American Airlines compares an airline seat to a hotel room. But are the two similar?

Is it just a seat? Or is it part of a luxury brand. Photo: American.

Is this American Airlines seat just a seat? Or is it part of a luxury brand. Photo: American.

Is a premium cabin airline seat a commodity? Or is it a luxury item similar to a five-star hotel or fancy car.

US Airways A330 business class seat.

US Airways A330 business class seat.

This is a question U.S. airlines have been confronting. On one side is US Airways. I’m told US Airways has a comfortable business class seat on its A330 airplanes. They’re flat, private and have plenty of room. But you never hear US Airways bragging about its seat. The airline doesn’t blog about its in-flight menus. And you don’t see the product advertised in high-end magazines or on the internet.

American is introducing walk-up bars to its 777 fleet.

American is introducing walk-up bars to its 777 fleet.

Contrast that with merger partner American Airlines, which makes luxury branding a priority. American is in the process of adding industry-leading seats to many of its airplanes, but it has actually just started the project. Many of its planes have an out-dated business class product. No matter. The carrier has been advertising its new seats — and its onboard bar — just about everywhere. And American is not just selling a seat. It is selling an experience.

It appears the new, combined American Airlines will being going with the American approach of luxury branding. But is this a good idea? Skift has an interesting story this week called “American Airlines Has Designs on Becoming Your Hotel in Sky,” detailing American’s approach.

American believes its airplanes can be a like a luxury hotel,  Steven Moo-Young, American’s director of onboard product planning and design, told Skift.

“We’re in the hospitality industry and these are our guests. We want to make them feel as though they’re at home,” Moo-Young said. “Our DNA is hospitality.”

Skift’s Marisa Garcia noted that American’s executives used hotel-like words to describe their product. The seats, for example, were not seats. They were “suites” that could turn into “beds.” Those seats — err, beds — even have  “do not disturb” buttons.

Garcia writes of American’s approach.

They’ve carefully studied the preferences of their guest, their life-style choices, their technology needs, their food preferences, even what they like best about their cars. Then they’ve blended all of it into a unique brand experience.

I’m intrigued by American’s approach. But I think it’s possible that American will over-promise and under deliver. I also think the airline might be overestimating what the customer wants. Are we sure the business class customer wants a hotel-like experience? Or does the premium customer simply want the US Airways experience — a comfortable seat that goes flat, in a clean quiet cabin. Maybe with some decent food thrown in. It’s just a plane ride, after all.

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