American Airlines eliminates first class on long-haul international flights

American Airlines will no longer offer first class seats on long-haul international flights, according to airline officials.

Executives with the Dallas-based carrier announced the sweeping decision during an investor call last Thursday. As reported by Insider’s Stephen Jones, American plans to replace the premium fare level with more business-class offerings, citing a lack of demand as the driving reason.

“First class will not exist on the 777, or for that matter at American Airlines, for the simple reason that our customers aren’t buying it,” said American Airlines chief commercial officer Vasu Raja, per Jones. The replacement of first class with additional business offerings will allow the carrier to provide “what our customers most want or are willing to pay for,” Raja continued.

American Airlines will continue to offer first class seats on domestic and short-haul international flights as it overhauls its long-distance international offerings. In September, the carrier unveiled its forthcoming “Flagship Suite” class—a “private premium experience in the sky” that includes a lie-down bed with a privacy door and personal storage. American will roll out the new ultra-premium fare in 2024 aboard new Airbus A321XLRs and Boeing 787-9 model planes, part of a larger campaign undertaken by the airline to increase its premium seat offerings by 45 percent by 2026.

American’s revamping of its long-haul international flight offerings is a reaction to broader travel trends seen in the airline industry in the last year. Business travel has flagged significantly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and corporations that once booked large blocks of premium cabins on long, international flights have been replaced by leisure travelers less willing to shell out for the top-most available seat fare.

In August the Global Busines Travelers Association projected that corporate air travel will not fully return to its pre-pandemic levels until 2026 due to uncertain macroeconomic conditions around the world. 

“To understand the headwinds that have been impacting a more accelerated recovery for global business travel, all you have to do is look at the news headlines since the beginning of 2022,” said GBTA CEO Suzanne Neufang at the group’s 2022 convention in San Diego. “The forecasted result is we’ll get close, but we won’t reach and exceed 2019’s pre-pandemic levels until 2026.”