wagyu in First Class w/ 4 attendants for a 6 person cabin – w/o the corporate contracts it’s a non-starter unless people become willing to pay $3-4k for a one-way transcon ticket (they won’t).

    The new product (A321XLR) will have 20 lie-flat suites and be fully competitive with Delta and United’s offerings – United does not have this offering for all transcons and Delta flies terrible 763s on many of these. Neither offer upscale lounges on-par w/ the Flagship lounges for domestic passengers.

    AA does many things that are questionable but this is not one of them – this is common sense.

  9. I won’t call it the “end of a era”. The XLR experience will be a huge improvement and more opportunity for Premium trans con as well as point to point Europe, SA and Asia options (PHX to NRT?). Let’s wait to see the new hard product and start the New Era of trans con. . .either way it is still better then DL 767 and UA 777 / 767.

  10. If you need a pod for a 5 hour domestic flight, you’re a special kind of princess.

  11. The AmericaWest yahoos simply don’t understand that – properly done – people will pay for a better product.

  12. Amazing how they spend hard cash to degrade the product in the name of uniformity.

    Want to bet that they’ll be some non premium planes on the route?

    How timely have plane deliveries been?

  13. The downward spiral of American continues and people wonder why we Alaska FF’ers are pissed that Ben made a co-share deal will American and One World. All of which is turning into a disaster. Frankly should have made a deal with Delta or even G forbid United.

    Posters above are spot on American will be the next “Spirit” !

  14. OK, wait, Gary. I have a serious question:

    AA has spent all this money upgrading and creating new first class lounges and dining experiences that can only be accessed by flying first class.

    Why would they then get rid of all of these flights and fares that are specifically tied to and support those lounges? Who do they expect to be in them if there are no flights that carry those fares?

  15. Maybe someone can enlighten me on this…is there any one reason (or a brief list of said…) that the airlines of this country (USA) are so definitively LESS attractive to passengers than say, airlines from the East, Middle East, or Europe? Just WHY? As a wealthy country, I would think it ought to be a “no-brainer” for our airlines figure out how to have a truly competitive product to offer passengers.

  16. Richard, domestic European carriers are much worse. Cheaper though. They compete with trains so they strip them bare to keep prices down. I’m sticking with Delta.

  17. @Richard because the airlines in the US have to operate as actual legitimate businesses – also airlines in Europe are not much, if at all, better than the ones in the US. Domestic European first class is literally just economy with a blocked middle seat and Iberia, TAP Air Portugal, ITA Airways, Finnair, Aer Lingus, etc. are basically like a JetBlue.

    The Middle Eastern especially and airlines in the East receive massive subsidies in the interest of generating tourism. If you look at airlines that operate en masse in Asia, the largest ones are lower cost airlines (e.g., Lion Air, Air Asia, etc.). Thai Airways, Garuda, Kingfisher in India, etc. have all recently gone bankrupt or played very close to it.

    At the end of the day worldwide consumers have shown they predominantly will NOT pay a premium for a premium priced product if it’s coming out of their own pocket – for business it’s a different story. Generally the lowest price given certain limits (e.g., cabin luggage, free water, etc.). As long as that holds it’s a race to the bottom.

  18. Just flew AA 772 from LHR to PHX in business class. Honestly, while it is a lie-flat seat, it’s just not at the same level, both in hard product or service, as other airlines like United or Delta. The seat was exceptionally narrow, with a very uncomfortable seatbelt/airbag. No real storage other than the overhead bins. While the FA was nice, when I asked about slippers or a mattress pad, he laughed and said, “we don’t do that, sorry”. Not even slippers? Nope. Lounge at LHR terminal 3, while pleasant enough, was so bare bones with frozen/reheated dishes that were inferior to something from the supermarket freezer. Compared to the Cathay Pacific or Quantas lounges, it was a stark contrast. And AA is no cheaper than United or Delta. So, I just can’t justify flying them longhaul again. No value in it.

  19. I know you like a first class cabin (because you don’t play for it) but, snark aside, do you think it makes sense for a US airline to operate an international first class in addition to an international business class? Because just about every expert in the world would tell you that would be a foolish idea. The market has shifted to business class (the old first class), premium economy (which is similar to old biz class) and coach. That’s what you can sell. It’s not rocket science.

  20. Exactly when will AA be receiving these so called new XLR aircraft ? I remember not long ago when American had a350s on order .

  21. Don’t forget there is/was 321T service to SNA, which has the wealthiest catchment area of any airport AA serves.

  22. Parker and Isom focus on competitors, not customers, which is the ultimate in mediocrity, plus it is very boring!!

  23. AA really needs to focus on a better domestic market experience. I love the new retrofits and XLRs, but it definitely doesn’t reflect the low cost service they provide domestically. The Oasis retrofit was a mistake/including taking out screens. So far United has made the right decision in being back new screens with better quality to their domestic fleet. Both delta and United offer 3 snack options. While delta has free Wi-Fi. AA needs to decide whether they want to be a budget carrier like southwest and frontier. Or compete and hold the AA legacy name.

  24. @Jeremy,

    What an absurd, jingoistic statement. You clearly don’t understand the airline business outside of the US.

  25. I’m curious if these stripped plans will still show as 32B in Concur. I typically search that code to separate the T-birds from the Oasis 321s, which go by 32Q.

  26. Reason #19 why we just used all of our AA points to fly to Canada and back. Closing the AAdvantage credit card tomorrow. We WERE going to fly to Europe on AA, but will have to choose a different airline now.

  27. Whist we might denigrate the Oasis cabin, I’m not sure what the story is here. So… American is repurposing aircraft for different tasks (routes)? Not sure I get the angst.

  28. @RF
    You must hate delta and the new united NEOs
    Delta led the way on small legroom. It wasn’t AA

  29. This is why I prefer to fly with Delta. For me weirdly having a tv is a big deal for me. I’m paying a sky high ticket might as well have IFE included. AA just drops the ball on everything.

  30. I know for some people that are both tall and larger (since most airlines seem to think everyone is 5 feet and 110 ponds and no hips) flying first class for long distance is the only way to be comfortable

  31. Haven’t flown AA in years and now never plan to unless short term domestic. If flying internationally it’s United Dreamliner nonstop, Emirates, Quatar Lufthansa or Ethiopian Airlines which was surprisingly comfortable and the food was good for economy plus.

  32. Gary,
    Buy a chunk of AAL and get on the board. Make the decisions you claim will be great.

  33. For all the people complaining, AA is in the business of delivering a product thst people are willing to pay for. The F cabin in the A321T is full of paxs that used SWUs, purchased deeply discounted in app upgrades, or used points/cash upgrade. If people were paying $2K to fly each way, AA would not be getting rid of the seats.

    Most people who complain about Y seat comfort, search out the cheapest fare or look for a discounted points upgrade to F/J.

  34. This management has ALWAYS sucked! Why AA merged with this shit show is beyond me. AA should have stayed AA then let that shit airline go out of business they were the worst airline in the business now dragged AA down with them!! Feel bad for AA! Need to get rid of all that crap that’s in there now and bring back AA management!

  35. Isom just wants the money in his pocket as he continues to dumb down our once great product. He needs to go as well as his minions.

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