American’s CEO Says His Airline’s New Miniature Lavatory Is Just Fine (He Still Hasn’t Flown the Product)

American’s new domestic standard product is debuted back in November on the 737 MAX. It’s been controversial,

  • Less distance between seats than ever before
  • Less distance between extra legroom and first class seats, too
  • Smaller lavatories
  • No seat back entertainment
  • But bigger overhead bins and satellite wifi

One American Airlines pilot called the small lavatory ‘the worst experience in the world’.

Prior to the plane going into service, and before American began retrofitting its fleet with this new interior, the airline’s CEO Doug Parker hadn’t even tried the product. That was true at least as of the end of May even. And it told me that domestic passenger experience isn’t central to the product the airline believes it is offering.

Employees keep asking about the product, and asking about the lavatories. They find it embarrassing and believe it speaks to where the airline is going. At American’s employee town hall with CEO Doug Parker last week one flight attendant raised this again,

We’re all here because we love American Airlines and .. we want to continue to what we’re doing and we support our passengers. It seems like over the last couple of years it hasn’t been that, not to mention the MAX 737 where the bathrooms are smaller and not to push you under the bus, but have you been in back of that bathroom? And that’s our main concern with flight attendants that passengers feel like they can’t even get in the bathroom.

Parker revealed that he’s finally been in the bathroom and he thinks it’s great.

Yes I’ve been in those bathrooms. I’m a pretty big guy. I do not want to dismiss this point because I’ve heard from enough of our flight attendants. But at least the reports I’ve read feel exaggerated to me. I’ve been in there, I’m 6’3″ 240 and I have no problem getting in or out of the bathroom, or using the restroom or turning around in it or things like you gotta walk in, I saw some reports that said you’ve got to back out. Look, it is smaller. Absolutely.

(The airline confirms that while their CEO has been on the aircraft, has seen the lavatory, he still has not flown this plane, or any plane with this interior.)

Parker defends squeezing more seats into their Boeing 737s — they’ve gone from 150 seats before the marger to 160 seats and now with this reconfiguration to 172 — as doing “what we’re supposed” since it allows them to “take care of more customers. It allows 6 more seats on the airplane versus having a larger restroom. And again we’re not the only airline that’s going to have these bathrooms.”

Although he concedes if customers book away from American Airlines because they deem the experiemce worse than other carriers they may have to reconsider: “Look let me just say this: if we get to the point that our customers feel as though that’s not the right tradeoff we may change it.”

One change American is making is to the lavatory doors. But it won’t make the lavatory experience better. Parker explains,

What I know is a problem is that the two doors are both open into each other. If both doors are open it blocks the aisle and the doors run into each other that we are fixing. One of the doors will be a bi-fold door so that that won’t happen anymore, I think that will help with the concerns we’ve heard.

American initially installed doors that opened out, rather than opening in, because it takes up an extra inch of space inside the lavatory that way. They were already taking away so much space it seemed to make sense to return that inch to the customer. However the doors opening out bang against each other in the back of the aircraft. Customers often need flight attendant help to get out. So they’re going to go with the doors that fold inward.

So they’re going to solve one problem by taking away even more space from the already small lavatories, when the real problem is the size of the lavatories themselves not the door.

The flight attendant responded that American is degrading its product, playing a me-too game and not trying to be the best.

In the day we were leaders with Mr. Crandall. And it seems like being here for 38 years, it doesn’t seem like we’re leaders we’re followers and that’s what concerns me. And I just want us to be leaders as this whole group whether you’ve been here 10 years, 15 years, 20 years we want to be leaders not followers. My question to you is what are we going to do in the future to be followers in your perspective?

