There have been rumors swirling the last few days, but according to a press release this morning, American Airlines is the first of the 3 domestic US legacy carriers to offer a true premium economy product on international flights:
American Airlines will offer customers even more choice by introducing Premium Economy on its international widebody fleet. Premium Economy will be available in late 2016, and will offer a new class of service directly behind Business Class, providing an enhanced product offering compared to the Main Cabin. This product will offer a new type of seat with benefits that include:
- more legroom
- wider seats
- personal on-demand entertainment
- noise reducing headphones
- priority check-in and boarding
- checked baggage allowance
- amenity kits
- enhanced meal service
- spirits, beer and wine
The announcement also covers the first plane this is rolling out on, the 787-9:
American’s first plane with Premium Economy seating will be its Boeing 787-9, which is expected to enter service in late 2016. The 787-9 will offer Business Class, three rows of Premium Economy in a 2-3-2 configuration, Main Cabin Extra, which offers customers up to 6 inches of additional leg room, and Main Cabin seats. Premium Economy will also be installed on the Airbus A350, which arrives in 2017.
American will also add Premium Economy to all Boeing 777-300ERs, 777-200ERs, 787-8s and Airbus A330s over the next three years. The 777-300ER will feature First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy, Main Cabin Extra and Main Cabin seating options for customers. All other retrofitted aircraft will continue to offer all-aisle access, lie-flat seats in Business Class, as well as Main Cabin Extra and Main Cabin seats.
The Boeing 767-300s will not be retrofitted with Premium Economy as those aircraft are scheduled for retirement in the coming years.
It’s a 2-3-2 configuration and the announcement notes a 38″ pitch. That looks to be the same pitch as the Premium Economy seat I flew on British Airways earlier this year. That seat was remarkably uncomfortable but I’ve heard there’s a better version I haven’t flown yet. For comparison, a domestic First Class seat on an American Airlines 737-800 has a 40+ pitch, whereas a Main Cabin Extra seat is 35-37″ of pitch.
I think it’s something of a positive sign that the 787-9 keeps Main Cabin Extra seats for elites who want extra legroom but don’t want to pay for Premium Economy. This announcement would certainly be more painful if the only way an elite member could get extra legroom going forward was to purchase Premium Economy.
A lot of this comes down to the comfort of the seat American Airlines selects. I thought the British Airways product I flew was very poorly put together. The foot rest was a waste, about the same thing you’d find on a train.
To me, the meals and other amenities really are completely secondary to whether I can sleep and/or be comfortable in the seat for long periods of time. If American nails the comfort level, then this rollout is likely a success.
American includes a bit more details on a few of the amenities offered, while leaving other questions for later:
Customers sitting in Premium Economy will enjoy a leather seat featuring 38 inches of pitch, personal on-demand entertainment systems, larger touchscreen monitors with access to movies, TV shows, music and games, and noise reducing headphones.
On the ground, customers will be able to check up to two bags free of charge and board earlier with priority boarding. In the air they will enjoy an enhanced meal service, access to global Wi-Fi connectivity, hours of on-demand entertainment, as well as complimentary wine, beer and spirits.
I’m guessing that all 787-9 seats will come with some level of in-flight entertainment system, so the difference in Premium Economy will most likely come down to a bigger screen and a slightly better pair of headphones. It’s good (and expected) that the planes will have Wi-Fi, given that AA is testing Panasonic live TV on a 787 right now. But, the language seems to indicate there will still be a charge for Wi-Fi.
All in all, there are some positives in today’s announcements but a bunch of questions still to come.
Some (important) questions left unanswered:
- If a passenger is ticketed in coach and wants to redeem a systemwide upgrade (SWU), does that clear into Premium Economy or Business Class? Currently, SWUs are good for a one-cabin upgrade.
- Do the same rules apply when using miles/co-pay? American’s JV partner British Airways processes mileage (Avios) upgrades to the next class of service.
- How many miles does it costs to redeem for Premium Economy awards?
And, one big question for later, does this bring American Airlines closer to being the first US airline to junk the current domestic first class configuration? I thought it would be Delta, but I do think the day is coming where the seat pitch and size in domestic first will more closely resemble the European carriers, where “business class” is a blocked middle seat.