American Airlines CEO Brags About Efficiency Of New Torquemada Seating

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.

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, 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. No ife on 321’s to Hawaii is about as smart as eating cookies and ice cream for breakfast.

  2. Gotta love the misguided internal propaganda machine over at AA.

    What’s ridiculous is the AA leadership seem to be oblivious of the fact that there is a lot of discussion about how awful Oasis is and how some of their own staff are already aware of the shortcomings of Oasis. This amounts to lying to employees and no one likes to be lied to.

    No wonder why morale at AA is so low.

  3. I wonder if American Airlines named their seats “Torquemada Seating” because mechanical engineers in the United States mathematically define torque as the rate of change of angular momentum of an object. Furthermore, some aircraft engineers define torque as a twisting force that tends to cause rotation. Accordingly, when flying on an aircraft with Torquemada-style seating, some passengers may expect their body and spinal column will be torqued or twisted beyond normal limits during an aircraft crash.

  4. How about they incorporate in affiliate program and brag about the amazing affiliate commission percentage they’re starting out paying travel bloggers?

  5. “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” —Theodore Roosevelt, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
    It’s easy to criticize an airline when one has never run one.

  6. Taking the screens out was the smartest decision and ahead of the time which we be on all planes eventually …Mark my words. Plus those screens carry so many germs , they did a study and human feces was found on those because people don’t wash their hands.

  7. Good riddance to seat-back entertainment.

    When I watch a movie on my phone, I watch a movie on my phone.

    When I watch a movie on a seat-back entertainment system, I watch an ad for the airline that I’m already flying on, another ad for something else, and finally a modified version of the movie that gets interrupted every thirty minutes for important announcements from the cockpit, mostly about exciting credit card opportunities.

  8. Tomas de Torquemada the Evil Catholic in Spain, who tortured, maimed, and executed thousands,
    would be proud of American Airlines. Whereas his evil ways affected thousands, AA has tortured millions. When I think of people like Hitler, Putin and Stalin, it’s an easy step to think of project Oasis.

  9. I’m just here to acknowledge and thank @Mets Fan in NC for the History of the World Part I reference. I just got back from the auto da fe.

  10. They never considered traveling families. I dare you to try to change a diaper in these new lavatories.

  11. DesertGhost that is the most ridiculous misapplication of a quote I have ever seen. American’s management is a bunch of money groveling dolts.

  12. I wonder if AA CEO ever fly economy or at least tried the seats once!
    a flight over 2 hours seating in those seats are impossible. A week after and my back is killing me.
    AA CEO go and check the seats before you call it a successful program.
    If you produce inferior product you should also charge less.
    Personally I prefer better product and to pay more

  13. The fact that the new CEO is actually bragging about their crappy product pretty much says it all.

  14. American has been extremely efficient and driving this 20-year American Airlines customer to Delta. All hail. Poor customer service, inability to provide contracted service, and consistently lost luggage.

  15. I much prefer seat back entertainment. The good airlines have a nice variety and I’ve seen things I probably would never have known about otherwise. It gives me eyestrain and headache to look at my phone that long. I just don’t do it. And the seats remind me of a third-world bus from the 1970s (today many have seats much nicer than the AA seats), while the lavs are a disgrace. “It’s a better product” is one of the most blatant lies by an airline executive in quite a while and that’s saying something.

  16. Timj,
    do you realize that Delta still hands out individual lysol wipes during boarding on its flights? Many people do take them and wipe down their armrests, traytable and seatback screen. Besides, do you really think that if there are contaminants on a screen that there are not also germs on other parts of seats that don’t have seatback IFE?
    The problem is not the number or type of surfaces but whether they are clean or not. Either you believe the seat you are sitting in is clean or carry your own wipes – or you fly an airline that provides them.
    Since the majority of people that fly on even domestic shorthaul flights that offer seatback IFE use them, it is clear that customers do use them whether you do or not.

  17. I have to agree with Tim Dunn about his comments to Tim J.
    Airplanes are filthy; many people are pigs with no regard for who cleans up after leaving. Change your baby’s diaper on the food tray; sure, no problem. Are you surprised why you find feces on the TV screen? I have been married to an FA for over 20 years and have heard and seen everything. In any case, it’s not just the seating area. It’s the whole plane that is filthy, and you really need to wipe everything down before getting comfortable (judging from the AA configuration, it’s not going to happen in coach). I have seen mold in the kitchens, people who go to the bathroom in socks; it’s amazing how clueless people are. Does anyone believe the planes get cleaned thoroughly? It’s a joke! Between legs, there is no time between getting passengers off and new ones coming in. So all of you do yourselves a favor and treat it as it is—the flightiest form of transportation. Wipe everything down, touch a little if possible, and keep those wipes handy.
    I’m not even paranoid about a bit of schmutz, but face it, Airtravel has become a bit of a nightmare, and misbehaving passengers don’t make it any easier. FA’s are NOT there to serve your every whim; they are there to save your behind in an emergency. So be friendly and appreciative at all-time it gets a long way toward getting better service. Also, Gate-Agents/FA’s, even Pilots, have no control over delays/changes in configurations, etc. There is no point in letting your frustrations out on them. While Pilots have different contracts, FA’s do not; if the plane is not moving, they are not getting paid. They’re paid hourly based on actual flying time. They also don’t get paid during layovers or when flights get delayed—so while you’re agonizing about having to wait, flight attendants are too.

