American Airlines Introduces A Flight Worse Than All its Others

As a kid I flew American Airlines DC-10 service to Sydney via Honolulu. That meant waking up in the middle of the night on the way back to clear US customers, picking up luggage, dragging it and re-checking it to continue back to the mainland. On the other hand loads were often light and I could find a row of middle seats all to myself. (Although a full day time flight, looping King Ralph on the projector screen, was pretty bad.)

In the early 1970s they served Sydney with a Boeing 707 via Honolulu and Fiji.

Now, though, American is introducing a flight to compete with all of the painful experiences they’ve offered to customers in the past — and that’s certainly worse than anything else they’re offering today.

Starting in May their Miami to Brazil’s capital of Brasilia flight will no longer be flown by a Boeing 757 with lie flat business class seats. Instead they’ll run the flight with a Boeing 737 MAX. The flight is blocked at over seven and a half hours and spans 3600 miles. Their slightly shorter and often less expensive Miami – Santa Cruz, Bolivia flight will change from a Boeing 757 to a 737 MAX as well.

American Airlines is more exposed to Latin America routes than competitor airlines in the U.S., and Latin American economies aren’t performing well. American explains it was this or nothing,

As we aim to increase profitability in the market, we will provide a newer, more fuel efficient aircraft on flights between MIA and Brasilia, Brazil (BSB) and MIA and Santa Cruz, Bolivia (VVI) in May. Our profitability is effected by many factors, including demand, competition and today’s high fuel environment, which ultimately drive strategic adjustments, like change in aircraft.

The MAX will provide larger overhead bins, power at every seat, and free entertainment streamed right to your device, which customers on this route and many South American routes, value the most. As the largest U.S. carrier to Latin America and the Caribbean, American is committed to serving these markets more efficiently in the future.

These flights must be performing exceptionally badly because the 757 is the plane American uses when they can’t make a 767 work, and the 767 is the plane, according to their CEO, that they send places where their best customers don’t go.

American’s management has to do something now that the airline isn’t making any money flying passengers, and only earns a profit by selling frequent flyer miles. In the end it all comes back to Blazing Saddles.

Some key features of the new service:

  • Less distance between seats in coach, Main Cabin Extra, and the premium cabin
  • Smaller lavatories
  • An uncomfortable bare bones MiQ seat up front with a bar protruding at lower back level

The airline will charge you as much as $5000 roundtrip for discount (“I” fare) business class seats on the Miami – Brasilia flight, even though they’re not offering an international business class product any longer. These domestic seats are similar to American’s international premium economy, but with less leg room and no foot rest.

It’s not just business class that takes it on the chin here of course. Economy has less distance between seats, less recline, and less padded seats. And since American ordered their 737 MAX aircraft without ovens for the back galley they can no longer serve hot meals on 7 hour flights. Instead they tell me that they “will replace the service in Main Cabin with the deluxe snack box.” In other words, ‘let them eat hummus.’

Second service remains the same, since they’ve been ‘brown bagging it’ on American Boeing 757s since March.

Eventually we’ll see several flights of similar distance operated by American Airlines in similar configuration. For instance Dallas – Anchorage was at one point expected to be operated by a 737 MAX (it remains scheduled with a 757), and that’s just 15% shorter than Miami – Brasilia.

However customers spending $5000 for a ticket in what’s called business class, on a route that has had lie flat seats, are going to be shocked when they’re now spending as much for business class only to discover… something that very much isn’t. My recommendation to American is to at least market the forward cabin product honestly as ‘premium economy’ and warn coach customers to eat prior to boarding.

Since Lufthansa won’t actually operate an intra-Europe Airbus A319 Frankfurt – Pune with a refueling stop in Baku, is there any worse flight in the world that claims to sell international business class? I’m having a hard time thinking of one.

