American Announces More Premium Economy & 787-9 Details

Late last year, American became the first US carrier to announce that they’d install a “true” premium economy cabin throughout much of their longhaul flight. This is a pretty common trend in the global airline industry. As the quality of business class keeps improving, and as the personal space in economy keeps decreasing, there’s a market for a product that’s somewhere in the middle.

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American’s new premium economy

In the case of American, this more or less coincides with them eliminating international first class on their 777-200 aircraft. With the exception of their 777-300ERs, their other new longhaul planes will feature business class, premium economy, and economy.

When premium economy was announced late last year, American said that premium economy would be rolled out starting in late 2016. Well, American now has a further update, per a press release that just went out.

American’s first 787-9 routes (premium economy & new business class)

The first American plane to feature premium economy will be their newly delivered Boeing 787-9 aircraft. While American already has some 787-8 aircraft in their fleet, they’ll be getting their first 787-9 shortly.

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American’s 787-8

Keep in mind the 787-9 will also be the first plane to feature American’s newest business class product.

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American’s 787-9 business class

American will commence Boeing 787-9 flights between Dallas and Madrid as of November 4, 2016. The flight will operate with the following schedule:

Dallas to Madrid departing 5:45PM arriving 9:55AM (+1 day)
Madrid to Dallas departing 12:20PM arriving 4:40PM

Furthermore, American will also commence Boeing 787-9 flights between Dallas and Sao Paulo as of November 4, 2016. That flight will operate with the following schedule:

Dallas to Sao Paulo departing at 7:00PM arriving 7:05AM (+1 day)
Sao Paulo to Dallas departing 10:55PM arriving 5:15AM (+1 day)

Both of these flights will formally become bookable as 787-9 aircraft as of July 10, 2016 (of course you can always book them now, since the 787-9s are simply replacing the existing aircraft operating the route).

However, I’d note that American won’t actually start selling premium economy seats until early 2017. Instead they’ll be treated as Main Cabin Extra seats for the time being, meaning elite members can reserve them in advance at no extra cost, making that a great opportunity for the time being.

As I previously wrote about, American’s 787-9 will feature the following seat count:

  • 30 fully lie-flat, all-aisle access Business Class seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration
  • 21 Premium Economy seats in a 2-3-2 configuration
  • 27 Main Cabin Extra seats with up to 6 inches of additional leg room in a 3-3-3 configuration
  • 207 Main Cabin seats arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration

American premium economy amenities

When American first announced premium economy, they didn’t share much in the way of details. Well, now we officially have more information about premium economy:

Customers sitting in Premium Economy will enjoy a leather seat featuring 38 inches of pitch with extendable foot, leg and head rests, personal on-demand entertainment systems and larger touchscreen monitors. When flying international, customers will receive noise reducing headphones and amenity kits, and will enjoy enhanced meal service with complimentary wine, beer and spirits. Premium Economy customers will be able to check one bag free of charge.

We still don’t know the exact details, like how “enhanced” the meal service will be, and what the amenity kits and noise canceling headphones will look like.

Overall it still seems like premium economy will be similar to domestic first class, except there will be legrests, and the seats might be a bit narrower.

What impact does this have on upgrades?

Objectively I think the addition of premium economy is great news, since there’s definitely a market for it.

What I don’t like about premium economy is the potential implications it has on upgrades.

Up until last year, American Executive Platinum members received eight systemwide upgrades. As of this year they receive just four systemwide upgrades. Let’s keep in mind the terms associated with systemwide upgrades (bolding mine):

If you’re traveling on most Business and Economy Class fares and an upgrade is available at the time of booking, you or anyone you choose will enjoy a confirmed upgrade to the next class of service.

In other words, if American maintains the status quo, systemwide upgrades will only be valid from economy to premium economy, or from premium economy to business class, since that would represent an upgrade to the next class of service.

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Bye bye economy to business class upgrades?

The thing is, we don’t yet know for sure that this is how things will be executed. Heck, I don’t even think American knows for sure how they’ll handle it yet. I asked American about this, and they said that as of now systemwide upgrades are still valid from economy to business class, and that if there are any changes in the future they’ll be communicated.