  18. @Chris and @Gary. Damn. It would have been the funniest thing I’ve read in months had AA actually used that name themselves.

  19. I really don’t understand this obsession with the Oasis seats and restrooms. The bathrooms are exactly the same as Delta’s and the seats are the same minus the seat back IFE. AA’s 737’s are denser than DL’s but DL’s A321’s are denser than AA’s. All the majors are about the same, comfort wise.

  20. if updating the 321 seats was bad then why is not updating the 320 seats bad? Don’t the old seats have more padding, are more comfortable and more leg room?

  21. I wonder why these guys are top of the pile. Mega bonuses for shocking performance.
    The shift from JFK to EWR was just as bad.
    Oh, and what about the airline CEO who told the world that it was inconceivable that his airline would ever make a loss again?
    Makes you wonder about how they ever got to CEO.

  22. America West is every bit as cheap (except prices) and arrogant as they were before swallowing a respected airline whole.

  23. Flown nothing but AA for the past 10 years. Have flown my last flight on what is becoming a substandard carrier…only a tone deaf CEO would boast about changes that degrade the customer experience!

  24. Doesn’t southwest have the exact same kind of brand seating on their MAXs and some of their 800s

  25. I enjoyed American Airlines too I did like how I was able to keep my carry on with me and I did like how most of the time the plane was on time too

  26. @Sal — Gary has long had a fixation with AA’s Oasis seating. It is tighter than normal in First Class, which I assume is the cause of Gary’s ire. There is nothing particularly wrong with the coach seating. The seats are fine, and well designed to take up a little less space. And I appreciate the larger storage bins. The smaller bathrooms (that most airlines now use) aren’t great, as the sink is on the small side and water tends to splash out of it. But it’s as annoying to me as a public restroom that has a hand dryer instead of paper towels — one of life’s very small annoyances that stem from businesses trying to save a buck on non-critical services.

  27. If you don’t like a product, don’t use it. The public has spoken and they re only looking at price, and not service or quality. That goes in many industries. I am an EP for many years on American, and every plane I fly on domestic or international is at least 95% full, so the public is saying to American, we don’t care, just give us the cheapest. When planes fly half full, they will have to respond. But until that day comes, expect, thinner seats, more crowded planes, poor service, extended reservation hold times, and whatever other negatives there are. Businesses respond ro customer demand.

  28. @GaryLeff: I’m interested in your thoughts regarding AA’s history either coming full circle, or consistently being inconsistent, or lack of being able to match or find/fulfill it’s targeted market. A long, long, long time ago … in a galaxy far, far away … AA introduced More Room in Coach with the thought that the comfort would spur loyalty and higher yield from travelers willing to spend a few dollars more for comfort. Then the general traveling public said they wouldn’t pay extra for the space and thus More Room in Coach ended for the sake of economic realities and uncertainty. Then AA went to More Room in Some Parts of Coach. It seems AA is consistently trying to hit a moving target, tactics ever changing with the latest fad surveys of who travelers are or will be instead of BEING THAT AIRLINE THAT DOES [insert service or feature here] and attracting the customers who want [THAT].

    You point out that not having seat-back entertainment makes young or new planes seem old. AA’s leadership expressed that the maintenance expense of IFE was too much when the traveling public’s preferences were moving to using their phones, tablets or laptops to watch their preferred media. Did they simply see the future wrong, misread expectations, flat out lied to justify or was it just wrong place, wrong time?

  29. Gary Pash: Sad but true!
    Welcome to the Greyhound Bus of the skies (talk about an uncomfortable seat!).

  30. Torquemada? Really? Someone has a sense of humor. Tomas de Torquemada was the Grand Inquisitor during the Spanish inquisition. Well, those seats are torturous to sit in.

  31. I’ve never chosen seat back IFE over my own device with the context I’m interested in. Never.

  32. Every airline exec must be under 6’ tall. That is the only explanation for the size and headroom in the lavs
    As the old joke goes “there is not room to change your mind “

  33. As an 8 year platinum AA flyer, I can’t believe they could possibly consider that retrofit as anything but a failure. Not only did I fly all the time, I brought a live in nanny and child – all three of us on 8 planes a month in a slow month. And what they did to those bathrooms is shameful! I’m disabled so the size of bad enough for me. But I need to take in my child. I’ve had to leave the door open and block the view with my body so I could help her go to the bathroom. A nightmare.

  34. In flight entertainment is a great way to please passengers period. It gives them something to do. Bring your own devise if you dont like seat back screens. Also, bring a sanitary wet wipe for those germs seemingly everywhere or stay home because germs are everywhere on everything and your body can handle it. Otherwise we’d all be sick all the time. Science.

  35. So AA not has the same interior in economy as Southwest, the most profitable global airline. I dont see alot of Southwest people complain about the lack of screens or slim seats. People in economy are price sensitive.

  36. @Brian Gasser – Southwest doesn’t have these new seats on all its planes, and offers more space per passenger in any case.

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