American Airlines Pilot Says Their New Lavatory is “The Most Miserable Experience in the World’

During an airline Q&A session with employees on Monday, one pilot asked American Airlines President Robert Isom whether it’s possible to change ‘the production line’ so that American’s new 737 MAX planes can have seat back video for customers.

Another pilot though says “the biggest complaint is not the lack of entertainment” although “having a stack of 10 basic tablets that do nothing but wifi for a small fee might help mitigate those 10% that don’t bring their own devices. ..The biggest complaint on the ’73.. Have you actually been on the 73?

American’s CEO Doug Parker thinks it’s weird that I broke the news he said he hasn’t flown the new 737 MAX even though it’s the carrier’s new standard domestic product for the whole fleet.

American’s President Robert Isom though declared, “I have.”

The pilot then asked, “Have you been to the lavatories on the aft portion of the aircraft?”

And Isom replied, “I have.”

That’s when the pilot offered this indictment of the aircraft and its lavatories,

It’s the most miserable experience in the world and everybody I’ve ever talked to that had to fly on this thing… Alaska Airlines has a 737-800 as we do and has 4 lavatories. We have 3.

Now you’ve added 12 more seats, no more lavatories, and you’ve shrunk that lavatory to 75% the size that it was before.

I can’t turn around in it. The sink is the most miserable thing going, and you cram those people in those little tiny seats you just bragged about to the point that I can’t sit back there. As a crew member if I ever have to deadhead back there I’ll refuse because it’s just not practical.

I think you need to have you and Parker and everybody sit back in the last row of the 737 on a long flight and see what it’s like to use those lavatories…that’s the biggest complaint I get is those lavatories.. there’s 160 [economy] passengers for 2 lavatories on 5 hour flights..

Isom said he “flew it up from Miami to New York and sat in one of the last rows and made sure I understood what customers were going through and what our team had to deal with as well.”

He then launched into a defense of the aircraft noting the larger overhead bins as well as inflight entertainment, “those are things that are different and allow us to serve customers in a way that we haven’t before.”

American has gotten a lot of attention for reducing the space between seats down from a former standard 31 inches in economy to just 30. However “the seats themselves I can tell you” Isom says, “they do match up in terms of overall customers space because of the way that we’ve designed those seats we are given an equivalent amount of space as on other aircraft types.” I generally agree with this although the due to the lack of padding in the seats I wouldn’t want to fly in them for three hours.

Isom explains the economics of it thusly,

The real estate that makes up the cabin is really valuable. The way we take a look at it right now we think we have a mix of main cabin extra and first class and economy that makes sense for the airline but these are things we take a look at always and make sure we adjust appropriately.

And today there is a real drive within the industry and with the traveling public to want to have really at the end of the day low cost seats. And we’ve got to be cognizant of what’s out there in the marketplace and what people want to pay.

The fastest growing airlines in the United States Spirit and Frontier. Most profitable airlines in the United States Spirit. We have to be cognizant of the marketplace and that real estate that’s how we make our money.

We don’t want to make decisions that ultimately put us at a disadvantage, we’d never do that.We also want to be mindful of there are tweaks that can be made nothing is ever permanent.

They squeeze seats because people want low prices. They’re going to compete for the bottom of the market, rather than focusing on generating a revenue premium. I’d note as well that first class and main cabin extra have less room in American’s new configuration as well — not just standard coach.

And we’re stuck with the small lavatories (“hey I can’t take those lavs out”) although they’ve been willing to tweak them “in terms of accessibility and in terms of faucet pressure” so the water hitting the small sinks doesn’t splatter up on each passenger, hitting them all over the front of their shirts.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I will be going out of my way to avoid this aircraft. This is also why I love the newer regional jets. Big bins for a rolling luggage, much better ratios for both the lavatories and first class, quick to get on/off, and large enough to not get tossed around too badly by turbulence.

  2. “there’s 160 [economy] passengers for 2 lavatories on 5 hour flights” = American’s President Robert Isom absolutely couldn’t care less about how negatively this impacts the passengers and crew. The absolutely only thing that matters is how he can increase the company profits so that he can maximize his bonus. Short term gain for a fast buck. What is sad is that the extra bonus money to him ultimately is nothing but numbers on a bank account – it’s not like he’s going to use it to feed him family. Just making more money for the sake of making more money, regardless of who it negatively impacts.

