One of the biggest mistakes American Airlines has made in the past several years is its new domestic product. They crammed more seats into planes, removed seat back entertainment screens, and now passengers board thinking they’re on old aircraft.
Ex-CEO Doug Parker greenlit the Torquemada-style seating program and didn’t even try his airline’s product until it was flying for about six months. It turns out they didn’t even build a mockup of it first to see how it would work for passengers and employees. New CEO Robert Isom has previously described needing to make the best of it, since they’re stuck it with it.
During the airline’s post-earnings call employee gathering on Thursday he touted the Oasis retrofit program as one of the airline’s great successes,
We took on the world’s largest reconfiguration program in commercial aviation history when we set out to change the interiors of our 737 and A321 fleet. Over 400 aircraft went through massive modification. That project started in 2018, had some starts had some stops, but it’s done…came in under budget and it is a real driver in terms of what we forecast into the future.
It’s because it’s a better product, number one, and then number two it’s much more efficient. We’re actually able to add capacity into the system without bringing on a lot of the costs that usually come with it.
In fact, the program wasn’t well-executed at all. They outsourced it to vendors that did shoddy work leading to the grounding of aircraft. And it was so poorly designed they had to retrofit the retrofitted planes (Project Kodiak).
This new product gives customers,
- thinner, less comfortable seats
- less space per passenger
- no seat back video
- tighter lavatories
- not enough extra legroom coach seats (and equipment above the seats in extra legroom coach, limiting access to overhead bins by ostensibly premium customers and elites)
On the other hand, the upside about the new product is:
- high speed wifi, but this is not the Oasis retrofit and was done separately from this change
- bigger overhead bins, which fits more carry on bags on the plane, and means fewer gate checked bags – good for customers and for getting flights out on time
Of course the basket of deplorable Airbus A320s – maybe the only planes that would have benefited from this retrofit – are still flying around as old America West junkers. They were given high speed internet, underscoring that it wasn’t necessary to do the rest of the work to have this feature. Most of the aircraft are over 20 years old, yet when American retired Boeing 757, 767, Airbus A330 and Embraer E-190 jets these planes remained.