American’s Plans To End A321T Premium Transcon Flights

American’s Plans To End A321T Premium Transcon Flights

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We know that American has plans to reconfigure its subfleet of “premium” Airbus A321T aircraft, which operate select transcontinental routes. I wanted to cover what we know about how this is going to happen, including new information that the first aircraft is expected to be reconfigured in the next month.

The basics of American’s A321T fleet

American operates a special subfleet of Airbus A321s (known as A321Ts), which serve premium transcontinental routes, including from New York to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Orange County.

These planes are unique, and among the most comfortable ways to fly within the United States. They feature just 102 seats, and include four seating options:

  • There are 10 first class fully flat reverse herringbone seats with direct aisle access, in a 1-1 configuration
  • There are 20 business class fully flat seats, in a 2-2 configuration
  • There are 72 economy seats, with 36 of those seats being Main Cabin Extra, featuring extra legroom; all economy seats have personal televisions, unlike the rest of American’s domestic fleet
American’s A321T first class seats
American’s A321T business class seats

American will replace A321Ts with A321XLRs

In 2022, American revealed plans to eliminate its subfleet of Airbus A321T aircraft. Here’s what that plan currently looks like:

  • A321Ts will be configured in the standard A321 layout, featuring 190 seats, and will be taken off premium transcon routes; these planes are an average of just over 10 years old, so have quite a bit of life left in them
  • American has 50 Airbus A321XLRs on order, which will be delivered starting in 2025 (barring any additional delays, which are of course possible); these planes will eventually be flown on premium transcontinental routes, in addition to planned transatlantic service, and will replace A321Ts
  • American’s A321XLRs will be in a premium configuration, and will feature an all-new business class with direct aisle access and doors, plus a premium economy cabin
American’s A321XLR business class cabin
American’s A321XLR premium economy cabin

I find American’s logic with this somewhat puzzling. On the one hand, A321XLRs are kind of “wasted” on transcon routes, which they have a lot more range than standard A321s (which can operate these routes without issue). Furthermore, by first replacing existing A321Ts with A321XLRs, it’s going to be years until American has enough A321XLRs to expand across the Atlantic.

On the other hand, American is focused on fleet simplicity, and there is something to be said for having fewer subfleets. Planes could then be operated on both premium transcontinental and transatlantic flights. Furthermore, American’s premium transcon business class isn’t really competitive anymore, with Delta and United mostly offering direct aisle access business class on these routes.

There’s an interesting update now, as the always knowledgable @xJonNYC shares that American’s first A321T is expected to be converted to a standard domestic configuration within the next month. However, this is a one-time thing, and is a prototype to get paperwork approved for this work to be performed in the future. The next jet after that will only be reconfigured once the A321XLRs start to be delivered.

When will American eliminate “premium” first class?

We know that American is planning on eliminating its “premium” first class, which is currently available on Airbus A321T and Boeing 777-300ER aircraft:

  • American’s Boeing 777-300ERs have eight first class seats
  • American’s Airbus A321Ts have 10 first class seats
American’s 777-300ER first class cabin

Officially, American has stated that the plan is to eliminate “premium” first class as of late 2024. When that plan was made, the intent at the time was that this would coincide with the timeline for A321XLRs being delivered, as well as 777-300ERs being reconfigured.

I can’t help but wonder if maybe that timeline has been pushed back a bit, and we might now be looking at 2025. After all:

  • A321XLR deliveries have been pushed back from 2024 to 2025, and there’s always the possibility of additional delays, given how certification for new aircraft has been drawn out lately
  • American has had delivery delays with its new “premium” 787-9s, which is where the new business class is supposed to launch

So we won’t see the first A321XLR before 2025 at the earliest, though it’s anyone’s guess when American chooses to stop selling its “premium” first class product. After all, during a transitionary period, the airline could just start selling first class seats as premium business class seats, so that there’s no need to differentiate the soft product.

With American eliminating first class, there are also questions about what that means for the future of Flagship First Dining facilities. My hope is that American finds a way to keep these and monetize them (like with Flagship Business Plus fares), rather than eliminating them altogether, as they’re pretty special.