    “He then launched into a defense of the aircraft noting the larger overhead bins as well as inflight entertainment” = typical political evasive maneuver: change the subject when you can’t defend it.

    Absolutely disgusting.

  3. It would be a Monty Python scene if it still existed. Who would imagine that anyone would consider this attractive to customers? You’re telling them you’re going to make them as miserable as possible for hours, and that it’s supposed to be clever as a ploy to get them to buy up – as though one would buy a better model refrigerator because the lower priced one is designed to fall over on them? Hello? And as long as their are alternatives, any person who’s not a masochist would walk.

    This predicted Fat Dougie Parker the repulsive sadist in a leather thong with red hot poker:

  4. 2 years ago I went out of my way to fly AA. Now I actively avoid them.

    If I have to pay more for a better experience, I will and it will be on another carrier.

  5. I understand where he’s coming from, but it’s only a short time (imo) before the general public will start catching on to Spirit/Frontier/Allegiant’s pricing model. What he SHOULD be doing is trying to emulate the Southwest business model. Southwest has build a fiercely loyal customers by actually having customer-friendly policies. They also cut out the commissions since you can only book fares on their website.

  6. I’ve been on the Alaska MAX, and the lav’s are small on those. In F and Y. I did not know that there’s only 3 lavs on the AA version though. I hope it’s a long time before I find out in person.

  7. “He then launched into a defense of the aircraft noting the larger overhead bins as well as inflight entertainment.”

    It’s hard to imagine how those overhead bins are going to compensate for the lack of lavatories. Come to think of it, I don’t even want to try.

  8. I used to only fly legacy carriers. They’ve destroyed the in-flight experience and now I consider flying the LCCs which I would never fly before. They’ve always been cheaper but now that they are regularly 50% of the cost of AA and United and the experience is just as terrible I will consider Frontier and Spirit. I also don’t have to connect through hubs anymore. I’m a 100k frequent flier and they have permanently lost me with the garbage seats and same fares.

  9. “Thomas says:
    February 27, 2018 at 4:28 pm
    I’ve been on the Alaska MAX, and the lav’s are small on those. In F and Y. I did not know that there’s only 3 lavs on the AA version though.”

    I fly often, as many out here do. It is not unusual to find a lavatory on an aircraft – out of service –

    With only three lavatories for so many people on long flights, I have to ask – What could management at AA be thinking (or not thinking)? Greed?

  10. I’m with all the rest, I am searching diligently to avoid this plane altogether, even if it means I have to go out of my way to avoid it!

  11. I will not fly the new newly refurbished AA triple sevens from LAX to Narita… 10 across in economy is deeply painful. All American Airlines executives should have to fly from the US to Asia once a month in economy on the 777.

  12. Like most people here, I fly a lot – though it’s usually domestic. And, I’m a pretty big guy so I need some legroom. Southwest is my “go to” carrier of choice as my business trips are often last-minute affairs and my company would never pop for business class. I still get a great seat with them because I’m A-list Preferred, which adds to my bias. However, sometimes they don’t fly where or when I need to go. That’s when the legacy airlines come in. I used to be platinum on AA but have noticed the magically decreasing pitch in their equipment over the years. It’s gotten to the point where I literally can’t fit my legs into many of American’s economy seats. Being based in the Chicago area, that prompted a switch to United. Though not great, at least I can survive the trip without feeling tortured, and sometimes they even upgrade me to economy plus.

    I wonder how many other customers are not so price conscious as to be forced to be treated like veal in the back? Although I’m not someone who can freely pop for first class on Emirates or Cathay, I will gladly pay a few extra bucks not to suffer a miserably uncomfortable trip on equipment such as AA’s new 737MAX. Frankly, it’s not really much more money to get an extra 2 or 3 inches of pitch on WN or elsewhere. And that’s how AA lost my business – because they’re racing for the bottom and I don’t care to go along for the ride.

  13. While that lav isn’t as large as older aircraft, I don’t actually think it’s as bad it’s being advertised.

    If anything, that little sink provides a bit more space towards the back than some aircraft I’ve been on prior to this design.

    Alaska has these on some of their aircraft, but they also have generous pitch compared to some of these other airlines, so I really don’t mind. I might spend a few minutes in the lav compared to my seat.

