American Airlines President: Squeezing More Seats Into Boeing 737s Is “A Real Success”

At the final ‘Crew News’ employee forum of the year a pilot asked American Airlines President Robert Isom about ‘oasis’ cabin modifications and how that relates to the Boeing 737 MAX’s return to service.

American unveiled a new cabin interior with the 737 MAX and has been retrofitting their existing fleet of Boeing 737-800s with this new interior. They paused this retrofit when the MAX was grounded, not wanting to take additional planes out of service. The retrofit program has restarted even though that means American has to cancel more flights than they otherwise would have as a result of the MAX grounding.

“Project Oasis” retrofits mean:

  • Less legroom and less underseat storage space in first class, harder seats with less padding, and the elimination of the cabin divider between first and coach.
  • Fewer Main Cabin Extra seats, and the ones that remain have less space than before and less comfortable chairs.
  • Tighter coach than ever before, with just 30 inches from seat back to seat back. American compensates for reduced space by also reducing padding in the seats and reducing seat recline.
  • Squeezing more seats in, partly by reducing the space between seats and partly by shrinking the size of the lavatories, one American Airlines pilot called these new lavatories the most miserable experience in the world.

In addition to less comfortable seats with less legroom, American is installing bigger overhead bins. That way the plane can hold one full-sized carry on bag per passenger, reducing boarding delays by reducing how often customers have to gate check their bags and the time passengers spend hunting for bin space. The new standard also means that passengers won’t have seat back video screens, either.

Before US Airways management took over American’s Boeing 737s had 150 seats. US Airways management took that up to 160 seats five years ago. This new configuration squeezes in two more rows to bring the total seats up to 172.

American Airlines President Robert Isom told employees that there are currently 72 planes with this new interior and that by summer 2020 they will have reconfigured 150 with Oasis.

And, he says, customers like the new Torquemada configuration,

[C]ustomer feedback, there are some changes we’re going to be making around the first class cabin, but in the coach cabin…those have been met with a lot of nice response from our customers and one that we view as a real success.

It should be no surprise that in the echo chamber of the American Airlines C-Suite no one can hear the passengers scream. That’s why, after a horrible 2019 operationally and financially, the American Airlines strategy is to stay focused on doing the exact same things.

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. @K Brown,

    Spot on and so well said!

    Only thing I’d add is that apart from the current ethos that says the only stakeholders that matter are the shareholders (first, last & always) but NOT the fare paying passengers who make the outsized compensation packages AND who’s hard earned money funds those obscenely generous, multi-billion dollar annual stock buybacks, plus the employees who perform all of the other tasks that make flying possible (both of which barely matter to management anymore despite the fact that without either of those other two important stakeholders their windfall profits would not even be possible) is the fact that airlines can now get away with abusive business models like American Airlines does because of a complete
    lack of meaningful competition in the airline industry as six major airlines were killed off since 2005 when the current Robber Barrons in the C-Suite at American Airlines led by Doug Parker at America West took over US Airways.

    Then, came Delta taking over Northwest after both airlines filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection (which, of course, itself is a form of government subsidy); followed by United taking over Continental in 2010 (as both airlines also availed themselves of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection to break contracts, obtain givebacks from labor they otherwise could never achieve in collective bargaining, and of course, fob their massively underfunded pension plans off to taxpayers via the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp., among other things); then Southwest (which did NOT file for Chapter 11 government subsidies – er Bankruptcy Protection) took over AirTran in 2011, who since then handed Delta the very generous gift of an impenetrable fortress (that’s practically a monopoly overall, and actually is a Delta monopoly to many cities) hub in Atlanta after instead of expanding there and becoming a formidable competitors at the world’s busiest airport, it (amazingly) reduced the schedules and destinations AirTran had at ATL, and no longer offers anything close to the robust competition Delta faced at ATL for decades when Eastern, and then after Eastern’s demise, ValuJet (which took over AirTran in 1997 in the aftermath of an horrific crash the year before)

    [Sheesh! No wonder Southwest is so furious at Delta for not returning the favor of allowing it to monopolize Dallas Love Field the way it handed Delta a near monopoly for some routes/virtual monopoly for others at Atlanta after it took over AirTran by giving up those last 2-gates it massively overpaid United to sub-lease at that popular airport that enjoys the Federal government’s blessing to eliminate any threat of competition from ever emerging by permanently outlawing any expansion beyond the current 22 gates there, but ah, I digress!)].

