American Airlines Mocks United Adding Video Screens At Seats As “Prettying Up Old Planes”

After each quarterly American Airlines earnings call, CEO Doug Parker and other top executives gather to review the carrier’s finances with employees and take questions. A member of the corporate communications team asked whether headlines about United Airlines planning to restore seat back video screens to older planes had American rethinking its strategy of taking out those screens from its domestic aircraft.

Chief Customer Officer Alison Taylor said that content can be updated more quickly when it is streamed to a personal device than when it’s loaded for seat back systems, and pointed to Black and Asia Pacific Islander History content, opera and Apple Plus. Rather than rethinking seat back screens, she said, “we feel good about the direction we’re going.”

Of course these aren’t binary choices: Delta streams content to wireless seat back screens, reducing its costs by two-thirds in the process. I’d note:

  • The age of the aircraft doesn’t drive how nice an interior is, airlines refresh cabins on older planes. Indeed, American has Oasis-ified older Boeing 737-800s, actually removing seat back video screens in the process.

    Doug Parker compared United to Northwest Airlines which kept their DC-9s (he called them Super 80s) “past 40 years” suggesting they “chose to make the interiors look really nice.”

  • It’s possible to offer both new planes and amenities like seat back video screens at the same time. Indeed, following the Delta model of streaming content it’s possible to update programs frequently and save money doing it.

  • American actually dropped live TV during the pandemic, suggesting it was because there was no live sports. But the NBA successfully ran its bubble, baseball played, and live TV didn’t return. So I’m not sure even streaming content to personal devices (which makes it difficult to multitask on board) is getting better.

Reminiscent of Qatar Airways CEO declaring that ‘Delta flies crap planes’ Taylor suggested United is “doing it to pretty up old planes, and we should be proud about our new planes and aircraft.”

Parker started to give an answer but complained about my blog (mostly) and a few others in media “please don’t but for every time we do one of these, someone in the media ends up getting to watch it, we’d appreciate it you didn’t allow people in the media to watch this, but anyway we’ve grown used to it.”

He referenced Taylor’s “pretty up old airplanes” and said “this appears to be the strategy” at United “but one should ask them. They have chosen to keep older airplanes around even longer than they had planned to because of financial circumstances.”

CEO Parker added, “we don’t want to do that because we have a new more efficient fleet” and then says it’s possible United is doing it because that’s what “they’re hearing that’s what their customers want” but “that’s not what we’re hearing from our customers.” In other words, American Airlines is taking away screens at passenger seats because customers are asking them to do it

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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Comments

  1. I’d rather be in an old plane with entertainment and amenities than crammed into a new plane without after an Oasis upgrade.

  2. Yep, just like we’re adding unbundling our fares by adding options “only for the things you want” that of course come with additional fees upon fees upon fees & densifying our aircraft with slimline seats & teeny, tiny loos because flyers asked for those things, too!

  3. American is doing what customers want? Awesome, they’ve reversed their devaluations on AAdvantage, committed to ending Oasis, serving free hot meals on any flight over an hour and committed to offering at least two saver award seats in every premium cabin on every flight? Wow, American really does listen to the passengers!

  4. Not sure which customers Doug Parker asked for feedback, but on the surveys I got from AA, I put my preference for seat back IFE.

    Even though I’m at an AA hub, I’ve now taken all my business to Delta unless they don’t fly to my destination.

    Having the seat back IFE is nice for watching a movie or TV show when I want to relax or I have the map displaying when doing work.

    I don’t mind paying the small fare difference to fly Delta and my work, thankfully, allows me to fly any airline.

    AA now reminds me of Spirit; they just need to paint their planes yellow.

  5. Perhaps he equates an old airframe to an old interior because AA never bothered to update the interior of their Super 80s. You stepped on one of those and the interior, with its yellowed bins, etc., FELT old. Step on a 25 year old Delta A320, with its brand-new bins, mood lighting, TVs, etc., and it feels newer than a an AA 737 Max.

  6. Alison Taylor is a total joke…..a “big” joke. I hope American Airlines is not paying her very much in salary and benefits.

  7. Say goodbye to your customers Doug Parker.
    We will gladly fly with your competitors for a better experience.
    AA is a Spirit airlines wanna be.

  8. As an EP for many years I have consistently given feedback about keeping setback IFE so I find it hard to believe customers are asking for it to be removed. Parker should just keep quiet as those crappy US Air 321’s are still around- they just put lipstick on the pig.
    The 321’s that AA purchased pre Dougy are my go to aircraft as they still have seatback systems and non Oasis configurations (for the moment).
    I used to think AA’s service couldn’t get worse however as I’ve started back flying I’ve discovered it actually has declined from pre-pandemic levels. Ive experienced surly FA’s on almost all my recent flights and zero recognition for elite flyers (regardless of class of service)and by that I mean not even a personal thanks for for your loyalty.

