Watch Out for Seat Changes When American Airlines Gives You An ‘Oasis’ Plane

I flew American Airlines for the first time on one of their Boeing 737-800s that’s been converted to a “Project Oasis” interior — meaning it’s been retrofit to have the same lack of legroom and smaller lavatories (but larger overhead bins) as their new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

I wrote only days ago that these are planes to avoid but right now it’s really difficult to do so. You book a flight on a 737, and there aren’t enough ‘new’ 172 seat 737s to know consistently where these torture tubes are going to turn up.

My flight was operated by N805NN, one of the 737-800s that’s fresh out of the shop. Here’s something I didn’t realize but shouldn’t have surprised me. The new planes (1) have more rows of seats and (2) the numbering scheme is different. Instead of rows 3-6 being first class, it’s rows 1-4. And American Airlines didn’t handle the seat re-assignment well.

I’d been booked into seat 6F but there was no more first class row 6 so I lost that assignment. They didn’t just move everyone in the first row (3) to the new first row (1), everyone in the second row (4) to the new second row (2), and so on. Instead I wound up in 1F, a bulkhead window, my least favorite seat. Fortunately 2A was still available.

If you’re flying an American Airlines 737-800 you need to watch your seat assignments because when the airline assigns a tail to your flight — a specific aircraft — it may be one with more seats and a different seat numbering scheme. So you may wind up in a different seat than you thought you had reserved.

Of course that’s not all that’s wrong with the project. I’ve written at length about the new slimline coach seats with less padding and less distance between seats.

However it’s important to point out that even the legroom in ‘Main Cabin Extra’ has been reduced. Those seats now have 33 inch pitch.

And first class has been made materially worse, too. They’ve taken away 3 inches from first class. I was sitting up front and fortunately even with the passenger in row one reclining I was still able to open my laptop.

The tray table didn’t want to stay fully level. It doesn’t stretch all the over to the other armrest for support and it kept falling down at an angle. Even when it was level it bounced around as I typed. And there’s no pivot to the new tables, you have to fold them back up in order to get out and use the lavatory.

There is a bar across the lower portion of the first class seat that protrudes and spent the flight digging into my back.

There’s simply no thought put into these seats. And American wonders why they have a premium revenue problem.

I do have to give them credit for the inflight internet, though faster satellite internet installs are happening on a separate track and faster than the torture tube retrofit. They market a ‘living room experience’ though guests in my living room don’t watch shows on a six inch phone or sit on slimline seats. The internet isn’t as fast as it is at home, either, but it was definitely functional.

Net net I definitely want to avoid these planes, even with the larger overhead bins and faster internet. They’re installing internet on planes much faster than they’re doing retrofits so I hope to fly on old-configuration aircraft with more Main Cabin Extra seats and better pitch in first class. Functional internet is a top priority for me.

However if there’s a swap out for one of these 737-800s with 172 seats instead of the current standard 160, be sure to watch your seats!

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. American’s 737 Torture Tubes are definitely garbage. As a 2 million miler with AA I am repulsed by their shenanigans and more and more I book with other airlines. That being said, I flew Delta from ATL to SFO on a 737 and I consider that aircraft to be a Torture Tube as well. From now on I will only book routes with Airbus A319, 320, 321s, MD80s, regional jets, or larger Boeing or Airbus planes. As far as I’m concerned the Boeing 737 is Dead. Likewise the FOOLS that run American Airlines can Burn in Hell as far as I’m concerned.

  2. Why didn’t they? Rows 3-4 did not change. The computer or agent reassigning those 16 seats thinks it is easier to just move 8. These moves probably affected the Y cabin with higher numbers of re-accommodations.

  3. That bar in the lower back of these new F seats is terrible and really prone to breaking in a way that protrudes into the lower spine. I’ve had this problem 2 or 3 times since they started rolling this seat out on the A319. It’s a really poor and cheap feeling seat for so called first class.

  4. That’s the legroom in “first class”? I guess they’re assuming that since they can get anyone to pay for those seats they might as well make them suck. Anyone getting an upgrade and escaping the back will be grateful.