    Then, of course, was Dougie P & Co. of US Airways replicating what it did with US Airways In 2005 with American Airlines six years later after that airline also turned to the the generous government subsidies offered by a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy filing in late 2011, that reduced competition even further when US Airways ceased to exist in 2013; followed by Alaska Airlines (also overpaying) taking over Virgin America in 2017 – which makes for six airlines in all no longer around, with the top four (American, Delta, United & Southwest) combined controlling more than 80% of industry capacity.

    Yeah, yeah, Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant have expanded considerably, but NONE of these airlines offer the networks or frequencies that America West, Northwest, Continental, US Airways or even AirTran had.

    Only Virgin America, which in its final few years forced others on trans-cons to offer much better service than they did before it achieved critical mass on the lucrative cross country routes, and all of whom have cut back their service a bit since Virgin America disappeared, could otherwise be seen as having limited impact in terms of offering meaningful competition of the six airlines cited above that have been killed off as the industry continued its trajectory towards becoming the abusive oligopoly that it is now.

    Simply put, if we want to get rid of selfish, greedy Robber Barrons that don’t give a rat’s tail about the fare paying passengers as equally important stakeholders because it’s us flyers who actually make their rock star-like salaries and outsized share buybacks possible, then we must stop believing the lies being told by the toxic industry cartel that insists four airlines controlling more than 80% of capacity is even remotely acceptable when it’s not.

    In other words, we’re equally responsible for terrible airlines like American getting away with selling horrible, no legroom seats aboard aircraft that are so awful even its own top executives refuse to fly their crappy airplanes because we refuse to do anything about focusing attention on the well known toxic impacts that **ALWAYS** occurs in industries/markets that suffer from an absence of meaningful competition despite the bs of a certain political party that says it’s the only party that’s committed to limited governmental interference in free markets in the belief that free markets and competition itself are the most efficient and virtuous at selling products and distributing wealth – when it’s anything but that in our now cartelized/oligopolized skies.

    “Oligopolies are GREAT!” – said by no one except Robber Barrons, Oligarchs and the sycophants/toadies that suck up to them in the false belief that someday they’ll be as rich and powerful as the people they’re sucking up to are.

  2. I’ll do anything to avoid flying. I took a 4 week vacation a few months ago. Was toying with flying to Vegas and then driving. Instead I drove to Vegas. Screw the airlines, crowded airports, costly parking and one hassle after another.

  3. Two years ago the wife and I went from the East Coast to California by train. Ticket price was similar to the airlines, we had a sleeper compartment, the meals were decent and, since we’re retired, the time spent traveling was not a concern. I’ll never fly again if I can possibly help it.

  4. I agree I would never fly again if I can drive or take a bus. This is crap and I am not going to renew my Gold membership on American. I give them 5 years and then they will be bankrupt. As citizens and consumers we are increasingly giving up our rights to Greedy Corporations and Corrupt Politicians and I expect more of,the same if we do not push for change.

  5. Ever since American kidnapped 225,000 of my very hard earned Miles and demanded $1200 ransom to get them back I decided America Airlines and their awful CEO DOUG PARKER can SHOVE IT!

  6. Robert isom is a total idiot. I will never take more than 2.5 hr flight on an Oasis cabin. An adult female can comfortably fit into those lavs and you cannot work on a laptop unless sitting in MCE. Complete garbage and the managements team brain cell count is lower than their stock value which is around 29 dollars. I am exec plat and not happy about it!

  7. Recently flew from Minneapolis to Tampa…Seating already to cramped, and airport parking was outrageous- $189 for a little less than a week. I’ll drive, or I won’t go.

  8. I truly hope they declare chapter 11. I’d rather pay a little more and sit comfortably than sit in those seats. last year I experienced Swiss’s similar seats. I avoid that airline like the plague.

  9. I just flew on a American 737 from Vegas to Chicago. I was never EVER this uncomfortable on a plane as I was in this!!!! So much so that I’m going to use up my remaining 150,000 miles in my Aadvantage account on Only first class and then close the account. It’s garbage!! And I’d rather fly with a “discount carrier” like southwest where atleast I’m very comfortable.
    AA is digging its own grave.

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