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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American’s plans for its fleet, and other aviation stories of the past week

An American Airlines 777-300ER parked at LAX. Photo credit: American.

An American Airlines 777-300ER parked at LAX. American is taking delivery of six 777-300s this year, which will bring the total number in the fleet to 16. Photo credit: American.

What’s news in the world of aviation? These are the stories I have enjoyed most in the past week or so:

The size of American’s combined fleet will be just about the same this December as it was in December 2013, the Dallas Morning News reports. But the mix of the mainline airplanes will change a lot. “AAG plans to take delivery of 83 new airplanes in 2014 for American and US Airways, led by 42 of the Airbus A321s,” Terry Maxon writes. “That’s one new airplane every 4½ days, approximately. But AAG also plans to park 80 older airplanes, including 26 McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and 22 Boeing 757s.” The size of the total fleet will be about 970 airplanes.

Did you know that on 72 days in 2013 Delta did not cancel a single flight? And already this year, Delta told the Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney, it is already ahead of that pace. What’s Delta’s secret? McCartney breaks it down. One of the most interesting things? Delta moves flight crews around the system to ensure a flight does not necessarily need to be canceled just because the original pilots have gone illegal.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports on an interesting study on airline price volatility. Among U.S. airports, Bloomberg reported that San Francisco had the most volatility, while New York LaGuardia had the least. Among carriers, Alaska Airlines and US Airways played with their prices the least, according to the study.

In her regular column on Flyertalk, flight attendant Sarah Steegar says your flight crews like to mix things up with pranks. Apparently pilots will sometimes tell new hires that they have “forgotten the keys” to the airplane.  Hah!

Is Spirit interested in moving some flights from Fort Lauderdale to Miami? The Miami Herald says it’s a possibility. But that seems odd considering Miami has unusually high costs for airlines. Any ideas on why Spirit is floating this option?

And finally, one of my stories. I wrote a trend piece asking whether airlines have instituted something like an on-board caste system as they have added perks in premium cabins and taken them away from economy class travelers. “I just find it distasteful.” said Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance and a consistent airline critic. Others, of course, see no problem with airlines rewarding their most lucrative customers.

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On its 777-200s, American Airlines will add one economy seat in each row

On Boeing 777-200s, American Airlines economy class may feel a bit more cramped/

On Boeing 777-200s, American Airlines economy class may feel a bit more cramped.

Earlier today, I posted pictures of American’s new 777-200 business class cabin. Looks great, right?

So you ask, what about economy?

The news is less good there. Yes, you’ll get updated in-flight entertainment and wifi, and you’ll also have in-seat power. But American is adding a seat to every row of its regular economy section, and things may feel more cramped.

Today, on the 777-200s, American has nine seats across in a 2-5-2 configuration. The new version? It’ll be 3-4-3, for a total of ten seats.

If you want a roomier coach seat, you’ll have to spring for Main Cabin Extra, American’s premium economy seat. Those 45 seats will have “up to” six extra inches of legroom. And each row will have only nine seats across.

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Jetblue’s Jenny Dervin answers your questions

A model seen in the Jetblue New York headquarters. Photo: Your blogger.

A model seen in the Jetblue New York headquarters. Photo: Your blogger.

Last week, I visited Jetblue headquarters in Long Island City. N.Y.  Before I left, I asked if any of you had any questions for airline officials. I got a couple of good ones from readers — and here’s what I learned.

The first question came from Andy. He wanted to know if Jetblue plans to improve its facility at LAX, where it shares Terminal 3 with Virgin America and US Airways. 

The short answer is yes, Jetblue officials told me. As many of you know, Jetblue this spring will introduce a new premium section with flatbed seats on flights from LAX to New York. And as part of that service, it would be nice to have an upgraded airport facility. Airline officials told me the fix might come with a move to Terminal 2, but they said it is too premature to know for sure. I will keep you posted on what happens.

The second question came from Chase. He asked: “I’d ask what caused the break in relationship between B6 and AA from B6′s perspective.”

Here’s what Jetblue Vice President of Corporate Communications told me. “‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ kind of applies here,” she said. “Although American did the breaking up, it’s true that the agreement was not performing as expected for either of us. We don’t expect a significant impact to revenue or bookings as a result of the breakup, and very little impact to customers.”

“So I’d say our romance with AA was wonderful while it lasted, but we happily go our separate ways wishing the other well.”

Dervin also said the airline will continue seeking partnerships with major international airlines who need Jetblue to feed U.S. customers into hubs in Boston and New York Kennedy.

“Emirates started their BOS service and needed feed to DTW, which allowed us to fast track opening DTW,” she said. “DTW opened the day Emirates started flying to BOS.”

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Paying for carry-on bags? It could happen on major airlines.

Might major airlines like United someday charge for carry-on bags? It could happen, an executive at another airline says. Photo: M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

Might major airlines like United someday charge for carry-on bags? It could happen, an executive at another airline says. Photo: M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

Could you someday have to pay for carry-on bags on United, American and Delta?

Andrew Levy, president and chief operating officer at Allegiant Air, says he thinks you will. His airline, known for selling deeply discounted coach tickets mainly to and from leisure destinations, has been charging for all but the smallest carry-on bags since 2012. So far, in the United States, only Allegiant and competitor Spirit are charging for cabin bags.

“I would be shocked if in three years we were still the only ones charging for carry-on bags,” Levy told me in an interview last month. “I think if you are platinum medallion on Delta you ‘ll never pay for those. But if I’m ‘Joe Blow’ who only flies twice a year, I’ll always pay.”

You probably don’t believe him. But keep in mind, Allegiant was among the first carriers to charge for checked baggage, making customers pay for bags well before American Airlines shocked passengers in 2008 with the new fee. A fee that was almost immediately copied by every major airline except Southwest.

That could happen again with carry-on bags.

“I personally believe it is inevitable that there will be a charge for carry on bags,” Levy said. “I think it will be a widely adopted fee. But we’ll see. I could be wrong. But the industry has been moving pretty consistently toward where we are and where Spirit is. I don’t think it will stop.”

Charging for carry-on bags is beneficial for airlines in a couple of ways, Levy said. The first one is obvious. The airlines make money off of something that used to be free. The second is a slightly harder to quantify. But if charging for bags means passengers bring less stuff, airplanes will presumably fly at lighter weights.  And over time, that lighter planes can bring some fuel savings.

For many passengers, the key is that an airline’s best customers will actually be rewarded by this move. First, they’ll end up getting a perk, since they almost certainly won’t have to pay to use the overhead bin. Second, the bins will have more space than they do now, since passengers will no longer have an incentive to avoid checking luggage.

What do you think? Do you agree with Levy’s prediction? And do you think airlines should charge for carry-on bags?

And check back next week for more of Levy’s thoughts on ancillary revenue products.

 

 

 

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