Last December, American Airlines said it would introduce an international premium economy cabin, and now it has set the date when customers will begin to see that new seating option. The move by American marks a new era for major U.S. carriers and is just one more step in the long-term reconfiguration of long-haul aircraft as the traditional first class cabin continues to disappear.
American said that on November 4, it will start flying 787-9 Dreamliners equipped with the new premium economy cabins on routes between Dallas/Ft. Worth-Madrid and DFW-Sao Paulo. Seats can be booked starting July 10 (so no fare info yet). The aircraft will have 30 lie-flat business class seats arranged 1-2-1; 21 premium economy seats in a 2-3-2 configuration; 21 Main Cabin Extra seats (up to six inches of extra legroom) arranged 3-3-3; and 207 regular economy seats, also in a 3-3-3 layout.
The premium economy section will offer leather seats with 38 inches of pitch; extendable foot, leg and head rests; and on-demand entertainment systems with larger touchscreens. Premium economy passengers will get to check one bag free, and will receive noise-reducing headphones, amenity kits, and an enhanced meal service with free alcoholic beverages of their choice. The new AA 787-9s will also offer international Wi-Fi. Besides the new 787-9s, American plans to retrofit its existing wide-bodies with the new cabin over time.
U.S. carriers are behind their foreign counterparts in adding true premium economy sections to their long-haul aircraft. According to Seatguru.com, which has compiled a comparison chart of premium economy seating worldwide, some 28 foreign carriers already offer the service.
American’s status as the only major U.S. carrier to offer international premium economy won’t last too long, however; Delta has already said it plans to introduce premium economy seating on the new Airbus A350s that it will start adding to its fleet in 2017, and then will extend the new cabin to its 777s as well.
All this is putting pressure on United Airlines to follow suit, but so far that carrier hasn’t said anything about premium economy. United’s last big announcement about its long-haul fleet was its plan to install an all-new Polaris Business Class product, which will start to appear in December on its 777-300ERs and then on its new 787-10s and A350-1000s; the new business cabin will also be deployed on United’s 767-300s and 777-200s as part of a three-year project that will also mean the gradual elimination of first class service on the airline’s long-haul fleet.
And United’s not alone in that respect; we recently noted that a number of the world’s leading airlines are moving to eliminate traditional first class as they buy new aircraft and retrofit their older ones. Think of it as a gradual recycling of cabin classes, with newer, plusher business classes replacing traditional first class, and improved premium economy seating taking the place of traditional business class.
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