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