The Peculiar Way AA is Retrofitting Its Aircraft to Fit Extra Legroom Seats

Nov 4, 2017

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American Airlines is in the midst of a massive premium economy retrofit project. The airline placed its first aircraft retrofit with premium economy into service at the end of June. Just over six months later, by the end of 2017, AA expects to have 63 widebody aircraft with premium economy.

We’ve seen how the retrofit looks on the 777-200, but AA’s first Airbus A330-200 retrofits have just emerged — and the layout certainly caught our eye.

First, let’s take a step back and explain. American Airlines calls its extra-legroom seats “Main Cabin Extra.” Most AA planes have a section of Main Cabin Extra (MCE) seating at the front of economy, complemented by bulkheads and exit row seats through the rest of the cabin. Here’s AA’s MCE seating on its 787-8 Dreamliner:

AA Main Cabin Extra seating 787-8

And here’s what it looks like on the 777-200 with premium economy retrofit:

AA Main Cabin Extra seating 777-200

The current version of American Airlines’ A330-200s doesn’t have a Main Cabin Extra section. The only MCE seats are at bulkheads and exit rows. In July, the airline confirmed to The Points Guy that it wasn’t going to install any additional MCE seats during the retrofit. Shortly later, the airline reversed its decision and mercifully decided to add 38 extra-legroom seats for a total of 50 MCE seats.

So, how does the A330-200 look after the retrofit?

AA Main Cabin Extra seating A330-200

One of these isn’t like the others.

We reached out to American Airlines about why the retrofit cabin was designed like this. An AA spokesperson explains:

To accommodate Premium Economy, we had to optimize the space as much as possible while keeping lavatories, galley ways and closets for our team members and customers.

While that is the official line, I’m suspecting that there’s more to it than that. In order to fit a typically multi-row Main Cabin Extra section in the front of the economy cabin, American Airlines would’ve had to move seats in all three columns. By just moving the G and H seats, they are able to leave the A-F seats where they are — surely reducing the cost and effort of the retrofit.

I’m not saying that this retrofit design is bad. It’s just… peculiar.

Featured image by John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images

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