  14. Former EXP here. My last AA flight was November 9th. I’m so happy to be gone. The airline is an embarrassment. I still fly a ton and pay for premium cabins, just never on AA, which is the worst airline in the domestic marketplace, bar none.

    Gary – you should look into the affect that JetBlue Mint on FLL-California is having on AA’s MIA-California routes. Through the grapevine I’ve heard it’s been significant and that AA has been surprised by how quickly Mint has established itself in Miami and driven away revenue. MIA-LAX especially is a notoriously premium heavy route due to the media industry ties the two cities share.

  15. Congratulations, Mr. Isom.

    You reached your level of incompetence, and you are beginning to believe your own press releases.

  16. As if you need another reason not to fly American. Isom is a moron along with the entire AA leadership. I loved flying AA since the late 80’s. Great crews and aircraft. The customer was always first. Always. And that mattered and we paid a premium for that.

    When the president of a company thinks his cabin space on a lousy 737 is more important than the customer sitting in it, it’s just a matter of time until AA is done. Sad. Terrible leadership of a once great brand.

  17. Isom doesn’t even know basic economics when he says “Most profitable airlines in the United States Spirit”. Spirit returns 6.95% for each dollar of assets it has, but “bags fly free” Southwest returns a superior 8.92%. I’d rather get 9% for my dollar than 7%.

    Oh, Spirit has higher “margins”? Sure, but irrelevant, as it’s so inefficient in generating revenues for each dollar of assets it has.

    Think of it of two identical stores, each costing the same amount of money to set up and selling the same widgets. Store A has a 10% margin and successfully sells widgets for $100; store B sells the same number of widgets at a mere 8% margin, but for $150 each. Which one would you rather own? “High margin” store A nets you $10, yet store B nets you $12. Store B is obviously a superior store to own, or lend to. In the airline industry, store B is Southwest, store A is Spirit.

    To complete the picture, DAL gets 8.67% out of each dollar of assets, ALK 8.28%, JBLU 6.54%; AAL at 5.81% only barely beats UAL’s 5.57%. You can look these up on Yahoo! Finance or other finance sites.

  18. Wjhy have a tete-a-tete for feedback. You can as well do without. Larger overhead bins and better
    inflight entertainment can hardly compensate for the lack of Toilets. When one needs to urgently pee he or she can hardly control it by looking at the overhead bin or watching the inflight entertainment and wait to eternity at the toilet entrance!!!!

  19. Qantas has improved it services through retraining of their staff, offering better inflight service and comfortable seating with good legroom.

    The compete with the LCC buy making their product far superior to the LCC instead of going down to the LCC standard. Qantas is making record profits because people pay for comfort and service.

    The lounges i used in the UD were appalling compared to the standard of lounges here. Good food is available here and not for purchase but included in the lounge visit on domestic services.

  20. I’ve been a customer of AA since 1950’s. I’ve complained to the Schmucks who run AA but no reply and they seem not to listen to anyone. They’re misguided as to what the customers really want and they could care less about comfort and service on both domestic and international flights. Since I’ve already booked my next flight on American this will be my last ever. A company has gone so far downhill it’s unbelievable. How the president and CEO of this company ever got into this position only the board of directors know. Tight leg space, poor food, uncomfortable seats, unbearable lavatories, and they think this is the answer to their declining sales. Stay away from American as they cannot even hold your toilet paper.

  21. Let me “go there”. With the continued obesity epidemic in the West, I cannot see how any corporate mandarin could, in any good faith, see clear to installing these wretched things.

    I am “average” sized — about 5’11” and an athletic 175 pounds: people, I am here to tell you it is DAMN NEAR IMPOSSIBLE to………. uh………. properly “position the body” (read between the lines) to anything more serious than urinating or touching up the make up.

    These toilets are HORRIBLY CRAMPED. We recently flew one of the “densified” 737s, and everyone in our party (athletic men & women between 5’6″ and 6’0″) wondered how the hell does anyone other than a child or diminutive adult dispatch themselves to properly do their business in those claustrophobic contraptions. SILLY SILLY SILLY!

  22. No sense in fighting AA. The whole AA experience steadily devalues. Decided to migrate to UA when possible. From DFW it means a connection via IAH, DEN or ORD. I’ll live with that. Joined the UA lounge, booked my next 3 flights on UA. This 3 MM AA ExPlat just finally gave up. Off to United I go.

