American Airlines Revamps Its Business Class

After the switch, AA will still have 30 seats in business in a 2-2-2 configuration.

Business-class travelers on American Airlines can look forward to newly designed seats that recline to "almost flat" in a completely redesigned cabin. During a preview tour in AA's Fort Worth headquartersearlier this summer, Business Traveler got an advance look at a mock-up of the revamped section, which is now in rollout phase.

The new AA business-class seat will recline to an "almost flat" 171-degree angle. "That way it can fit in the existing footprint of thecabin," explained Codi Baker, senior program manager for inflight products at AA. "We'd lose a whole row of seats if we went completely flat."

After the switch, AA will still have 30 seats in business in a 2-2-2 configuration. "Besides," she reported, "in our testing, people prefered lounge positions to flat."

There are two new features: a two-part tray, and a seat that slides forward. "We've designed a working environment as well as a sleeping environment."

The food tray table that lifts out of the armrest can be locked toanother tray table that folds down from the seat in front; together they form one large workspace. A touch-button LED display above the tray functions as a task light for this area.

"The seat can track forward as much as 10 inches," Baker said, allowing the passenger to adjust their distance from the fold-down tableand the entertainment system.

Each business-class seat will have a new portable entertainment unit mounted in the seat in front. "It looks somewhat like a laptop, and it opens 180 degrees. There's a 10.6-inch monitor with a touch screen. It has a battery, so it can be unplugged from its power outlet for viewing flexibility." Baker added, estimating that when the unit isused on battery-only, it can run for four hours.

Both armrests can be lowered to give more elbow room. The seat cushion itself is 20 inches wide.

The new AA seat has no mechanical lumbar adjustments. "Our customers complained about that feature more than any other aspect of the old seats," Baker said. "We took it out and replaced it with cushioning."

A new cross aisle has been added in the front of the cabin, so those seated in the bulkhead row won't be disturbed by foot traffic.

The seats are designed so that components can be swapped out when repairs are needed, Baker reported. "We estimate an eight to 10 year lifespan for business-class seats."

In addition to new seats, the business-class cabin has been redesigned to give passengers more headroom. "It's still too low for most of us to stand up in front of the window seats," Baker reported, "but it will be possible to do so at the four remaining seats in each row." The highest point in the ceiling is, of course, over the aisle.

The first passengers to fly in the new seats were on a San Francisco-Dallas-Santiago route in early June, although AA also did about two and a half weeks of testing on flights from Chicago to Europe before that--with an extra flight attendant on board to monitor seat usagequestions and problems.

The upgrades are being done first on the B767-300 two-class planes, and then on the B777s, with completion slated for the end of 2007. Half of the planes should be done by this December, Baker noted.

The B767-200 three-class planes flying the JFK-LAX route will remain unchanged.

The new AA business-class seat was a long time in the planning. "We started on this in 2000," Baker said, "but, then there was the travel slowdown after Sept. 11, so the project took longer than usual. Wehad a lot of time to go 'window-shopping'."

Lufthansa has the same basic model of this seat, but AA customizedit. "[Lufthansa's], for example, does not track forward," she noted.

The new seats are made by Recaro Aircraft Seating, a subsidiary ofKaiper Recaro, based in Germany but manufactured in Fort Worth. Jean-Pierre Foulon, director of programs and engineering for Recaro, saidthe seats are capable of more than what is currently planned by AA.

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