What happens to Flagship First Dining in the future?

Bottom line

American plans to discontinue its “premium” first class in the next year or so. As part of this, the carrier’s subfleet of Airbus A321Ts will be reconfigured into a standard domestic layout, while newly delivered Airbus A321XLRs will be used to operate premium transcontinental routes.

The new A321XLRs will still feature three cabins, though they’ll have business class and premium economy rather than the current first class and business class (in addition to economy). American is already reconfiguring its first A321T in a standard domestic configuration in the near future, though this is just a prototype, with the other jets being reconfigured as A321XLRs are delivered.

What do you make of American’s plans for premium transcontinental routes?

Conversations (39)
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  1. E Lands Guest

    Crossing the North Atlantic in the middle of the winter at 360 and .78. mach. Nope!

  2. Mick Guest

    Flagship dining from that picture looks pretty average in my opinion. Seems like an overrated benefit.

  3. Tyler Guest

    I work for AA, and we received notice yesterday that they're accepting transfers for Japanese speaking flight attendants to our NYC base effective April this year, but there's still no official announcement from the company or DOT on the HND route allocation. Any chance you can use your sources to dig into that since AA doesn't usually allow base transfers unless there's a near-immediate staffing need?

  4. TM Guest

    This makes perfect sense to me. The new A321XLR are very versatile planes. Want to compete with JetBlue and Delta on transcons with lie flat, such as SEA-JFK? They now have their plane, and it will beat AS on this route. Low density transatlantic routs like PHL to DUB? The A321XLR. LAX to Hawaii with lie flat? The A321XLR. JFK to LAX/SFO? The A321XLR is perfectly able to compete with Delta, United and Jet Blue.

    1. DWT Guest

      AA hasn’t been able to make JFK-SEA work in the past, and I don’t expect them to reenter the market with AS already flying it.

  5. frank Guest

    American has become a s show. There is no strategy, no fleet management or strategy, the hard and soft products are all over the place, the Aadvantage program is messy. Horrible

  6. Nate nate Guest

    I'll be glad to see domestic three cabin planes go away. No free upgrades to First for elites, so I prefer a business heavy layout.

    1. LK Guest

      Cross country currently its 20 business seats and 10 first class seats. The new configuration is 20 business seats. This does not add premium seats

  7. Super Diamond

    Confused about this portion "Furthermore, American’s premium transcon business class isn’t really competitive anymore, with Delta and United mostly offering direct aisle access business class on these routes."

    This is sort've true for Delta (depends how you define competitive - Delta does have more direct aisle access seats, but their SkyPesos offer less value). United mostly flies LAX-EWR with 757's with 2-2 business class. Am I missing something? I genuinely want to know cuz I've...

    Confused about this portion "Furthermore, American’s premium transcon business class isn’t really competitive anymore, with Delta and United mostly offering direct aisle access business class on these routes."

    This is sort've true for Delta (depends how you define competitive - Delta does have more direct aisle access seats, but their SkyPesos offer less value). United mostly flies LAX-EWR with 757's with 2-2 business class. Am I missing something? I genuinely want to know cuz I've been looking for the best (and cheapest) way to get to the east coast from LA and settled on hunting for a Saver AA F award.

    1. Nate nate Guest

      United flies LAX-EWR with a mix of 787s, 777s and 757s. The 787s and 777s are in 1-2-1 so have direct aisle access.

    2. Llamamanc Guest

      I mean I think the AA 321T buinsess hard product is superior to Delta's scrunched 767-300 direct aisle buisness seats when it comes to trying to get a good night's rest.

      UAs and Deltas 757 biz product is practically the same seat as AA offers on the A321T.

      Not to mention UAs high density domestic 777 product which is far from competitive anymore.
      Yes if you get a UA 787/777 Polaris or the rare...

      I mean I think the AA 321T buinsess hard product is superior to Delta's scrunched 767-300 direct aisle buisness seats when it comes to trying to get a good night's rest.

      UAs and Deltas 757 biz product is practically the same seat as AA offers on the A321T.

