American Airlines New ‘Business Plus’ Seats Prove First Class Is A Thing Of The Past


We’ve written extensively on the army of airlines ditching first class cabins in favour of elevated premium economy and business class seats, but never has this trend been summarised so succinctly as this move from American Airlines, who have added new seats that rank ‘above’ business class only months after ditching first class.

This week, American Airlines unveiled a new class of seats that technically sits within its business class cabins but is being marketed as distinctly better than business class, catchily coined the ‘Flagship Suite Preferred Seat’. This new category represents a wider shift in airline seating hierarchy and the collapse of the distinction between first and business classes.

WATCH: Business Class Dad Savaged After ‘Spoilt Brat’ Spoon-Fed By Cabin Crew

Set to debut on a Boeing 787-9 in October 2024, the new Flagship Suites will be featured on flights between Dallas and Brisbane. The rollout will involve retrofitting Boeing 777-300ER jets which will be entirely gutted of their first-class provision.

Notable features of these suites include extra space offered in the first row, luxury amenities such as Nest Bedding mattress pads, throw blankets, memory foam lumbar pillows, pyjamas, and even an exclusive amenity kit by Thirteen Lune and Joanna Vargas. Interestingly, they also have an identical food and drink offer to the recently-ditched first class cabin.

This move reflects a broader trend in the industry, with other airlines like United and Lufthansa also investing in similar changes, opting to level up the business class experience that will likely attract a broader segment of premium travellers and eliminate the massive costs associated with maintaining a separate first class cabin.

Some carriers, like Air France and SWISS, stand firm and continue to offer distinct first class services.

It seems that for American — but also the industry at large — the future lies in a more inclusive but differentiated business class experience, rather than the classic separation of service tiers.

‘Pointless’ First Class

Here’s an exert from one of our previous articles that explores what really lies behind this shift from first class hegemony to business class brilliance:

What lies behind all of this, as you might expect from a sector looking to secure future profits in an increasingly precarious post-COVID world, is profit margins. The real reason that first-class seats are being scrapped is one that might surprise you, given the exceptionally high cost of first-class seats, especially for long-haul routes: they barely make the airline any money. 

This was confirmed by Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker last year, who referred to first-class seats as “very expensive real estate” that doesn’t yield particularly attractive returns for airline shareholders.

This can be proven by the widespread nature of change; the trend isn’t confined to Cathay Pacific, with Air Canada, United Airlines, and Delta all discontinuing first-class services on non-domestic flights. When you consider that Qatar is rolling out a similar reconfiguration, we can expect this to be a global phenomenon in pretty short order.

Emirates’ first class was pioneering… but it’s destined for the chopping block all the same. Image: Emirates

Interestingly, it was also Akbar Al Baker who first declared that declared first class to be “pointless”. In contrast with other airlines like LufthansaQantas and Air France, who have all doubled down on their high-end offer in recent years, Al Baker’s rationale stems from his belief that the investment in opulent first-class seating fails to yield sufficient returns compared to the much-cheaper-but-still-immense perks offered in business class:

“Why [wouldn’t] you invest in a subclass of an airplane that already gives you all the amenities that first class gives you? I don’t see the necessity.”

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways CEO

For Al Baker, the future lies in business class, specifically the airline’s Q-suite product. His high-stakes vision has led the airline to exclude first-class cabins from its next-generation Boeing 777X aircraft, which will become the largest in the airline’s fleet once all ten of its Airbus A380s (which still feature eight first-class seats) are eventually retired.


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