So even though American is launching premium economy in November, those seats won’t actually go on sale until early next year.

Ultimately a soft introduction probably makes sense, as they work out the kinks and figure out the service standards. I assume they want enough planes with premium economy so they can actually scale it and market it, since it’s tough to sell a product available on just a couple of planes.

Bottom line

We now officially know that premium economy will be introduced in November, though we still don’t know what exactly the service will look like, and what this means for upgrades. We do know that in the interim premium economy is being treated as Main Cabin Extra, so this is a fantastic opportunity to snag a great seat at the Main Cabin Extra price.

We technically don’t know pricing yet either, but given American’s transatlantic joint venture with British Airways, I suspect pricing will be similar to British Airways’ premium economy.

How are you feeling about American introducing premium economy at this point?

Comments

  1. Aren’t we just going in circles?

    The new and improved business class is what first class used to be.
    The new premium economy is what business class used to be.

    Both products aren’t as nice as their previous counterparts but we still end up with a relatively large divide between the 3 different cabins.

  2. If airlines offered lounge access and priority security with international premium economy, the product would be much more appealing. As carriers continue to shrink first class, I don’t know why they wouldn’t be able to do this.

  3. Do you think they will be doing some flights between ORD and DFW with the 789 at first? It’s been nice flying the 788 occasionally between the two cities.

  4. In most int’l markets Y pax w/o status or any affinity CC already get one bag free. Do they mean an incremental second bag free?

  5. It would be difficult for AA to eliminate economy to business upgrades unless they have Premium economy in almost all their international aircraft. Since they are still flying Reagan-era cradle seats to Europe and have plenty of USAir legacy aircraft flying transcons with no power outlets, it seems like it could be the late 2020’s before they have rolled out premium economy in their international fleet.

  6. @Josh G, as far as i know, free bags via CC are only for domestic flights, not intl ones. My AA CC didnt get me a free bag when i flew JFK-CUN-JFK

  7. I’ll bet the bank it will be a Y to PEY upgrade with swu. It’ll be a way to up sell. And no, I’m not giving AA any ideas. It’s already this one when using miles to upgrade on airlines that have PEY. I can’t imagine AA being any different.

  8. Free bags with CC are for domestic flights because even when they started charging for bags you still got free bags internationally, it was only domestically that they started charging.

  9. @EJ, I’d expect them to put on some domestic routes before 11/4. They’d have to at least have 3 (but realistically 4) 789s by that date. They will want to start flying each as soon as they can. They will also need to do crew familiarizations. They may not assign it to a specific route though.

  10. What’s wrong with US airlines, always well behind their Asian counterparts? CX has PE cabins 2 years ago, maybe 3. I flew CX last April, was in F class but went cabin hopping, the PE cabin was full or almost full.

  11. They will do the same thing they did when Cabin Extra was launched, but in this case will be free for top tier (ExPLT and PLT maybe?), then free at T24 for Gold, at least until they start selling this to the public.

    Regarding the amenity kits, I’m sure it will be the same you get in J on Transcontinental 3 class service (JFK-LAX for example), just socks, an eye mask and ear plugs.

    Could be nice that AA decided to offer free (complimentary) upgrades to PE to their Exc PLT customers, at least T24 or at the gate, after all the cuts benefits we got in the last few months, they need to do something positive…

  12. Do you even read what you write Lucky? To quote you from the post:
    **
    So even though American is launching premium economy in November, those seats won’t actually go on sale until early next year.

    That’s why it’s interesting that American says that even though they’re launching premium economy in November, it won’t actually go on sale until early 2017.
    **

    You’ve literally said the same thing twice just rephrased, both in the above post, just once sentence from each other. Is there a minimum word count you need to hit or something?

  13. Do American charge for international economy check in luggage?!? That’s just too cheap. Are they trying to be a budget airline now?

  14. @Kyle, most international long haul allow 1 free checked baggage, some routes even 2.

  15. How do you interpret this Ben ‘Upgrades
    Upgrades from Main Cabin to Premium Economy won’t be available right away, but we’ll add this functionality later. Until then, you’ll be able to upgrade to Business Class from both Main Cabin and Premium Economy.’ On aa.com

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