Report: End Of The Line For American’s Premium Airbus A321T Transcon

Perennial American Airlines leaker JonNYC flags that there are active discussions around what to do with the Airbus A321T premium configured fleet and suggests that there’s a plan to rip out the interiors and replace them with the standard domestic ‘Oasis’ offering.

The A321T offers 10 first class, 20 business class, 36 Main Cabin Extra (extra legroom coach) and 36 economy seats and is used on premium cross country routes. Moving to ‘Oasis’ would mean these planes would lose seat back television, a lot more seats would be squeezed in, and there would no longer be a lie flat business class or first class product.

To be clear, he flags this as unconfirmed so it may not come to fruition. And update an American spokesperson offers “we have no plans to modify those aircraft. We look forward to bringing them back just as they are today when the time is right.” But it it does happen this would have to mean,

  • Turning Airbus A321Ts into ‘standard’ A321s
  • Folding them into the rest of the narrowbody fleet
  • Taking available widebody aircraft and using those for premium domestic routes


American Airlines Airbus A321T First Class

This would be a sad development. American’s Airbus A321T is ‘special’ with just 102 seats, including a true first class that’s just one seat on either side of the aisle. It was developed under legacy American Airlines management and when US Airways took over they were highly skeptical of the premium configuration. One legacy US Airways Vice President told me the configuration wouldn’t last, even before it took its first flight. However they learned pre-Covid that it was actually a smart move.


American Airlines Airbus A321T Business Class

For several years American Airlines has been on a quest for ‘simplification’ or more standardization, from fewer subfleets to fewer customized meals for specific routes. This would aid in reducing the number of subfleets they operate.

And they have plenty of widebodies available, with less international flying than ever before. Moreover most of passenger demand today is lowest-fare coach, rather than premium heavy business travel. It wouldn’t surprise me if American saw demand being far more at the back of the plane than the front. American’s Boeing 777-200s and Boeing 787s skew heavy on coach, light on business class while the A321T requires premium demand. Their 787-8s have just 20 business class seats out of 234 total seats.

Using widebodies for routes like New York – Los Angeles and San Francisco still gives the airline a lie flat business class seat. It also gives them a premium economy to sell. There’s no separate first class, and that’s fed much of access to Flagship First Dining facilities at both New York JFK and San Francisco.


American Airlines Boeing 787-9 ‘Super Diamond’ Business Class

Another option once American receives their Airbus A321XLR, expected to operate short transatlantics with a lie flat business class, could run on these routes.

What happens to those is an open question, whether American re-opens them and if so whether they focus more on monetizing access on a per-trip basis rather than bundling them with ‘Flagship First’ tickets.

Before Covid-19 the airline planned only to spruce up the cabin and replace worn items not offer an improved product. Now it looks like the true premium configuration subfleet’s days may be numbered.

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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Comments

  1. @ Gary — Well, this would certainly reduce the frequency with which I select AA on JFK-LAX/SFO. Once this occurs and we can no longer use BizExtrAA upgrades from J to F on this route, I believe UA (real) Polaris seats will be the best choice. Maybe, just maybe, AA will sometimes use 3-cabin 777s on these route. I am certainly not holding my breath.

  2. These planes have become more a of a burden/liability due to their configuration. It’s a great hard product, but specifically the real estate that the first class cabin takes up between doors 1 & 2 is absurd considering the SAG contract no longer required first class travel in the market.

    What they SHOULD do is rationalize (although I doubt this word exists in AA’s handbook) the configuration to reduce or eliminate F and expand J and Y+/Y. It’s sad how far AA has declined in its understanding of this important market. Because if they start ramping back up international in the future, where do you think the widebody’s are going to come from…?

  3. Don’t be spreading such an awful rumor. If it isn’t true someone from American might read it and think it is a good idea!

    I really hope this doesn’t happen, the A321T is one of the few truly special things about flying AA!

  4. I knew this day would come, it seems as if the pandemic just hasted it. I did JFK-SFO RT at least 1-3X a month for the past three years until the pandemic hit.

    First was usually almost empty and then filled with nonrevs. I can’t recall ever seeing more than 4 or 5 non-badged passengers. I have seen CK’s occasionally given op-ups to F from J and occasionally even myself as a low-mid spend EP when needed for J space. J demand seemed steady enough but there’s no way they were making money on the F cabin.

