I can’t say I have experienced the in-flight service in one of American Airlines’ new Airbus A319s: Until September 16 no revenue passenger had, because the A319 didn’t enter service with American until then.
But I have been onboard the airline’s first Airbus A319 to see and experience the brand-new interior American has designed for its latest aircraft type.
And I must say that when I saw American’s interior for the A319 on August 14, I was impressed.
American Airlines had invited a few reporters, along with AA employees from throughout its domestic network, to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to see its first new Airbus A319 – registered N8001N – for themselves.
The A319 was parked, with air stairs drawn up to its front and back doors, inside American’s vast Hangar 5 on the eastern side of the huge airport.
Hangar 5 is where American performs its DFW line maintenance on all of its current single-aisle aircraft types – the McDonnell Douglas MD-80, the Boeing 737-800, the Boeing 757 and (from this year) the Airbus A319 and A321.
On the ramp outside Hangar 5, next to an MD-80 which was awaiting line maintenance, were parked American’s second and third new A319s. The airline will be taking delivery of more of the Airbus jets before the end of the year: by December 19, American will be operating at least 15 domestic and international routes with the A319.
Eventually American will operate at least 130 A319s – 65 CFM56-5B-engined A319ceo (‘current engine option’) jets and 65 A319neo ‘new engine option’ aircraft – along with a like number of Airbus A321s. Since American also holds options on another 365 Airbus A320-family jets, it could end up operating a lot more than 130 of either type.
Some of the A321s will be configured with new flat-bed seats for American’s flagship transcontinental service linking New York JFK with Los Angeles and San Francisco. But American will use most of the A321s it has on order to replace the 84 Boeing 757s it now operates on its domestic network.
Meanwhile, the airline will use its A319s, together with American’s still-growing fleet of Boeing 737-800s and the 100 new Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets it has ordered, to replace the 160 McDonnell Douglas MD-82s and MD-83s the carrier still has in service.
Because American was showing a large number of visitors through the aircraft that day, the airline was guiding people to enter the aircraft by means of the rear passenger door. So the first thing I saw when I boarded the A319 was the Economy Class cabin arrayed in front of me.
This view immediately made three impressions on me. First, I was reminded anew that the cabin width of the Airbus A320 family is slightly but noticeably wider than that of the Boeing 737 family. There is more room at shoulder height for passengers and each seat is slightly wider.
Second, my view from the back of the cabin was dominated by a seeming sea of brightly lit seatback in-flight entertainment screens. Each economy (Main Cabin) and additional-legroom-economy (Main Cabin Extra) seat in the A319 has an 8.9-inch diameter, HD-capable, touchscreen IFE screen.
Economy-class passengers have access to some free video and audio content via these screens – as well as my favorite function, a map display showing where the aircraft is passing over. For a fee, which starts at $4, they can access more than 150 network and cable TV shows, as well as 300 albums, audio books and games and up to 200 full-length feature films on longer flights.
The seatback IFE screens on American’s A319s will additionally feature a new content library called Disney Family Room. This one-price library includes Disney movies, TV programs, music and other Disney content.
All in-flight entertainment will be available “gate to gate”, according to American Airlines. So there will be no more need for passengers to wait until the aircraft has taken off before they can watch films or listen to music. (However, announcements by the pilots or flight attendants over the PA system will still blank out temporarily the audio channels of any IFE content being viewed or listened to.)
The third thing which was noticeable to me when I entered American’s new A319 was that while the seat décor was very smart, it did not particularly convey a sense of relaxation and restfulness.
Each Main Cabin and Main Cabin Extra seat on the A319 is medium-gray in color but has a bright splash of red as a center strip in its center upper panel. The bright red adds a necessary touch of color, because each seatback IFE screen is outlined with thick black borders. These give the cabin something of a stark, modernistic feel.
American Airlines marketing executives, positioned throughout the A319 cabin on August 14 to explain the design concepts to visitors, explained that American wanted the seatback screens to offer an iPad-like graphical user interface (GUI) and overall impression for passengers. However, in my opinion the thick black trim of the seatback IFE screens slightly overdoes the iPad impression.
The cabin walls of American’s A319 are primarily a very light gray, with a medium-gray trim featuring along the line of the overhead panels containing the service-call and reading-light buttons (as well as the overhead oxygen masks).
Light-colored cabin walls do something to offset the somewhat stark impression the seat-and-seatback-screen combination produces, but the American A319 Main Cabin definitely does have a modern-day feel overall. American expects this feel to remain rather timeless; the acid test will be if the cabins of its A319s feel as modern-day 20 years from now as they do today.
The dividers between the A319’s Main Cabin and First Class cabin and the bulkheads at the front of the First Class cabin are a dark charcoal-gray color. This is quite unlike the dark blue, red and light gray pattern in the bulkheads and dividers of the American Airlines MD-80 in which I flew down to DFW from Newark and also the American MD-80 in which I flew back.
Personally, I found the MD-80 dividers and bulkheads quite fresh and modern-looking, but American’s marketing experts feel they now look dated and convey something of a 1980s feel. This is one reason why the airline put more than two years’ thought and design work into the cabin décor for its A319s.
Before moving through to the A319’s First Class cabin, I sat in one of the Main Cabin seats, a seat on the aisle in the left row of three. (Each Main Cabin and Main Cabin Extra seat row has a 3-3 row configuration and each seat is of all-leather upholstery.)
Each A319 Main Cabin and Main Cabin Extra seat is made by Recaro, best-known for its pricey, elegant car seats. The seat manufacturer’s design and manufacturing expertise was immediately evident to me upon sitting in an A319 Main Cabin seat.