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If you haven’t flown on American Airlines in a while, you might be shocked at how much better its fleet has gotten. Although AA still has much work to be done to create a consistent cabin experience, in 2016 alone the airline invested approximately $4.4 billion in new aircraft, bringing 97 new planes into its flock. On top of that, American is retrofitting many of its older aircraft to modernize them and extend their useful lives.

Unfortunately for economy class passengers, much of the retrofit work being done is either focused on improving the front cabin — by adding lie-flats on its 767s and 757s — or on making the economy cabin even tighter like on its 777s. At least the old 777s are being retrofitted with excellent entertainment systems, while the 767s still rely on overhead screens in economy.

The 767 retrofit has seen the installation of a much-better business class cabin.

The good news — at least for premium cabin passengers — is that the massive retrofit program is almost complete. We were first clued into this during American Airlines’ recent earnings conference call. In addition to describing how the airline planned to raise an additional $1 billion per year in incremental revenue from basic economy and premium economy, AA told investors it was “in the final stages of the conversion of our 777-200 and having lie flat seats for all of our international widebody service.” When asked later for clarification, AA management clarified it would complete the “777-200 retrofit program in the second quarter.”

However, this does not mean that all of American Airlines’ widebodies will have brand new lie-flat seats by June. An American Airlines spokesperson noted that AA is planning on retiring nine Boeing 767s (one to be retired in Q2, four in Q3 and four in Q4) and 17 Boeing 757s (12 in Q3 and five in Q4) by the end of 2017. Due to these scheduled retirements, these aircraft won’t be retrofitted, so you might have the bad luck of being on one of these angle-flat aircraft before year-end. Also, American will continue to operate its legacy US Airways A330s with the older lie-flat product, and its 787-8’s which were delivered with Zodiac business seats that have not received the best reviews.

If you have the chance, you really want to get the “new” retrofit on the 777-200.

If you’re looking to avoid these non-retrofitted aircraft, SeatGuru and ExpertFlyer are your friends. When booking, make sure that your seat map shows one of the newer arrangements. For 767s, avoid this seat map in favor of this seat map. For the 777s, you certainly want to avoid this seat map in favor of this one or — even better — this one. Once you book, use ExpertFlyer to set up an aircraft change notification.

Bottom Line

We’re thrilled that the AA retrofit program is going to be completed by the end of June. These upgrades have seen the installation of a top-notch international business class product on the 777-200 and much-improved international business class products on the 767 and 757. We’re also looking forward to the retirement of the non-retrofitted aircraft by the end of 2017, along with the delivery of another 88 new aircraft.

H/T: View From The Wing

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