American Airlines provided a first look at its new Boeing 767-300 cabin retrofits on Friday.
The airline will install 28 lie-flat seats in the business cabin, designed by Thompson Aero Seating. The seats will be set up in a 1-2-1 staggered configuration, allowing each passenger direct aisle access.
Additional enhancements include updated drop-down monitors and audio systems, refreshed lavatories, and a color palette more in keeping with the scheme found on its newer widebodies. Each will have two universal AC power outlets and a USB port.
If the chosen seating arrangement looks familiar it’s because it is. The tried-and-true configuration is currently found on the Boeing 767 fleets of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Vienna-based Austrian Airlines, as well as the A330 fleet of Belgium’s Brussels Airlines.
The real surprise, however, is that American will not introduce embedded personal inflight entertainment (IFE) in either cabin on the reconfigured aircraft. Instead business passengers will receive a Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet device. The airline currently offers the device to first/business passengers on select routes served by 737-800, 767-200/300, and 757 type aircraft. Presumably economy passengers will watch whatever is on the overhead screens.
Henry Hartveldt, analyst with Hudson Crossing, finds the decision bizarre. “I’m very surprised by American’s decision. It means American will have a tangibly inferior long-haul IFE product compared to other airlines, including oneworld partners British Airways, Finnair, and LAN.”
He adds, “Even if American offers satellite Wi-Fi and streaming entertainment content on its 767-300s, a critical mass of travelers do not fly with laptops or tablet devices. The lack of in-seat, AVOD IFE means travelers, especially those in economy class, will not enjoy a contemporary IFE product.”
The decision makes even less sense on its face after AA recently wowed the US airline industry with its new and highly praised Airbus A321T and Boeing 777-300 premium cabins. Both aircraft feature built-in IFE and power from nose to tail. Even the company’s Boeing 737s are being delivered and retrofitted with the latest seat-back inflight entertainment. Hartveldt agrees the intentional inconsistency is odd: “Given how American has been investing in its customer experience elsewhere, including audio/video on demand IFE on its new 777-300s, A319s, and A321Ts, I’m genuinely surprised by the airline’s decision to not update what it offers on the 767-300 fleet.” American has not responded for a request for comment on the matter.
Mary Kirby, founder and editor of RunwayGirl Network, however points out that the lack of an embedded IFE and its associated install cost of $3M + cost per aircraft might not be worth the cost on airplanes who have a limited shelf life. American’s 767-300 replacements, the Boeing 787, are due to begin arriving late this year.
Meanwhile, further back, the economy cabin will receive refreshed cushions and covers, but not a new seat. Passengers will be able to take advantage of the new overhead screens and audio options.
The first retrofitted airplane will see action on New York JFK to Zurich on April 1st of this year. American tells Airchive that “up to half” of its fleet of 58 767-300s will receive the retrofit by the end of 2015. The other aircraft will be retired.
American will also be upgrading its Boeing 777-200 fleet later in 2014 removing First Class but adding a new enhanced Business Class cabin, Main Cabin Extra, and new Main Cabin. The new 767-300s are not the same premium cabin seats that will appear in the 777-200 according to the carrier. The carrier reports that the 777-200 upgraded airplane “will include in-seat IFE throughout both cabins, and international Wi-Fi.”