American Airlines Plans Three Key Inflight Improvements

There are (3) areas where keen American Airlines watcher JonNYC has revealed plans for the carrier to invest in improved passenger experience. All three involve listening to customers, revisiting past decisions, and fixing pain points. That’s great news.

American Airlines is going to make changes to their new domestic first class seat to offer greater comfort and more underseat storage. They’re going to improve their international wifi, moving towards the quality improvements they’ve made domestically. And they’re going to install working dividers between center seats in business class to provide passenger privacy.

Better Domestic First Class Seats on Oasis 737s

American’s Boeing 737 MAX represented their new standard domestic coach product that they’ve gone on to roll out widely across their fleet. Most of the coverage has focused on reduced space between seats, reduced recline, and lack of seat back video screens however the first class seats on the plane were a real step down, too.

They selected a variation on the MiQ seat that they use for international premium economy (sans foot bar). There’s a couple of inches less space between seats than in American’s previous Boeing 737 first class cabin. The seat isn’t well padded. And the odd location where the seats attach to the air frame leave customers without much underseat storage space.

That’s odd because one of the features Rockwell Collins promotes in their generic ad for the seats is that it can offer enhanced underseat storage:

Rockwell Collins MiQ Seat Without Bars Blocking Carry On Bags Beneath Seats

American has heard customer complaints about the seat and has plans to do something about it. They were open about their intentions at an event for ConciergeKey members in Dallas last month, and JonNYC has more details.

I asked American Airlines about their plan to fix the flawed domestic first class seats, and while they didn’t choose to elaborate they also clearly did not deny it either:

We are always reviewing data that customers and team members provide on our products, but we have nothing new to share at this time. Some of this speculation is coming from our decision to pause Boeing 737 interior retrofits over the summer so we can focus solely on running a reliable operation.

There had been a rumor that American would also revisit their coach cabin seats but at this point that does not appear to be in the cards.

Improved International Wifi

American Airlines is more than 95% done installing satellite internet in its fleet. They’ve done this with three internet providers:

  • Gogo 2Ku is fast satellite internet. It’s on legacy US Airways Airbus A319s (and ex-Frontier A319s taken into the fleet), A320s, and some legacy US Airways 757s.

  • ViaSat is fast satellite internet. It’s on Airbus A321s and Boeing 737s.

  • Panasonic is slow satellite internet. It’s on American’s international widebody fleet.

Planes slated to leave the fleet (like MD80s) aren’t getting satellite internet, and neither are regional jets. Gogo for their part tells me their 2Ku satellite service cannot be installed on a regional jet because the radome is too large.

Both ViaSat and Gogo provide customers with plenty of bandwidth and quick connections compared to what we’ve become accustomed to over the years from Gogo’s air to ground (ATG) network. Gogo used to be nicknamed ‘NoGo’ but that’s no longer the case at all.

However the performance of Panasonic is abysmal, and I noted recently that American Airlines executives are unhappy providing quality internet on domestic flights and a poor customer experience internationally.

Fortunately JonNYC is reporting that American will be moving away from Panasonic for at least some of their international fleet.

American Airlines offered a statement about their strong high speed satellite internet, choosing not to deny the plans being reported here.

We have more high-speed satellite Wi-Fi than any other airline. More than 670 planes in our fleet have high-speed satellite Wi-Fi, which means 100 million+ passengers per year have access to streaming services, live TV, faster Wi-Fi and more. And that number keeps growing; we’ll have over 700 planes by the end of 2019. As the industry’s definitive in-flight connectivity leader, we will of course examine every option to continue to increase our lead.

I’m not sure I’d agree with American’s characterization of their ‘lead’ in high speed inflight internet — until they begin outfitting their international fleet with it. However their efforts here have been one of the best things about the airline, and something that sets them apart from United.

Fixing the Dividers Between Business Class Middle Seats

When American Airlines rolled out their ‘Concept D’ business class seat with the Boeing 787-8 and on some Boeing 777-200s the dividers between the center seats would get stuck in the up or the down position. Instead of fixing them American locked the dividers in place. If they’re up they don’t go down.

Then when American moved to begin installing Super Diamond business class seats they ordered those without dividers. That’s a big loss. If you’re stuck in a center seat and not traveling with someone there’s a real lack of privacy which can be awkward for sleeping. Women tell me this is doubly true for them.

No dividers between Super Diamond center seats, Boeing 787-9

Back in November I wrote that American was planning to fix the Concept D center dividers. That project appears to finally be in the queue.

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, 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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  1. Lack of a fix for those economy Oasis seats is unforgivable. I haven’t flown on AA since I had the “pleasure” of sitting in that densified cabin – and I’m not a big guy.

  2. LOL, so not even a mention of the rocking, connected J seats on the 788s? More motion across the ocean! Classic LCC.

  3. AA really is amazing, the way they listen to their premium pax puts them right at the top of my list to avoid!

    AA – We’re trying, but not really!

  4. Yep, Oasis economy is a deal killer for me – padding (lack of), pitch, lack of IFE. I frequently buy up to F and haven’t been stuck in Oasis economy yet, but I realize that may be coming soon. Factoring in product and reliability Delta seems like the better bet these days.

  5. Here’s the thing with AA having “great satellite Internet”..THEY HAVE TO…If they are going to eliminate IFE screens, and rely on BYOD, then they need to have the network to back up streaming to all these individual devices versus having the local server with pre-loaded movies on board the plane. So, in fact, because of one, we get the other just as a side effect and one which AA figured out how to market.

  6. Yep, sounds about JUST right:

    “Going for not even close to half-great – just like we AAlways do!”

    Hey, you gotta at least give the not even close to being half of a nitwit, nitwits at this low rent, cheapAF LCC pretending to be not even half of a real airline credit for consistency in doing everything “bass-ackwards” 😉

  7. Oooh!

    Make that “…consistency in doing everything half-baked & ‘bass-ackwards’” to close-out the final sentence in my above posted comments!

  8. The 737 seats are terrible!
    The divider on the 787 is unbelievable! We sat together and were blocked from each other! Who’s idea was that should be fired

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