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. @Gary
    Gary, I am no fan of AA to say the least and went from EXP and PLA for 10 years, to not having a single leg the last 2 years…I do not fly them, period
    That said, I am very familiar with the brasil market both domestically and international, I fly there 3 times a year to every possible city
    Brasilians from Brasilia and other cities outside of sao paulo, particularly north, hate connectin south in sao to fly north to miami, and they will take a mule if they could avoid flying south, so I think this route does well and will continue to do well, as folks from brasilia and goiania will take it, including the thousands of kids who go to orlando every year
    their only choice is to take COPA which uses equally bad planes and you have to connect in panama, so they will swallow this bitter pill and keep flying…
    Personally, I prefer (and have done that) to connect in GRU and then fly north rather than get on one of the old 757 to brasilia or salvador or recife when they had those routes
    But again, I do not fly AA anymore

  2. So let’s vote with our wallets. Unfortunately the competition (GOL) also flies that route with a 737. As for indirect flights, Avianca and Copa also use 737s. The only alternative would be using LATAM to fly via Sao Paulo: 777 from Miami to Sao Paulo and then A320 to Brasilia. The money cost, for some random dates I checked, is about 20% higher, for economy, and the time duration is about 13 hours instead of 7h30′.

    So perhaps AA is actually doing the right thing.

  3. The market badly needs JetBlue to shake it up. Mint would trounce this lame business class, and could connect the entire Brazilian Northeast to most US major US cities through FLL.

  4. This is the first that I have heard that American cannot serve hot food on its 737 MAX aircraft? Is this really true? Seven plus hour flights with cold food? Unbelievable.

  5. This is infuriating!!
    I fly a lot between MIA-BSB on that 757 and while Main Cabin Extra you get 36″ pitch, now you will get 33″.
    In Main Cabin you will be reduced from 32″ to 30″! And no warm food on an 8 hour flight? Wow this is ridiculous. Might at well fly to Sao Paulo and connect instead.

  6. Yep, leave it to “Avoid Always”/“Always Awful” Airlines to use its dawn of the jet age, mid-last century designed, time machine like 737s that are older than the majestic Queen herself (747s) to make circa 1967-early 1980s vintage-like flying (sans movies and other IFE) “great again”.

    Yeah, bc these crappy planes featuring 50-60 years ago designs and engineering (NO Fly-By-Wire on these Dodo birds!) which were orginally limited to ranges of ~1,750 miles and flights under 3.5 hours, plus their revolting 17.2” wide 30” pitch pre-K sized (“no legroom”) seatback IFE-less, butt numbing seats are so desirable for 7.5 hours (NOT!).

    What a joke!

    They get away with this bs bc, as @Doug and @Don Airbuso noted in their comments, to escape this appalling, abysmal, abominable, hell that is any long haul, 7+ hours flight aboard this 50+ years old designed short haul, dog poop of a plane, one must be willing to take “the scenic route” south to Sao Paulo (GRU) to hop aboard a widebody (which, if densified, is almost equally horrible in terms of its shameful pre-K kiddie sized economy seats in terms of “comfort” – or rather lack thereof) to at least have a chance at a more contemporary, 21st century soft product featuring real (instead of useless & pretend streaming to ones’ own device) IFE and hot meals throughout the cabin, plus real, lie flat business class seats.

    So, and as always, a LACK OF MEANINGFUL COMPETITION (since Gol is using the same, crappy stone age, vintage planes) means Always Awful can do what it now does best: be Absolutely Awful – always!

    Hey, there’s enough suckers willing to pay top dollar (never mind that $5k is a cruel joke that is borderline consumer fraud…) for Premium Economy seats pretending to be Business Class seats as long as the two airlines operating this route know there’s more than enough demand for nonstop service for both of them to carve up the market amongst themselves while offeringing nominally distinguishable, and equally horrible, products aboard the same, awful, 1960s through 1980s vintage style “ambiance” where staring at the bareback of the seat in front of one was all the “entertainment” they were ever likely going to encounter aboard a 737 – or pretty much any narrowbody aircraft in that era!

    Horrible.

