8 Things I Just Learned About American Airlines Plans for Flights, Planes, and Product

American Airlines hosts a ‘state of the airline’ event for employees after its earnings calls. There senior management shares their vision for the company and employees can ask questions. In addition to those questions that are asked live, there are followup questions that get asked – and answered – in writing.

The airline has shared written responses to several employee questions, and some of those contained information I did not know (although in some cases may have assumed).

  • The Airbus A321neo will go into service April 2, and will be based at LAX and Phoenix. It will begin flying to Hawaii in September.

  • American “may[..] at some point in the future” serve Helsinki, home base of their transatlantic joint venture partner Finnair.

  • Orlando gets Airbus A319s because even though the market supports larger aircraft they’re doing maintenance there for that fleet type.

  • Increased Canada flying has been a mixed bag for American but Chicago – Calgary performs especially well. They aren’t dropping any Canada routes at this time.

  • They do not intend to replace the hated ‘Concept D’ business class seats on Boeing 787-8 and some Boeing 777-200 aircraft. (The decade-old Airbus A330 seats, which were ahead of their time when installed by US Airways, badly need replacing as well.)

  • One brave employee asked why American continues to roll out their Boeing 737 MAX interior — with less distance between seats (including less legroom in first class and Main Cabin Extra), less recline, no seat back video, and tiny lavatories — when customers and employees hate it so much?

    American says that customers don’t hate it any more than current Boeing 737-800s (“customer satisfaction scores..are similar”). Customers don’t love flying coach on American either way, it seems, and there’s no effort to improve customer satisfaction. Instead American says their business is packing more people into planes,

    The additional seats on the plane are going to help us take more people where they want to go – and that’s the business we’re in.

  • “There is a chance is could make sense” to retrofit Boeing 737-800 aircraft with scimitar winglets.

  • Current status of updating narrowbody planes to offer high speed satellite internet:

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 flew on a reconfigured 737-800 with the new MAX layout twice this week. I was in regular coach, not MCE. My expectation was that I would hate it. But, it was fine — better in my opinion than a 737-800 prior to the refit.

    Though I am 6’2”, I did not notice any diminished leg room. I’m guessing that’s both because of the thinner seat and less recline. The thinner seat had sufficient padding for the flight I was on. The increase in seat width is illusory as that’s just because they made the arm rest thinner. I had a window so I give the entirety of the arm rest to the poor soul in the middle anyway. Not an improvement or a decrement.

    I liked the electronics gadget holder in the seatback and I mostly preferred it to an IFE screen. As a matter of personal preference, I would rather not have the leg room taken away by the IFE box below the seats. I use IFE screens for the map function and have used my iPad for entertainment so I do understand how others will miss this feature, but if I were an airline executive, I wouldn’t put a rapidly outdated, heavy technology like these systems in my domestic fleets.

    I loved the new overhead bins that accommodated rollaboards 5 to a bin rather than 3 to a bin. That’s a big improvement for those of us who get worried about not being able to get our bag up. The larger overhead bins plus the loss of the IFE box meant way more room for my rollaboard (in bin) and backpack (under the seat in front of me). That’s definitely an improvement to me.

    I did not make it to the bathroom. I am a skinny guy so I think I would be fine, but that’s clearly a step backwards.

    That said, my review is only slightly positive. I won’t be avoiding this configuration (or searching it out). AA used to differentiate itself with things like more room throughout coach and now the best that can be said with a new fleet type is, “it’s fine.” I’m sure that I would like it much better with an inch more pitch, the same overheads and seats, and a regular sized bathroom.

  2. “American says that customers don’t hate it any more than current Boeing 737-800s”. Hey AA: they might not hate it more, but they certainly also don’t hate it less. It is not providing you with an “angle” to convince customers they should book with you over anyone else. It is not differentiating you for good, AND it is not differentiating you against the old product. So there is no net gain, other than “The additional seats on the plane are going to help us take more people where they want to go – and that’s the business we’re in.”

    And that is all you need to know: they are in the “moving people” business, and they try and do that in as large a number as possible, with as much profit as possible. We knew that already, but it is a good reminder. Especially when other options exist!

  3. Calgary seems like it would be a good route from cities besides Chicago. You’d think Denver and Dallas would be good routes for this. I know Denver isn’t a hub but the stock show business and other related business in those markets would make sense. My guess is there is some certain corporate need from Chicago but I wonder how much is connecting traffic.

  4. “The additional seats on the plane are going to help us take more people where they want to go – and that’s the business we’re in.“

    Translated: We place a higher priority on greed than in customer satisfaction and comfort.

