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Here's How to Avoid American's Oldest Planes

April 28, 2017
10 min read
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For those who fly American Airlines often enough, you know that the carrier has quite the inconsistent fleet, ranging from brand-new aircraft to un-retrofitted, decades-old planes on which the airline seems to just be running out the clock. Sometimes these can even be on the same route, like today from Austin (AUS) to Dallas (DFW) — which varies from a brand-new A321 to a two-decade-old MD80.

In our earlier post, we discussed how bad your experience can end up on one of these old birds — even in first class. As TPG points out, JetBlue's Even More Space seats have power plugs, in-seat entertainment and power plugs, while the A321 first-class seat he had last weekend had none of those amenities.

So, if possible, here are the aircraft that you want to avoid:

First Class

TPG was quite unlucky over the weekend. Most of American's mainline (i.e., not regional jets) aircraft have some sort of power on board in first class. Here's the full list of aircraft lacking this key element:

Aircraft TypeSeat pitchSeat widthWi-FiEntertainmentPower
Airbus A32036"21"AvailableWireless streamingNot available
Airbus A321 Version 236"21"AvailableWireless streamingNot available
Bombardier CRJ-70037"19.5 - 21"AvailableWireless streamingNot available
Bombardier CRJ-90037-38"19.6-19.7"AvailableWireless streamingNot available
Embraer E19036"19"AvailableWireless streamingNot available
Embraer ERJ-17537"19.9"AvailableWireless streamingNot available

Of these, only the A320 and the A321 Version 2 have more than 80 seats. The others are going to be found on short regional routes.

One that's missing from this list — as AA shows that it provides power in first class — is the McDonnell Douglas MD-80. While it's technically true that these aircraft have power, this power comes from DC outlets — the old "cigarette lighter" plugs. Unless you have a converter, these plugs won't be of any use.

Main Cabin

Power, entertainment and Wi-Fi availability get much more sparse in American's economy cabins. Here are the aircraft types without (at least) power in the main cabin:

Aircraft TypeSeat pitchSeat widthWi-FiEntertainmentPower
Airbus A32031 - 32"16.5 - 18"AvailableWireless streamingNone
Airbus A321 Version 231"17 - 18.1"AvailableWireless streamingNone
Boeing 767-30031"17.8"--Overhead videoNone
Bombardier CRJ-20031 - 32"16.75 - 17.2"----None
Bombardier CRJ-70031"16.75 - 17.25"AvailableWireless streamingNone
Bombardier CRJ-90031"16.85 - 17.17"AvailableWireless streamingNone
Bombardier Dash 8-10031"17"----None
Bombardier Dash 8-30032"17"----None
Embraer E19031"16.5"Available--None
Embraer ERJ-14031"17"----None
Embraer ERJ-14531"17"----None
Embraer ERJ-17530-31"18.2 - 19.3"AvailableWireless streamingNone
McDonnell Douglas MD-8031"17.4 - 17.8"AvailableWireless streamingNone

While most of these are regional jets, there are four mainline aircraft that make an appearance. Not surprisingly, the Airbus A320s and ex-US A321s appear again in this list. In addition are two of the oldest aircraft in American Airlines' fleet: the Boeing 767-300 and the McDonnell Douglas MD-80.

Airbus A320s

According to AirFleets, American Airlines owns 51 Airbus A320s averaging 15.7 years old. These A320s are used as workhorses around the country. Here are the routes where there are at least five flights a week:

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AA A320 routes

As you can see, these aircraft operate almost exclusively in/out of the former US Airways hubs of Charlotte (CLT), Philadelphia (PHL) and Phoenix (PHX). There are only a few exceptions, like AA's route from Dallas (DFW) to Atlanta (ATL).

While these flights might be annoying to be on for shorter flights, these no-power, no-screen aircraft are the toughest to put up with on long flights. So, let's take a look at the longer routes where American Airlines uses these A320s:

AA A320 long routes
  • Charlotte (CLT) - Aruba (AUA) - Saturday/Sunday
  • Charlotte (CLT) - Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR) - Saturday
  • Charlotte (CLT) - Phoenix (PHX) - Monday-Friday
  • Charlotte (CLT) - Saint Lucia (UVF) - Saturday/Sunday
  • Philadelphia (PHL) - Montego Bay, Jamaica (MBJ) - Monday-Friday
  • Philadelphia (PHL) - Punta Cana (PUJ) - daily flights
  • Philadelphia (PHL) - San Francisco (SFO) - daily flights starting June 2
  • Philadelphia (PHL) - Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (SDQ) - Saturday
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Atlanta (ATL) - daily
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Detroit (DTW) - daily
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Indianapolis (IND) - Saturday
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Milwaukee (MKE) - Sunday-Friday
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Newark (EWR) - daily
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Philadelphia (PHL) - daily
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Tampa (TPA) - daily

