Will American Airlines Eliminate International First Class?

American Airlines is the only remaining U.S. airline the claims to offer international first class. The top cabin on both United and Delta is business class. However there’s good reason to think American Airlines may eliminate the product, too. And there are clues in the new business class seat focus groups that support this conclusion.

American Airlines Offers First Class On Only A Limited Number Of Routes

International first class at American Airlines is often referred to as employee class. They offer a three-cabin first class product on their New York JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco flights on Airbus A321T aircraft, a product ripe for a refresh. Internationally it’s only offered on Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.

American flies their twenty 777-300ERs to Hong Kong, on some of their London flights, and to Sao Paulo. It sometimes sees service to other destinations.

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

American Seems Unable To Deliver A Solid First Class Product

The American Airlines first class seat wasn’t one of the better ones in the industry when it was first introduced seven years ago. It’s since been completely eclipsed. Couple that with lackluster meal service that’s closer to business class, and bar service that lags as well, American’s international first class isn’t a competitive product even before you get to the service that American’s flight attendants seem to consistently fail to deliver in the cabin.

American’s international first class product has to at least be in contention with TAAG Angola for worst first class in the world.

New Business Class Seats May Be Even Better Than First Class Seats

American is considering new business class seats to debut on their Boeing 787-9 aircraft that are expected to be delivered in 2023. American appears to be considering a Rockwell Collins seat with doors and an Adient Ascent seat also with doors.

American’s first class lacks doors, and it doesn’t appear they’re looking at a new, differentiated first class seat. However there are discussions of retrofitting existing aircraft with the new seat. That means it wouldn’t just be new Boeing 787-9s with a better business class seat, but even Boeing 777-300ERs could get a seat that’s better in business class than first class.

British Airways is facing a similar conundrum today with a new business class seat, the Rockwell Collins Super Diamond with doors, but without a full rethink of first class. BA has one of the weakest international first class products, but at least meaningfully differentiates the bar service with good champagne like Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle and with spirits like Johnny Walker Blue.

Could American Consider a ‘Premium Business’ Option To Replace First Class?

Seat focus groups are looking at a number of versions of the Adient Ascent business class seat, which is known for its significant configuration flexibility. One of the seats has been noted with “777” markings and it seems to be a seat that many customers prefer. They have been showing a seat with higher-end trim and that would appear to take up more cabin footprint.

Rather than being a business class seating option that’s more costly and takes up more room (the ultimate cost on an aircraft) could this be a new first class seat, albeit not called as such?

A premium business product could be differentiated on the ground with Flagship First Class Dining (perhaps renamed) and in the air with a better seat. Business class catering and service could be provided, offering better costs without giving up much compared to what’s already being offered.

Plenty of Airlines Have Tried ‘Premium Business’

Malaysia Airlines and Asiana have stopped offering true first class, but still have their old first class seats (which are superior to American’s first class seat).

US Airways once offered international first class. When they stopped, they left the seats intact rather than spending money on new seats, until they adopted a brand new seat that was put into the entire cabin. Row 1 was first class and fully flat, while business class at the time was angled. These seats were made available to full fare business class customers and top tier (Chairmans Preferred) elites.

What Will American Do?

As I understand it no decision has been made. Serial American Airlines leaker JonNYC has been ruminating on the possible end to first class at American, along with introduction of a premium business class – potentially not just on Boeing 777-300ERs but on other widebodies as well.

New seats are more than three years away. Retrofitting existing aircraft would come after. There’s no rush in determining what’s next for the 777-300ER so changes in market conditions between now and then, potential changes among the leadership group, and even mood among top brass determines the future. However a premium-marketed product that diverges from the rest of the industry and doesn’t live up to its promise seems particularly precarious.

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. Even with all it’s challenges, the increased privacy and personal service vs. the more assembly line service approach in J makes F worth keeping – especially on DFW/LAX-HKG – but also on JFK-LHR routes.

    The transcons: it’s a push. The service level really isn’t much better than J – but the privacy relative to the 2 seaters in J is welcome differentiation.

  2. Maybe this is why they are testing selling access to their Flagship Lounges for $150PP.

    And I always thought that First Class on United was ?e,ployee class”.

  3. I thought the whole deal with F on the transcon A321s was optics – they had big contracts with the TV/film studios and needed an explicitly-delineated F product? Is that not as big of a driver as some had originally stated?

