Upgrades Will Soon Be Harder to Get on Some AA 777s

Feb 16, 2018

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Between multiple retrofit projects and seat manufacturers, boarding an American Airlines 777 in the past year has been a roll of the dice. As recently as July 2017, you could have stepped on an AA 777-200 for a transpacific flight that had angle-flat seats. Until this month, there were four different configurations of the 777-200s. Today, that number is down to three.

As part of AA’s fleet simplification plans, it’s retrofitting its aircraft to have the same number of seats in each cabin for each aircraft type — something it’s calling fleet “harmonization.” While this helps the airline schedule flights and handle irregular operations better, it’s bad for passengers.

AA’s Boeing 737s will have 12 more economy seats crammed into the aircraft, leading to the same experience on all of AA’s 737s that you can find now on its 737 MAX. Currently, the legacy AA Airbus A321s have 181 seats and the legacy US A321s have 187 seats. So, AA is “harmonizing” that fleet at 190 seats, meaning less room across the fleet.

Now, AA has confirmed that it’s also harmonizing its 777-200 fleet. Currently, that fleet consists of:

  • 13 aircraft with 45 Zodiac business-class seats (rocking chair seats) and no premium economy
  • 6 aircraft with 37 Zodiac business-class seats and premium economy
  • 27 aircraft with 37 B/E Aerospace Super Diamond business-class seats and premium economy

That first group of 13 aircraft are next in line for AA’s premium economy retrofits, but it’s not all good news. First, eight business-class seats are being removed, meaning the odds of your upgrade clearing into business is going to be reduced on these aircraft. Second, the Zodiac seats will remain.

Nicknamed “Coffin Class” due to the high walls and cramped feel, most of the seats in the cabin are unstably connected to another seat. So, when your neighbor moves, you feel it. American claims that the 777-200 Zodiac seats shake less than the same seats on the 787-8. However, as I’ve experienced myself, it’s a sub-par experience.

Recently, I got stuck flying in a Zodiac 777-200 after a last-minute change from a B/E Aerospace Super Diamond 777-200. Sure enough, I was jolted throughout the night by my connected seatmate, leading to restless sleep on the long flight from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Rome (FCO).

Unfortunately, the only “harmonization” AA is achieving up front with these aircraft is the number of seats in the cabin, not the quality of those seats. Once the 777-200 premium economy retrofit is done, the carrier will have 19 of the Zodiac 777-200s vs. 27 with the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seats, giving business-class passengers around a 41% chance of getting an aircraft with backward-facing and rocking seats.

While this 777-200 retrofit news is bad news for those hoping to upgrade into business class, at least there’s no new negative changes for economy passengers. These aircraft will still be arranged 10-wide (3-4-3), meaning very tight 17-inch width between seats. But, at least seat pitch will remain the same.

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