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American Airlines unveils new business-class cabins and premium seats

The Boeing 787-9 will have 51 Flagship Suite seats, 21 more than are available in American's current Flagship Business cabin.
Credit: Dallas Business Journal

FORT WORTH, Texas — This story originally appeared in the Dallas Business Journal.

American Airlines Group Inc. plans to phase out first-class seating on long-haul flights in favor of new suites aimed at improving the flying experience for high-end and business travelers.

The Fort Worth-based carrier unveiled the "Flagship Suites" seating arrangement for new Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A321XLR jets set to be delivered in 2024. The new configuration consolidates the current Flagship First and Flagship Business classes. American describes the new experience as a "private retreat in the sky" featuring privacy doors, chaise lounge seating options and more personal storage space.

American (Nasdaq: AAL) will also update its premium economy cabins and add more of those seats to long-haul aircraft. The new premium economy seats will feature larger entertainment screens and "headrest wings" to provide individuals with more privacy from their neighbors.

Premium seating on American’s long-haul fleet will grow more than 45%  by 2026, according to the airline. New 787-9 aircraft will have 51 Flagship Suite seats and 32 premium economy seats. Airbus A321XLR aircraft will feature 20 Flagship Suite seats and 12 premium economy seats.

"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," Julie Rath, American's vice president of customer experience, said in a statement.

As part of the overhaul, American will retrofit its fleet of 20 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to include 70 Flagship Suite seats and 44 premium economy seats. The 777 is American's largest aircraft type with 304 seats, currently including eight Flagship First pods, 52 Flagship Business lay-flat seats, 28 premium economy recliners and 216 economy seats.

The carrier will also retrofit its Airbus A321T fleet to align those 16 aircraft with the rest of its A321 fleet. The move eliminates American's dedicated sub-fleet for transcontinental flying with lay-flat seats. American said it will continue to offer lay-flat seats on its transcontinental routes departing New York and Boston.

For American, the changes come as airlines have looked to improve the long-haul travel experience and better compete with foreign carriers already offering luxury suites, such as Qatar Airways and Emirates. 

The moves also demonstrate how American continues to bank on international and business travel recovering. CEO Robert Isom said at an investor conference earlier this month that trans-Atlantic revenue has started to exceed pre-pandemic levels. He remains optimistic that revenue performance in Asia will improve as countries loosen up Covid-19 travel restrictions.

American did not announce any changes to its other wide-body aircraft like the recently delivered 787-8 Dreamliners, existing 787-9s and 777-200s.

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