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Air Canada has a few exciting (and surprising) updates in the pipeline, including a new business class on its A321XLRs which will kick off “a new design standard for our cabins, our interiors, our lounges, really for all facets of our customer-facing experience,” according to Mark Nasr, the airline’s EVP of Marketing and Digital, in an interview with Executive Traveller. I’ve highlighted all that, as well as a few other important takeaways from the interview, below.
Snazzy suites on the A321XLR
Nasr has revealed that Air Canada will equip its A321XLR fleet with all newly-designed business class lie-flat suites in a 1-1 configuration across seven rows for a total of 14 seats.
Most excitingly, design duties have been entrusted to London-based design studio, Acumen, which has an impressive portfolio including JetBlue’s A321LR Mint business class, Etihad’s Airbus A380 The Residence and The Apartment suites, United Airlines’ original Optima platform for Polaris, and Adient Aerospace’s Altitude and Ascent business class, amongst others. Collaborating with Air Canada’s in-house design team, Acumen will work on the Signature Class suites as well as the overall A321XLR cabin.
Acumen is among the best cabin designers in the business, so I’m pretty thrilled to see what they come up with. If it’s anything like their previous projects, then we’re in for a treat.
Surprisingly, these planes will not include premium economy seats. Instead, the business class cabin will be followed by the usual economy and extra-legroom economy seating. According to Nasr, this is primarily because these aircraft will fly transcontinental and transatlantic routes where premium economy is “still a developing market.”
I’m somewhat surprised by this. Granted, this plane will be serving transcontinental routes where premium economy demand is perhaps not as strong, but it will also serve transatlantic routes (albeit thinner ones like Toronto-Manchester), where airlines have seen strengthening demand over the past few years. This move definitely bucks an industry trend.
Delayed delivery and increased order on the A321XLR
Last year, we learned that Air Canada had ordered 26 A321XLR planes, expected to start service at the beginning of 2024, that will cater to North American and transatlantic routes. Nasr’s comments reveal that the order has increased to 30 planes and that the timeline for their debut has been pushed back at least a year to 2025.
Overhauled business class experience across the board, including on the Boeing 787 and 777
Nasr also noted that the debut of the new A321XLR will kick off “a new design standard for our cabins, our interiors, our lounges, really for all facets of our customer-facing experience,” including on Air Canada’s Boeing 787s and 777s.
Air Canada’s Dreamliner business class was only introduced in 2018, and the fact that they’re already thinking about a new Signature Class cabin is a great example of how much the competition over business class passengers has heated up over the last few years.
Nasr’s comments dovetail with two evolving themes that have risen to prominence in recent years: the increasing popularity of long, thin routes and the escalating competition for business class passengers leading to accelerated innovation in premium cabins.
I expect more news like this coming from other airlines in the near future, as this dual trend increases the strategic importance of optimizing business class cabins and service offerings to meet the demand for premium travel experiences while leveraging the economic potential of less heavily-trafficked routes.