      Not to mention UAs high density domestic 777 product which is far from competitive anymore.
      Yes if you get a UA 787/777 Polaris or the rare Delta 330/350 suites product its better but no one is offering a consistent modern all aisle access product on premium transcons.

    3. Super Diamond

      @Llamamanc Totally agree! That's why I was confused on Ben's statement. It seems to me that AA actually offers the best transcon product mix, completely opposite from Ben's statement. (Would be interested to know if there's something else I'm not considering as the driver behind this).

    4. Super Diamond

      @Nate Nate Yes I know, but for the dates I looked:
      5 out of 9 flights are 757's with 2-2
      2 out of 9 are 777's with the woefully uncompetitive 2-4-2 business class
      That leaves only 2 out of 9 flights with 1-2-1
      Hence, AA has more flights with direct aisle access.

  8. StevieMIA Guest

    I don't get the obsession of Americans and avgeeks to see those XLRs deployed on transatlantic routes or the TATL market, AA is not PLAY or Icelandair, I understand it'd be good to send them over to Ireland or even the UK but pretending that AA deploys these new birds all over Europe is a reach, why send them to Europe when they could fly them profitably within the US and deep South America, even...

    I don't get the obsession of Americans and avgeeks to see those XLRs deployed on transatlantic routes or the TATL market, AA is not PLAY or Icelandair, I understand it'd be good to send them over to Ireland or even the UK but pretending that AA deploys these new birds all over Europe is a reach, why send them to Europe when they could fly them profitably within the US and deep South America, even Hawaii, I don't see the appeal of XLRs going to Europe when they could be going to Brazil, and discontinued destinations like Bolivia, Paraguay or Uruguay, where AA was really appreciated and needed, eastern Brazil would be a thrill if operated on XLRs, and what about city pairs in the Americas where widebodies are too much capacity? The XLRs would be the perfect aircraft to fly where widebody service has failed.

    I don't really think we'll see XLRs going to secondary cities all over Europe, AA is not JetBlue, and AA has tried secondary cities and seasonal services unsuccessfully many times, the times of 757 service to Europe are long gone, the fact that Air Transat or La Compagnie send A321s to the Americas doesn't mean american carriers will make coin doing the same, if the market was that big and profitable we'd be seeing Delta or others ordering XLRs, we still need to wait and see how efficient can the XLRs be, I don't doubt Airbus will exceed expectations and it will end up being an exceptional plane but I don't think the transatlantic or transpacific narrowbody market is really that big. XLRs will be wonderful on those NYC-LAX services I'm sure but CLT-MXP or the likes not so much, the market won't be there, recovery might be a fact but I don't see much demand to contemplate XLR service from American hubs to secondary or tourist destinations all over Europe.

    As for First class on US carriers, it's better to wake up and realize we'll never see it again, I'm still surprised some european carriers manage to sustain a first class cabin these days.

    Gotta give it to AA, the A321T was a great concept and very refreshing for the transcon market, those XLRs cabins look amazing compared to Delta and United, very snazzy and refined.

    1. DCAWABN Guest

      I absolutely agree, and less from an fleet optimization perspective and more a passenger perspective. Even as someone who flies J 90% of the time when it's TPAC/TATL, I still prefer a widebody. I'm sure it's mental/emotional in that I feel "safer" on a bigger plane or that a single aisle is more claustrophobic or some combination of a multitude of factors. Either way, I'd actively avoid a single aisle plane on across an ocean...

      I absolutely agree, and less from an fleet optimization perspective and more a passenger perspective. Even as someone who flies J 90% of the time when it's TPAC/TATL, I still prefer a widebody. I'm sure it's mental/emotional in that I feel "safer" on a bigger plane or that a single aisle is more claustrophobic or some combination of a multitude of factors. Either way, I'd actively avoid a single aisle plane on across an ocean merely out of principal because I simply don't like it. I know I'm not alone in this but there may not be enough people of similar thinking to force airlines to rethink this strategy.

