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American Announces Real Premium Economy

American Airlines will become the first U.S. airline to offer a true premium economy cabin in most planes used for long-haul intercontinental travel. In contrast to the line’s current extra-legroom option, also offered by Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, and United, American’s cabin will feature seats wider than regular economy, with 38-inch front-to-rear spacing of seat rows.

Travelers in Premium Economy will also enjoy priority boarding, an increased checked baggage allowance, and meal and beverage service superior to regular economy. American’s product will closely resemble true premium economy offerings on Air Canada, Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, and several large Pacific carriers.

American will introduce the cabin on new planes scheduled for future delivery: 787-9s in late 2016 and A350s in 2017; the line will also reconfigure its existing fleet of 777s, 787s, and A330s over the next three years. It will not reconfigure 767s, which are due for retirement fairly soon.

When completed, the reconfiguration will leave American with five distinct cabin options: first class, lie-flat business class, premium economy, “Main Cabin Extra” extra-legroom economy, and basic economy. That’s an industry high.

All in all, more options are generally good for consumers. The problem with premium economy, however, is that it’s often priced too high to attract many leisure travelers. You’ll have to watch American’s pricing to see if it fits your needs.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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