  5. AA is noted for changing plane seat assignments at the last minute. For months at the last minute they would consistently switch an A321 with a 757 on PHX DCA. At least now for the 737s you can see the change a day or two before your flight, which happened to me this week on DCA PHX. In previous situations it was up to the gate agents to handle all the changes which was a huge mess at boarding time.

  6. Fatal error! The “American Airlines” moniker was won by US Scare as spoils of merger. Management of present-day AA are US Airways-legacy management, NOT AMR. Doug Parker and his merry band of marauders are dumbing down AA to US-legacy inferiority. Good strategy on part of Parker and his raiders: “American Airlines” continues to enjoy more cachet, even if undeserved. I doubt that reality will offer comfort when the broken bar in the FC seat is piercing kidneys, but it explains the downward spiral in service experiences and steep, upward trajectory in disappoints. The film will be entitled, “Revenge of Doug’s Bean Counters.” Bon voyage.

  7. Gee, I felt the bar on the flight out of SJD. I thought it was just me.
    I may just switch to a longer flight on another carrier if I have to put up with this in revenue first. Either that or just pay for exit row aisle seating. I never thought economy would be more comfortable but it is.

  8. I haven’t flown AA in years (network doesn’t work for me). However, I keep reading this blog and have no intention to book them domestic. It seems DL and UA are better choices. AA sounds awful.

  9. I have been a loyal LAA flyer for nearly a decade. I would always choose them, even if I needed to connect to get to my final destination. I have held Platinum status with them and had a near 100 percent upgraded on tickets that I did not purchase in paid J or F class as a PLAT until 2016. Since Doug Parker has taken over AA, the airline has been hacking away at the benefits it once offered elite flyers. There was a time when The AAngels in The Admirals Clubs could go above and beyond to assist, now they are extremely limited in their capacities to help. The same tone has permeated the culture of American. It much more reflects an America West attitude of bare minimum service and amenities.
    As my frustrations with AA increased, I decided to status match last year to Delta.While I know they are far from a perfect carrier, at least I know that I will have IFE screens and a minimum of 34” pitch in Comfort Plus (if flying in main cabin), decent catering in flight and in Sky Clubs as well as an overall unified team. (LUS and LAA have still not integrated and I doubt that it will go as smooth as expected in October). I was worried about upgrades with Delta being based in NYC and I have cleared every time to Comfort Plus and even cleared first class upgrades on a few tickets domestically as a Gold Medallian. While I will requalify for AAdvantage Platinum, I have decided that I will finally say goodbye and giver he majority of my business to Delta moving forward. I will collect AAdvantage miles through their shopping portal and my Miles Up card for, grocery store spend as the6 are still marginally better than SkyMiles. Otherwise, they have lost me with the implementation of Project Oasis. They have made the decision to target flyers who buy the lowest paid ticket on average of once per year (quoted in some articles in the past year) instead of keeping the standard for Main Cabin Extra and First Class the same or better. I will say Flagship Business and Flagship First have improved, yet they are not a good enough reason to suffer on domestic flights. I do not think they can be everything to everyone and I have already seen their premium market customers jump ship, especially in NYC where they have divested many routes to PHL and CLT.

  10. AA’s new configuration IMO is an improvement, with faster internet, power outlets and tablet holders. GONE are those huge boxes that take up under seat storage and leg room.

    DL’s newest configured planes have the same room 37″ in FC as AA (so does UA). The one extra inch in Comfort Plus verse MCE is wasted by the huge IFE boxes and thicker seats due to the screens, not extra padding. DL also has slow GO GO.

  11. Lifetime AA Gold here.

    I’ve had it with them. I just flew on a UA 319 in Economy Plus, N896UA, and it was rather shocking. I see that it was a former China Southern out of retrofit a year ago. I for one like the United slimline seat, the space in 12C was great, and even after a year it was literally the cleanest plane I’ve ever been on. I spent a minute or two looking for a crumb or a speck of dirt and couldn’t find one. Returned home on an AA 321 and it was miserable, the only saving grace is the Thales 3D flight map, which of course will be gone at some point.

    UA EP clearly > AA MCE. I think that tipped the balance for me on giving United another chance, now researching how to consistently get Eco Plus short of a subscription.

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