I'm not sure why, but airline executives get really excited about their line's paint scheme, or, as they call it, "livery," and they make a big deal of any change. They pay big bucks to a "prestige" design company, which delivers a layout that's usually different from the old one -- and usually no more compelling. I'm reminded of the case, many years ago, when Western Airlines hired a famous (and expensive) designer to produce a new paint scheme, which, when unveiled, turned out to be a look-alike for the logo Winnebago had used on its RVs for years.
In my opinion, the new look is decidedly underwhelming, and no real improvement over the old one. Clearly, livery is more important to the industry than it is to customers: I defy anyone to show that a new "livery" has even the tiniest influence on the number of folks who buy tickets.
The hype says the new look reflects the new features you'll find inside, and what you find inside is the harsh reality: lavish accommodations in business class and tighter seating in economy.
American's new 777-300s have flat-bed seats in business class, where you actually lie flat, at 180 degrees, not on a slant with your legs tucked under the seat in front. Seats are angled so that everyone has direct access to an aisle. Flat-bed seats are becoming the norm for top-level business class these days, and it's likely that American will refit its 777-200s with the same seats. It will probably not refit its 767s, which it intends to replace with 787s, and seating on the 787 is uncertain. The two Japanese lines that have the most 787s delivered to date do not have flat-bed seats, probably because they use them on low-traffic routes where they expect no competition.
Now comes the harsh part: what American has done with economy class. The new 777-300s have extra-narrow 10-across economy seats, and it's likely that when American refits its 777-200s, those economy seats, currently nine-across, will have extra-tight seating. Sadly, this move follows a trend among other 777 operators. American's token "improvement" in economy is that each seat has a sizable video screen and a power outlet. The power outlet means you can easily plug in your laptop, even though you won't have enough room to use it.
American's new 777-300s have one other interesting feature: Seat Guru shows the extra-cost "main cabin extra" with nine-across seats rather than the 10-across in the main cabin, but at the same knee-crunching 31-inch pitch. Certainly, American's "extra" cabin will be better than its main cabin, but 777s on American's competitors -- Delta, United, and many others -- have nine-across seating for all economy passengers, with even more legroom in premium economy.
The bottom line for economy passengers: 777 flights on Delta, United, Air Canada, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Singapore, and a few others will be much more comfortable than American's 777-300s. Be warned.
Sadly, American's "modernization" reflects a prevalent airline trend: better for business class, worse for economy.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)