    2. Dominic Kivni Guest

      There's only a few European carriers that sustain F - BA, AF, LH, and LX. If we go through each one, BA is based in the most premium airport in the world, PLUS (and this is often lost on bloggers who constantly complain about how not opulent it is) the price point / service level is a relatively lower step up from J, making it more accessible to more passengers, which makes it work. AF...

      There's only a few European carriers that sustain F - BA, AF, LH, and LX. If we go through each one, BA is based in the most premium airport in the world, PLUS (and this is often lost on bloggers who constantly complain about how not opulent it is) the price point / service level is a relatively lower step up from J, making it more accessible to more passengers, which makes it work. AF has F on just 19 777-300ERs and keeps the F cabin to just 4 seats, so they offer it just on the highest yield routes and only need a handful of passengers who can pay the price. LH has the premium Munich hub plus German companies will still buy F for top execs. LH has the very premium ZRH and GVA hubs with a very wealthy passenger base. Those are the only carriers that can make F work, and for very specific reasons. F is mostly dead globally, despite the constant moaning of the aviation blogosphere

    3. Senator Guest

      SteveMIA, I think if you look back at the heyday of Continental, there is an argument for the TATL market from a large market like NYC with direct service to smaller European cities. Continental was successful with the B757-200ERs and flew to many cities that couldn't profitable be served with B767s or B777s.

      For a long time, cities like Bristol, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh in the UK was served year around. Same with Hamburg, Dusseldorf and...

      SteveMIA, I think if you look back at the heyday of Continental, there is an argument for the TATL market from a large market like NYC with direct service to smaller European cities. Continental was successful with the B757-200ERs and flew to many cities that couldn't profitable be served with B767s or B777s.

      For a long time, cities like Bristol, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh in the UK was served year around. Same with Hamburg, Dusseldorf and surprisingly Berlin (which should sustain a year-around bigger aircraft one would think) was served as well.

      Oslo, Copenhagen, and Stockholm was also served year-around despite the direct competition (pre-United merger announcement and move to Star) with SAS.

      My take on American is simple. I am still waiting for them to decide who/what they are. United and Delta seem to be strategically clearer. American seem a bit all over the place. It's like watching my hometown Scandinavian Airlines (SAS).

    4. SteveMIA Guest

      Which is why I don't see a case for year round XLR european service by American, many have pointed out that seasonal services might become year round with the XLR but I doubt there's a true demand to make it profitably, maybe United would pull it off, and we'll see about that. I don't see any of the listed UK cities working, or recovering that kind of service, the economic downturn in the UK has...

      Which is why I don't see a case for year round XLR european service by American, many have pointed out that seasonal services might become year round with the XLR but I doubt there's a true demand to make it profitably, maybe United would pull it off, and we'll see about that. I don't see any of the listed UK cities working, or recovering that kind of service, the economic downturn in the UK has diminished that chance, what about Germany? I don't see Scandinavia or Czechia working out for AA year round, competition will be tough.

      Iberia is allegedly planning to deploy XLRs on US east coast, increasing frecuencies on some routes, which is realistic given that Aer Lingus, TAP and SAS are doing it already.

      LATAM Brasil will be following on TAP's footsteps by deploying XLRs on Eastern Brazil to Portugal routes.

      AA 's XLRs being exclusively deployed on US-Europe services doesn't seem very realistic considering all the competition, let's not forget United, Air Canada and Aer Lingus have XLR orders. I think XLRs will excel on medium to long haul routes within the Americas, TATL competition is tough and American never seems to make many routes work in the long run.

      I wish we could have Europe service on many cities that happen to be American hubs but the reality is these secondary destinations might not have enough demand, American should look at other posibilities, only time will tell.

  9. D3kingg Guest

    The fact that you’re thinking and guessing already answers the question that eliminating Flagship First in the 777-300 ER will be delayed. Lounges are a separate issue. Why would there be any urgency to retrofit the 777-300ER ? It already has a high payload with cargo . There’s already 52 business class seats , premium economy , etc. if they only sell 1 or 2 seats in First Class no big deal. The first class...