Parker took exception to that. He believes American is putting a ton of money into its product and doing the right thing for customers. Only his lack of prior interest in even experiencing the product shows, because he doesn’t seem to know his own airline’s product plans for the fleet. He responds,

Now please take his mike. No I’m just having fun. … As it relates to that airplane then and again I want to be clear on this.. I know this perception has somehow gotten in, and it’s on us on and we’ve got to figure out a way to make sure we explain this better. We’re spending so much money on our product right now to somehow have the view that we’re degrading the product when indeed we’re spending so much money that certainly shouldn’t be the case.

To be fair American is spending a great deal of money on,

  • aircraft
  • employee raises
  • international business class lounges
  • catering (though not necessarily improving the food)

And they’re spending a ton of money reconfiguring the domestic fleet to be less comfortable for the customer. While they’re investing in parts of the product, they are degrading a different part — the one experienced by the bulk of their passengers.

Parker continues,

Part of the money is going through and making sure all the aircraft have the same seats as we go through the merger. When we do that some aircraft are going to have more seats on them than they did before, but they’re getting to where another aircraft already was.

This is simply not true. American’s 737s had 150 seats before the merger. That was increased to 160 and this was standardized. They’re going to 172 seats.

He denies they’re increasing the density of their aircraft, saying they’re just doing this on the 737 MAX. That’s not true.

We’re not going through the whole fleet and adding a bunch of seats to airplanes or taking out larger bathrooms and putting in smaller ones. We ordered a new airplane this product existed, it allowed us to get on that airplane at the pitch we have on other aircraft one more row of seats we thought that was the right trade-off. And again I don’t view that at all as any sort of effort to degrade the product, or anything like that, it’s just a different product that’s available now and that allowed us to get 6 more seats on the airplane than we would have otherwise on a brand new airplane. But we aren’t going to put that on all the other airplanes or anything like that.

American is going through and retrofitting its existing fleet to offer a standard domestic product with less space between seats, smaller lavatories, no seat back video, along with bigger overhead bins and satellite wifi. That effort is called ‘Project Oasis.’

They absolutely are “taking out larger bathrooms and putting in smaller ones.” They’re doing this with hundreds of planes. And it should concern investors, I’d think, that the CEO appears not to know that. But he still hasn’t tried his airline’s new standard domestic product.

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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Comments

  1. I’m of an age where CEO’s believed it a good thing to market their products by actually USING it as the best possible testamonial to convince skeptical consumers why they should similarly have confidence to use/buy it, too.

    Lee Iaococca of Chrysler
    Victor Kiam of Remington Electric Razors
    Dave Thomas of Wendy’s
    Tom Carvel of Carvel Ice Cream
    Muriel Siebert of the Wall Street firm in her name

    …are but a few examples of CEOs who stood behind their products, by demonstrating in both words and actions their belief in, and commitment to, the products at the companies they led.

    Of course, nowadays, consumers have allowed themselves to be bs’d & conned into actually believing flat out, and even preposterous, lies where shrinking seats, taking away legroom, or putting fewer AND smaller bathrooms aboard overly crowded, even intentionally created sadistic cabin manipulations to force them to spend more money than they otherwise would (aka ripping them off by dishonest, deceptive product “degradations”)
    are beneficent things being done to “please them”.

    What a load of crap!

    And yet, so many gullible ones are falling hook, line and sinker for these shameless lies and “tall tales” being told by the airline industry’s leaders, that is a veritable rouges gallery of white collar criminals and/or “I could care less about anything except the value of my stock options” con artists including:

    1.) one who resigned in disgrace (but, of course, all with a multi-million dollar golden parachute, lifetime positive space for two on his airline, an office for his use, and more) after a major bribery and corruption scandal by him and some of his top lieutenants;

    2.) one who recently was fined by the State of Florida for ~$58,000 after he hired a “contractor” on the cheap in an effort to “replace” (aka steal) sand from a public beach for the washed out dunes protecting his multi-million dollar, palatial, oceanfront home that his law abiding neighbors paid approx $28,000 to replace using legit contractors;

    3.) fast talking Dougie, who mastered the art of fudging facts to gain control of American Airlines to extinguish the last real vestige of meaningful competition, and whom should perhaps even be regarded as the “Godfather” of the current toxic, and likely even criminal, industry cartel that measures its succees not by which airline sells the best product, award winning products for the best price/value proposition to the consumer, but rather the EXACT OPPOSITE – who can best SCREW their buyers and still get away with it.

