American Airlines To Complete Boeing 737 Retrofits By Early 2021

American Airlines continues to push forward with aircraft retrofits. Speeding up retrofits of jets that are parked on the ground, the airline now expects retrofits of Boeing 737s to be completed in early 2021 and the Airbus A321s to be completed the year after.

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American Airlines is retrofitting its Boeing 737s, which will be complete by early 2021. Photo: Getty Images

Pushing forward with aircraft retrofits

Back in May, Simple Flying reported that American Airlines was pushing forward “full steam ahead” with its 737 and A321 retrofits. The airline had parked hundreds of jets, and rather than disrupt schedules later, and it made sense for American Airlines to go ahead with retrofits of aircraft. Both jets are undergoing cabin densification projects.

The new timeline, announced by Derek Kerr, American’s Chief Financial Officer, in the airline’s third-quarter earnings call, is as follows:

We also continue to pursue the harmonization of our 737 and A321 fleets and expect to have all of our 737 aircraft operating in the same configuration by the end of the first quarter of 2021. We expect to have our A321 fleet harmonized by the spring of 2022.”

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The Airbus A321s are also getting denser. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

Why retrofits make sense for the airline

Retrofits are expensive for an airline. However, even amid the depressed travel environment, it makes sense from a future cost and operational perspective. First and foremost, it reduces inefficiencies. Having multiple configurations makes two identical Boeing 737-800s from the outside operationally different from the inside. If American needs to make a swap, this could mean booting some customers at a cost.

Once the Boeing 737 MAX reenters commercial service, American’s retrofitted 737-800s will also feature the same configuration on the inside as the 737 MAX 8s.

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American Airlines is planning on flying the 737 MAX between Miami and New York from December. Photo: Getty Images

In addition, the denser configuration means more opportunities to earn additional revenue. As more and more people are ready to fly again, most people are booking in the back of the plane. With more coach seats available, American can then offer additional capacity and hope to gain some additional revenue, which will then strengthen the airline’s financial position.

What is the new interior like?

Older Airbus A321s are being retrofitted to a 190-seat configuration. Previously, these aircraft either had 181 or 187 seats, depending on where they came from. After the merger, American and US Airways Airbus A321s had two different onboard configurations.

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Plenty of American’s A321s came from a merger with US Airways. Photo: Getty Images

In the retrofitted planes, 20 of these seats are in recliner-style First with a 2-2 configuration. Then, there are 29 Main Cabin Extra seats followed by 141 Main Cabin seats. While these aircraft lack seatback screens, they will at least be equipped with WiFi, so passengers can watch entertainment on their own device. This upgrade will give passengers in-seat power outlets as well as more room in overhead bins.

The 737-800s are moving to a 172-seat configuration, in line with the 737 MAX.

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American has over 300 Boeing 737-800s. Photo: Getty Images

Previously, these aircraft were equipped with 160 seats. On the retrofitted aircraft, there are 16 recliner-style first class seats and 30 Main Cabin Extra seats– the same number as 160-seat 738s. However, standard economy gets denser with 126 economy class seats, up from 114. Seat pitch in all cabin classes, and the lavatory width, has been reduced to accommodate these additional seats.

Not all 737s may be retrofitted. If American decides to cut certain aircraft from its fleet, it would make sense to dispose of older 737s that have not yet been retrofitted. This will reduce the airline’s future capital expenditures as well.

Altogether, what do you think about American Airlines continuing its 737 retrofits? Let us know in the comments!