The first legacy American Airlines Airbus A321 – ship 930, registration N930AU – flew from Mobile to Tulsa on Thursday for ‘Oasis modification’.
That means taking domestic planes and squeezing in more seats with less spacing between them and less padding. That runs counter to the current mantra of social distancing, and misses that the tendency will be much longer lasting than many people realize.
This is a plane that was only just delivered in February 2017. They only got three years out of the current interior, and they’re ripping out seat back video screens in order to give passengers an inferior experience going forward.
The decision to do this – now – is odd on many levels.
- Only a handful of legacy US Airways planes have been modified. Those are the beaten up planes that don’t have seat back video or seat power to begin with, so there are some improvements that can be made even putting in less comfortable seats.
- American actually said they would prioritize the old ‘basket of deplorables’ legacy US Airways fleet for the retrofit, and wouldn’t take screens out of planes until the very end of the process. They’re reneging.
- The airline needs to conserve cash but they’re spending to modify planes they don’t need to fly, to add seats that passengers won’t be filling perhaps for years.
Airbus A321 interior, credit: American Airlines
American isn’t just cramming seats closer together, so that customers will have an even worse experience when they return to the skies, they’re doing it now to planes that have seat back video – even though the airline had promised these planes would be done last.
Some have suggested they’re just taking the long view – they ‘need’ to retrofit these planes, because they aren’t changing their long term plane despite new evidence the world is changing – and it’s better to do it when planes are grounded.
However they aren’t going to need their full fleet for quite some time. And the domestic fleet is going to have the Boeing 737 MAX once it is ungrounded. As far as we know American will even continue to take delivery of more planes. (They’ll offload some older 737s to compensate.)
The persistent slack in the fleet would allow them to easily put off retrofits, conserve cash, rather than accelerating. American should be reneging on plans with Collins Aerospace to take hundreds of new seats per aircraft, not doubling down – and not starting with the best domestic planes they have to make them worse.
Not for nothing, but American’s share price began to tumble right as this retrofit project took off and American’s own numbers show they’ve pushed away frequent travelers.
Of course as a soon-to-be partially nationalized airline, it has something in common now with Etihad, owned by the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, which is doing massive fleet work on its grounded aircraft: 200 people per shift are replacing seat covers, shampooing carpets, and moving forward work on maintenance checks.