    Exceptional dishonesty – that’s what this is when CEOs say and do the things many of our airline industry CEOs get away with such as bribery, corruption, outright theft, or bald faced “fudging” of facts by saying products are perfectly fine – but NEVER actually bothering to use them the same way the people who are paying for the products (and the thieving CEOs salary/stock options, etc.) are being forced to.

    Why would anyone pay for a product so bad even the CEO can’t be bothered using it – even when the CEO can use that crappy product for FREE (but doesn’t bc it’s THAT bad)?

    And, of course, either the Board of Directors is being negligent by retaining a CEO who doesn’t even know which models of his assets that cost tens of millions each are being configured which way…

    …or they’re complicit in the lies being told that planes which numerous reports, including the airline’s own press releases and SEC filings specifically state will be retrofitted with the (oh so NOT) passenger pleasing “densified” Boeing 737-8 configurations the airline even gave a patently misleading name for, “Project Oasis”.

    Please, the stench and the rot in the airline industry’s cartel C-suites is so pungent only those who are profiting handsomely from the lack of competition and whom are now working furiously to deepen the roots of this corrupt and dishonest cartel, and its corresponding stranglehold over flyers who face few, if any meaningful options among too few, “copycatting” companies who do nothing more than at best, straddle the line of illegal priceand product fixing, and whose every effort is devoted to covering up by obfuscation the legally definable and provable anti-competitive behavior that flyers have come to know, dread, and of course, experience, as this sleazy and dishonest industry’s “Race to the Bottom”

    When a CEO doesn’t fly his own (crappy) planes, and “claims” only some are being densified despite every other official form of documentation issued by the airline completely controverting what the CEO says…

    …or when a CEO has been fined ~$58,000 for stealing something originally paid for by taxpayers remains on the job…even after public disclosure and being fined by a government agency of this theft, that’s when one would ordinarily expect corrective action by the BoD…

    …but in an era when up is down, day is night, and bald faced, provable “falsehoods” go unchallenged, let alone dismissed out of hand…

    Is it any surprise to see Dougie say the things he said at last week’s employee “Dog & Pony Show” …er ‘Town Hall’?

    He doesn’t really care…his words and actions more than make that clear…

    …the shame is, it seems like a great many also don’t care, too…

    …and as long as this continues, his airline will continue densifying its planes, with its middle finger continued pointing up and shouting “FU SUCKERS” – which is exactly what is meant when a company worsens its products…

    …lies about it, too…

    …yet incredibly, has the unmitigated gall to call it an “Oasis”.

  2. Well, I am avoiding AA as much as possible and the product changes for the worse are a big reason why. Between that and D0 that almost made me spend the night in Miami, they have driven me away.

  3. How exactly did Doug Parker “use” the restroom? Stand there jerkin’ it while staring in the mirror?

  4. In spite of flowery rhetoric to the contrary, airlines regard customers the way a vampire regards the living. They want to suck as much blood from the victims as possible without killing them as long as they are still capable of producing more blood. And in exchange for the victims’ blood, the vampire gives as little as possible in return. That’s what vampires and airlines in uncompetitive markets do. Parker is behaving as must be expected.

  5. As a shareholder I take exception to Parker’s defeatist attitude and challenge him to get the seat count up to 178. For starters, wouldn’t it make more sense to remove one of the lavs and add a half row, rather than install a bi-fold door.

