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American adds business-class space

Additional legroom provided to compete with Delta's cabins

American Airlines Inc. announced Wednesday that it will expand the amount of legroom in its business-class cabins, matching a similar move by rival Delta Air Lines Inc. last year.

The Fort Worth-based carrier plans to remove one row of seats from all of its business class cabins to give these high-paying passengers an extra 10 to 12 inches of legroom. Its business-class travelers will enjoy 60 inches of legroom, the same as on Delta, compared with American's current 48 inches to 50 inches.

"We view this as a competitive response," said American spokesman Chris Chiames.

With 60 inches of legroom, American and Delta will now boast the most space in business class among the nation's five largest airlines. Their legroom compares with 55 inches on Continental Airlines Inc.; 49 inches on United Airlines Inc.; and 48 inches on Northwest Airlines Inc.

During the last few years, airlines have been giving business travelers, their most profitable customers, more space to stretch their legs. Two years ago, American increased legroom in business class to the current measure from 40 inches.

Airlines are catering to business travelers because these passengers account for a large portion of revenue since they generally travel at the last minute and consequently pay higher fares. At American, the top 2 percent of customers generates 25 percent of the carrier's revenue.

American will roll out the additional space on 88 planes or a little more than 100 of its 3,600 daily worldwide flights. The first plane sporting the increased room, a Boeing 777, went into service Tuesday. The entire reconfiguration should be completed by the fourth quarter of 2001.

American declined to disclose the cost of the project. Delta spent $314 million last year to convert its business and first-class cabins on international flights to what it calls "Business Elite" service.

The Atlanta-based carrier began offering this product on some transcontinental flights in the United States on Monday.

"I have a bit of concern with ... [American] knocking out business-class seats," said Raymond Neidl, an airline analyst at ING Barings Inc. in New York. "Those are higher revenue seats."

But the airline is betting that fewer seats in business class won't hurt revenue because it will make the remaining seats more attractive, American's Mr. Chiames said.

On average, the airline's business-class cabins were not completely filled, he added. American plans to keep its business-class fares competitive with those charged by other airlines.

American is currently adding legroom to its coach cabins in a bid to outdo United, which offers extra space only for full-fare coach passengers.

"We are looking at a number of options in our business class," United spokesman Matt Triaca said, adding that these new changes should appear later this year.
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