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Maximizing the Newest Business and First Class Products on US Airlines

Oct. 31, 2012
10 min read
Maximizing the Newest Business and First Class Products on US Airlines
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If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that recently I was disaapointed with getting the old British Airways first class (#firstclassproblems, I know). While it wasn't the end of the world, it made me think that getting the "old" product was a much worse deal than "new" first class, which is the same price, but a much better experience. Sadly, British Airways is not the only airline with stark differences between their old and new products. With each airline operating so many aircraft types, it can be tough to figure out if you're redeeming your frequent flyer miles for the very newest and best experience in the skies. Here's a rundown of which planes each major US airline has installed their newest business and first class products on, and how you can be sure you're going to get a lie-flat seat instead of an old recliner on your next trip.

After operating the oldest fleet among the US airlines for years, American is finally updating its fleet and its premium class products, starting with 10 new 777-300ER's being delivered through 2013, which will be configured as three-class aircraft and will include fully lie-flat First and Business Class seats, Main Cabin Extra seats, and international Wi-Fi capability.

A rendering of the new first class suites aboard American's upcoming 777-300ER's.

These seats will be fully lie-flat in first and business class, international WiFi capability, AC power outlets and USB jacks at every seat as well as personal entertainment systems. American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER routes will include those between Dallas and Sao Polo and London, and New York JFK to London and Sao Paolo. Note: American Airlines originally intended to start deploying its 777-300ER's starting December 13, 2012, but it has pushed that date back to January 31, 2013. The routes and services will remain the same, and the airline has offered either to rebook passengers aboard its 777-200's or to refund their tickets.

Also slated to begin in 2014, American will begin retrofitting its fleet of 777-200's with a two-class configuration with up to 45 lie-flat seats in Business, each with direct aisle access. The airline will only have its flagship first class seat on the new 777-300ER's, and just eight per aircraft, so space will be at a premium.

Though it hasn't announced a timeframe for it, the airline intends to update up to half of its 767-300ER's with the new business class product and retire the rest. American will also be replacing the current 767-200's used on all routes from New York JFK and San Francisco and LAX with A321's. The aircraft will have 10 fully lie-flat seats in a 1 x 1 configuration in first class. Business Class will have 20 lie-flat seats in a 2 x 2 configuration. Travelers in premium classes will have access to free entertainment on the 15.4-inch screens, and Bose headsets. The entertainment systems on these aircraft will also have seat-to-seat chat, live text news and weather updates, 3-D moving maps, airport maps and connecting gate information. Travelers in premium classes will have access to free entertainment on the 15.4-inch screens, and Bose headsets.

American will install these new business class seats on both international and some domestic flights.

As for the rest of the airline's new plane orders, its old Boeing 757-200’s and MD-80’s will be replaced by 76 new B737-800's plus retrofits to the airline's current 76 B737-800's, plus A319's and A321's. All will feature leather seats, WiFi and in-seat entertainment as well, though they’ll only have a two-class configuration. First class seats on these planes will have 12.1-inch screens, while economy will have 8.9-inch screens. The airline also expects to take delivery of 42 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners through 2014.

It's unclear if American's recent woes will affect its plane orders and the timeframe in which it takes delivery, but stay tuned for further developments.

Delta's flagship premium product is the fully horizontal lie-flat BusinessElite seat. They are 20 inches wide and extend to a full length of 78 inches when reclined to a full bed. Passengers get duvets and pillows, amenity kits, and 10.6-inch personal entertainment screens.

To help keep passengers informed, Delta's website displays the current updates for their lie-flat seat updates. The airline's Boeing 767-400ER, 777LR and 777ER craft all have 100% lie flat seats in BusinessElite. They are almost finished installing modified lie-flat seats, each with direct aisle access on their 747-400's (94%).

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BusinessElite seats aboard Delta's Boeing 747-400.

However, only 14% of the airline's 767-300's have the new seats - these are designated as 76L. You should be able to discern whether your flight is one of the newly modified 767-300's by the seating chart. The ones with the new BusinessElite seats will have a business class cabin with a 1 x 2 x 1 staggered configuration instead of seats in a standard 2 x 2 x 2 configuration.

Delta will begin installing and even newer BusinessElite product on its A330's with 34 flat-bed seats with direct aisle access and 15.4” monitor for seatback entertainment. However, these upgrades haven't yet started, so if you want a lie-flat, steer clear of these craft.

Delta also recently announced that installation of high-speed satellite Wi-Fi on the international fleet will begin in early 2013 with their 767-300ER's. The entire international fleet is scheduled for completion by 2015.

