American Reducing 777-200 Business Class Cabin Size

Back in April I shared the details of American’s new 777-200 business class, which is part of their international fleet renewal program.

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American 777-200 new business class seat

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American 777-200 new business class seat

They even set up a dedicated page about the new 777-200 interiors. The original plan was to have:

  • 45 Business Class seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration
  • 45 Main Cabin Extra seats, in a 3-3-3 configuration
  • 170 Main Cabin seats, in a 3-4-3 configuration

While having 10 seats per row in economy isn’t great news, the rest of the features of the plane were fairly good news, as there would be power outlets and on demand entertainment at every seat, as well as wifi.

Keep in mind that previously American’s 777-200s were in a three cabin configuration, with:

  • 16 First Class seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration
  • 37 Business Class seats, in a 2-3-2 configuration
  • 194 Economy Class seats, in a 2-5-2 configuration

Ultimately the new configuration represents an additional eight business class seats, though 16 fewer first class seats, for a net loss of eight premium cabin seats.

There have been some rumors circulating the past week about American reducing the number of business class seats they’ll install on the 777-200 from 45 to 37.

I followed up with American on this, and have an update:

2014 retrofits will be done per the original plan

American plans on reconfiguring 12-20 777-200s this year, and they plan to move forward with the original configuration plan. So for 2014 you can expect the planes to feature:

  • 45 Business Class seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration
  • 45 Main Cabin Extra seats, in a 3-3-3 configuration
  • 170 Main Cabin seats, in a 3-4-3 configuration

2015 retrofits will feature only 37 business class seats

It’s true, starting in 2015, American’s 777-200 retrofits will only feature 37 business class seats:

  • 37 Business Class seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration
  • 48 Main Cabin Extra seats, in a 3-4-3 configuration
  • 204 Main Cabin seats, in a 3-4-3 configuration

So that represents a net increase of 42 seats over the current 777 configuration, and a net increase of 29 seats over the 2014 retrofit configuration.

All 777-200s will eventually get higher density configuration

This sounds a bit odd, but basically at some point in the future the planes featuring the 2014 cabins will receive the higher density configurations. Apparently most of the work with these retrofits involves the wiring, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to retroactively adjust the interiors.

My thoughts on these changes

As an Executive Platinum member that receives eight systemwide upgrades per year, am I disappointed? Of course I am! We’re seeing the number of premium seats on the 777 reduced by nearly a third, which is pretty drastic. So they’re basically cutting all 16 first class seats without adding any extra business class seats.

At the same time, the airline industry is historically so unprofitable, even if that’s not the case now. As much as airlines would like to rely on premium cabin demand, it’s just not realistic to do so. And on one hand I can appreciate that they want to build a “sustainable” configuration. The reality is that business class demand isn’t there on many longhaul routes, while it’s often easier to fill economy seats to at least mitigate losses. And American isn’t the only one thinking this — Delta is decreasing the size of their BusinessElite cabins on many routes as well.

Similarly, a vast majority of people book economy class based on price. That’s why so many airlines have 10 seats per row on the 777 in economy, so I can hardly fault American for that.

For me the biggest disappointment here isn’t actually the reduction in the number of business class seats, which I can at least rationalize as a potentially smart business decision, even if it doesn’t suit me personally. But I think that adding an extra seat per row in Main Cabin Extra isn’t a smart idea.

On the 777-300ER, American made the Main Cabin Extra seating nine across, which was at least a nice “compromise” for elite members. So I think not maintaining that on the 777-200 is a poor decision.


American 777-300ER Main Cabin Extra cabin

Does reduced cabin size mean reduced service?

With US Airways taking over American, I think the most reasonable concern is whether this shows less of a commitment to their premium product. In other words, US Airways reduced first class cabin sizes on much of their fleet a while back, at a time when they were offering plastic cups in first class.

For American’s sake, I hope that reduced cabin sizes don’t translate into reduced service and a reduced commitment in their premium cabin product. If they can raise the bar on the service while reducing cabin size, I’d be really pleasantly surprised. But I’m not holding my breath either.

But the Main Cabin Extra going to 10 seats per row, that’s really what stings, in my opinion!

What do you think of these changes?

Comments

  1. Maybe they decided those rows of regular economy in 3-3-3 was too generous and it was easier to go full 3-4-3 than to split a cabin in between doors? (Especially since going from 3-3-3 in one row of economy to 3-4-3 in the next would make it clear to all the non-frequent travelers, who would otherwise not know anything was amiss, what they were missing.)

    Unfortunately 3-4-3 seems to be the rule now…no doubt when DL and UA next happen to be refreshing their 777s, they’ll go 3-4-3 too. šŸ™

  2. 48 main cabin extra seats is stupidly excessive. AA had a really good chance here to distinguish their main cabin extra product vs the competition by offering better seat width compared to economy. a similar sized 27-30 seat MCE on the 777-200ers with 3-3-3 would much more revenue maximizing than 3-4-3 MCE.

  3. Lucky – unrelated question: Do you think it’s a good idea to buy Alaska miles (during their upcoming sale) to redeem for hotel stay, we are thinking of staying at Homewood Suites by Hilton which cost about $100/night? Alaska & Hilton are partners but no mention of Homewood Suites.

  4. This is just stupid. 2015 is going to be a heck of a year, especially with the bean-counters at US running the show. The J class reduction is unfortunate, but not a huge deal. The extra seat per row in MCE is what stings. So much for AA differentiating its product in a meaningful way. US just needs to start thinking from a pax point of view and stop using an abacus to make all of its product ‘enhancement’ decisions!