    Even pre-pandemic, like 99% of companies I am required to book Y when travelling domestically on the company dime. I wouldn’t be surprised if up to 50% of the J cabin is in the same boat and either C space either from miles or complimentary / stickers. Factor in the pandemic and now there is virtually no premium transcon demand and I imagine it will take years to recover.

    Efficiency aside a 772 or 788 would serve this route just fine and probably much more closely match demand. I’ll still be very sad to see them go. MCE was always a very comfortable ride (or at least until they started switching to the terrible leather seatback covers).

  5. JonNY is right about 50% of the time. A row or two haven’t been taken out of the 737 Oasis, but FC was improved. So let’ hope he’s wrong about this one. No offence Jon!

  6. Blame the CEO and the upper managements. This is very sad and disgrace to this airline. A321T was a great options for AA’s royal transcon passengers who enjoyed the 3 class option and the great service offered. Parker thinks he is still running “America West” low cost airline. Make no mistake there was nothing wrong with that operation for what it served but AA and it’s long legacy and its brand is not he needs to be doing.

  7. Eh, if they switch to a widebody product and let full-fare tickets into Flagship First dining, I don’t think they’d be much worse for the wear. I liked the 321T F experience, sure, but aside from the lounge access and some fanfare it wasn’t materially different than a window seat on a 4-wide J product.

  8. UNITED rising and making the aggressive moves with its all single seat J cabin super premium 767-300 config on JFK-SFO/LAX – an unbeatable hard product in this market

  9. AA kept F for its Hollywood contracts with studios and networks to shuttle execs and A-list stars between NYC and LAX, and Silicone Valley types to/from SFO. Will AA now lose those contracts to DL and UA who will still offer a layflat J seat? It needs this product to keep these major contracts.

  10. When I first read this, I was a bit taken aback. However, in thinking about it, this actually might make sense if the affected trans-cons were replaced by widebody equipment. The same very premium seats would be available, including not only Biz but also PE, and everyone would enjoy the better ride and larger general space that a bigger aircraft offers. If I recall correctly, most AA NYC-SFO/LAX service was widebody (767) up until just a few years ago anyway. So, full circle – only better.

    Frequencies would have to be consolidated. But then again, on trans-cons, there’s only a couple of departure timeframes per day in each direction that are really attractive.

  11. I work at the Tulsa maintenance base we just put all brand new interiors in these that has the same configuration as the original.

  12. Flying first on AA transcon was the absolute best way to rub elbows with celebrities. I flew with Alex Trebek, Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Snoop Dogg, and others. And this was on maybe 15-20 flights total taken. It was also oddly thrilling to see well known actors walk past into the J cabin.

  13. If true, this would be an incredibly stupid short-sighted move. You don’t base long term infrastructure decisions on short-term changes in demand. You have to look at the longer term picture. International travel will come back in the next 2 years, and those wide bodies will be too valuable to use on domestic flights. Meanwhile, you will have left yourself unable to compete in the premium coast to coast market, which will come back too.

    This covid thing is temporary. Yes, it sucks while it lasts but it too will pass and things will slowly get back to normal. And an airline needs to have a plan for when that happens. You can’t just bulk up your fleet in a short time period; these things take time. Which is why gutting your fleet is a stupid idea at a time like this – unless you’re headed for bankruptcy.

  14. At first pass I thought that this was really bad, but them I remembered that I’ll always be able to get these services – arguably better, and usually for a lower fare – from JetBlue. This would hurt AA far more than it would hurt me, especially since there will be much less incentive to stay loyal to AA when I can start traveling again.

  15. These are the only AA planes I’m willing to fly on anymore. They already have fewer NY-CA flights than JetBlue, which has decent seats but no lounges..

  16. Seriously: Why is Parker still running this airline?

    Stock performance alone the last few years pre-pandemic should have been enough to boot him.

  17. I’m a 31-year flight attendant, and this is the first I’ve heard about the A321T, although nothing surprises me under the change of management. There’s been a very strong rumor among the flight attendants that the 777-300 is about to face the same fate, with the 8 F/52 J being converted into a new configuration with 64 to 66 J seats. The international F product isn’t worth it, the seats have less privacy and the meal service and mattress pad don’t justify the price. But so far, the 77W reconfiguration remains a rumor.

  18. If they turn it into an Oasis plane that means I wouldn’t fly on an A321T as the Oasis configuration is pretty awful and the A321T the way it is has become the only American Airlines plane that I like.

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