American unveils new transcontinental product at JFK

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American Airlines premiered its new Airbus A321 transcontinental aircraft to employees and the media at New York JFK International airport on 17 December.

Outfitted in a three-class configuration with all the bells and whistles business travellers have come to expect on the world’s premier air routes, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Oneworld alliance carrier aims to better compete with and win over passengers in the most competitive premium market in the USA.

“This airplane represents another chapter in the modernisation of American Airlines,” says Jim Carter, managing director of eastern division sales at American, at the premier. “This airplane will be flying in some of the most important routes out of New York, that’s from JFK to Los Angeles and JFK to San Francisco.”

The airline will be competing with Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines and Virgin America in the two markets, all of which offer either new or recently introduced products on the two routes.

American currently operates a fleet of nine ageing Boeing 767-200ER aircraft between JFK and both Los Angeles and San Francisco. These aircraft lack the personal video screens and power outlets that passengers have come to expect in the market.

The A321 comes equipped with video screens and outlets at every seat, and wi-fi throughout the aircraft.

The wi-fi is ATG-4 from GoGo, according to Carter.

More importantly, at least to American, is the fact that the new aircraft offer an entirely new product compared to the 767s, in which some passengers still use dials to control the inflight audio and video.

The 102-passenger A321 is outfitted with 10 lie-flat first class seats comparable to those in business class on American’s Boeing 777-300ERs, 20 lie-flat business class seats and 72 slimline economy seats similar to those found on its new Airbus A319s. Economy is split between 36 seats of the airline’s premium main cabin extra product and 36 of standard economy.

The 168-passenger 767-200s have 10 first class, 30 business class and 128 economy seats.

American is able to offer more frequencies with the smaller aircraft. Schedules include 13 flights per day between JFK and Los Angeles on the A321 from 11 June 2014, which is up from nine or 10 per day currently, Innovata schedules show.

Frequency between JFK and San Francisco will rise to five daily flights from four by 11 June.

This represents an about 21% reduction in the number of seats per week American offers in the market, which should allow it to improve pricing and passenger yields. However, most of that reduction is in economy where the number of seats will fall by more than 27% to 1,296 seats per week while premium cabin seats will fall by a little more than 3% to 540 seats per week.

Carter tells Flightglobal that the improved premium product and increased number of premium seats on the A321 are likely to prove attractive to premium travellers from the entertainment and finance industries.

His expectations are simply a guess at this point as American has yet to release any booking data for the A321 compared to the 767s.

“I think we’ll see the same in this market,” says Carter, referring to how passengers now prefer to book flights on American’s 777-300ERs compared to other widebody aircraft for the new product. “We’ll see people seeking it out.”

A321T flights between JFK and Los Angeles begin on 7 January 2014 and between JFK and San Francisco on 6 March 2014.

The competition is not far behind. JetBlue will debut its first premium product, Mint, in June 2014. The New York-based low-cost carrier is targeting price conscious premium travellers with the offering, which will include the only private suites in the market.

United rolled out its updated premium service (PS) product on a fleet of Boeing 757-200s earlier in December.