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American Airlines launched a new international premium economy product last week, the first domestic carrier to design a cabin succinctly between standard economy and business class.
When its upgraded aircraft start flying in late 2016, American won’t have much domestic competition in the premium economy market, but there are plenty of international carriers that offer a similar class of service. Compared to that field of products, American’s offering is fairly competitive.
Specifications for most seat designs usually end up boiling down to dimensions around the seat width and seat pitch (or the distance between each row). American’s new premium economy seats will be 19″ wide with a 38″ pitch, compared to the 17-18.5″ width and 31-32″ seat pitch in standard international economy.
American’s biggest competitors for premium economy will likely be Oneworld alliance partners through which frequent flyers can still earn loyalty points. Two of the bigger players in that field, British Airways and Cathay Pacific, the flag carrier of Hong Kong, also offer premium economy sections with seat widths of 18.5″ and 19.3″ respectively and seat pitches of 38″. At the peak of the Oneworld partners, Japan’s JAL impressively offers a seat width of 19.2″ and a pitch of 42″.
The biggest international carriers with premium economy in the Skyteam and Star alliances, Air France-KLM and Lufthansa, offer similar seat dimensions. Air France offers a 19″ seat width with 38″ between seats while depending on the aircraft, Lufthansa offers an 18-18.7″ width with a 37″ seat pitch.
In general, American is thus bringing a fairly competitive product to the international stage, though JAL certainly can hold onto some bragging rights.
Where American can’t compete as well is against some of the premium world wide carriers. Singapore’s product, released just this year, boasts a seat width of 19.5″ and a pitch of 38″, while Virgin Atlantic reigns with a 21″ seat width and a 38″ pitch.
Leg room and seat width are also only part of the equation — there’s also inflight service and seat design. While the new designs on American from B/E Aerospace are certainly a vast improvement over its current economy product, many critics including the Runway Girl Network, suggest that American was too conservative with their cabin design, calling it staid, grey and boring.
Still, American’s Premium Economy will be a good bet for any consumer looking to fly on an American carrier without making the deep investment necessary for business or first class. As Delta and United begin to put together the own products in the coming years, American may end up enjoying a brief period of exclusivity.