The rumors are true: American Airlines will be phasing out long-haul first class in the coming years.
But well-heeled travelers don’t need to fret too much. The airline is planning to consolidate its Flagship First and Flagship Business classes into a new Flagship Suites configuration on its most premium-heavy planes, promising direct aisle access and a privacy door for everyone up front on many of its high-value routes.
American will also update and expand the premium economy cabins on those aircraft as part of the overhaul, installing new seats with headrest wings for greater privacy.
“What’s core to all of this is American Airlines continuing to listen to our customers and continuing to get feedback from our customers,” Julie Rath, American’s vice president of customer experience told USA TODAY. “Our Flagship Suites that we’re delivering are really aligned with what the customer expectation is in the premium cabin.”
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Flagship Suite seats will feature privacy doors and direct aisle access for every passenger, as well as increased personal space compared to existing Flagship Business class seats. Every new Flagship seat will convert to a fully-flat bed.
“The privacy door is really really important to our customers,” Rath said. Feedback from passengers also encouraged the airline to focus on maximizing personal space as they designed the new product.
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“We really work with all of our partners whether it be the companies that we purchase seats from, interior designers as we’re doing our lounges,” Rath said. “How can we align and deliver the right product for the American Airlines customer?”
Renderings show the new suites will feature dark upholstery and carpeting offset by lighter grays and wood trims around the entertainment system and partitions.
American Airlines was the first U.S. carrier to introduce a dedicated premium economy cabin on its long-haul jets about six years ago, and the plan to update many of those seats shows how popular the class has become.
Renderings show the new premium economy seats will have privacy wings near the headrests and updated multi-tone upholstery.
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“There’s definitely more demand for premium products,” Rath said. “This is another step in the evolution of really listening to our customers.”
It will be a while before these new seats will enter passenger service. American Airlines said its first planes with the new configurations are expected to be delivered in 2024, with the full retrofit of existing aircraft not expected to be finished until late 2025 or early 2026.
American said new Boeing 787-9s and Airbus A321XLRs are set to be delivered with the new seats in 2024. Its flagship long-haul Boeing 777-300ERs will be retrofitted later on, and its existing Airbus A321Ts, currently used in premium transcontinental service, will be refit to align with the airline’s other A320 configurations. That plan suggests those premium single-aisle aircraft will be replaced with the XLRs for service between the coasts once they are delivered.
For now, American has no plans to reconfigure its 777-200 or 787-8 aircraft, which will maintain the existing business class and premium economy layouts.
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