American Airlines offers understandable reasons for its decision to remove international first class, but each one represents a “chicken and egg” problem that may not have been prevalent had AA approached its Flagship First product differently.
American Airlines Says It Is Eliminating First Class For Two Reasons
In internal company communication reviewed by View From The Wing, American Airlines offers two reasons for its decision to eliminate international first class on its Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A321T aircraft.
1. Corporate Customers Are No Longer Booking
AA says that corporate customers are simply not booking three-cabin first class anymore.
“[W]henever you get on an airplane and you get on the 777-300 and you see first class is generally full, most of the time it’s probably upgrades, it’s air marshals, it’s employees.”
We have a number of Hollywood clients at Award Expert who exclusively travel in first class on American Airlines. Why? They will not splurge for private, but do enjoy things like Flagship Check-In, the Flagship Lounge, and having no one next to them onboard.
Generally, though, I do it is true that as business class gets better, there will be less who book first class. It has also been my own observation, when flying in first class or in the front of the business class on American Airlines, that the cabin is full of employees traveling on a non-revenue, space available basis.
2. The Product Became Obsolete
AA says that while the product used to be great, it no longer is competitive:
“[The] first class product, which was really great product when we launched it 20 year old plus, was no longer up to par with what our customers were expecting for that type of ticket price that we charge..not many were actually purchasing the first class especially on long haul, and to an extent on transcon.
“That was one of the things were were observing, the product started to get obsolete, we needed to change it.”
I do not fully concur here either. The product was never a leading first class product of the world, but where American Airlines always lacked was its soft product onboard. This includes both the meal service onboard (like AA would combine appetizers, soups, and salads on one tray…you just don’t do that in first class) and service. While I have always lucked out with good service on American Airlines, I’ve heard many fist-hand accounts of rude and surly flight attendants who made it feel like first class passengers were simply imposing upon them whenever they asked for anything.
Certainly, a first class product cannot survive without specially-trained flight attendants who make the experience highly-personalized, kind, and attentive.
Chicken And Egg Problem
Which came first: the chicken or the egg? It is almost impossible to decide which one caused the other and the same is true of AA first class. Earlier this year, I offered five suggestions for how American Airlines could offer a leading first class product. I still think those are true.
> Read More: Five Ways American Airlines Can Offer A Leading First Class Product
We may never know, but I believe AA’s refusal to dedicate resources to really distinguishing its first class from business class made the product obsolete and encouraged corporate customers to book away.
You cannot fail to invest in a product then wonder why people do not pay for it. It’s not that AA’s reasons for eliminating first class do not make sense now, but it should never have come to that point. The fact that some clients are still booking even now suggests there is a still a market for first class and yet its overarching similarity to business class make it far less attractive at the much higher price point. That all may be a mental experiment at this point since the ship has sailed, but first class did not have to end this way on American Airlines.
IFC is not the domain of business travel. It is an ultra high end leisure product.
Airlines need to stop putting IFC on business routes. Larger J cabins work on those routes. Keep IFC for the very high end leisure routes (e.g. HNL, OGG, PPT, LAX, MIA, Maldives, etc) where people will pay with their own money for IFC
AA international first class has always been a marketing gimmick. It was a total ripoff. Only stupid people would pay or upgrade to that class. They never offered anything close to a real first class experience you get from EU, Asians or ME airlines.
Only did TATL once on AA F. Perhaps not a representative sample. From having to ask for my coat to be hung up, and then it being taken in silence, and being called by my first name from the time I sat down did not endear me to the experience.
You definitely need a crew trained for the F product. And then trained again. A flight last year on BA F ex LHR back to the States, they had some young’un serving in First and the lack of knowledge showed. Tried hard but no polish. Fortunately I was a gate upgrade so no hardship.
Same, in 2015 in their old F product. Literally had tape holding pieces of the “desk/table” together. Outlet situation was abysmal. Food marginal. FAs were nice enough but not remotely on par with literally ANY other airline offering an F product. AA F would be a good very first intro to international F since it set the bar sooooo low. Then you’d really appreciate a solid-to-great F experience like on CX or EK or EY or literally anybody else.
TLDR: “We have/had a shit hard AND soft product and everybody knew it. Our crews working it are/were awful. Nobody was buying it anyway so it was full of non-revs so was hardly exclusive even if you ignore all the other glaring failures. We’re finally calling a spade a spade.”
Like the old United GlobalFirst, it was just not different enough from business class, especially in the soft product, to make anyone want to pay for it.
I flew AA First Class extensively, as an upgrade from paid Business Class. This was because: 1) I had eVIPs and no better way to use them; 2) using an eVIP from J to F was an easy upgrade; 3) at the time I was doing this, AA Business Class was subpar (recliners and then angled seats).
I would not spend money for AA Business Class unless I could upgrade to AA First Class.
Today, the gap is smaller and I find the upgrade less critical.
The US is the richest country in the world… there’s enough money in this country to fill a small first class cabin. Non-US airlines manage to do it: its clear that business and leisure travellers just didn’t see the value in AA F… because the value was largely not there.
Is it really a surprise that the ongoing carnival of ULCC execs running American has absolutely no understanding of first class? Of course they want to dump a product that they can’t conceptualize.
The real reason is simply because it’s American Airlines and there is no reason anyone paying for a premium product would chose to fly American Airlines.
“… I’ve heard many FIST-hand accounts of rude and surly flight attendants”
HAHA, works really well with the rest of the sentence
Most of the non U.S. airlines flyers compare U.S. carriers to don’t have the extensive domestic networks the big 3 have. Those networks consume resources. U.S. airlines have to make a profit. Many of the foreign carriers are heavily subsidized by their governments. U.S. airline subsidies pale in comparison. Not excuses, just points to consider.