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In the years following World War II, technological advances made air travel much more comfortable. In 1949, American Overseas Airlines (AOA) — a subsidiary of American — introduced the 60-seat Stratocruiser. A pressurized derivative of Boeing’s B-29 Superfortress bomber, the Stratocruiser was a two-level plane which featured a Skylounge on the lower deck. To promote this innovation in customer comfort, AOA installed a 150-pound baby upright piano in one of the lounges and hired a young singer named Frank Sinatra to give a concert on a flight between New York and London.
As the years passed by, the airline industry continued to grow and change, as did the size and capabilities of the American fleet. In 1966, the airline ordered a slew of Boeing 747 Astroliners. These were the biggest commercial airplanes in the sky at the time, and in 1966, air travel was growing, so the order made a lot of sense. Unfortunately, by the time American received the new aircraft in 1970, the economy was in a recession and there was too much capacity in the industry to justify all these 303-seat jumbos. The solution to this problem was at once simple and radical. American pulled 50 seats off each 747 and used the free space to create a passenger lounge. The airline then installed a Wurlitzer piano in each lounge. Once again, American enlisted Sinatra to help promote its latest musical marketing ploy. This time, Frank Sinatra Jr. performed on a packed red-eye flight from Los Angeles to New York.
In a time of depressed air-travel demand, the Skylounges — which typically featured well-known singers whose only compensation was free travel — helped generate lots of traffic. Not surprisingly (and certainly not for the last time), other airlines borrowed this American idea. Alas, the piano-lounge-in-the-sky era didn’t last long. In just a few months, the economy rebounded, and American was able to return the 50 seats to the cabin. While short-lived, the experiment reminds us that American’s success has always been a function of our ability to change and adapt. It also highlights how a trade-off that existed not so long ago — between space on an aircraft and a rich entertainment experience for customers — has been obliterated by technology.
To illustrate, let’s fast-forward to today — and specifically, to the entertainment available to every passenger on the newest addition to the American fleet, the Boeing 777-300ER. Granted, the airplane’s name lacks the futuristic pizzazz of the Stratocruiser or the Astroliner. But with no disrespect to Frank Sinatra (Sr. or Jr.), the quality and quantity of entertainment we are able to offer on these aircraft are simply unprecedented. Every single seat on a 777-300ER has a personal seatback entertainment option featuring 250 movies, 180 TV shows, 30 games and 350 audio selections — enough content to keep you entertained through 14 round-the-world trips. (These advances certainly had an impact on American Way editor Adam Pitluk. Click here to read how.) We realize that many of you bring your own entertainment to enjoy via smartphones, tablets, laptops or other devices. You won’t have to worry about draining your batteries, because every seat features both AC power outlets and USB jacks for charging personal electronics. Of course, entertainment goes hand in hand with connectivity these days, so Wi-Fi is available in every seat. In fact, the 777-300ER is the first American Airlines plane to offer international, over-water Wi-Fi.
We have also taken delivery of the first few of the hundreds of new narrow-body planes we’ll be adding to the American fleet over the next few years. Like the 777-300ER, these new aircraft feature state-of-the-art in-seat entertainment systems offering thousands of hours of programming, as well as power outlets, USB jacks and Wi-Fi throughout the cabin. American was the first domestic airline to offer Wi-Fi, and we have now installed it across our entire domestic fleet.
As entertainment goes, I encourage you to read the feature story on Disney’s Planes, and pay close attention to the scene in the movie that takes place at JFK International Airport. The character of Tripp (short for Triple Seven), beautifully inspired by the 777, has a sleek exterior, distinguished by the vibrant stripes on his tail. Although this is Tripp’s debut in a Disney film, he is quickly building his acting credits, with appearances in American’s exclusive trailer for the movie and in a new American commercial.
While in-flight entertainment has come a long way over the years, I am glad to know that millions of you continue to enjoy the comparatively old-school medium of our award-winning American Way magazine and, of course, this small contribution to it. Thank you for reading, and thank you for flying American. Enjoy your trip!
Thomas W. Horton
Chairman & CEO