  6. RE: In spite of flowery rhetoric to the contrary, airlines regard customers the way a vampire regards the living. They want to suck as much blood from the victims as possible without killing them as long as they are still capable of producing more blood. And in exchange for the victims’ blood, the vampire gives as little as possible in return. That’s what vampires and airlines in uncompetitive markets do. Parker is behaving as must be expected.

    @John,

    Said so well & so nice – it must be said twice!!! 🙂

    Spot on…absolutely spot on!

  7. Great to know that Mr. Parker could take a crap in his crapper. But, could he also successfully wash his hands in the tiny aircraft lavatory sink?

  8. btw, I’m all of 5’8” and at the time a little more than 1-yr ago, averaged about 185 lbs., with a 32 waist according to Levi’s sizing (which means actual waistline girth is more 35”-36” than in “Leviland’s” fictional 32” 😉 ) when I had my first encounter with these hideous, kiddie sized, microloos on an airline NOT American (which I don’t even waste time considering for flying regardless of headline fares seen – just as I do for Spirit, Frontier and especially Allegiant) aboard a factory fresh Boeing 737, and I could NOT:

    1.) turn around at the narrowest points when inside;

    2.) use the ridiculously small, iphone 7+ sized, (pretend) sink

    My vitriol/rants regarding these ridiculous, despicable and sadistic cabin configurations are based on personal experience…

    Nothing more, and nothing less.

    I don’t long for a return to, or wax nostalgic for the days of 9-abreast, 3-4-2 economy seats generously spaced in 34”-35” pitch rows on Boeing 747s…

    …nor do I yearn for the days of “steak & champagne” in economy on any flights, let alone the then 2.5hrs flights between LaGuardia and Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or West Palm Beach (on wide-body L-1011s and DC-10s, too…whoo-hoo! …well, OK, yes, I DO miss those awesome big birds that flew those, and countless other domestic routes for two decades, and only wish it was the horrible and detestable Boeing 737s, or even the marginally better Airbus A320/321s that were being sent to rot in boneyards, instead of not ever having modernized versions of those types of short/medium haul wide-bodies available to replace the far more “passenger pleasing” 1970s widebodies seen on many domestic flights even to cities like Buffalo, Rochester & Syracuse, NY; Hartford, CT; Cleveland, OH; West Palm Beach, FL; and Raleigh/Durham, NC – just to name a few of many US cities where widebodies were hardly exotic!)…

    …that extreme (of inflight steak & champagne meals on LGA-PBI flights or nine abreast seats aboard Boeing 747s) is every bit as unrealistic and preposterous as the opposite extremes of horribly small seats packed in no legroom rows aboard short-haul, narrowbody planes stretched far beyond their originally intended 3-4 hrs missions to 5, 6, 8 or perhaps even 10 hours.

    Common sense, dignity, humanity and respect for consumers, flyers…PEOPLE…is what matters most to me…

    …and when a much larger CEO (I’ve met him several times and even sat next to him for a dinner or two at the big Wall Street firms’ Analyst conferences, so I’ve seen how much taller and broader he is than I am) says he fits comfortably into the similarly sized micro-bathrooms I’ve tried as an actual (and much shorter, narrower) passenger while inflight in real life circumstances, and found to be every bit as narrow and unpleasant to use as others have said they found them to be, then I find it very hard to take him at his word.

    FWIW, I’ve also flown aboard those atrocious, 9-very exceptionally narrow, extremely uncomfortable, economy seats per row, super skinny aisle, “densified” Boeing 787s – and AVOID those planes like the plague that they sure are unless there’s absolutely no viable alternative possible if economy is the only option.

    (As awful as 787s are in 9-abreast Y, is as amazing as they are in PE or biz class, tho…)

    It’s the lies, chicanery and deceit that’s behind the “rants”.

    Nobody should be expected to purchase a product the CEO (or Board of Directors) refuses to use.

