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.
It’s no secret that American airlines have long had a bad reputation among Australians. For many travellers, they conjure up images of old planes, surly flight attendants and a sub-par meal service.
The good news is the big US airlines are now acknowledging the perception is grounded in truth – and facing increased competition from Gulf carriers in the international market and hip domestic carriers like Virgin America and JetBlue, they are working rapidly to improve.
American Airlines on Wednesday unveiled plans for a new premium economy cabin to be rolled out on its international aircraft from late 2016, offering a similar type of service to its partner airline Qantas – including more legroom, wider seats, noise-cancelling headphones, amenity kits and an enhanced meal service.
“Our customers tell us they want a class of service between business class and main cabin, and this feedback provided the genesis for our new premium economy service,” said Andrew Nocella, American’s chief marketing officer. “Premium economy is offered today by many premier carriers around the world. We studied those offerings and developed a world-class product.”
Virgin Australia’s trans-Pacific partner, Delta Air Lines, is meanwhile transforming its extra-legroom Comfort+ section to a more proper premium economy cabin. United Airlines, which flies to Sydney and Melbourne, on Wednesday said it would bring back free snacks to economy class on domestic US flights used by many Australians to connect to cities beyond Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“We’re refocussing on the big and little things that we know matter to our customers, and shape how they feel about their travel experience,” said Jimmy Samartzis, United’s vice president of food services and United Clubs.
Free beer and wine
In June, United re-introduced complimentary beer and wine in economy class on its trans-Pacific services, in a move no doubt popular with Australian travellers who typically expect to have free alcohol on international flights.
In business class, Australian travellers have long been partial to pyjamas on long-haul flights, but they haven’t been on offer from the US carriers plying the trans-Pacific route. For sleepwear enthusiasts, that could be enough to tip the scales toward flying Qantas or Virgin rather than the US carriers.
But that’s about to change, too, with American offering pyjamas in business class when it begins flying the Sydney-Los Angeles route next week and Delta also adding sleepwear to its business class. United may not be far behind, amid reports on Wednesday that pyjamas were under consideration. United also recently improved its business class amenity kits.
American chief Doug Parker travelled to Australia with his senior executive team last month to show off the carrier’s flagship Boeing 777-300ER offering, trying to combat lingering perceptions that US carriers couldn’t meet Australian customer standards.
“If you haven’t flown American Airlines in a while, we look forward to having you back on,” he said at the time. “It is a new, modern American Airlines.”
American Airlines announced Tuesday that it will start doling out frequent-flier miles based on the fare customers pay and not on the distance they fly. American’s move closely mimics changes already made by Delta and United, the USA’s two other big traditional carriers.
“American Airlines has spent the last two years being singularly focused on integration. Now we’re at a point where we can begin to look ahead and lay the foundation for the future of the AAdvantage program to ensure we’re rewarding our most loyal customers with the benefits they value the most,” Suzanne Rubin, president of American’s AAdvantage frequent-flier program, says in a statement.
Starting sometime in “the second half of 2016,” non-elite American customers will earn 5 miles per every dollar spent on the base fare and “carrier-imposed fees.” Elite customers will earn more, with Gold members earning 7 miles per dollar, Platinum 8 miles per dollar and Executive Platinum 11 miles per dollar. The earning levels closely mirror how Delta and United award miles.
Making sense of Delta’s frequent flier changes
United: Fliers earn miles based on fare, not distance
American detailed several other changes, including changes to the miles needed for many frequent-flier awards. Unlike “redeemable” miles that can be cashed in for free flights, miles that count toward earning elite status on American will still be tied to distance flown. But the carrier is tweaking that too, making it easier for customers buying expensive fares to rack up those miles even faster. American customers earn elite status by accumulating at least 25,000 miles in a calendar year.
But it’s the change in how American awards “redeemable” frequent-flier miles that appears to cement a fundamental shift in the nature of loyalty programs at U.S. airlines. Launched in the 1980s – first by American and quickly matched by most others – airline frequent-flier programs have since become commonplace among American consumers.
For decades, the programs run by the big traditional “legacy” carriers handed out miles based on the distance their customers flew. But that began to change last winter.
Delta became the first of the big carriers to tie mileage-earning to fares rather than distance. United followed Delta’s lead about three months later, making nearly identical changes to its loyalty program.
Low-cost carriers — including Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America — already employ a “revenue-based” system of earning frequent-flier points. Still, it’s been the change at Delta, United and now American that’s being viewed as a fundamental shift among the three big network carriers that control much of the U.S. market.
