Your Chances of an Upgrade on American Long-Haul Flights at JFK Just Went Up

Apr 12, 2019

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Passengers flying international long-haul on American Airlines out of New York’s John F. Kennedy airport may now have a slightly higher chance of an upgrade, thanks to new aircraft that the carrier is putting on the routes. As of March 31st, American is exclusively flying widebody Boeing 777s, with larger premium cabins, to international long-haul destinations from JFK. That means more potential seats for miles and systemwide upgrades.

The last non-777 departure to Europe or South America out of JFK operated by American Airlines was on March 30th to Madrid, on a Boeing 767-300. American’s move to lean solely on the 777 out of JFK is intended to both increase capacity and the quality of service out of the airport. Until recently, the carrier used a combination of Boeing 757s, 767s and 777s to fly Europe and South America routes out of New York City, which led to inconsistencies among the international products offered across all flights. Many of American’s international 757 and 767s, for example, were older aircraft with aging interiors and cabin designs. The 757 is also a single-aisle aircraft, which some premium international travelers find less than appealing.

Image by Katie Genter / The Points Guy
Business class on American Airlines’ Boeing 757 (Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)

By switching long-haul operations at JFK to a full 777 fleet, American can now tighten up the experience for premium passengers, though it still won’t be wrinkle-free across the board. Right now, American operates three types of 777s out of JFK: the 777-200ER with business and economy cabins; a version with business, economy and premium economy cabins; and the 777-300ER, which has first, business, premium economy and economy cabins.

Business-class cabins among the three 777 variants are also completely different. On the standard -200ER there are 45 reverse-herringbone seats in business class; the other, arguably much better, version has 37 seats all in a forward-facing B/E Aerospace design. Perhaps the best variant of the lot, however, is the 777-300ER which has 52 seats in business class and additional 8 in first. American codes the 777-200s as simply “777-Boeing 777” in its booking system while the 777-300 is labeled as a “77W.”

Business class on the American 777-200ER with B/E Aerospace seats (Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)

Irrespective of the configuration, frequent flyers will still be better positioned for upgrades compared to the international 767-300s and 757-200s that used to fly out of Kennedy. American’s 767-300, which has now been shifted to fly on international routes mainly out of Philadelphia, only has 26 business class seats while its internationally-configured 757 has 16.

The 757s and 767s also have no inflight entetainment screens installed. Business-class passenger get IFE tablets after takeoff, which are collected usually an hour before landing. They are smaller than IFE screens, and offer much less content. The 777, instead, has built-in IFE screens in all cabins and a more extensive selection of content.

All told, American is expanding its volume of long haul international business class seats out of JFK by about 20 percent as a result of the airport-wide upgauge to the 777. According to Nichelle Tait, a spokesperson for the carrier, “From Q1 to Q3 this year, we’re increasing from more than 34,000 Business Class seats to more than 41,000 Business Class seats out of JFK” to Barcelona, Paris, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, London, Madrid, Rome and Milan — the nine long-haul destinations served by AA from there. Across all AA routes out of JFK, which includes domestic and short-haul international flights, business-class seats will increase from more than 123,000 during the first quarter to more than 130,000 flights during the third, she said.

Where those 7,000 extra seats end up landing between revenue passengers and upgrade-hungry frequent flyers boils down to how much demand there is for those looking to pay for premium service out of JFK. If and when paying passengers don’t fill up those revenue buckets, those premium seats will be wide open for upgrades.

Featured image of an American Airlines Boeing 777-200ER taking off from JFK by Alberto Riva/TPG

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