December was supposed to be a marquee moment for American Airlines as its much-hyped Boeing 777-300ER with a distinct first-class cabin was set to debut on service from Dallas to Sao Paulo. But unspecified snafus with the flagship first-class seat have delayed both the aircraft’s introduction and American’s efforts to showcase a product whose design was pegged to be vastly different from current premium offerings among the US full-service legacy airlines.
In Nov-2011 American first unveiled its concept of the first-class seats for the 10 777-300ERs on order that entailed a fully lie-flat, 6ft bed with drop-down armrests. All eight of the JPA Associates-designed, Zodiac-manufactured first-class suites offer each customer aisle access, two universal AC power outlets, a USB outlet, a swivel seat, Bose acoustic noise cancelling headsets and a 17in screen featuring an array of in-flight entertainment. American rounded out the first-class experience on 777-300ER by designing a walk-up bar that features a unique dome ceiling overhead to to create a spacious effect to encouraging socialising amongst the first class passengers. American is the only US carrier to offer the distinctive dome ceiling and walk-up bar in a premium cabin.
The 777-300ER’s on-time debut would have been a welcome bright spot for American, who has been in Chapter 11 reorganisation for almost a year and until recently has been attempting to fend-off merger attempts by US Airways.
News this week of the 777-300ER’s service-entry delay follows a raft of negative headlines triggered by operational disruptions and safety concerns over loose seats on a portion of the carrier’s 757 fleet. The carrier was compelled to enhance the locking mechanism features used to secure the Zodiac/Weber-made economy seats to the aircraft floor of the airliners, though it stressed that the problem was in no way related to the seat manufacturer. “The additional locking mechanisms are FAA-approved aviation wraps from Boeing and B/E Aerospace,” said American.
Now American is grappling with the delay of service-entry for its 777-300ERs, disclosing this week that flights are now slated to start on 31 January 2013. The postponement has raised many questions that the carrier is declining to answer. In its official communication regarding the delay, the carrier stated it is working with seat supplier Zodiac to address production issues that triggered the hold-up to ensure the final product reflects customer expectations of the inflight experience.
Asked for further clarification American stated: “There are a variety of production issues being encountered by our first class seat supplier…our first class seat is a highly-sophisticated, industry-leading product, and we are working closely with our supplier to fine-tune a few elements and ensure the suite meets our customers’ expectations.”
Zodiac told the APEX Editor’s Blog that is generally does not comment on matters involving customers. However, the company did state: “The first class seats in question have been delivered to AA in Seattle.”
Zodiac offered no further details, but the fact the seats have already been delivered could signal installation challenges for the first-class suites. Some of the issues that are often discovered during the First Article Inspection of seats prior to installation include shape and curvature of trim panels, gaps or loose articles.
American denied to comment on the complexity of the issues, and opted not to elaborate on the technical nature of the production snafus, including disclosure of the number of actuators that control several aspects the seat, including the growing number of positioning options available to passengers.
While there is no doubt American, Boeing and Zodiac are working diligently to resolve the issues in question, the delay occurs at an unfortunate time for American, who for years has had to bypass investment in the customer experience as its financial state continued to deteriorate. Now all three parties are feeling the pressure to meet the 31 January deadline to ensure American delivers on its promises to it most lucrative passengers – its first class customers.