Airbus A321 Version 2

These are a bit harder to nail down than the American Airlines A320s. American Airlines operates three main versions of the Airbus A321 — the top-notch A321T, the newer "32B" version and the old US Airways "321." From what I can compile, American Airlines has 102 ex-US Airways Airbus A321s still in active rotation. While AA tries to ignore that they exist, you can tell if you have one of these old planes if you see "321" listed as the aircraft type rather than "32B" on the American Airlines website.

According to FlightAware data I was able to pull for these aircraft, these birds log a combined average 324 flights per day. And most of these are domestic flights — from a 21-minute flight from Chicago (ORD) to Madison (MSN) to the six-hour transcontinental flights from Philadelphia (PHL) to San Francisco (SFO).

While I was able to track down 207 routes that have used these old US Airways planes recently, here are the 50 routes that have the most "321" flights:

AA A321 routes

Again, you can see that these routes mainly center on the ex-US Airways hubs of Charlotte (CLT), Philadelphia (PHL) and Phoenix (PHX).

Also again, while these flights might be annoying to be on for shorter flights, these no-power, no-screen aircraft are the toughest to put up with on long flights. So, let's take a look at the longer routes that American Airlines uses these A321s:

AA A321 long routes

These are routes that have been heavily served by these ex-US Airways A321s over the last few weeks. I confirmed that each of these routes has a daily flight on an A321 for at least the next month. That said, you might luck out and get a newer A321 — or another aircraft type — on these routes.

  • Charlotte (CLT) - Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Charlotte (CLT) - Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Charlotte (CLT) - Phoenix (PHX)
  • Charlotte (CLT) - Sacramento (SMF)
  • Charlotte (CLT) - San Diego (SAN)
  • Charlotte (CLT) - San Francisco (SFO)
  • Charlotte (CLT) - Seattle (SEA)
  • Miami (MIA) - Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) - Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) - Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) - Phoenix (PHX)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) - San Diego (SAN)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) - San Francisco (SFO)
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Boston (BOS)
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Miami (MIA)
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Orlando (MCO)
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Washington, D.C. (DCA)

Boeing 767-300


American Airlines is still operating 30 Boeing 767s, averaging almost 20 years old. And it doesn't look like some of these will be retired for a while. By the end of June, AA is completing a retrofit of most — but not all — of these old aircraft. With the retrofit, the carrier's installing lie-flat seats and power plugs in the international business-class cabin, but the economy cabin is being mostly left as is.

This is a huge shame, as the 767 is still used on long-haul routes to Europe, South America and Hawaii. Here are the 20 most common routes for the 767:

767 routes
  • Chicago (ORD) - Rome (FCO)
  • Chicago (ORD) - London (LHR)
  • Chicago (ORD) - Manchester (MAN)
  • Dallas (DFW) - Honolulu (HNL)
  • Dallas (DFW) - Orlando (MCO)
  • Dallas (DFW) - Miami (MIA)
  • Dallas (DFW) - Kahului (OGG)
  • Dallas (DFW) - Chicago (ORD)
  • Miami (MIA) - Belo Horizonte, Brazil (CNF)
  • Miami (MIA) - Guayaquil, Ecuador (GYE)
  • Miami (MIA) - Lima (LIM)
  • Miami (MIA) - Montevideo, Uruguay (MVD)
  • Miami (MIA) - Milan (MXP)
  • Miami (MIA) - Chicago (ORD)
  • New York (JFK) - Paris (CDG)
  • New York (JFK) - Madrid (MAD)
  • New York (JFK) - Manchester (MAN)
  • New York (JFK) - Miami (MIA)
  • New York (JFK) - Milan (MXP)
  • New York (JFK) - Zurich (ZRH)

Bottom Line

American Airlines is pouring plenty of resources into bringing new aircraft into its fleet and retiring its old aircraft. Its newest planes are modern and provide power at every seat.

That said, the airline has made some puzzling retrofit decisions. The old US Airways A320s and A321s got new seat covers and carpets — but AA didn't install power even in first class. Most of AA's old 767s are getting lie-flat seats and power up front, but economy still only has a few DC power plugs and overhead screens.

While AA works to eventually phase these out, if you have the choice, it's best to avoid these aircraft — or at least be prepared with adapters and backup power options.

Sound off: Which American Airlines aircraft bugs you the most?

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