    The fact that you’re thinking and guessing already answers the question that eliminating Flagship First in the 777-300 ER will be delayed. Lounges are a separate issue. Why would there be any urgency to retrofit the 777-300ER ? It already has a high payload with cargo . There’s already 52 business class seats , premium economy , etc. if they only sell 1 or 2 seats in First Class no big deal. The first class cabin can go out empty with seats filled by SWUs and non revs.

    The 789 delivery delay should be the biggest concern. Then the A321T reconfigurations coinciding with delivery of A321 XLRs. Lastly eliminating First Class on the 777-300s.

  10. Donato Guest

    As others have noted, Aircraft follow a scripted rotation of 3-7 days. The same equipment is often not slated to do the same trip or even a round trip for that matter.

    I see the possibility of being able to substitute equipment between TATL and transcon when IRROPS happen.

  11. Dominic Kivni Guest

    The comment that the A321XLR's range is "wasted" makes no sense. Plenty of wide-body long-haul aircraft with very long range fly shorter routes too. UA flies the 787 on everything from SFO-EWR to SFO-SIN. It's a combination of fleet simplicity and getting in an extra rotation (and thus extra revenue) for a plane they already have.

  12. Lee Guest

    As for TATL, the XLR's initial use is supposed to be off-season. For example, in February, JFK to X simply doesn't have the passenger load to justify a wide-body. Destinations that are currently seasonal become year-round.

    1. StevieMIA Guest

      We'll see about that, the aircraft might be capable but we can't be sure the market will be there for AA to succeed.

  13. Lee Guest

    I fly transcon FF a few times a year and the shift to the XLR will result in little change. The XLR will have a Super Diamond seat, which is a current generation of what is on the T-Bird. FF Dining is NOT going away. The "regular" Business ticket comes without FF Dining. The "Premier" Business ticket comes with FF Dining. Initially, FF Dining was only going to be available to revenue tickets. Now, AA will sell FF Dining for points. BTW, don't forget Boston.

  14. DWT Guest

    I wonder what the plan is for BOS-LAX. AA used to fly that route with regular domestic F (757s and later 738s), and now the NEA with B6 (which called for flat beds in J on that route) is over. J doesn’t seem to sell that well on that route since anecdotally upgrades seem relatively easy to clear. I’m wondering if, once the A321T fleet is done, AA will just put a regular domestic plane on this route.

    1. Points and Miles Doc Guest

      That’s my concern too. AA frequency between LAX-BOS dropped significantly with the B6 partnership but now really hasn’t returned. We only had the A321T for a few years and I don’t want to go back to the regular ones! BOS-LAX is longer than some of the BOS-Europe flights :(

  15. Anthony Diamond

    1) I agree with Santos that these flights were, at one time, felt special and were a treat. I also saw some celebrities on JFK to LAX runs. When the planes were new, service was great, and lounge access was new, it really seemed like American had by far the best product on these routes. Over time, it has become less special as others have caught up.

    2) That said, the premium economy cabin on...

    1) I agree with Santos that these flights were, at one time, felt special and were a treat. I also saw some celebrities on JFK to LAX runs. When the planes were new, service was great, and lounge access was new, it really seemed like American had by far the best product on these routes. Over time, it has become less special as others have caught up.

    2) That said, the premium economy cabin on these planes look pretty nice. I would be happy to be on one of those on a daytime transcon flight. Drinks and catering will be the key there.

    1. Lee Guest

      When COVID hit, AA management cut cabin crew staffing given reduced in-flight services. Exiting COVID, AA management did not restore staffing levels. Hence, the reduction in quality that you've seen.

  16. George Romey Guest

    The days of upgrades on those routes are coming to an end.

  17. Mark Guest

    It only takes one airplane to fly a daily transatlantic route from the east coast, and with AA’s very metered approach to expansion across the Atlantic this could be viewed as a way to utilize those 321XLR’s until they have a place to fly them.

    There’s also the rationale that they aren’t going to have enough JFK slots to fly 10 of these to Europe right away and so they’ll need another place to fly...

