- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2006

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — American Airlines is revamping the business-class sections on its long-haul jets, adding lie-flat seats and individual entertainment centers to better compete with carriers that already offer similar creature comforts.

The makeover is complete on one plane used mostly on trans-Atlantic flights, and the airline plans to retrofit business cabins in its Boeing 767-300 and Boeing 777 aircraft over the next year or so.

“We started thinking about this in 2000,” said Jim Hadden, American’s manager of cabin design. “We knew we were behind.”

American’s plans to upgrade its international business cabins were delayed by the September 11 attacks and a near brush with bankruptcy in 2003. The airline, a unit of AMR Corp., plans to announce the program at an industry event this week.

Mr. Hadden said American’s new seat offers a combination of flatness, width and adjustments that other carriers can’t match.

The seats are 20 inches wide — 23 inches if the armrests are folded down — compared with 18 inches in the old seats. They recline to a 9-degree angle from the horizontal, while the old ones go only to 60 degrees. The seats slide forward 10 inches, if passengers see advantage in doing so.

Each seat has two tray tables, which can be pushed together to make a larger work surface. The entertainment systems include audio and video on demand, and a 10.6-inch screen.

The new seat is causing a buzz on Internet sites devoted to frequent travelers. More than 600 comments have been posted on FlyerTalk, said editor Randy Petersen.

Mr. Petersen said Asian carriers “still have a lock on the best creature comforts for business class.” Among U.S. carriers, he favors Continental, even though its seat doesn’t truly lie flat for snoozing.

Kevin Mitchell, who runs a group that advocates for corporate travelers, said a pleasant environment makes a big difference, especially if airlines have similar fares and schedules.

“AA must do what it is doing, especially as more U.S. airlines shift capacity to long-haul international services,” Mr. Mitchell said. “The battles are going to get fierce.”

American won’t say how much it is spending on the makeover. The seats, made in Fort Worth by a unit of Germany’s Recaro Aircraft Seating Inc., cost $50,000 a pair for the Boeing 767-300. By comparison, a bench of three coach seats costs about $7,000.

With American planning to retrofit all 58 of its 767-300s, which each have 30 business seats, that is more than $43 million and doesn’t include new overhead bins, sidewall panels and closets that are also part of the makeover.

Officials said they don’t have seat prices for their 46 Boeing 777s, which will get new business cabins beginning next year.

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