American Airlines Details Upcoming A330-200 Retrofit

Jul 20, 2017

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Update 7/20/17: An AA representative clarified that the airline will be installing 50 Main Cabin Extra seats on the A332s, though two will be reserved for customers requiring special assistance.

Over the weekend, there were big changes unveiled for American Airlines A330s. In short: Starting soon, you’ll be able to fly in a premium economy seat on one of AA’s wide-body Airbus planes. Over the few months while the fleet is being retrofit, these premium economy seats will be treated as Main Cabin Extra — meaning elites get to choose these seats for free.

Effective January 15, premium economy will officially be launched on the A330s. These tickets just went on sale Sunday and the fare difference from economy to premium economy is looking very reasonable for some options — especially when considering marginal benefits over standard economy:

  • Wider seat and more legroom
  • Better food and drink
  • Larger in-flight entertainment and “noise-reducing” headphones
  • Priority check-in, security and boarding
  • 1.5 Elite-Qualifying Miles (EQMs) per mile flown vs. 1.0 EQM per mile flown in economy (generally)

AA Premium Economy A330 PHL-MAN

While we got a lot of information Sunday, there were still a lot of unanswered questions. Since then, we’ve been collecting answers. To keep it easy, let’s do this in a Q&A format:

Are all American Airlines A330s being retrofit with premium economy seating?

Unfortunately, no. At this time, American Airlines is only retrofitting its 15 Airbus A330-200s and not its 9 Airbus A330-300s.

Which A330 routes will have the premium economy seating?

American Airlines announced that the following A330 routes current have premium economy available for sale beginning January 15, 2018:

  • Charlotte (CLT) to Frankfurt (FRA)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) to Paris (CDG)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) to Rome (FCO)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) to Madrid (MAD)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) to Manchester (MAN)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) to Munich (MUC)

If you are scheduled to fly on a A330 after January 15 and it’s not one of these routes, you’re likely on the A330-300 — which isn’t being retrofit at this time.

Will the premium economy seat be the same as the Boeing 787-9 and 777-200?

Yes. American Airlines will be using the same seat for the A330-200s as you’ll find on the existing AA aircraft with premium economy seating.

AA 772 premium economy section
Here’s how this seat looks arranged on AA’s first Boeing 777-200 with premium economy seating.

What’s the new seating arrangement on the A330?

On its Boeing 787-9, American Airlines’ premium economy is arranged 2-3-2 vs. 3-3-3 in economy (7-wide vs. 9-wide). On the 777-200, AA retrofit the premium economy seating as 2-4-2 vs. 3-4-3 in economy (8-wide vs 10-wide). So, we were curious to see how premium economy would be retrofit on the A330 (arranged 2-4-2 in economy).

Sadly, AA isn’t continuing the tradition of having two less seats per row in premium economy. The airline is arranging the A330-200’s premium cabin in three rows of 2-3-2 (21 seats in total). This means that the premium economy seat spacing won’t give much of a marginal benefit over economy. Compared to the similarly arranged 787-9, the cabin will be a bit tighter — as the A330-200’s cabin width is about a foot smaller than the Dreamliner.

When will the retrofit be complete?

Although we don’t have a confirmed retrofit start date, American Airlines is still planning to complete this process by the end of 2017. Passengers are currently being sold premium economy seating for flights starting January 15, so AA only has a couple of weeks of leeway if it doesn’t finish by the end of the year.

American Airlines unveiled its premium economy retrofit schedule this morning.
American Airlines’ premium economy retrofit schedule, showing the 332s completed by the end of 2017.

Is the business-class cabin on the Airbus A330-200s also getting a facelift?

No, American Airlines is retaining the current “legacy US Airlines” A330-200 business-class seats. While it’s a bummer the business-class section isn’t getting an upgrade — perhaps to the same B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seats as on the 787-9 — the current seat is a decent mid-range business-class seat. It recently landed #5 on our recent ranking of all available AA seats.

Image courtesy of American Airlines.

Will Main Cabin Extra be added during the retrofit?

Currently, the A330-200 are arranged with 12 “Main Cabin Extra” seats — eight at the front bulkhead and four in the middle bulkhead. The other 226 economy seats have standard legroom. With that small of a ratio between extra-legroom seats and total seats, obviously competition is fierce for the 12 extra-legroom seats. It’s past due for AA to add a true Main Cabin Extra section to this aircraft so elites can enjoy one of the key benefits of status: free Main Cabin Extra seating.

Unfortunately, AA is passing up a huge opportunity to add MCE seating during this retrofit. According to an American Airlines spokesperson, AA “won’t be retrofitting to add/remove any MCE.” (Update: American Airlines will be installing 50 Main Cabin Extra seats on the A332s, though two will be reserved for customers requiring special assistance.)

Bottom Line

While we appreciate AA’s openness about the coming changes, it’s disappointing to see that not all A330s will get premium economy. We’re especially disappointed that AA is forgoing adding a Main Cabin Extra section during this retrofit.

Will you be booking premium economy on the A330-200?

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