American Airlines Will Have Lie-Flat Business Class Seats on All of Its 757s by the End of 2019
Over the past two years, American Airlines' management has been obsessed with fleet simplification -- from retiring older aircraft types (like the MD-80) to ditching smaller aircraft types (Embraer E190s) and "harmonizing" aircraft seat arrangements on all of its other aircraft.
Indeed, simplification was a significant reason behind American Airlines cancelling its Airbus A350 order and doubling-down on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in its place. AA's goal is to reduce its aircraft types and unique seating arrangements from 52 different sub-fleets to just 30 sub-fleets by 2022.
This should help the airline when it comes to aircraft scheduling, strategic placement of spare aircraft and easier swap-ins when there are mechanical or crew issues. From "seat harmonization" alone, airline management has told investors that it expects to achieve at least $500 million per year in benefits to the bottom line.
While these changes may eventually lead to smoother operations for passengers, this initiative has been bad news for the passenger experience so far:
- 12 more seats are being crammed into hundreds of Boeing 737-800s to match the 172-seat arrangement of AA's 737 MAX through a project called "Project Oasis"
- 3 to 9 more seats are being added into existing A321s to "harmonize" both the legacy American Airlines (181 seats) and legacy US Airways (187 seats) at 190 seats to match AA's new A321neo
- 8 business class seats were ripped out of some Boeing 777-200 to standardize the seating arrangement at 37 business class seats
- 8 business class seats are being removed from all Boeing 787-8 aircraft
However, there's one upcoming fleet simplification that is moderately flyer-friendly. An American Airlines spokesperson confirmed to TPG this week: AA is retiring all 10 of its Boeing 757 aircraft that don't have lie-flat business class seats.
Currently American Airlines has 34 Boeing 757-200 aircraft split into two sub-fleets. 24 Boeing 757s were retrofitted with lie-flat business class seats to operate on transatlantic and other intercontinental routes. The remaining 10 aircraft weren't retrofit, leaving these with standard "domestic first class" recliner seats up front. Since then, these 10 have been relegated to operating flights to Hawaii.
Now, AA has decided to retire all 10 of these Hawaii sub-fleet in 2019. This is a slight acceleration from the previous plan to retire these aircraft in 2020. The remaining 24 Boeing 757s with lie-flat business class seats are expected to remain in the fleet through at least 2021.
I've had a hunch that something was brewing with these aircraft. Over the past year, American Airlines has undergone a Wi-Fi revolution, installing high-speed satellite-based Wi-Fi on more than 700 of its mainline fleet so far. However, each time I've checked with AA for an update, the Gogo 2Ku retrofits on the 757s have been stalled at just five of the 10 in the Hawaii fleet.
With the acceleration of these aircraft retirements, it makes sense that AA wouldn't invest in a costly Wi-Fi retrofit just before offloading them.
What's going to replace these 757s on flights to Hawaii? An internal aircraft document was leaked online in December noting that American Airlines' new Airbus A321neo "will fly PHX to Hawaii as it replaces retiring Boeing 757s, and also from LAX to Hawaii." So, passengers flying to Hawaii on these routes still won't have lie-flat seats. However, passengers will know for sure that they're getting a lie-flat seat when booking a 757 and a recliner seat when booking an A321.
Check out TPG's reviews of both economy and business class on the international Boeing 757s: