Don’t Expect to Have a Consistent Experience With American Airlines’ Fleet

Apr 27, 2017

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

A few days ago, TPG flew American Airlines domestic first class from Philadelphia (PHL) to Las Vegas (LAS). To say that he was underwhelmed would be an understatement, and plenty of fellow flyers agree.

Indeed, JetBlue emergency exit rows feature 38-39 inches of pitch, a TV and power outlets. Meanwhile, this version of American Airlines’ A321 has 36 inches of pitch and no power or entertainment screens — in first class.

But not all AA planes are this bad, which brings up an interesting point — American Airlines’ fleet is quite inconsistent. Thanks to the airline taking delivery of 55 new aircraft and retiring 71 old aircraft in 2016, AA now boasts the youngest fleet among “the big three” (American, Delta and United). However, AA still has plenty of ancient aircraft in its fleet.

MD80
The economy-class cabin on American Airlines’ old MD-80s.

While I hear pilots love flying the “Mad Dog” MD-80s, those planes average 22 years old and lack basic entertainment and power options. Mercifully, these are generally restricted to shorter routes. It’s in the airline’s mid-haul and long-haul aircraft where these missing amenities really hurt.

AA-American-767-300-Economy-IFE
AA’s old 767’s are not fun to fly across the Atlantic in economy.

AA’s long-haul Boeing 767 fleet isn’t much younger, with an average age of 19.5 years. While the airline will be retrofitting most of the business-class cabins by this June, AA’s leaving the economy cabin with its DC power ports and overhead entertainment screens. That would be annoying enough for a domestic leg, but it’s downright unacceptable these days for a flight to Europe.

Business class middle seats on the 777-200 new retrofit.
Business-class seats on the 777-200 new retrofit are top notch.

On the flip side, American Airlines has a young fleet of 737s, 777-300ERs, 787-8s and its brand-new 787-9s. And, a growing number of its 777-200ERs have a newly retrofitted business class. Many of these newer planes feature top-notch business-class products with economy cabins that have plenty of entertainment and power options to help keep your mind off of the tight seating.

feat
Economy on AA’s A321Ts have more amenities than some of AA’s other A321s.

But, it’s the American Airlines A321s that offer a radically different experience from one version to the next. To give you an idea, here are the three types of A321s you might come across in AA’s fleet:

  • Airbus A321T — used primarily for premium transcon flights to/from JFK
  • Airbus A321 — used for regular domestic flights and flights to/from Hawaii
  • Airbus A321 — former US Airways’ aircraft with limited first-class amenities. There’s approximately 102 of these still in service. This is the model listed on AA.com and SeatGuru with “321” as the aircraft type rather than the newer and/or retrofit “32B” aircraft.

The new A321T transcon aircraft are built for the long flights between premium markets on either coast. In addition to excellent first and business-class products, even the economy cabin has IFE and power on these A321Ts. These are features that even the first-class cabin on some of AA’s other (former US Airways) A321s don’t even have — as TPG experienced over the weekend. Adding to the confusion, some of American’s A321s do have these amenities (as shown below) and some don’t.

a321 first

However, American Airlines doesn’t like to admit that these planes exist… If you go to American Airlines A321 fleet page, you’ll read that these aircraft are “A more modern way to fly.” AA boasts that first class features “AC power outlets and USB ports at every seat,” “a 12-inch touchscreen monitor” and “innovative seat designs.” Even economy on AA’s A321s supposedly have AC power and in-seat entertainment screens.

So, where’s the disconnect? Basically, the issue boils down to whether you’re on an American Airlines plane or a US Airways plane. In case you missed it, the two airlines merged back in 2015. US Airways brought its aging fleet into the marriage and American Airlines had its MD-80 baggage. Eventually, these old aircraft are being phased out. In the meantime, US Airways American Airlines elites at old US Airways hubs are being subject to these ancient, updated-without-being-upgraded aircraft.

What to do about it? Twitter user Joshua Jacobs sums it up in just 96 characters:

And, TPG signed off his ex-US American Airlines experience in a way many of us American Airlines elites and frequent flyers feel too often:

Bottom Line

For an airline that’s trying to attract business travelers and serve its “World’s Greatest Flyers,” American Airlines isn’t wise to skimp on installing power outlets and in-flight entertainment screens in first class when retrofitting any aircraft. What’s worse, the airline is using these planes on 5+ hour flights from Charlotte (CLT) and Philadelphia (PHL) to the West Coast, and Phoenix (PHX) to the East Coast. American needs to up its game and either quickly retire these aircraft or retrofit them with amenities we’ve all come to rely on.

Feature image courtesy of Shawn Thew / Stringer via Getty Images.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
0% on purchases for 12 months
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.