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.