American Airlines to launch premium economy in 2016

By Chris Chamberlin, December 10 2015

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.

Also read: What you need to know about AA’s Sydney flights

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT


Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!



21 Apr 2012

Total posts 3034

Uh oh.... Are we about to see a massive System Wide Upgrade (SWU) devaluation? i. i.e. Upgrade opportunities downgraded from Coach-Business to Coach-Premium Economy? 



Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jun 2015

Total posts 107

I hope now ifyou purchase a Premium economy seat means that you get it. 

Bought a SYD - LAX - SFO earlier this year via Qantas in premium. Had to pay for Premium but get economy on the SFO leg. Apparently the fare classes have to match. Wasn't even full Y economy counts as discount full economy so couldn't get MCE



Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 395

Curious to know of experiences booking Y+ with CX including AA domestic legs.  The CX search shows some AA flights as econ, and others not, usually the larger aircraft.  I had thought that they might use MCE where it is available.



Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Sep 2012

Total posts 132

@ sdtravel - the fare quite clearly states on the booking form on the website that the onward leg from LAX to SFO is in Economy. What class were you expecting

You pay for Premium for the SYD to LAX leg. You pay for Y from LAX to SFO.

Having booked that sector a number of times in that fare class, it's quite transparent. Not sure what the gripe is. 



Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Aug 2012

Total posts 126

Looks like (similar to CX, although CX have signaled improvements) the only descent footrest is in the front row. According to the pictures the other rows have to contend with uncomfortable bike pedal like foot rests.


Nice to see however major U.S. carriers come kicking and screaming into the new century.



20 May 2015

Total posts 584

I think this is actually a pretty good idea.

"Business Lite" Premium Economy products fill a gap, and "Survivable Economy" Main Cabin Extra remains available (which is a good thing in a world of 10-across 777s and 9-across 787s). This helps segment the market more.

I still think that AA would do well to make "Survivable Economy" seats wider (I think they're 9-abreast on the 777... maybe they should add a few rows of  8-abreast on the 787?).  



Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

22 Apr 2013

Total posts 147

Whilst I applaud AA for coming to the PE party (and encourage the other US carriers to do the same), I can't help but (cynically) note they're reactively being pulled up begrudgingly by their boot-straps rather than making an innovative first-in-class step forward.... which dissapoints.



10 Dec 2015

Total posts 179

If we don't count longhaul LCCs such as Scoot and Norweigan where the highest class available is really just PY(Just ignore those fancy brandings such as ScootBiz), AA is the <first-in-...> industry worldwide to offer PY AND Y+ simultaneously within the same fuselage among all FSC(Full Service Carrier) peers.

That's an innovation in product/mkt segmentation by my book.

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