ABOARD AMERICAN FLIGHT 137 — Boarding American Airlines’ new Boeing 777-300ER, passengers are greeted by soft mood lighting and an archway leading through a walkup bar.
Bose noise-canceling headsets, bed slippers and amenity kits with Dermalogica and Akhassa products await premium travelers at their seats, along with menus offering a choice of four entrees and several wine and liquor selections.
And by the time flight attendants serve made-to-order sundaes a few hours into the flight, it’s clear that business class is more than just hot towels and a few more inches of legroom.
“You spend a lot of time on an airplane so we wanted to make sure the design and the finishes allow for a peaceful journey,” said Fern Fernandez, American’s vice president of global marketing. “We’re in the business of transporting you from point A to point B, but we want to make it in a comfortable sort of fashion that puts you at ease.”
American received its first 777-300ER, now its largest plane with seats for 310 passengers, in January 2013. It currently has 10 in its fleet, with 10 more on order from Boeing. It flies the aircraft on flights from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Los Angeles and New York to Hong Kong, London and Sao Paulo, and Fernandez expects the incoming 777-300ERs will be used on similar, long international flights where there is demand for a premium travel product.
For the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier, new airplanes with premium cabins and older aircraft retrofitted with modern finishes and comfortable seats are critical to winning back corporate customers lost during a two-year stint in bankruptcy court.
Frequent fliers and high-spending business customers want two things on a long flight: aisle access and lie-flat seats, said Brett Snyder, founder of CrankyFlier.com. With the introduction of the Boeing 777-300ER, which has both features in business and first class, American is finally catching up to competitors United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, which already have lie-flat seats in business class on their long-haul aircraft.
“If you’re looking to compete with international carriers, you need these premium products,” said Snyder, who experienced American’s new 777-300 aircraft on a flight from Los Angeles to London’s Heathrow Airport last summer. “I think it’s a great product, and it’s something they can build off of.”
American is in the process of retrofitting its older Boeing 777-200 aircraft and Boeing 767-300 aircraft with similar lie-flat seats for business class and more legroom in the carrier’s “main cabin extra” product. And recently, the airline began operating Airbus A321 aircraft on its transcontinental routes that feature three cabin classes, whereas its competitors like United, Delta and Virgin America only have two classes of seating.
Maxine Peng, American’s manager for China, said Chinese consumers have more disposable income and want to spend it traveling to far-off destinations like the United States. American launched its first flights between DFW and Shanghai on June 11 and will use an upgraded 777-200 on the route this fall.
“We think our travelers will like the new retrofitted 777-200, which will arrive in the China markets this year,” Peng said.
On the 777-300, used on Flight 137 from DFW to Hong Kong, the business-class seats stretch out into flat beds 6 feet, 4 inches long, while first-class seats recline flat with an additional 4 inches. First-class passengers also receive a turndown service and pajamas to keep for the long flights.
Two meals are provided on the 16-hour flight between Texas and Asia, and passengers can request to have their food served at their convenience. And the snack bar is fully stocked for several hours, featuring banana pudding, brownies, fresh fruit and sandwich wraps. A wine tasting is also offered to first-class passengers.
All travelers can purchase Wi-Fi Internet connections for the entire flight, and each seat has a power outlet and USB port to charge mobile devices. And all cabins of service have access to the in-flight entertainment system with touch-screen monitors and hundreds of movies, television shows and audio programs.
“You can fly around the globe 15 times and not view the same content twice,” said Alice Liu, American’s managing director of onboard products and connectivity. “It’s a great way to entertain our customers.”
For Jose M. Gonzalez, flying the Boeing 777-300 from D/FW to Hong Kong made it easier for him to start his new job as consul general for Chile in Hong Kong right away. Gonzalez said he paid for a business-class seat instead of first-class because he felt there wasn’t enough of a difference in service to spend the extra money on first class.
“It was a very easy flight,” said Gonzalez, who planned to be in the office the next morning. “Now, American Airlines has very good planes and with the kind of services on board an AA flight is wonderful.”