As fewer airlines offer first class, and those with a first class cabin offer fewer seats, there’s a real opportunity to win in this market.
American Airlines is the only U.S. airline which purports to sell a true first class product, on their Airbus A321T cross country aircraft and their Boeing 777-300ERs. They’re not known for a great first class, the food and inflight service especially are lacking, but with a few small changes they could be really competitive. They have great first class lounge offerings at New York JFK, Miami, and Dallas – Fort Worth (and could re-open Los Angeles). They could add Five Star service on the ground, dial up catering a bit, and institute stronger standards in the cabin.
American Airlines Flagship First Dining New York JFK
Two years ago I wrote that American might drop their first class product altogether with the introduction of a new and improved business class. That seems even more likely as time passes.
- The Airbus A321XLR (originally scheduled to be delivered starting in 2023 and running through 2025), with new business class seats, could be deployed on premium cross country flights. That gives them a new lie flat product that’ll be competitive, while densifying the back of the plane (the A321T has a lot of Main Cabin Extra seats). That would make sense since before the pandemic the airline told employees they had no plans to refresh the now-eight year old A321T cabin.
- There’s also been talk since the pandemic of taking the premium Airbus A321Ts and adding seats to them, making it less of a premium plane.
- They’re rolling out a new business class with doors with the Boeing 787-9. American’s first class seat doesn’t even have doors, and it seems unlikely they’d retrofit Boeing 777-300ERs to offer new first class seats with doors.
- Earlier this year American accidentally revealed a test on its website offering “Flagship Business Plus” instead of first class, and calling the fare category “Premier” instead of first. They quickly walked this back.
American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER First Class, Credit: American
American Airlines Airbus A321T First Class Seat
The timing to eliminate Flagship First Class on premium cross country routes would be once there’s a critical mass of Airbus A321XLRs in the fleet. The airline wouldn’t have to retrofit its Boeing 777-300ERs to take out the seats in order to stop selling Flagship First Class internationally. Instead they could sell the current business cabin as business class, and the old first class seats as Business Plus akin to how they might brand their new Boeing 787-9 seats with doors.
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.