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Earlier this year, at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Transportation conference, American Airlines announced the Premier Economy retrofit schedule for the whole wide-body fleet. While the airline’s 797-9 Dreamliners came ready-fitted with American’s newest cabin American is having to retrofit the Premium Economy cabin to its existing aircraft….including its flagship 777-300ER.
The schedule included in the presentation shows the Boeing 777-300ERs (abbreviated to B77W) being fitted with Premium Economy Cabins from the end of 2017 through the second quarter of 2018….
….but, as far as I can tell, we haven’t been told how the Premium Economy cabin will be incorporated into the aircraft.
This has led to speculation over the future of the airline’s First Class cabin (would American rip out First Class to make room for Premium Economy?) as well as raising questions over the size of the 777-300’s Business Class cabin (would American take seats out of Business Class to make room for Premium Economy?) but answers haven’t been forthcoming.
Now, however, I think we know.
I’ve just checked all the American Airlines 777-300ER routes that I can think of and, as of 19 April 2018 all of them are showing a new cabin layout for the aircraft.
Taking AA136 from LAX to London as an example:
As of 18 April 2018 everything looks normal on the 777-300ER seat map with the usual 3-cabin layout being displayed:
The First & Business Class cabins are as they’ve always been and in Economy Class we can see the 9-across seating in rows 16 – 18 and the 10-across seating from there back.
On 19 April 2018 things change:
The First & Business Class cabins are still as they’ve always been but the Economy Class cabin is different.
Rows 16 – 18 now show 8-across seating in the cabin and that looks like an American Airlines 777-300ER Premium Economy cabin to me.
It looks very similar to the Premium Economy cabin we’re used to seeing in the smaller Boeing 777-200 aircraft…..and most of the seats have been blocked.
American Airlines 777-200 premium Economy Seat Map
I know that what we’re looking at here isn’t a 777-200 seat map as there’s a First Class cabin in view (which the 777-200 doesn’t have) and the seat numbers agree exactly with what I’d expect to find in the 777-300ER….so this is a cabin layout for a 777-300ER.
American is still only selling First, Business and Economy Class fares on this flight (and all the other 777-300ER flights) but I have little reason not to believe that what we’re seeing here is the new layout for the American Airlines 777-300ER…..complete with a retrofitted Premium Economy cabin.
American Airlines Premium Economy
I would say that I’m 100% sure that what we’re seeing here is the new 777-300ER layout except that there is one thing that strike me as a little odd.
I checked all the American Airlines 777-300ER routes I can think of and in each case the seat maps on and before 18 April show the regular layout on the 777-300ER while, on 19 April 2018, every seat map appears to show the new American Airlines 777-300ER Premium Economy cabin.
That’s not possible.
For all the routes to have Premium Economy cabins on 19 April some aircraft will have to have the cabin before then….but that’s not what the seat maps show. Is this just all some sort of weird error?
I don’t think it is an error but it’s worth highlighting the point nonetheless.
It’s possible that American Airlines plans to start charging for Premium Economy on these routes from 19 April and, as we’ve seen happen with the 787-9s and 777-200s, before this date any available Premium Economy cabins will be sold as Main Cabin Extra seating so the airline is in no hurry to update the seat maps.
American Airlines Premium Economy on the 787-9 Dreamliner
Assuming that the layout currently being shown on American’s 777-300ERs is indeed the new, post-refit cabin, this should make quite a few people happy.
Firstly, American appears to be preserving the First Class cabin so those who value it (not me) can continue to enjoy it – it’s not being sacrificed to make way for Premium Economy.
Secondly, the large Business Class cabin in the 777-300ER appears to be being maintained and that should ensure that upgrades and award seats don’t get any harder to find (although I’m not sure they can get any harder to find than they already are!)
On the balance of probabilities I think I can say two things:
- What I’ve posted above is the new layout for the 777-300ER once it has been retrofitted with the American Airlines Premium Economy cabin.
- American Airlines plans to start charging for Premium Economy on its 777-300ER aircraft from 19 April 2018.
If I’m right about all of this I’m amazed that American hasn’t sacrificed any premium cabin seating to make way for the Premium Economy Cabin.
I never thought that First Class would disappear as it’s a niche product that American probably still needs on a few routes….but I was fully expecting to see the Business Class cabin reduced in size. If American really does intend to keep the full 52 seats in the 777-300ER Business Class cabin then that’s about as good as we could have hoped for.
On the negative side of things, now that Premium Economy will be found on a lot more of American’s international routes, I expect two things to happen quite soon:
- American will announce that systemwide and mileage upgrades will only upgrade passengers by one class of service (i.e you’ll have to book Premium Economy if you want to upgrade to Business Class)
- American will once again devalue its award charts as it incorporates Premium Economy awards in to them (I first predicted American would eventually do this back in November 2016)
I’m going to guess that we’ll hear more early in the new year….let’s wait and see.