  5. “The additional seats on the plane are going to help us take more people where they want to go – and that’s the business we’re in. Despite the fact we’re not making any money in that business – only from selling miles – that’s why we’ll continue to manage the exact same way.”

    Fixed it for him

  6. @Brian

    Why can they not go with DL’s new IFE system where the boxes are replaced with streaming to seatback tablets (that can be more easily and cheaply replaced with more advanced technology)? It would be much cheaper for AA, but AA is just too cheap to even consider that.

    I’m glad you didn’t find the overall experience too bad on the Oasis 738, but legroom was already terrible in regular Y and I can’t imagine the reduced padding would be comfortable on some of the longer 738 flights.

  7. They live in a glass bubble with those comments
    I took my tens of thousands of flight revenue and partner activity elsewhere
    So hope they believe in the tooth fairy too

  8. Actually, in some horrible way, I get it.

    They reduce flights to already starved markets and then say: “The additional seats on the plane are going to help us take more people where they want to go – and that’s the business we’re in.”

    AA just manipulates the market and we who fly, take it or leave it.

    If I have a choice, I do not fly AA. E.g. I fly Alaska to San Diego rather than AA to LAX. Apparently they don’t miss me and heaven knows, I don’t miss them. The folks at Alaska have been quite welcoming.

  9. Was looking for a direct flight LAX to Reagan and there it was – 737 MAX…. So, I’m taking a connecting flight and risking a connection instead (knowing AA’s lack of reliability) to avoid a cross country flight on that plane. But, that won’t always be possible as they continue to retrofit other existing planes.

    If I weren’t just shy of 100k miles from lifetime PLT I would bail and try out Delta, but I’ll hit that by end of year and reassess. Figure I might as well grab that before they stop offering lifetime PLT or add some other qualifying criteria (spend, etc.).

    As an EXP for several years, I keep hoping they oust management and become more like what Delta is trying to become before I decide to defect , as Delta’s offering (product, service) is more in line with what I’m looking for (and what AA used to be) After accepting all of the devaluations and program changes I’m realizing my #1 priority is a comfortable and pleasant travel experience.

  10. @Brian — I happened to be flying DL last week (I take turns – I’m on AA this week). I was on their 737-700 and 900. The 900 has a lot of the features that AA’s new MAX aircraft has. Undoubtedly, for the customer, the 900 is the more comfortable airplane to fly. I even went to the coach lav just to check it out. It didn’t make much of an impression on me when I saw it a couple years ago (before Gary went on the warpath against it), and it still seemed completely fine to me this time. I’m a pretty normal sized male, and the lav seemed more than big enough to me. Honestly, if you’re less than 300 lbs, you’ll be fine. The sink is a little narrow, but the annoyance factor is beyond modest (like getting an air dryer when you’d prefer a paper towel in a public restroom). In other words, Gary is just wrong on this. But I am certain he won’t change his mind. I’m equally certain AA won’t change their minds, because it would be foolish to do so.

  11. Imagine if an airline treated it’s customers with respect, and didn’t overcharge for flights, or charge for checked or overhead bags, or for cancelled flights. Wait, that describes Southwest Airlines! And that’s why air travelers across the US are deserting the “big 3” in droves. Sayonara, American, there’s no Aadvantage to suffering in your steerage class seating.

  12. The new 737 interior (Project Oasis) is horrible. Head thumping overhead bins. Concrete bleacher seats. No space in Coach. A guillotine glass panel that is supposed to be an improvement over the bulkhead. I’m going out of my way to avoid this aircraft, now that it has been introduced to the Tucson market.

    An EXP of several years (re-qualifying next week), I’ll be taking my business to Delta next year. They may not be much better, but at least I can get to the East Coast more quickly, reliably, and (most importantly) comfortably.

    Show me proof that Parker enjoys the Miami – Brasilia roundtrip seated in a 737 MAX middle coach seat and I might reconsider. Not holding my breath.

  13. “American says that customers don’t hate it any more than current Boeing 737-800s (“customer satisfaction scores..are similar”).”

    Yeah, just like the 737-800 and 737 MAX are functional equivalents for certification and if you can fly the 800, you can fly the MAX since they operate identically. Oops. Sorry, Lion Air.

    PS – imagine the uproar if that crash was on a US carrier and the reason was found to be an “error” by Boeing in documentation (an error which conveniently helped sales as pilots wouldn’t have to be certified on another type of aircraft) and the FAA in certifying it as identical.

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