American plans to have a 1-1 layout in first class on their Airbus A321 aircraft. Photo from American.

American plans to have a 1-1 layout in first class on their Airbus A321 aircraft. Photo from American.

Previously, American Airlines has not been well known for providing a high-end domestic product. I have heard many people say that they will avoid flying American at all costs, not knowing if they will get an almost new 737-800 with Boeing Sky Interior or a dated MD-80 aircraft (for the record, I love flying on the MD-80s).

American has ready started renewing the interiors of some of their older Boeing 757s and pre-Sky Interior 737s. All these improvements are great, but what about their plans for the over 400 aircraft that they currently have on order?

The airline has started givingus an inside look at their future plans for the interiors of some of their aircraft. While we have already seen mock-ups for their new Boeing 777-300ER, I think the most interesting thing about this newest information is their transcontinental Airbus A321, which has a three (and a half) class layout.

What American plans to have for domestic business class on the A321. Image from American.

What American plans to have for domestic business class on the A321. Image from American.

That’s right… three (and a half) classes on a domestic, single aisle aircraft. And we aren’t talking “here is an extra 3 inches of legroom,” class, we are talking lay-flat seats in both first and business class here. Between New York’s JFK and San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX), American will run the A321 with 10 first class seats in a 1-1 layout, 20 seats in business class in a 2-2 layout, 36 Main Cabin Extra seats (economy with a few extra inches of legroom) in a 3-3 layout and finally 36 Main Cabin seats with a 3-3 layout.

“We intend to be the only airline to offer a three-class service and the first to offer fully lie-flat First and Business Class seats on transcontinental flights with our Airbus A321 transcontinental aircraft,” said Virasb Vahidi, American’s Chief Commercial Officer. “By using the A321 aircraft with three classes of service and outfitted with fully lie-flat premium class seats, all-aisle access in First Class, and state-of-the-art amenities, we will be able to continue providing an industry-leading premium experience on transcontinental routes, while significantly reducing costs through improved fuel efficiency.”

I am sorry, but that is a cool layout — five rows of first class, five rows of business class, six rows of Main Cabin Extra and six rows of Main Cabin. No matter where you sit, it is probably going to feel like you have your own private airline cabin. However, will such a low number of seats make economic sense for American? Can they fill ten first class seats on a transcontinental flight? It seems like their bean-counters think so.

Each seat will also have its own seat-back entertainment system, power outlets and access to Wi-Fi.

Economy class plans for the American Airbus A321. Image from American.

Economy class plans for the American Airbus A321. Image from American.

The big question I have is — will this actually all happen? Based on what we are seeing with their product concepts, American is heading in a great direction. A bunch of new aircraft on order, plans to offer a top of the line domestic product and the motivation to make it happen.

Of course, the two big elephants in the room are: #1 the airline is in bankruptcy and #2 there is a good chance that American and US Airways will merge. Both of these things could have a huge impact on the future of American Airlines. No matter what happens, I hope that the “new” American (whatever that will mean) sticks to this plan. They need to have a product that can compete with newer airlines, like Virgin America. Good luck American — I hope to be able to test one of these new domestic products soon.

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EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me:
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I can only wish American ill with these designs. It is almost criminal to carry only 102 pax in an A321, with the same crew and fuel requirements that could carry 170+. The small number of regular economy seats will also make it much more difficult for mere mortals to fly. A pox on their plans.

Curious how you define criminal. What regulation or law are they in violation of?

Seems AA is trying to compete with United P.S. United recently announced its plans to go from 3.5 class P.S. layout to a 2.5 class layout – so I think AA might be trying to fill that soon to be empy niche – though it may also be making a mistake. It’s definitelly an attempt to win back the lucrative business traveler.
United should make their economy plus a different product by not only adding keeping the extra leg room but using convertible middle seats (like many European carriers do) so that its a 2+2 layout with extra wide arm rests/desks for each passenger.

I am also very skeptical about A321s configured for 102 people, especially in the domestic US market where even peanuts are a luxury these days. I’ll believe it when I actually see it, until then, it feels more of a marketing gimmick to hype up the brand and later blame it either on the bankruptcy or the merger when extra 50 seats will find a way back onto the aircraft… Very cool video thou.

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