New Report: American Airlines Is Dropping International First Class

American Airlines could offer a truly top shelf international first class product without making big capital investments. And with so many airlines having dropped the product there’s real opportunity to make money here. There just aren’t a lot of options between business class and flying private anymore, and much of private jet travel is ill-suited for long haul.

Nonetheless I have been expecting American Airlines to move in the other direction, that once they introduce their next generation business class product they’d retire international first class. (They’re expected to drop first class on premium cross country flights in favor of an improved business class in 2024 as well.)

American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER First Class, Credit: American

I’ve suggested as recently as April that I don’t expect American Airlines to continue offering its “Flagship First Class” product as it takes delivery of new planes with new business class and potentially retrofits aircraft with existing seats.

Now aviation watchdog JonNYC reports that it is, essentially, a done deal that the only long haul international aircraft with a first class cabin above business class – American’s 10 Boeing 777-300ERs – will eventually lose first class.

American doesn’t even have to wait to retrofit the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft with first class to officially ‘end’ selling first class. They can treat first and business as one cabin, restricting seats in the former first class cabin to customers paying “Business Plus” fares which also, incidentally, come with access to American’s Flagship First Dining inside of the airline’s dedicated business class lounges (at New York JFK, Miami and Dallas – Fort Worth, with LAX’s Dining still closed).

Before the pandemic I noted that no decision on this had been made. Two and a half years later we know a lot about the airline’s plans for business class, and absolutely nothing about a new first class product. That tells me there isn’t one.

It would be a shame to see Flagship First Class disappear from American Airlines. I’d far rather see them invest in a truly first class product. They have Flagship First Class Dining, Five Star service on the ground, and aircraft selling the product already. And it’s a market that few airlines compete against them to service. Modest tweaks would go a long way, but unfortunately signs point in the opposite direction.

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. I travel first class and business on the company dime and use reward points for personal travel.

    Honestly for most routes business class is deeply overrated and first class watered down especially on AA. Book the cheapest ticket in miles or cash and have more money to spend when you get there.

    Business or first class is supposed to be an experience not the front of the plane with bad food and a wine or champagne selection that is sorely limited or goes dry because airline hasn’t enough quality product for all passengers consumption

  2. How many people whining about American or any other airline cutting first class would regularly pay cash for such a product?

  3. Well, this is no surprise to me because in long haul markets AA is not competitive on their premium products. This produces less sales and an appearance that the flying public doesn’t want the premium service. That is a mid-read since other airlines do successfully sell premium services that fulfill on their flights…AA just needs to step it up to compete.

    On ultra long haul, AA doesn’t compete because other airlines fly much larger craft which is appealing to premium customers. To me, when compared to other airlines like BA, Lufthansa, Emirates, etc. that have a much more robust fleet for long haul….AA relies on its 777’s which are aging and twin engine 787’s that are far smaller than the 748 and A388’s offered on long haul by other airlines. The extra space allows for offerings that go along with an ultra premium cabin as well as space to offer lower priced options as well.

    Nothing substitutes for a great menu and service …so granted that can be done regardless of the aircraft. Think of a restaurant with great food in an outdated, old building versus one with equal service and food with a great facility and view…we know which one will succeed. While some of the best restaurants I’ve been to have had lousy old facilities…they compete on the food alone which isn’t enough distinction for people to pay the same on a long haul flight.

  4. There’s not a single airline in the world that sees an opportunity in expanding their above-business class offerings, they’re all cutting it back because it’s not profitable for them and the best-performing airlines around the world from a financial perspective are LCCs and ULCCs, so it’s quite hard to credibly argue there’s a big profit opportunity in first class…

    While we’d all love to see ever more premium first class offerings offered more widely, airlines have to see customers willing to pay large sums of cash for it, which they by and large do not

  5. As I mentioned in another topic post, in May I flew AA Flagship First and had Flagship First Dining at JFK and it was great so I’m sorry to read this is the future for AA. But no big deal…I’ve flown Business on its 777-200 from RDU to LHR and seat, food, and service have all been good. First, of course, is only worth it if it truly is a step up from business with premium offerings in food, drink, seats, and cabin crew service.

  6. Not a surprise to me at all. American has always been fallen short against the competition. Who pays for full fare for First Class or Business Class and actually fly on American. In my travel international days, not just me; but all my colleagues would fly British Airways to Europe, Cathay Pacific and JAL to Asia. We still get the same mileage. Only when we have fly domestic then American. Now also with travel restrictions and quarantine rules; not many people are traveling internationally. Admirals Club has always been kind of a joke compared to Marco Polo And Club World Lounge.