American stood pat with its traditional set-up for more than a year after its rivals changed. Still, it was widely expected that the airline would eventually follow suit once it had finished the heavy lifting in its merger with US Airways. US Airways made its last-ever flight last month, among the last moves in a merger that has left American as the world’s largest airline.
“I definitely think it’s because of the merger. And they’ve basically said as much,” says Brian Kelly, who tracks airline frequent-flier programs via his The Points Guy website. “To their credit, they’ve handled the merger beautifully.”
American’s switch to fare-based earning will begin sometime in the second half of 2016, though Rubin said in a call with reporters that the exact date has not been determined.
Despite that uncertainty, Rubin said American wanted to detail some of its planned frequent-flier program changes now because the carrier is “eager to be transparent” and to give customers advance notice.
Once the changes to earning miles begin in 2016, Alaska Airlines, Spirit and Frontier will be the last big U.S. carriers left to still tie redeemable frequent-flier miles to distance flown.
But while American has followed Delta and United in tying frequent-flier miles to fares, it did not match one other big change made by its rivals since 2014.
Delta and United now require customers to hit minimum spending thresholds to attain elite status. Previously, fliers on those carriers could earn elite status simply by flying a minimum of 25,000 “elite” miles in a calendar year. Now, both those carriers require customers also to spend a minimum of $3,000 in airfare — or spend $25,000 in an airline-branded credit card — to attain the lowest level of elite status.
American did not add such a requirement in its latest program change.
When asked if the carrier might add such a requirement down the road, Rubin said only that American would “continue to study that element of the program.”
Kelly said he thinks American may not be quick to add it.
“Now would’ve been the time to do it,” he says. “This will be a differentiator for them.”
Overall, however, “most of the changes are not good,’ Kelly adds about the changes announced by American on Tuesday. He says appears to have shifted more awards into higher-mileage categories. With the proliferation of airline credit cards, “billions and billions of miles have been pumped into the system. There’s going to be inflation” in the cost of frequent-flier award tickets, Kelly says.
But he’s quick to add that “there are a couple of bright spots” to the changes.
“I really like the changes for EQMs (elite-qualifying miles), Kelly says, saying American now offers “richer” elite qualifying options than both Delta and United. Beyond that, the changes are likely to help corporate travelers but work against bargain-seeking leisure customers.
“For passengers buying expensive tickets, they’ll likely get more miles under the new system,” he says. “Most leisure fliers will earn less.”
Other highlights from Tuesday’s announcement:
New low-mileage award for short flights: American create a new award category for flights under 500 miles. It’s “MileSAAver” award for those flights will now by just 7,500 miles each way, down from the current 12,500. The new awards will become available in March. Examples of sub-500-mile flights include Washington Reagan-Boston; New York JFK-Cleveland; Philadelphia-Montreal; Charlotte-Orlando; Chicago O’Hare-Memphis; Dallas/Fort Worth-Kansas City; Miami-Savannah, Ga.; Phoenix-San Diego; and Los Angeles-San Francisco.
Changes in earning elite status: In changes beginning Jan. 1, American is phasing out its system of “points” that count toward elite status but will enhance how members earn “elite qualifying” miles. Customers who buy “full fare” first and business class tickets will earn 3 “qualifying miles” per mile flown while discount first and business-class tickets earn 2. Full-fare coach tickets earn 1.5 miles while discounted tickets earn 1 mile.
So, for example, a customer buying a full-fare first class ticket on a 1,500-mile one-way route will earn 4,500 miles that count toward elite status. The same flight in discounted economy would earn 1,500 qualifying miles.
The points system is being discontinued, but customers will still be able to qualify by “segments” — which are equivalent to a single flight. A round-trip flight with a connection in each direction woudl be the equivalent of 4 segments. Fliers earn status be flying 30 (Gold), 60 (Platinum) or 120 (Executive Platinum) in a calendar year.
Mileage award levels changing: American will roll out a new award chart, increasing the miles needed for routes between some regions while reducing them on a handful of others. The changes will take effect in March.
Premium tickets on trans-Atlantic routes and cross-country routes are among those seeing increases. First-class tickets on American’s three-cabin cross country flights will now go for a minimum of 50,000 miles each way, up from the current minimum of 32,500.
Rubin says the routes are being “adjusted to match increased customer demand, including routes that feature our world-class A321T and 777-300ER aircraft.” American has rolled out cabin upgrades to those aircraft, including first and business class cabins that feature lie-flat seats.
At the other end of the spectrum, tickets to Mexico and the Caribbean will now be available for as little as 30,000 miles round trip in coach – a decrease of 5,000 miles round trip (or 2,500 miles each way).
