During an airline Q&A session with employees on Monday, one pilot asked American Airlines President Robert Isom whether it’s possible to change ‘the production line’ so that American’s new 737 MAX planes can have seat back video for customers.
Another pilot though says “the biggest complaint is not the lack of entertainment” although “having a stack of 10 basic tablets that do nothing but wifi for a small fee might help mitigate those 10% that don’t bring their own devices. ..The biggest complaint on the ’73.. Have you actually been on the 73?”
American’s President Robert Isom though declared, “I have.”
The pilot then asked, “Have you been to the lavatories on the aft portion of the aircraft?”
And Isom replied, “I have.”
That’s when the pilot offered this indictment of the aircraft and its lavatories,
It’s the most miserable experience in the world and everybody I’ve ever talked to that had to fly on this thing… Alaska Airlines has a 737-800 as we do and has 4 lavatories. We have 3.
Now you’ve added 12 more seats, no more lavatories, and you’ve shrunk that lavatory to 75% the size that it was before.
I can’t turn around in it. The sink is the most miserable thing going, and you cram those people in those little tiny seats you just bragged about to the point that I can’t sit back there. As a crew member if I ever have to deadhead back there I’ll refuse because it’s just not practical.
I think you need to have you and Parker and everybody sit back in the last row of the 737 on a long flight and see what it’s like to use those lavatories…that’s the biggest complaint I get is those lavatories.. there’s 160 [economy] passengers for 2 lavatories on 5 hour flights..
Isom said he “flew it up from Miami to New York and sat in one of the last rows and made sure I understood what customers were going through and what our team had to deal with as well.”
He then launched into a defense of the aircraft noting the larger overhead bins as well as inflight entertainment, “those are things that are different and allow us to serve customers in a way that we haven’t before.”
American has gotten a lot of attention for reducing the space between seats down from a former standard 31 inches in economy to just 30. However “the seats themselves I can tell you” Isom says, “they do match up in terms of overall customers space because of the way that we’ve designed those seats we are given an equivalent amount of space as on other aircraft types.” I generally agree with this although the due to the lack of padding in the seats I wouldn’t want to fly in them for three hours.
Isom explains the economics of it thusly,
The real estate that makes up the cabin is really valuable. The way we take a look at it right now we think we have a mix of main cabin extra and first class and economy that makes sense for the airline but these are things we take a look at always and make sure we adjust appropriately.
And today there is a real drive within the industry and with the traveling public to want to have really at the end of the day low cost seats. And we’ve got to be cognizant of what’s out there in the marketplace and what people want to pay.
The fastest growing airlines in the United States Spirit and Frontier. Most profitable airlines in the United States Spirit. We have to be cognizant of the marketplace and that real estate that’s how we make our money.
We don’t want to make decisions that ultimately put us at a disadvantage, we’d never do that.We also want to be mindful of there are tweaks that can be made nothing is ever permanent.
They squeeze seats because people want low prices. They’re going to compete for the bottom of the market, rather than focusing on generating a revenue premium. I’d note as well that first class and main cabin extra have less room in American’s new configuration as well — not just standard coach.
And we’re stuck with the small lavatories (“hey I can’t take those lavs out”) although they’ve been willing to tweak them “in terms of accessibility and in terms of faucet pressure” so the water hitting the small sinks doesn’t splatter up on each passenger, hitting them all over the front of their shirts.