When it comes to United's newest premium products, we're really just talking about its Global First Suites and BusinessFirst (this confusing tidbit is a leftover from the Continental merger), which are on the airline's international routes.

First and Business just refer to those classes on United's domestic routes, although most domestic routes don't even have a business cabin, except for the "p.s." premium services transcontinental flights. United will be overhauling the 757-200 p.s. planes over the next year, dropping traditional first class and installing new domestic BusinessFirst lie-flat seats with individual 16-inch video screens. The ways you'll be able to tell if you're on one of the new p.s. planes is if there is no first class, if there are just 38 Economy Plus seats (instead of 72), and if there is an economy class cabin on the plane.

United's flagship GlobalFirst suite.

GlobalFirst is the airline's flagship first class suite. Seats are arranged in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration with the outer seats facing outward towards the windows and the seats in the middle row of two facing each other (on the 767, it's 1 x 1 x 1). Each Suite includes a gray fabric lie-flat seat that reclines to 6 feet 6 inches (almost long enough for me) with a duvet and pillow for sleeping, and a BackCycler lumbar support system. Each seat has its own 15.4-inch video monitor, laptop power source, and USB charging ports (except for some 777's).

Here's where it gets difficult to parse out which planes have which GlobalFirst Suites, especially after the United/Continental merger. Global First is available on international flights on all three-class international Boeing 767-300's, Boeing 747's and 777-200 aircraft, of which there are seven different configurations.

BusinessFirst is the airline's flagship business class product and is based on the premium offerings Continental used to have.They are in either a 2 x 2 x 2 configuration on the 777, a 2 x 1 x 2 on the 767, and in 2 x 2 and 2 x 4 x 2 on either deck of the 747. Passengers get amenity kits, duvets and pillows, and the seats recline to a full 180 degrees. Seats have 77 inches of pitch and are 23 inches wide. Each has a 15.4-inch video monitor with programming controlled by the passenger, as well as a laptop power source and a USB port.

Finding a flight with United's BusinessFirst seats can mean the difference between suffering in a recliner and having a full lie-flat experience.

BusinessFirst is offered on all the airline's Boeing 747-400's, three-class 767-300's and 767-300ER's on international routes, and the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. It will also be available on Boeing 757-200 p.s. planes (as mentioned above), and some 757-200's that used to be Continental planes which the airline uses on international routes, and on which there is no first class.

Beware select 767 and 777's that have not yet been converted. The old 767's with recliner seats are used on domestic/Hawaii/Micronesia routes for the most part. The airline's Boeing 777-200's are about 70% converted to the new classes of service. The way to tell if your 777 has the new BusinessFirst cabin is if 1. There is no first class cabin or Global First Suites, or 2. If the Economy cabin is configured in a 3 x 3 x 3 pattern rather than 2 x 5 x 2. The only version of the 777-200 that still has the old recliner seats is the one with just 36 Business seats and 312 Economy. Yes, it'll require you to do some seat map sleuthing, but it'll be worth it to have a lie-flat bed instead of a recliner!

United also offers the 757-200 on many European routes, which offers the lie-flat ex-Continental BusinessFirst seat in the 2x2 configuration.

It can still be a little confusing, so here is a special page on that details the various 777 configurations, which you can reference to see if your flight will have the new products onboard or not.

US Airways
US Airways's much-lauded Envoy Suite was designed to compete with the latest business class offerings on major international airlines (even the likes of Cathay Pacific Business class, which has the same seats), and is available on the airline's entire fleet of A330-200's and A330-300's, which operate on almost all flights between the US and various European destinations including London Heathrow and Gatwick, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, Munich, Manchester, Rome and Tel Aviv.

US Airways' Envoy Suite is among the top premium products offered by US airlines.

Just beware, although the airline's 767 list their business class cabin Envoy as well, the seats in it are angled lie-flats, and not totally horizontal like they are on the Airbuses. A330-300's have 28 seats in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration while A330-200's have just 20 of these seats. The seats along the fuselage are angled out, while the two seats in the middle row are angled slightly toward each other.

Though they don't exactly catch the eye design-wise, the Envoy Suite seats make up for it with room to stretch out - 76-80 inches, to be exact depending on the seat's location in the cabin. Each is also 20.5 inches wide (or 25 with the armrests down), and recline to a full 180 degrees. The touch-screen entertainment systems are smaller than on similar products, at just 12.1 inches each, but seats also have 10-volt universal power outlets and USB ports.
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