American eyes Main Cabin Extra for US Airways

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American Airlines has given its strongest indication yet that the US major intends to bring its ‘Main Cabin Extra’ extra legroom product to merger partner US Airways’ aircraft.

During an earnings conference call yesterday – in which the newly combined entity announced an adjusted fourth quarter profit of $436 million excluding billions of dollars in special charges associated with American’s emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection – company president Scott Kirby mentioned the addition of Main Cabin Extra in the context of how American intends to harness some ancillary items as the technology to offer them falls into place.

“There will be some new initiatives; a lot of it is the things I’ve talked about on seating products – first class, priority access, really making those more broadly available…introducing more comfort economy on the US Airways network, which we don’t have today. Those biggest items [are] around being able to offer customers the ability to get better seats on the airplane, whether it is more comfort economy, whether it is a seat up front or whether the ability to sit in first class,” said Kirby.

Asked about a timeframe for implementing these changes, Kirby said the timeframe “varies by item” but that American “will announce as soon as we know [the] technology timeframe”. Some will be announced in the next few months, while others will “take longer”. Moving to a single reservation platform is a crucial part of this plan. American has chosen Sabre as its partner, though the full migration could take up to two years to complete.

American bills its Main Cabin Extra product as providing passengers seated in the front of the ‘Main Cabin’ “with up to six inches of additional legroom to stretch out and relax”. But in embracing a Main Cabin Extra-type product on US Airways aircraft, the new American could very well opt to tighten up the pitch enjoyed in US Airways’ economy class cabins now.

According to Routehappy director of data John Walton, the current US Airways Airbus A321 offers a minimum 32in seat pitch, like Virgin America. “I wouldn’t expect that to be maintained if extra-legroom economy were added,” says Walton. Rather, he suggests, it’s possible that 35-36in seating in Main Cabin Extra and 30in seating in regular Main Cabin economy could be offered, which is what passengers find on American’s A319s today.

Airline analyst Henry Harteveldt suggests that obtaining a 30-31in seat pitch in economy on the A321 would be dependent on the new American installing slimline seats on the US Airways A321 fleet, a valid assertion considering American’s move to slimline seats on aircraft in its own fleet.

During yesterday’s call, Kirby mentioned how slimline seats are coming to American’s 737-800s and 777-200s. So the 150-seat 737-800s will move to either 160- or 164 seats and the 247-seat 777-200s will be 260-289 seats.

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