American Airlines seems to have prematurely dropped a hint that first class may be disappearing, at least in name, and at least on some routes.
For a brief period of time, flights which show economy, business and first class were showing economy, business and business premier, instead. The change was quickly corrected, but the eagle eyed Gary at View From The Wing noticed and documented the temporary change.
For American Airlines regulars, there’s plenty of reason to believe that a change could indeed be in the works, and that’s mainly because first class is often hardly “first class”.
American Ditching First Class?
American Airlines offers what may be the world’s worst first class on international flights. Some people think other airlines are more deserving of the “award”, but I don’t see a way American loses out.
That may be why it’s potentially being rebranded to a “business and a bit more”, as other airlines have. Domestically, on premium routes such as New York-Los Angeles, American first class remains highly competitive though.
A refined ground experience and increased privacy means American’s domestic first class continues to be an option of choice for corporate CEO’s and the entertainment business. It’s probably the most common place to see a celebrity on a domestic flight.
But, the Boeing 777 international fleet, American Airlines First Class is a less private version of business class, albeit with a wider seat and longer bed width, but hardly any variation in service. In fact, sometimes it’s worse.
In my experience, this is partly due to American’s tenure based route bidding, which means service can either be the best in the world, or truly abysmal. Often, the latter.
Some tenured American Airlines crew members will bid for first on premium long haul routes to sit and read magazines, just to ride out their days knowing there will only be a couple passengers, who often are just American Airlines colleagues in the cabin.
Business Premier Solves Expectation
By potentially rebranding international first class, domestic first class, or both as ‘Business Premier’, American would lower expectation while getting away with little new investment in what’s currently offered.
Other transatlantic airlines have stepped up first class, or reduced cabin size to create a more bespoke and tailored environment, but American flies the same seats it has for a very long time and hasn’t even leaked any plans of changing that.
These “first class” seats lack many basics found in the best of today’s business class seats, like privacy doors, so rebranding them to “business” with an edge would likely create more satisfaction from those who do buy.
Investments could continue to be made in lounges where better privacy, food and drinks could be offered for ‘Business Premier’ in a more tailored way. Current food and beverage levels on board in “first class” would match up well to a business plus, unlike today where they fall well below the best international standards.
Will American Ditch First Class?
In recent months, American has priced its international first class only marginally above business. Few others do.
Delta ditched first class over a decade ago. United Airlines ditched first class not long thereafter. American is the last of the “big 3” still offering a bonafide first class option, but its days appear to be numbered.
For now, we won’t know whether this was an IT glitch, or indeed a preview into the future. For sure, the trend is now to offer business and a little something extra, like JetBlue is doing, rather than a separate cabin. Time will tell if that’s where American is going, too.