  7. It’s just not worth flying around all those heavy seats, extra galleys, service items, staffing and tying up all that airplane real estate on every single flight, every day just for the limited occasions (and markets) there is actual F demand at profitable fares.

    Sad but true.

  8. When you think about it… it’s still FC! The cabin is divided into 4 different seating sections (Biz, Premium, Econ with extra legroom, and Econ) it’s potato – Pah -ta- toe

  9. Just having flown BA’s new Club Suite on an a350, I think this is a good move. AA can add more Flagship Suites and PE seating and improve the over all experience. It make good business sense and gives AA flexibility in fleet and a lower cost per passenger. Expect that Flagship Lounges and Dining my be opened to all in Flagship Suites going forward, that would be amazing and bring AA a lot of premium customers.

  10. The only people flying in FC are the influencers using their CC points – instead of paying the $10k airfare.

    “I got this using my Amex points transferred to AS and booked their codeshare on EK FC! ..and it was only 60k points!” Isn’t this a familiar post?

  11. I regularely fly (and pay for) F.
    After several really bad experiences on AA I stopped using them in F. My money goes to AF, LH, LX, CX, SQ which offer a far better experience overall.
    AA F is not competitive. Either AA should install better hardware and train (if this is even possible) their FAs or stop trying.

  12. Perception is reality. If you can’t get the buy-in from your employees to offer the required level of service on for the soft product (FAs already feel they are ‘overworked’ and ONLY there for our safety, after all), why even offer it then?

  13. Sylvester Stallone once said, “you’re either in the game or you’re not. There’s no in between.” If an airline is going to be in the international first class game, it has to do it like Air France does, like Singapore does, like Emirates does, etc. The issue with American Airlines is that its management team isn’t about to play the game like Air France or Singapore or Emirates.

    To say that there is no demand for international first class is incorrect. There is. Lots. Look at the airlines that still offer international first class and their seats are filled.

    I regularly flew AA international first class as a cash payer. My own cash. My wife and I are retired and we want the luxury experience. But, AA’s current management does not understand the luxury traveler and never will. Current management does not understand how to serve the luxury traveler and never will. Someone buys a $6,000 first class ticket and AA wants to also charge $20 per leg for WiFi. When COVID restrictions ended, management chose not to restore in-flight service back to pre-COVID levels. They were focused on cost reduction.

    In the end, we make our choices. AA management does. As consumers, we do.

  14. My very recent experience in AA Flagship 1st JFK-LHR demonstrated that they are eager to get out of this segment. Inop IFE, poor food and a Trader Joe’s wine list. Cab at $8.00 retail?
    Maybe I was just unLucky. On the outbound my biz class seat was inop.

  15. I like the way the AA first class seat swivels to face the desk and window. I’m not aware of any other airline that uses that arrangement.

    Since AA seems to think Spirit Airlines is its competition, dumping first class would be no surprise.

    What I’d like to know is how dumping its first class might affect access to first class award travel on oneworld and other airlines.

  16. Why would anyone put more money in a business that does not yield a return? It’s a money loser. Delta figured this out years ago and American is last to come to the Business class party. They will finally compete on a product that is competitive. Now, if only they can get their employees on-board

  17. There are some very good comments including that AA is a laggard in figuring out first class vs. business class products and services but the key consideration is that on both the A321T and 777-300ER, AA has significantly less seats in total on the same aircraft types than its competition. They cannot generate revenues sufficient to offset those much higher costs and they have to address.
    Fortunately, both fleets are coming due for interior overhauls but the economics haven’t worked for years.
    No US carrier is playing in the full first class longhaul international market; that is simply something AA will have to cede to their partners.
    Domestically, DL is reportedly working on a version of its A321NEO that will seat about 148 passengers in a lie flat Delta One, Premium Select, Comfort Plus and Standard economy configuration – a bit less than B6 has on its domestic Mint A321s because of Premium Select. DL does not have A321LRs or XLRs on order and says it doesn’t want to fly narrowbody transatlantic flights so these will be used for premium transcon flights. DL undoubtedly wants to get its 757s off the transcon routes where the NEOs will save alot of fuel. DL’s addition of PS and a new narrowbody lie flat seat should create continuity between their widebody and premium narrowbody fleets.
    AA does offer comparable classes to everything DL offers so that is the type of narrowbody configuration that AA needs to pursue. AA will be able to use it on transatlantic/ S America routes as well as domestically.

