American unveils new business class

American Airlines has released pictures of its new long-haul business class seating which will debut on North Atlantic routes over the coming months.

The mammoth airline will be the first US carrier to offer passengers modern business class seating (see Online news, March 16). But the seats are “lie-flat” or “flat at an angle” in style rather than being fully flat.

American will shortly begin installing the new seating on its B767-300s with the fitting scheduled to be completed by Spring 2007. Next to follow will be American’s fleet of B777s with installation set to be complete by the end of 2007.

The seats, which come from well-known German manufacturer Recaro, offer 195.6 cm (77 ins) of legroom when fully reclined. When the privacy divide is raised and the armrest lowered the total seat width increases to 58.4 cm (23 ins).

But American’s new seats add nothing new to what’s already available with rival carriers. Indeed discerning global travellers would consider them lagging behind the standards set by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand. All these airlines offer flat bed seats. They would also appear to be uncompetitive in relation to the fully flat beds which Air Canada will shortly introduce on international routes.

So why hasn’t American seized the opportunity to lead the market ? A spokesperson revealed it chose lie-flat style seats because of economy and because it wanted to meet the needs of its frequent flyer members.

“We opted for flat-at-an-angle [ie lie-flat] seats for several reasons. Firstly, our tests showed that there was not a significant difference in comfort between fully-flat and flat-at-an-angle seats and there was a strong satisfaction for seats that had lounge, or Z position, capability.”

“Second, fully flat seats consume considerably more pitch than flat-at-an-angle seats which typically fit in the existing seat footprint [ie take up no extra space].”

“American decided to keep the current number of 30 seats in the B767 business cabin to preserve our AAdvantage [American’s loyalty programme] members’ ability to upgrade into the business class zone. This is an option valued by many frequent flyers. So research with customers and the capability of serving the maximum number of business class customers [because fully flat seats occupy more space which would mean that fewer seats could be installed] led American to choose the flat-at-an-angle option.”

For more information go to aa.com

Report by Alex McWhirter


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