  9. Maybe EVERYONE should swamp AA with public tweets noting that Dougie keeps saying customers tell him they don’t want seatback entertainment, and asking AA to release the survey data showing that.

  10. That is pretty rich coming from an airline who’s on board product is regarding as one of the worst in the US, run by a CEO who is doing his best to alienate a large portion of his customer base through corporate activism.

  11. Alcoholic Dougy and his cronies has sunk AA to the bottom adding more uncomfortable seats with no IFE and inflight service and rude crew members. The Competition will definitely win. Until the shareholders wake up and oust them AA will continue to lose customers to the competition. It’s a shame how Dougy has AA at the bottom just like his bottle. AA is overdue for a remake of what it use to be!

  12. The only reason I’ve spent any money with AA in the last several years was top of existing points in order to book QSuites on Qatar Airways. Otherwise, I’ll never fly them.

  13. Well, I wouldn’t tell any airline to take out the seatback video, but in truth, on domestic flights I am happy using my own laptop or phone with inflight wifi. For international flights, I’m not sure the wifi is good enough to support that.

  14. I’d rather have underseat space, two power ports and a device holder with hi-speed wifi. AA’s library and streaming is far superior to the mess on DL and UA. I agree with Doug on this one. International makes sense, domestic is a waste of space. I live streamed and worked without any issues on my last two flight plus 25% off with citi card made it super affordable ($14 for a 5 hour flight). Time for the old F@rts to get with the time, streaming is what the under 40 crowd wants, not a 8 inch seat back screen with bad resolution and limited content.

  15. It’s always so interesting to read people on this site repeatedly slamming Spirit Airlines. It’s obvious that they have not flown Spirit in the last few years. NK has had a total rebirth in all areas. Most important to note is Forbes recently named Spirit as 1 of the best companies worldwide to work for and only 1 of the 3 US carriers to be named to the list. People please stay informed.. P.S. I do not work for Spirit nor do I have any other interests in the company.

  16. Hey, Doug, We are now flying WN, UA, DL, and anything but AA. It’s what your customers want.

  17. When AA’s senior management goes to hell, justice will have them spending eternity in an Oasis toilet.

  18. Haha! A bit of the pot calling the kettle black!!! Recently flew cross country in First Class on American. Not an outlet or a video screen to be found – even in First Class!!! The internet did not work reliably so I couldn’t even use my laptop. I was very surprised since in flight entertainment has been a standard for a long while on the airlines I fly frequently. I would think that American might be smart to stay quiet on this

  19. @ Frank,

    Couldn’t agree more. Am giving up my executive platinum status with American this year after having it for about 6 years and elite status with them for over 10 years. Just like you, I am flying flying B6, WN, UA, DL, and anything but AA. Because It’s what this customers wants. American is a PIA to deal with and couldn’t give a crap about loyalty. Just their bottom line which always seems to underperform their competitors even though they make the customer experience the worst in the industry excluding Frontier and Spirit but pretty darn close to those two.

    In the last 10 years, I have probably spent over $250k with American but not a dollar since February 2020 and no flights booked at this point nor any plans to give American my hard earned money.

  20. @christian. So kind of you to give me that shout out.

    To the rest of the know nothings commenting on this article I can assure that both customers we surveyed supported our initiatives to cram them into uncomfortable seats with surly FA’s and no IFE.
    Ma and Pa Kettle told us they fly almost every year and give all their business to AA.

    Best,

    Dug

  21. AA no longer has non stop flights to my preferred destinations. I, for one, have been flying Delta, United and Jetblue monthly. They possibly won’t miss me. I sure don’t miss them.

  22. I’d rather fly on a brand new American Airlines widebody anyway or even a new AA narrow body, than an old worn and dated Delta 717, 757,767. Or Delta 737.
    Reliability will soon be an issue.
    Also, notice alot of “Delta paid influencer’s”
    On this site.
    LOL.
    OLD 767 VS NEW 787 ACCROSS THE POUND?
    SERIOUSLY?
    LOL

  23. I am an Excutive Platinum customer with AA. Ever since this new management crew came in to form the New American Airlines, it has been downhill for customers and more profits for the board members. That’s the way I see it. They treat customers like crap. I hate it and am ready to make a move and not look back. Maybe, just maybe they will listen to customers and not only their pockets. #americanairlines #american #executiveplatinum #aadvantage

  24. the “paid influencers” comment is laughable from an AA fan.

    AA has spent more on aircraft replacement and gotten it so wrong over and over again.

    They don’t have industry-leading hard products and can’t even get the right airplanes on the right routes but diss on other airlines that have performed financially better and have stronger customer loyalty.
    How many longhaul international routes besides to LHR can you get daily, year round service on AA from ORD?
    ZERO

    How do you spend tens of billions on new aircraft and then announce JFK-DEL on a 777-200ER, the last fuel efficient and least cargo-capable aircraft for a 15 hour flight?

    Doug did manage to oversee the biggest stock buyback program in airline history. and, guess what, he is paid only in stock.

