American's New Planes Are a Sign of Things to Come

American's new Airbus A319 planes illustrate a fundamental trend in domestic coach travel that is likely to apply to all big airlines: more tech, less comfort. American's A319s will begin service in September, and the airline plans to acquire 130 A321 and A319 planes. The major U.S. carrier's new aircraft will have the latest connectivity gimmicks in each seat, regardless of class:

  • Touch screens with HD capability—12 inches in first class, 8.9 inches in coach. Base coach will provide limited free content and lots of additional paid options, which higher classes will have more free stuff;
  • Individual universal power sockets;
  • Individual USB jacks;
  • And onboard Wi-Fi from GoGo (available for a fee in all classes).

On the other hand, the comfort levels will keep getting worse, for just about everybody:

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  • First class seems be fine, except that the plane has only eight seats, down from 16 seats in the MD80s that the A319s are replacing. That means fewer upgrade opportunities for elite frequent flyers and fewer award/or upgrade seats.
  • Main Cabin seats—meaning economy class—are down to a knee-crunching 30-inch seat pitch, putting American at a par with such notable comfort-challenged operators as TUIfly and Ryanair.
  • Main cabin extra seats are at 34-inch seat pitch, down from the airline's current standard of 35 to 37 inches. One oddity: American says that its main cabin extra passengers will have "up to six inches" more legroom, although the last time I looked, 34-30=4. Go figure.

American plans to start flying 319s on short- to medium-haul routes from Dallas-Ft. Worth September 16. It will add other routes as it receives additional deliveries from Airbus.

According to the airline, the new configuration is a model for all current new plane acquisitions, including A321s for most long-haul routes. A few 321s, however, will be configured in a special version for the competitive routes linking New York with Los Angeles and San Francisco, which will include lie-flat first class "suites" and a business class in addition to coach.

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