US carriers are finally starting to invest in upgrading their premium cabins but it may be too little too late.
While it’s a clear improvement over American’s old business class seat it still falls well short of the latest generation of seats now offered by top carriers in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
For one, the 2-2-2 configuration American uses for business class on its 767s is rather tight. The seat is narrower than even some premium economy seats, such as the premium economy seat used by Virgin Atlantic Airways.
Passengers don’t also get the sense of privacy now common in the new business class cabins at other carriers. The business class layout on American is not staggered and there are no screens or other privacy devices that carriers in other parts of the world are now using. There are not even curtains between the cabins – all US carriers have eliminated them for security reasons, which is understandable but this has put them at a competitive disadvantage.
American’s new IFE system with large personal screen is quite good but it does not have nearly the variety of programmes as other top carriers. Flight attendants also insist on collecting the systems almost an hour prior to landing, complaining they are very valuable and must be locked up before the descent begins. Apparently American doesn’t trust their flight attendants or their premium passengers with the new hardware and Bose headsets!
For several years most US carriers have been unable to invest in their premium cabins while carriers in other parts of the world have raced ahead introducing several new generations of seats. US carriers such as American, Delta and United are now finally in the process of retrofitting their international aircraft with new business class seats. American has finished retrofitting their 767s and will finish with their 777s next year; United’s new business class seat just debuted on the Washington-Frankfurt route and will be available on all its international 767s, 777s and 747s by the end of 2009; and Delta is also just starting a retrofit for its 767s and 777s which will be completed by 2010.
You would think US majors would skip over the generations they missed and introduce something industry-leading? Unfortunately this is not the case and the seats recently introduced by Singapore Airlines, India’s Jet Airways and Emirates instead is the talk of the airline industry.
Sometimes I get the feeling US carriers just don’t care because most US businessmen will continue to fly them on international routes regardless of how much better the service is on foreign carriers. US business fliers are ridiculously loyal to their local carrier, hooked mainly by frequent flier programmes which are the most generous when it comes to upgrades in the world. US carriers also have strong corporate deals with most large US employers and as a result US business fliers are often restricted from trying out foreign carriers.
US carriers are just too focused on their local market and simply get away with failing to match their rivals in the east.