Upgrades: Beginning Jan. 1, members who qualify for Executive Platinum status for 2017 and beyond will receive four “systemwide upgrades,” down from the previous eight. However, they’ll be able to two more (up to a total of four additional) for every 50,000 elite miles they earn beyond the 100,000 it takes to earn Executive Platinum status.
Upgrades (2): American’s Gold and Platinum elite members will now earn four 500-mile upgrade certificates for every 12,500 elite miles earned, up from the current 10,000. American says it increased the earning requirement to coincide with its increased elite-mile multipliers for high-fare tickets.
It’s time to say farewell to US Airways. One of the USA’s most storied airline brands fades away Friday night with Flight 1939.
The overnight red-eye flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia marks the last ever departure under the US Airways name as the carrier’s merger with American nears completion. Shortly after the flight departs San Francisco at 9:55 p.m. PT, American will unify its own reservations systems for the flights of both airlines. There will be no more US Airways flights once the plane lands in Philadelphia, scheduled for 6:18 a.m. ET.
US Airways’ fade into the history books will be a nostalgic one. Flight 1939 is scheduled to begin Friday morning in Philadelphia, a traditi
onal US Airways stronghold. From there, the Airbus A321 – still painted in US Airways’ colors – will continue to Charlotte, which grew to become the airline’s busiest hub during the past decade. Next is Phoenix – the former headquarters to 2004 merger partner America West.
From there, Flight 1939 heads to San Francisco, then returns to Pennsylvania as the last-ever US Airways flight.
American will commemorate the last day with gate-side festivities at each stop. And passengers on the final departure from San Francisco will cheer the US Airways’ name with an onboard champagne toast.
“We definitely wanted to give a nod to US Airways and everyone that helped us build this airline,” American Airlines spokeswoman Martha Thomas told USA TODAY. “We wanted to make it a special experience for employees and customers.”
Even the flight number is rooted in history. Initially the San Francisco-to-Philadelphia red-eye was to operate as Flight 434. But in August the carrier switched the flight number to 1939. That was the first year of operation for All American Aviation, a small Pennsylvania-based airmail outfit that would grow to become a regional player known as Allegheny Airlines.
Allegheny changed its name in 1979, adopting USAir to reflect the expanding footprint of the airline after growing in previous mergers with Mohawk and Lake Central Airlines. Bigger mergers with Piedmont and Pacific Southwest (PSA) followed in the 1980s. The company underwent one last name change, adopting its current US Airways name in 1997 before yet another merger in 2005 – this time with America West.
Now, the US Airways name is on the verge of disappearing.
US Airways’ reservation system will go dark Saturday morning just after midnight. US Airways’ website will follow. And at airports across the nation, airline staff will begin removing US Airways branding after the company’s last flights on Friday. The goal is to have American Airlines signage up in its place by the time flights begin again on Saturday morning.
Certain pieces of US Airways will hang on a bit longer. It will take American until “late 2016” to repaint all of its planes in the colors of the new American. And US Airways flight attendant uniforms will remain until update uniforms for all the cabin crews are introduced, also expected to come next year.
American spokeswoman Thomas cautioned the airline still has some “behind the scenes” work to do even as the US Airways brand fades away.
“It’s done for customers, but there’s still a lot of integration work left for us to do behind the scenes,” Thomas says.
As for Flight 1939, American spokesman Ross Feinstein says the airline has had “strong demand” from customers wishing to be on the flight – especially the San Francisco-Philadelphia leg. Coach class is near capacity and first-class seats have been sold out since July.
Feinstein says the “vast majority” of people on the flight appear to be aviation enthusiasts and “avgeeks” wanting to witness US Airways’ final flight.
For passenger Mark Littell, Flight 1939 will have special meaning. Littell grew up in the shadow of the Pittsburgh airport when it was still a hub for the airline in the 1990s.
‘I grew up seeing and hearing (then) USAir’s planes land all the time,” he says. “Most families in my community were directly impacted by the hub there, and I eventually worked in concessions in the airport’s US Airways terminal by the time I was in high school.”
That led to a connection with the airline that’s lasted to this day.
Littell moved away from Pittsburgh as an adult, traveling full-time for his job in the medical profession. He flies more than 100,000 miles a year, mostly on Delta. But once he saw Flight 1939 announced as US Airways’ final flight, he booked a ticket “to fly (them) one final time.” He’ll be among those on Friday night’s San Francisco-Philadelphia leg.
Littell says he’s happy to see US Airways become part of the world’s biggest airline, but concedes it “will be sad to see the memories of the US Airways name fade.”
Despite that, Littell says “it really is the employees who make an airline, and I know US Airways employees will be a great addition to the new American.”