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Qantas partner American Airlines will launch premium economy next year on selected international routes, beginning with the airline's first Boeing 787-9 jet due for delivery at the end of 2016.
This will be followed by American's Airbus A350, due in 2017, along with refits to add premium economy seating to the Boeing 777-300ERs, 777-200ERs, 787-8s and Airbus A330 fleet over the next three years.
However, premium economy won't replace AA's current 'Main Cabin Extra' extra-legroom economy zone.
“[The new premium economy service] allows us to do a better job of segmenting our customers into various products they want to buy,” explains American Airlines CEO Doug Parker.
"There is nothing between economy and [our business class] full lie-flat seat service therefore a large price difference too and customers let us know... there’s demand for something in-between.”
Those in-between seats will be leather-clad with 38 inches of pitch, compared to 36 inches for Main Cabin Extra and 31 for economy.
The Boeing 787s will contain 21 premium economy seats in three rows of a 2-3-2 configuration, compared to 3-3-3 for standard economy seats.
Premium economy has become increasingly popular with international airlines including Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines, both of which began flying a 'better than economy' seat in the past 12 months.
US carriers have favoured an 'economy plus' model, however, in which the standard economy seat, meals and service are offered with extra legroom.
American Airlines is the first of the USA's 'big three' – the others being Delta and United Airlines – to adopt a full 'premium economy' product, which will boast wider seats, more legroom, an upgraded meal service, amenity kits and noise-reducing headphones.
AA premium economy: Qantas partnership
AA's premium economy debut comes as part of a broader alignment between American Airlines and its joint venture partners Qantas, British Airways/IAG and Japan Airlines, plus codeshare partner Cathay Pacific: all of which have premium economy.
Importantly, offering premium economy on AA's Sydney-Los Angeles flights would provide more flexibility to Qantas' own premium economy passengers, who would be able to book and fly in premium economy on American Airlines but with a QF flight number on their ticket.
"One of the things that was interesting to me was going and meeting with our partners... and being told that 'you guys have a fantastic network but your product’s not up to our standards'" American Airlines CEO Doug Parker revealed to Australian Business Traveller last month as part of a broader discussion about AA's tip-to-tail seats and service.
"We know we have to have a product that partners like Qantas (and) their customers feel meets that standard when they get on," Parker continues, "so we’re doing all we can."
Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire frequent flyers – whose ranks include Qantas Gold and American Airlines Platinum (and above) – can continue to reserve Main Cabin Extra seating at no charge where available.
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