    It only takes one airplane to fly a daily transatlantic route from the east coast, and with AA’s very metered approach to expansion across the Atlantic this could be viewed as a way to utilize those 321XLR’s until they have a place to fly them.

    There’s also the rationale that they aren’t going to have enough JFK slots to fly 10 of these to Europe right away and so they’ll need another place to fly them out of JFK (Transcon) so they have enough planes to rotate around the hub and for maintenance.

  18. Santos Guest

    End of an era for me. The good old days: 32B to LAX, Silvercar rental, room at the Sofitel Beverly Hills. Back when I worked for a company with a very generous travel/expense policy. Highlights included sharing F with a very famous Compton rapper and having an FA rudely chide me on an eastbound red-eye for not wanting any food/beverage but only to sleep. Oh, American.

  19. Sharon Guest

    I agree, it is illogical to use a new long-range plan on this route, yet again, there is some rationale that Americans will base several of the a321-XLR out of NYC and they would likely sit on the ground for some time in between flights.

    In retrospect, Americans should have converted the ex Alaska a321-neo to use on transcon routes which would result in a better, and then convert the 321T flight to the...

    I agree, it is illogical to use a new long-range plan on this route, yet again, there is some rationale that Americans will base several of the a321-XLR out of NYC and they would likely sit on the ground for some time in between flights.

    In retrospect, Americans should have converted the ex Alaska a321-neo to use on transcon routes which would result in a better, and then convert the 321T flight to the standard configuration. Then American could supplement its transcon fleet with the a321XLR. This would be complicated based on ordering the business class seats and supply chains, and I can't blame American for speedily converting the ex Alaska 321Neos to be deployable to the standard config.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Sharon -- In theory, I could see the aircraft utilization argument, but I don't think that would actually work. There's no way you could squeeze a JFK to LAX or SFO turn between transatlantic flights, so that a plane operates four flights in a day. American's A321Ts are blocked around 13 hours for JFK-LAX-JFK turns, so those other 11 hours in the day wouldn't be enough to fly to Europe and back.

    2. Brandon Guest

      What do you think is gonna happen with SNA-JFK? You think they will put the 321-lxr on this route also? Or cancel it all together. Sna has a shorter runway 5700

    3. Tim Dunn Diamond

      For transcons, some airplanes can do 1.5 round trips per day ending on one coast with others doing the ‘opposite’ 1.5. Realistically some airplanes only do a transcon round trip due to maintenance, deep cleaning, and spare coverage

    4. Tim Dunn Diamond

      It is also possible to do a transatlantic one-way plus a transcontinental one-way or even a short transatlantic round-trip plus a one-way transcontinental or vice versa borrowing time from another aircraft rotation. All of this requires a fleet of multiple aircraft operating in a pattern.

    5. Lee Guest

      Bingo. One can't think in terms of a single day. Too much dead time. Network planners want to keep all aircraft in the air as much as possible. Tim, as you suggest, there would be some pattern. Here's an example:

      JFK-LAX 0600ET - 0930PT
      LAX-JFK 1100PT - 2000ET
      JFK-FRA 2200ET - 1100CET(+1)
      FRA-JFK 1300CET(+1) - 1500ET(+1)
      JFK-LAX 1730ET(+1) - 2055PT(+1)
      LAX-JFK 2250PT(+1) - 0715AM(+2)

    6. 305 Guest

      I’m assuming (and hoping) some of the “fill in the gap” rotations will be JFK/PHL to MIA like they do with some wide bodies now. Few years down the road could see an XLR base at MIA for South American routes

    7. RC Guest

      AA has 16 A321Ts, so the 10 ex-AS birds can't totally cover for the A321T routes as they are scheduled today.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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E Lands Guest

Crossing the North Atlantic in the middle of the winter at 360 and .78. mach. Nope!

1
DWT Guest

AA hasn’t been able to make JFK-SEA work in the past, and I don’t expect them to reenter the market with AS already flying it.

1
frank Guest

American has become a s show. There is no strategy, no fleet management or strategy, the hard and soft products are all over the place, the Aadvantage program is messy. Horrible

1
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