  5. no one would pay for 3-4-3 MCE. It’ll be filled with the elites but no revenue premium out of it.

  6. Which routes are supposed to get the reconfigured 777-200’s this year? It looks like none of the Asia flights will have it.

  7. Welcome to the US Airways era. They are slowly undoing all the work Tim Cook, and his team put in to change the airline around. I give it two years before they complete the transformation into US Airways.

  8. @ AJ — My guess is that it’s part of the second “big” cabin, and based on the amount of room they had available they would not been able to squeeze in an extra row of economy, so figured they might as well add more Main Cabin Extra.

  9. @ Frank — Redeeming airline miles for hotel stays is consistently a horrible value. Definitely not worth it, in my opinion.

  10. @ Ryan — I guess lets see if they keep first class on the 777-300ER long term. If they don’t, then I’d guess nine across seating in Main Cabin Extra goes as well.

  11. @ patricia — If I had to guess, I’d say that’s probably how it is now, which might be why they decided to go with 10 across seating.

  12. It’s shame no US based airline seems to think a premium Economy cabin makes good business sense.

  13. Thank goodness there are some 763’s still flying. When I fly AA in future I will avoid 77d.

  14. I certainly agree. I don’t pay for INTL J, but I would certainly pay the premium for INTL MCE at 9-across. It’s a shame USAIR doesn’t agree. If there’s no difference between Y and MCE other than a couple inches legroom, I might as well save the cash and stick it out in Y to start with. A lot easier to gamble on a free upgrade (rather than pay up-front) when the comfort difference between MCE and standard Y is so negligible.

  15. This seems entirely consistent with Doug Parker’s vision for USAirways, and after all, they did buy American – not the other way around. US has never really been interested in their premium product. I think everyone knows the New American will look much, much more like the Old USAirways, not the Old American.

  16. I have an award flight next April on AA first class 777-200 DFW-LHR. What happens if there’s no longer a first class cabin?

  17. I am not sure DL will be the worst program soon.
    DL at least has a great product domestically
    The Intl Business class is solid (I flew SYD-LAX a few mo ago).
    So perhaps they are profitable because they serve the main purpose of the traveler well, even if their “loyalty” program sucks as a reward for their loyalty.
    I flew the UA 757 recently from MAN-EWR and while the seats were old, it was still a lie flat seat in business with 16 seats in a quiet cabin (only 8 occupied though)

  18. What AA has done is go 1-2-2 for business class and that may really be a better product, so if it sells, there will be no upgrade space for the EXPs (more unused VIPs) and so the elites can suck it up in terrible seats in MCE.
    AA is becoming worse than DL; perhaps we should have let Dougie buy DL when he wanted to, so at least we could have a clear bad product and bad rewards program together?

  19. US Airways (wolf) in AA (sheep’s) clothing. Although many, like myself, had hoped this would not occur, it’s clear the “New American” is just US Airways on steroids. Too bad AA mgt changed their tune after opposing having US as a suitor.

  20. I also agree that having 3-4-3 in MCE is not a best way to get people to spend more money šŸ™

  21. @ Jim — If it were operated by the reconfigured 777 I would expect you’d be downgraded and the difference in miles would be refunded. Or maybe they’d let you route via another city with first class.

  22. Delta is doing it too… sizing the business class compartment for the number of people who will pay for it. Has nothing to do with not wanting to have a competitive premium product or “dumbing down” the soft product, which I think management is smart enough to know won’t work on sectors like JFK-LHR…

  23. 23 Jim. DFW-LHR is I believe 2 types of equipment. 50/51 is scheduled for 77W which will have First still by April (though with small cabin whether there will be an award sating is dubious) whereas 78 and 80 are currently 772. These could conceivably get swapped for 77d (or with lighter loads 763 flies this route at certain times).
    I would request flight 50/51.
    In the event of a flight being swapped to 77d either planned or irregops you may find yourself being asked to pay for a BA “free” award seat. I know of a poster from BOS who was “offered” this or a terrible lay over connection through RDU or MIA when AA dropped BOS.

  24. @Rich and @Lucky.

    Thanks for the information. My flight is the 77d on Flt #80. There’s no award space on the 77W on Flt #50.

    To add to the complication, it’s actually 2 of us on the trip and it’s part of a trip booked through USDM.

    I’ll cross my fingers. In the event that type of amazing preparation doesn’t work, would AA possibly put us on the 77W? If not, for a segment like that, will AA or USDM refund us the full difference of the trip (15k)? Would like to know our options just in case.

    Thanks in advance for the info.

  25. 35 Jim
    I do not know what AA policy would be. All I can say is F Award space on 77W is very very rare and they are cutting right back on F award inventory. Also a few years ago when I commuted LHR-MEd through DFW once a fortnight, F on DFW-LHR normally had a sizable number of AA senior managers in it. Whether that is still the case now Sherriff Parker has ridden into town I do not know. I would see if you can wait list on 50. Needing 2 seats on a plane with only 8 seats could be a tight call if pax choose the 77w flight over the 772 even if it has F. My guess is they would try to sell you a BA seat or offer you a reroute through ORD where all 777 equipment is 772 but it normally seems last on the list for updated aircraft. Routing through JFK which is all 77w is a pain from DFW as it means connecting LGA-JFK by land transport which with bags is not good.

  26. @ Jim — If it’s one segment being downgraded and the rest is in first class, chances are there would be no difference in mileage issued. And US Airways doesn’t have a way of opening space on American, so your options may be limited.

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