  18. My dear Gary Leff, my most sincere condolences. It shall be missed! RIP AA first class.

  19. If it has been proven that Customers are not willing to Pay for the Product the First Class International Cabin needs To Go……period.

  20. Most seem to point out that the market doesn’t support the high end travel product…while a few recognize that the market does exist…keeping with my restaurant analogy…lots of high end restaurants are out there…they’re busy every night and so are Tim Horton’s…and you will never satisfy a Tim Horton guy at the high end places.

  21. Sad
    Monkey see monkey do
    Don’t differentiate
    copy Delta and or others so all you can do is compete on price

  22. While I agree with the notion that people would rather fly first in SQ or CX internationally if they had a choice, I would also agree with the commentariat here who think this is a missed opportunity. If I’m a captive Aadvantage member with SWUs and other upgrade certificates from Business ExtraA, and my company pays for intl business, I’d argue that using the SWU for J–>F would be a highlight worth looking forward to.

  23. The difference is that Delta is making money at twice the rate of American or United; they haven’t been able to copy that part.

  24. Roger, it has NOT been proven that customers are not willing to pay for international first class. Customers ARE willing to pay for international first class. Other airlines have management, business cultures, and economics that allow them to maintain international first class. AA doesn’t. It’s not a problem with the customers. It’s a problem internal to AA.

  25. The Flagship First product is dated and in the case of the 77W, constricts the plane’s ability to be used on markets where it could be deployed, including summer leisure markets like FCO and ATH. The 77W’s role at AA has subtly shifted since the pandemic from being almost exclusive to LHR, HKG, NRT, GRU, and EZE to places where capacity or connectivity is the play. There is virtually no difference in the service levels between Flagship First and Flagship Business at this point. The swivel seat was a novelty a decade ago when AA put the 77W into service, but not anymore. It is a charmless cabin. The same goes for the 321T. Those cabins are heavily worn in some cases and if AA is launching a new biz seat for the 321XLR, and introducing privacy doors, then the Hollywood and Entertainment industry that is the mainstay of paid Flagship First, will be just fine.

    AA will tweak Flagship First dining and probably rebrand the Business Cabin on the 787/777 and domestic 321 transcon. It is about time. US carries have middling Business Class products with decent to great seats but uneven service and so the distinction between First and Business is a bit of a farce at this point.

  26. AA has not been able to offer a reliable first class service. They seem to be unable to replicate the product you would be more likely to pony up for like QSuites.. Because the latter is overwhelmingly positive and consistent. I would not hesitate to book a $3000 qsuite long haul. I would think twice on AA

  27. Gary, just very recently you were taking about AA going through Chapter 11 in the near future. Perhaps, their real plan is to emerge as a low coster?

  28. AA dropping the premium F product is no surprise. NO one buys it, it’s just contracted rates and award fares. It under utilizes a space that can generate over revenue.

    What AA is not going to do is somehow differentiate their current J product to make someone willing to spend MORE stick with a j only product.

    Will AA provide enhanced amenities- NO
    Will AA provide better service- NO
    Will AA provide enhanced entertainment/meals- nope

    This is merely them cutting costs. Or, as my last AA boss told me, “all we do is throw down dollars to pick up dimes”.

  29. Gary Leff wrote: “American Airlines could offer a truly top shelf international first class product without making big capital investments. And with so many airlines having dropped the product there’s real opportunity to make money here.”

    My response: Please prove it. If this is your opinion, then please state that it’s your opinion. Your post states your proposition as a fact, and offers no evidence to back it up. Part of the problem with modern “journalism” IMHO is its tendency to conflate opinion and fact. The two aren’t the same.

  30. To your point, Ghost, the reason why US airlines can’t offer best-in-class first class is because US companies cannot ensure that their employees will deliver consistently top notch service. Other cultures, even in Europe, are more able to control the individuality of employees.
    Some people might not like to hear it, but Delta does a better job of controlling the variability of levels of service than either American or United and yet I don’t think Delta believes that it can consistently provide globally top notch service.
    American is simply late in realizing that premium service must include the quality of employee service as much as if not more than the physical seat and food.
    Given that the Middle East airlines have become so large and East Asia airlines overlap with large portions of US carriers’ networks, it is simply better to focus on what you can do at least average of better – not best in class.

  31. Sorry but a US airline offering a legitimate premium product is kinda far fetched. They are all about nickel and diming people. It is just surprising that they haven’t come up with steerage class yet where people ride with their luggage in the cargo hold.

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