  25. Well the AA 737 TVs became a major source of headaches. Every time the person in front of you reclined you couldn’t watch the TV anymore. People love setback TVs though and if AA did them right it would have been beneficial to them as well. I would certainly much rather fly on a Delta 757 any day with 300 movies to choose from than any AAA narrow body plane

  26. Legitimate question. What traveler doesn’t have an iPad or other devise these days? I see every 3 year old with them. Many things to complain about with airlines, I don’t see this as even a Top 20 complaint.

  27. After flying with American for more than 50 years what gets my goat as a platinum is there sticking Executive Platinum over me and giving them the perks I use to have. This is by far the most outrageous thing AA has done and it takes loyalty down the toilet. Be prepared for yet another tier called super executive platinum coming from AA soon. Keep moving the loyalty goldposts and be prepared for the customer consequences. We will exit.

    And speaking of toilets, the toilet in AA super max requires that passengers coat themselves with vaseline to squeeze in. I cant imagine what happens if one is obese. AA has diminshed customer comfort immensely while Jet Blue has decided that customers still are important given their seats and toilets still have a little space.

  28. The problem with byod is that most seats dont have proper device holders in the seat. I dont want to look down at my tablet whuch is why id rather have seatback entertainment. Also i dont have to use up my battery or worry about fighting with only two power outlets a row like United has. Also smaller regional jets dont seem to have power on them either.

  29. How ridiculous. So, a family of 4 traveling on American needs to bring 4 devices for in-flight entertainment? That’s cheapness painting itself as a better customer experience.

  30. American Airlines is either lying, reading the data wrong, asked the wrong demographic, or completely inept as a company. No customers want the seat back screen to go away… Why would you? It doesn’t inconvenience any customers…

    Here’s to hoping they pay the price for bad judgement some day!

  31. Oneworld status is the only reason I tolerate AA.

    Ugh… flying them for Christmas- NYE from LAX to ATL…

    Hoping Alaska will swoop in and operate the flight… but it’s AA.

    God spare my state of mind after 11hrs coming and going!

  32. Honestly sick to death of these stupid strobing, noise-making, seat-back screens!! Can’t an introvert catch a break?!

  33. Why do adult human beings need to be ‘entertainers’ during a flight (especially domestic flight). Read a damn book (yeah enlightenment is ‘entertaining), meditate, THINK, relax.

    Americans are obsessed with boorish movies/TV shows and petty comforts.

    Airplanes are not your cluttered dens!

  34. Having the youngest fleet with the worst operational performance, especially during peak summer months, of the major carriers is definitely something to be proud of AA.

  35. American’s got room to talk. I treated myself to First Class on a recent flight home on American. The comfort was very little better than United’s Economy Plus. And if a cabin in 100% BYO device, what do families with a few kids do? iPhones for everyone?

  36. Glad they got rid of them !! Biggest disease spreaders , when they CDC did a test on those screens human feces was detected all over them , because people don’t wash their damn hands.

  37. I doubt that customers literally asked for IFE options to be removed but more rather indicated a higher preference for improved wifi and options for personal devices to watch entertainment. I would agree that domestic flights are probably better served with personal devices. Almost everyone has the ability to watch TV, movies, etc on their phones. Personally, I prefer to read an ebook off my device while on the plane.

  38. These interior updates are something that seems to have no upside for the passenger. Give them more legroom and wider seating. Also most interior upgrades are being done overseas, places like Heico/CHINA, not done in THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BY AMERICAN WORKERS BEING PAID A LIVING WAGE. So the cost to the airlines are lesser. You get what you pay for especially when it comes to aircraft and passengers comfort and safety.

  39. While they squandered away their profits pre-pandemic & gave themselves hefty bonuses in the name of saving money by removing IFEs, they conveniently refer to a poorly driven feedback campaign as the driver. The tax money given during the pandemic was yet again squandered and my friends working at AA say that their management got a 30% bump under the guise of “base pay revision”. Shame on AA to have defrauded the American tax payer. This company should paint itself yellow like someone suggested.

  40. Maybe AA could stop cramming seats together and make the heads big enough so grown men can pee without making a mess or opening the door and pee from the aisle?

  41. I’d rather the backseat IFE than deal with my phone or iPad on a tray table.
    I fly typically Delta but have flown United and American too and the American flights were my least favorite as there was no back seat entertainment setup.

  42. I am a lifetime Global frequent flier with United, what scares me most is their CEO caving to ANTIFA & BLM’s
    Economic Terrorism advising they will no longer hire the most qualified pilots in the future, but turn to Affirmative Action for new hires, that’s insane. In the past 30 years I logged 8 million miles, flew through storms, hit by lightning dozens of times, avenging fire, a engine that stopped half way across the Atlantic, dozens of aborted takeoffs and landings, drops of 1000’s of feet, the liston incidents was huge. I am glad United hired the best people, or I would not be here. Time for the board to Firenze incompetent CEO.

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