American Airlines is overhauling its most exclusive seating on long-haul jets, adding “private suites” with lay-flat seats that could compete head-to-toe against premium foreign carriers.
American will bring its new “Flagship Suites” seating arrangement to new Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A321XLR jets that are set to arrive in 2024, ditching the old “first-class” in exchange for a pseudo-private enclave aboard a plane that features a door that closes, a television screen and a chair that lays completely flat for sleeping.
American will also retrofit 20 of its Boeing 777 jets, the largest plane type in its fleet, to add as many as 70 of the Flagship Premium seats and 44 of its new Premium Economy seats, also a feature on the new 787-9 and Airbus A321XLR.
“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’s vice president of customer experience Julie Rath said in a statement.
The upgraded Premium Economy seats will also feature the oversized entertainment screen, wider and cushier seats and “headrest wings” that give some privacy from people in neighboring seats.
Airlines have been upping the competition for high-end experiences on long-haul travel, banking on the fact that wealthy travelers going overseas are willing to spend much more. A Flagship First Class ticket on American from DFW International Airport costs about 350% more than an economy seat.
For example, a roundtrip flight in economy from DFW to London Heathrow in mid-October is selling for about $3,960 and a First Class ticket on the same itinerary is $10,933.
American was the first airline to introduce Premium Economy seating in 2017, an option that has proven popular.
It’s unclear what American will charge for the new product, but it will likely increase the premium that passengers pay for luxury accommodations.
While U.S. carriers are known for plush first-class seating with extra leg room, foreign flagship carriers such as Qatar Airways and Emirates have tried to differentiate themselves with private suites that lie back completely and block off high-paying customers willing to pay an even bigger premium.
American has been rumored to be ditching its “First Class” product on new long-haul planes for months, but the switch is really in name only to differentiate the new suites from traditional offerings on shorter flights.
The new 787-9 jets will have 51 Flagship Suites and 32 Premium Economy seats. The A321XLR, the long-range version of Airbus’ popular narrow-body jet, will have 20 suites and 12 Premium economy seats. Redesigned interiors on the 777 jets will have 70 suites and 44 premium economy seats.