Yesterday saw American Airlines announce a relatively needed and long-awaited refresh to its interiors programme. Bringing its long-haul and premium narrow-body cabins a whole new look was expected, and after United and Delta had rolled out its own signature Polaris and One products, American needed to step up to the mark.

While the new cabins won’t actually see the light of day until 2024, it paints a picture of a progressive American Airlines who is already making headway on updating its Admirals Clubs. The new Flagship Suite product will follow a similar design aesthetic, and for the first time, connect ground and inflight hard products with a considered, complimentary design aesthetic.

Onboard, the airline is betting big on premium, with a 45% uplift in premium seats across its 787 and 777-300ER fleets (sadly the 777-200ER with an already competitive product, won’t see any refreshes any time soon) however, there’s hint at the refresh going beyond just the hard product, and no doubt, the soft products and service offering will most likely be overhauled as well.

“We are enhancing the customer experience across their entire journey with American,” American’s Vice President of Customer Experience Julie Rath said. “The arrival of new long-haul aircraft and the customized seat design of the Flagship Suite seats will offer customers a truly private premium experience on our long-haul fleet.”

American will also be retrofitting its aircraft, the Boeing 777-300ER, to include Flagship Suite seats which are the Adient Ascent seats. These 20 aircraft will be refreshed with the new interiors starting in late 2024. American’s aircraft will feature more premium seats than its current design, with 70 Flagship Suite seats and 44 Premium Economy seats.

American will also retrofit its Airbus A321T fleet to align those 16 aircraft with the rest of its A321 fleet. American will continue to offer lie-flat seats on its transcontinental routes departing New York and Boston along with its Northeast Alliance partner, JetBlue Airways, providing travelers with a premium experience and the opportunity to arrive refreshed after a cross country flight.

The connection with JetBlue also highlights better passenger experience consistency, as the all-aisle access seats (while not exactly the same hard product) offer a similar type of experience whether travelling on JetBlue or American. For Business Class, the airline has opted for the Collins Aurora seat, while in premium, the Recaro seats are playing hard ball with new Delta First Class seats.

Premium economy will offer a range of different seats, the 777 will still have the Collins MiQ seat, while in the 787-9, the carrier is opting for the Safran model. It’s also important to mention, the airline doesn’t plan any refits on the existing 787 fleet, so this will only apply to new 787 aircraft, on top of the retrofit of the 777-300ERs.

The end of First Class? We don’t think so…

However the renderings, which highlight the hard work that both American and TEAGUE – one of the world’s most prestigious and oldest design agencies – also hint at something not mentioned in the press release.

Most outlets have predicted this means the death of American Airlines’ First Class. But actually here at TheDesignAir, we’ve noticed a few tale-tell signs that it’s not as black and white as that. The carrier has seemingly decided to offer a ‘Premium Business Class’ hard product at the bulkhead seats, something we’re seeing as a burgeoning trend.  

If you look closely at the renderings, there are a couple of signals, such as different coloured door trim and finish for the bulkhead seats, and a lack of the same set-up for the TV screens on Bulkheads. This will most likely mean that Adient are offering a different front row set up, and we’ve seen from Farnborough mock-ups, that these seats, especially on the 777 could offer swathes of space. A little like JetBlue Mint’s Suites – but on steroids.

Now there’s still a market and logical approach to this. American will offer a product that Delta and United still can’t – a step up from Business Class. It will also allow it to still offer synergies with its partners Qatar Airways and British Airways who still begrudgingly offer First Class products too. The Airline also has its Flagship Dining product in certain lounges, and this will offer some logic behind keeping this more exclusive ground product.

The Ascent seat with Encore Boeing additions offers a very comfortable suite. Image by John Walton

Now if this is really the case, it’s most likely this will be a First Class “light”, an opportunity for the airline to offer a more exclusive hard product, with most likely the same dining offerings found in Business Class, but maybe a couple of extra soft touches, to help elevate the product without the costly implications of operating a dedicated First Class product range.

Time will tell, but considering there are new seats in economy too, there’s more to this story, and no doubt, American plan on releasing their new vision for the company in stages up until 2024. Either way, this is a smart, interesting, and much awaited upgrade to the American Airlines passenger experience, and one we’re thrilled to see. Considering the partnership with the interiors team at American and design powerhouse TEAGUE, we should be expecting great things in the near future.

Posted by:Jonny Clark

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