  23. Of all the legacy carriers AA has become my least favorite and when given any options I will avoid AA with a passion. What a sad state of affairs.

  24. All of the new equipment on SW have the exact same lavs. Screaming bloody murder may affect designs on future models but it won’t change what we have today.

  25. What are the ADA requirements for airplane bathrooms? Seems like being so small, with limited mobility these bathrooms wouldn’t comply with regulations?

  26. I feel your pain! Good luck with UNITED. Polaris aside, the product is old and “tired”……. the staff are old, surly and “tired”……. and the rudeness visited upon me and a travelling companion ex Newark Liberty both flying International First (or whatever they call it) confirmed I’d sooner travel with a second or third tier airline than deal with such RUBBISH. #ThanksButNoThanks

  27. “They squeeze seats because people want low prices. They’re going to compete for the bottom of the market, rather than focusing on generating a revenue premium.”

    This is exactly right. Or as an AA flight attendant put it from her jump seat when speaking to me during landing in SFO on Saturday: “It’s Greyhound.” I concurred with her; people are ok with Greyhound in the sky so long as it’s cheap. I’ll stick with the A321 transcon.

  28. Even Polaris is outdated.
    As to the bathrooms, I wonder how many times pilots will land early due to a reeking smell from someone missing the toilet.
    MINT, I love you.

  29. Haven’t flown an AA in ages..and it looks like that trend will continue. B6/DL/WN for me… and for my office since all of the travel planning and booking somehow became part of my job.

    The Kettles can fly AA and UA.

    Also, a nice thumbs-up for the pilot for speaking up. These days it often feels like the pilots are the only ones who give a rip about pax on domestic flights. GAs, FAs certainly don’t.

  30. @steve –Hmmm. So where are all the idiotic posts saying I’ll never fly Southwest again because the lavs are too small?

    Really, for a group of frequent flyers, the post here seem pretty amateur. It would be like folks boycotting a restaurant because they didn’t like the toilet paper in the restroom. Pro tip: don’t choose your next flight based on the lavs.

  31. The airline business has become a commodity business. It’s really no different than buying gas or milk. It all comes down to price.

    Think about what happened to United, after the passenger was dragged off a regional jet at O’Hare. Bookings dropped for a short time. Then, they returned to normal.

    People say that they would pay a higher fare for more legroom, on-board meals, and the like. But, the fact that airplanes are departing full, and airlines are making money, shows that people aren’t foregoing air travel.

    And, let’s not forget that a lot of people have no choice, because their employers have contracts with the legacy carriers. No Fortune 500 company is about to sign a contract with the likes of Frontier and Spirit. The road warriors would revolt with the lack of first class upgrades and other elite F/F benefits (going to first class check-in, priority boarding, reduced membership fees for clubs, etc.).

    I haven’t flown on a 737MAX or 737NG with the higher-capacity seating, but it can’t be as bad as a Canadair 700 on a 2:45 flight. Even sitting in the first row of coach (Main Cabin Extra) the seat is so narrow, and the overhead is so small, that you feel like a sardine.

    I hate to say this, but seatback entertainment for domestic flights will disappear. A couple of years ago, I heard anchors on ESPN talking about a flight where one anchor sat with a United vice president on a flight to Chicago. United knows that the vast majority of people travel with a smartphone, tablet, and/or laptop, bringing their own content (music and video). The seatbacks are seeing less and less use. It was starting to be apparent that putting a library of music, TV shows, and movies into the WiFi system was the future. Besides cutting weight (screens and “boxes” under the seats, it also meant more under-seat storage.

    I’ve known for years that a bigger bag fits under and MD-80 seat, when compared to a 737 or 777 with seatback entertainment.

  32. Ison goes: ” We don’t want to make decisions that ultimately put us at a disadvantage, we’d never do that.” The decisions they’re making are putting them at a disadvantage.

    People who really want a cheap flight will pick a budget airline like Spirit. But non-budget airlines competing with budget airlines so fearlessly is good for noone.

    There are still people who value space and will pay for it. They can only cram so many people in a plane. They will reach that limit and lose all their customers in the process.

  33. As Marie Antoinette stated when told that the poor people were starving because they had no bread, “Let them eat cake!”. An American Airlines exec stated recently that seats with less pitch were more comfortable. Airline execs are drunk with power, out of touch with reality and focused only on profit.

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