    But, of course, entirely predictable for an airline where its code, “AA”, is derided by most as standing for “Always Awful”, “Absolutely Awful” or “Avoid Always” much the way its ancestor in the corporate family tree, Allegheny Airlines (nb: that was the name of US Airways before the name changed to that) was nicknamed “Agony Airlines” – and with that, and as a homage to that corporate lineage, I suppose we can also add “Agony Airlines” to the ever expanding list of nicknames that can be applied as best representing what the two letter code, “AA”, is short-hand for! 😉 hehehe

    But, whether it’s “Agony”, “Awful” or “Avoid” – they all apply for ANY flights aboard these disgusting, shameful, cheap AF, bs 737s that for sure, are best AVOIDED…always!

  7. I recently flew to Manaus, Brazil on an AA 737 from Miami. It had no hot food. But is was completely fine (including individual screens that you write so much about). What made the flight decent was the fact that there’s no other way to get there other than backtracking all the way to Sao Paulo. Obviously, if there was a widebody with free champagne and caviar I would have preferred it, but I was looking for efficient transport, not fine dining. You seem to forget that this is the primary reason most people fly: to get somewhere as efficiently as possible. AA’s Miami hub is big enough to get folks to destinations in Latin America that are otherwise much harder to reach. My Manaus flights were pretty empty; I don’t think we’re going to see bigger aircraft on these routes. I just hope there’s enough demand to keep everything they fly with some type of aircraft.

  8. @chopsticks
    There is efficient transport and there is cattle class and abuse by shityy old bitter crews and old planes
    Singapore airlines and many other asian carriers fly to remote destinations in asia without abusing pax
    The only reason AA does it is because they know nobody else will ever fly manaos to miami but in between abuse and champagne/caviar there is a civilized middle but since your only goal is to be the anti gary you ignore all above

  9. I’m EXP and do the MIA-VVI route in business at least three times/yr. AA will effectively lose my business stating May when they implement the change. I will now go through LIM, EZE or SCL. I would not take a 6.5 hr flight overnight in one of the MAX planes ever unless I had the time to get to VVI and rest for a day instead of work, which I don’t. I understand the economics, but it’s a bad move for me. AA just keeps doing little things they think really affect their bottom line and just push customers away, good old customers. It’s unbelievable how twisted these “managers” have it.

  10. Time for Tony Fernandez to launch in the Americas and cleanup the market. He can do those flights with better seats in both classes for about $500-700 I guess. And with a much better service.
    I can just not get how far US airlines have fallen behind against the rest of the world.

  11. “The market badly needs JetBlue to shake it up. Mint would trounce this lame business class, and could connect the entire Brazilian Northeast to most US major US cities through FLL.”

    Yep.

    “I can just not get how far US airlines have fallen behind against the rest of the world.”

    Kind of the way US democracy has fallen behind against the rest of the world … spectacularly and quickly.

  12. Bunch of posters here who clearly have no idea how airline economics work – expecting JetBlue to come swooping in with premium focused Mint service in a low-end market like BSB? Good luck with that.

    And nicely done Gary, cherry-picking the most expensive fare you could find. Have much time did you spend searing for that? October 2019 – 11 months from now. Basically zero business travelers are booking trips that far in advance and AA may not have even loaded most of it’s fares for dates that far out… T

  13. No cherry picking. Within a few hundred dollars that seems to be the fare every day for a half dozen randomly chosen five day business trips (out Saturday, back Thursday)

  14. Since the 757 is quickly reaching the end of its’ designed limits, which aircraft do you posters feel AA should use on these routes? The 757, originally an unloved, narrow body “niche” aircraft established itself as quite the workhorse with performance capability unmatched by any other aircraft. Short runways, high elevation, long routes, CAL to Hawaii, trans-Atlantic, the 757 handled it.

    The larger 767-300’s are right behind, leaving the even larger 787-8, or, the smaller 737 or A-320 series as the only options. If the airline can’t place an aircraft that makes a profit on a market, don’t expect them, AA or anybody else, to send out a money losing flight for long.

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