Month: January 2017

American Airlines ditching seat back screens on new jets

American Airlines’ premium economy seating onboard their 787-9 has seatback monitors for passengers. The airline announced Tuesday it will not have the seatback monitors in the new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft it receives this year.

With more passengers bringing iPads, phones and laptops on board, American Airlines says it will not have seatback monitors for in-flight entertainment on the new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft it receives later this year.

The Fort Worth-based carrier said it plans to keep seatback screens on its widebody aircraft – like the Boeing 777, Boeing 787 and Airbus A330 – which are used on international routes. However, the airline appears to be reevaluating its in-flight entertainment for domestic routes.

“Every customer with a phone, tablet or laptop will be able to watch free movies and TV shows from our extensive on-board library, as well as free live television channels, all without purchasing an in-flight Internet connection,” American said in a memo sent to employees on Tuesday.

The airline expects to receive 4 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in 2017 without the seatback screens. American added that it plans to take delivery of 40 Boeing 737 and Airbus A321 aircraft this year that will arrive with seatback monitors and power at every seat.

Last year, the carrier announced it was upgrading its in-flight Internet connections to a faster, satellite-based service. With the faster service, passengers can stream video content from providers like Netflix or Amazon.

“It makes sense for American to focus on giving customers the best entertainment and fast connection options rather than installing seatback monitors that will be obsolete within a few years,” the airline said, noting that more than 90 percent of its passengers already bring a device with them on board.

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Basic economy: Are the savings worth it?

More airlines will be offering basic economy seating, but will you buy these tickets? This Q&A may help you figure out when it’s worth it.

Briefcase in the plane

What is basic economy?

Think of it as the opposite of premium economy class: You get less but you pay less. The cheaper, fewer-frills seats are a tactic for big legacy airlines to compete with low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier.

Which airlines offer basic economy?

Delta is the leader here; it began introducing basic economy seating in 2012 with a big expansion a couple of years later. Last week, American announced its basic economy will go on sale in February (“select routes” only). United will begin offering basic economy service sometime this year but no start date has been revealed yet. However, a few details about these frill-free cabins have been trickling out.

What won’t you get in basic economy?

It depends on the airline but here’s what you do without on Delta:

  • No seat assignment until after check-in or at the gate.
  • If traveling as a family or group, you may not be seated together.
  • No eligibility for same-day changes or ticket refunds (outside the post-booking 24 hour grace period).
  • Basic economy passengers board last and cannot even pay for early boarding.
  • No paid or complimentary upgrades or preferred seats, even for elite miles members.

Both American and United have released one controversial lost frill that so far Delta has avoided: American and United will not allow basic economy passengers to use full-size carry-on bags. They will allow one small item that fits under the seat and that’s where it must stay because basic economy passengers have no access to overhead bins. And when they say one small item, they mean it: Those planning to board with a laptop, a purse and a backpack or some other small clothing bag will have choose one; the rest must be checked, and yes, there’s a fee for that.

Is basic economy worth it?

So far, we only have Delta fares for comparison purposes; here are some round-trip fares found Jan. 9 for travel in March. The first price is basic economy, the second is regular economy.

  • Boston to Salt Lake City: $267 and $277 (save $10)
  • Atlanta to Chicago: $135 and $157 (save $22)
  • Los Angeles to Newark: $314 and $344 (save $30)

Is it worth it? Passengers opting for no-frills fares are not going to get rich off the savings but sure, it’s worth it so long as you don’t care where you sit, when you board or what you pack. Families of course could save even more but may have a harder time justifying basic economy because of the seating and boarding requirements. On the other hand, unlike Spirit and Frontier, Delta’s basic economy does provide customers with free soft drinks and snacks, and allows regular carry-ons for free.

As for American and United, some will surely be watching the cheaper fares closely to see if they will be worth the inconvenience of the no carry-on rule, as well as the baggage fees.