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.
to go a tad further; I feel at this juncture that the continued existence of AA international F is in question once the J seats start to get upgraded. Could be there will be some distinction in the J cabin to make up for same.
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) February 10, 2020
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.