Recently I wrote about American’s “Tell Me Why” podcast with Senior Vice President Kurt Stache. He laid out the airline’s plans for satellite internet and explained why the airline is getting rid of seat back video screens.
American employees comment internally on these discussions. It always amazes me how frank they are. Union protections and management promises notwithstanding I don’t think I’d be so forceful in my criticisms of management as American’s employees often are in these forums.
As regular readers know I don’t often use seat back video. I don’t rely on the airline to entertain me. I always bring and watch my own.
However employees at the airline seem pretty convinced that streaming content to passengers own devices — and not offering them seat back screens — is a big mistake. Here are some of the arguments they’re making to management:
- What happens when the federal government bans personal electronic devices in the cabin, like they did on flights to the U.S. from several countries earlier last year?
- The claim that 90% of customers bring their own devices doesn’t pass muster with flight attendants who see customers in back every day — unless flip phones count to get up to that 90%. Flight attendants report that older travelers and children don’t have their own devices.
- Seat back screens won’t become outdated just like your TV doesn’t.
- Even if customers can manage without seat back video you’d be hard pressed to find any that prefer not to have seat back screens.
- If you’re not competing to offer a better customer experience, you’re just competing on price. (Employees should worry about the company competing for the least amount of revenue, since one of the ways the American’s costs are higher is labor.)
- Flight attendants give out a hundred sets of headphones and run out. Even if customers could entertain themselves on their own devices they prefer not to. This also suggests that customers aren’t coming prepared to entertain themselves using only their own devices.
- How is American going to compete against Delta which is giving customers seat back entertainment and high speed internet?
The new interior standard that will roll out to the rest of the narrowbody fleet is the interior of the Boeing 737 MAX. Though I don’t like the reduced legroom in first class or main cabin extra, I think the biggest problem with that plane is tiny lavatories more so than lack of seat back entertainment.
American says that the 737 MAX gets high marks from customers, but there’s only a handful of customers on a handful of planes filling out surveys and they’re being given free satellite internet versus expensive air-to-ground internet and the survey results are in comparison to the legacy US Airways “basket of deplorables” fleet that doesn’t even have seat power. So the claim about customer survey scores for the aircraft simply doesn’t mean what American management thinks it means.
In fact, one flight attendant lays it all out.
I was wondering how we were going to bring legacy US Airways narrow bodies up to legacy American Airlines standards. The answer is the 737 MAX, we are not. Legacy American is going to go down to the legacy US Airways standards. Big mistake. Just talk to the flight attendants that work in the Max they don’t like it at all. I’m sure AA has people reading the reviews to the Max interior and has to know that they are not good. It is a lot more than the inflight entertainment, the airport is uncomfortable inside. Also our airplanes are starting to ahve the worn appearance in the cockpit and in the cabin like legacy US Airways.
Of course the airline’s CEO hasn’t flown the airline’s new standard product and is strangely proud of that, too. But he thinks ‘removing seat back entertainment is going for great’.