    If the products they sell are not good enough for them to use routinely, and the same way as they expect of the consumers who make their salaries possible to pay for, then their actions speak louder and should be instructive to everyone instead of their false proclamations that are contrary to most others’, and my own personal experiences, as seems the case with Dougie’s claim that he’s “tried” the mini/micro loos on his atrocious, densified, Boeing 737-8s (five hours on that POS plane between MIA-LAX in coach/economy? Yeah, right, maybe after Dougie does that trip in the middle seat of a 30” pitch row a few dozen times and is seen freely entering and exiting the rear microloos easily and effortlessly!!!) – and they’re perfectly fine.

    Uh-huh, Dougie…if you say so…it must be true…

    …so why not put your money where your mouth is, and fly as most of us do?

    In a 30” pitch, 17.2” wide economy seat aboard a Boeing 737…squeezed into a window seat, or even worse, wedged between two others in a middle seat, shoulders/biceps pressed against your seatmates, with elbows poking each other for three or so hours – let alone four or more!

    Then let’s all have a discussion about these despicable planes that nearly one year after delivery to AA you still haven’t seen a reason to fly in any class…

    Hmmmm.

    Is it because by avoiding these planes, this is the only way you can continue to tell yourself, and the flyers who make your annual stock compensation packages possible, that there’s nothing wrong with them?

    How about the CEO tries and flies the planes he/she buys BEFORE she/he tells flyers to fly ‘em?

    Lead by example. And if not, then perhaps it’s time to move on…

    It’s time to bring in CEOs who stand behind the products they sell, and who use them in their lives the same way most do.

    A CEO has no right expecting people to pay for something so crappy that even when free they won’t use.

    And we should NOT spend money purchasing products from companies where the CEOs shun the products they sell because they’re THAT bad.

    If it isn’t good enough for the CEO (and Board of Directors) to use, then to paraphrase the notorious “Queen of Mean” Leona Helmsley from her “reign” as CEO of her husband, Harry’s, real estate and hotel empire, why should you?

    The passengers who make your yuuuuggge annual stock awards possible are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to take pics and post on social media your frequent presence in a rear row of Y-class aboard their upcoming (so not an) “Oasis” configured Boeing 737-8 (and -800) flights (that of course, you won’t ever be seen on)!

    (nb: google keywords “Leona Helmsley Palace Hotel” for the full context of her CEO testimonials!)

  9. Come on Doug, it’s time the fly on this densified mess you created. Fly cross country in the last row in the middle seat and tell us how you like it.

  10. It’s encouraging to see that informed business travelers who read this blog aren’t buying the lies or the “product.” Unfortunately, much of the general public doesn’t know or care. The family that scrimps and saves for that Florida vacation won’t know the misery they’re in for until the cabin door closes. Individual declarations of “I will never fly American again” have no impact or meaning for execs like Parker. Even when they come from the people who once were loyal. The only two things likely to compel change are either disruptive competition or a disaster. The former is highly unlikely since the industry is now an oligarchy. The latter would be a human tragedy all too easy to imagine. When dunce-if-ication costs the lives of people unable to escape in an emergency, maybe public outrage will equal the level of outrage expressed on this blog.

  11. I don’t understand how Doug Parker still has a job. Even if all of these changes were done to supposedly bolster shareholder profits, AAL stock is down 25% from a year ago, pays less in dividends than its competitors, and has a lower profit margin (4%) than Delta, United, Southwest, and JetBlue. All this b.s. coming from the c-suite would *maybe* be understandable if the company were performing great but it’s just not. The board needs to rid AA of this fool.

  12. Gary, I know that you (as a policy) don’t spell check or correct minor errors – I love that about your blogging.

    However, the last line in bold should be *hasn’t not has and that materially changes the message you intend to deliver. You may want to change that one little piece.

  13. I loved reading the blabber from this fat slob Parker. He can’t even form sentences when he asked these questions, so you know he is lying.

  14. Any truth that EXP’s will get a free surgical colostomy bag installed instead of upgrades?

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