  4. Read oracle JonNYC words carefully – he only states international F.

    Transcon F is another ballgame. They’re going through refurbs of those aircraft right now.

  5. A business class seat with a door is nowhere near as good as a first class seat with no door. It’s a matter of footprint and the things that go with it such as a bigger, more comfortable seat in upright and bed modes, additional secured storage, larger video monitors, closets, etc. Doors on business class seats can lead to feeling cramped.

    With current management the days of AA international first class are numbered. That group has continually downgraded the airline at about every turn. Flagship lounges are a pleasant exception. Flagship First Dining is puzzling though. With only 20 777-300s with eight seats each in first (plus a few Con Key folks) that’s not many passengers to support the investment.

    AA is unsure of what it will do with first class. The ORD Flagship lounge is keeping space available for First Dining in case it gets flights with first class again.

  6. It’s a disgusting greedy airline that has no class due to a horrible ceo
    Given the chance he would sell coach only and rip out business class too just to shove more seats in and get rid of lavatories as well
    I’m sure it’s just a matter of when

  7. It’s inevitable that AA will eventually eliminate int’l first class. Once lie-flat became the biz class norm, there is simply no market for a USA airline to have “something better than this” — especially once all the airlines added more frills to remain competitive in their business class cabins. Add in the inability of USA airlines to offer exceptional personal service, and an int’l first class cabin is a product no one will pay for.

  8. Many airlines in the world (not just the US based airlines) have stopped using “first class” name. Today’s best business class is lie flat 1-2-1 config. This product would have been called first class a generation ago. It’s all semantics.

  9. @Austin787

    Yeah what probably happened

    Corporate: Lul no we won’t pay for you to be in 1st class for a business trip, hmm business class for a business trip makes sense.

    Airlines: Let’s rename first to business and get that corporate cash.

  10. A few years ago I flew across the Pacific with a friend who works at AA. He said that out of the dozen seats in first class, only 2 of them were revenue passengers. The rest were non-revenue passengers like us, and F was completely full. Why *would* they continue to offer this product since revenue passengers aren’t willing to pay the ridiculous price?

  11. Very Few Markets can TRULY sustain International First Class nowadays and If Customers do not Want to Pay for the Service, Why Offer It? Upgrades do NOT Pay for This Level of Service. An Upgrade is a Perk, pure and simple. The US3 are constantly compared for their Poor Level of Customer Service with the Asian and Middle Eastern Carriers…..often times justifiable but often times Culturally. With the introduction of Premium Economy now readily available on many flights , the Demand for First has more than likely diminished and Business Class has become Today’s First and Prem Economy the New Business Class moving forward. BRANDING of such Services need to be realigned to make this adjustment. Like ANY Business, Money Talks and BS Walks….and it Starts often times with Your Articles Mr. Leff, Highly Critical and Many Times Flat Out INCORRECT!

  12. Today’s business class is what we used to call first class and premium economy is what we used to call business class.

  13. American and BA will keep F class for long time . At LHR they are trying to offer same products. There are locations like London there are still strong demands for F class. Recently BA and AA executives said they are making money on F cabin and they will operate selected aircraft on selected routes with full F class service .So whether you like it or not.. those F class cabins are here to stay atleast for next 10 years..

  14. If you’re paying for First, then I’d recommend a Netjets subscription. Why deal with the horrors of commercial air travel. It’s really that straightforward.

  15. As I have said here before I fly AA First relatively frequently to HKG and LHR, and I like it. On the HKG run I would have to say from observation and talking to fellow passengers, most are paying customers. Is it as good as CX First? No. But what Gary carefully omits from his post is that it doesn’t cost anything like what CX First costs either. It is cheaper than BA First, but better IMO with nicer seats. I have had less than stellar crew but only rarely. Maybe I’m lucky but I typically find the service attentive.
    Is AA going to give up First?. Hmm… Maybe. They have closed the separate Flagship First check in at LHR T3. There is now a single check-in desk adjacent to Priority check-in. It was unstaffed last Friday. I also think AA is contracting check-in to BA staff now too based on the complete disinterest of the staff on duty in being at least minorly helpful (typical BA). I didn’t recognize them either, they were new.
    I would be disappointed to see AA Flagship First go.

  16. You have to understand that FIRST class goes beyond the cabin experience. Thats what many people don’t understand.
    From separate check in, separated tsa, scoring in gold carts in the terminal, tarmac car service and flagship dinning.
    Those are perks that the airline has invested money on and it is not available for passengers in business.

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