American CEO Doug Parker: At Least We’re Not Attaching Crew Seats to the Lavatory Doors

Over the weekend I wrote about problems with American’s Boeing 737 MAX and in particular “design flaws” with the lavatory. It was revealing to me that American Airlines CEO Doug Parker says he hasn’t flown on the controversial plane.

I shared this Q&A with an employee who described the 737 Max as “Mini.”

    Flight attendant: “The doors open in the lavs and nobody can get in or out. i don’t know if you’ve been on it”

    Doug Parker: “I have not been on the MAX.”

    Flight attendant: “If you gain an ounce you’re not coming down the aisle i assure you.” (laughter) “but what are they revamping anything on it or is this something that it is what it is?”

    Doug Parker: “tell me what the issue is again, it’s the bathrooms?”

    Flight attendant: “In the aft of the aircraft the two bathroom doors open up and they lock into each other. so now you got people coming out of the bathroom into the galley and then we have to shut the doors, let them out, and let the next two people to use the restroom… and the sink you get soaking wet because it’s so small you can’t get your hands in there, so it really has some design flaws”

When I flew on the 737 MAX using the lavatory sink meant water all over my shirt and pants. Doug Parker finds this funny,

The issue about water pressure was it spilled all over people (laughs), they’d turn it on it’s a small sink it would spray on them. That does not help your ‘likelihood to recommend’.

American’s Vice President, Customer Planning Jill Surdek says the lavatory doors that bump into each other were chosen to give customers more room. Going with a ‘bi-fold’ door that opens and closes inward takes away an inch of space. So they think they’re being customer-friendly as though a lavatory meant for smurfs was the only option.

They’re looking at changing to a ‘blade door’ that will take away more customer space but opens and closes more easily (and conveniently for flight attendants). This would be a ‘cutover’ and not a ‘retrofit’ meaning they’d just have one version of the door in some planes and a different version in others.

On the one hand Parker acknowledges the small lav is meant to get them an extra row of seats. On the other hand he seems to shift the blame to Boeing, and points out that they’re making decisions against customer comfort but they’re really just following rather than leading by themselves when they do it.

What did Delta do with these same lavs though, Delta had like the crew seat on the door or some ridiculous thing (cackles) that’s not a threat, I just.. I don’t know why I felt.. that’s really funny.. I don’t know why I felt compelled..

My only point in making this is gosh we want our product to be the best out there but we also need to understand we’re competing we gotta be really competitive, we have airlines like Delta looking to do.. so the bathroom is different than bathrooms you’ve seen in the past, that’s for certain it’s smaller.

That, you know, that in and of itself it has to be easy to access we shouldn’t make it to where you’re having to do what you do so we’ll fix that with the bi-fold doors.

All I was pointing out is, just know this is – that kind of smaller lav is where the industry is moving toward, not because of Spirit just because it’s more efficient, you can get more seats on there.

I just want to be sure our team knew that, because sometimes we get this ‘oh my gosh you guys are trying to do something that other airlines wouldn’t do’ this is a new product by Boeing where they figure out a way to make a smaller lav, where people aren’t spending most of their trip. I shouldn’t have brought that up, absolutely not a threat.

So it’s alright to have small lavs because you shouldn’t be bringing a book or take your iPad in to watch a movie. You’re only in there a short time. And since it’s Boeing coming up with this you shouldn’t blame American. They really had no choice, don’t you see?

It’s worth noting that American plans to add seats not just to their 737s but also to narrowbody Airbus planes as well. Today the airline has fewer seats in their A321s than Delta does — although two years ago Delta actually took 3 seats out of A320s and A321s because they were too dense and flight attendants didn’t have room to work in the galleys.

And Delta did not ever attach a crew seat to the lavatory door. However before they decided to add space back to the galley area two years ago the seat had to remain stowed in order to allow passenger access to the lavatories or for flight attendants to access galley carts.

Of course American features 10-abreast seating in their Boeing 777s while Delta hasn’t gone that densification route.

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. Blithering uninformed idiot.

    We know that milliions of lifelong AA customers walked along with Aadvantage VP Suzanne Rubin when they devalued the mile and still had the gall to call 1/3 a “mile.” We know this because they keep sending us bribes for 6-12 months free legroom upgrades (that’s where you actually have legroom instead of a backboard). The fact they keep sending these means they’re not working. So they know they’ve deliberately booted perhaps millions of customers and are trying to bribe them back, it’s not working

    Watch Virgin Alaska with real miles and service flourish now that they have the transcons. I’m gladly paying for extra legroom ( priced right $35-89 with free drinks) on them.

    When your business model is insult bordering on injury, hanging up on 40 year customers politely trying to steer you away from disaster, you forfeit to a better run airline. There are several: Alaska, Southwest, Jetblue, overseas airlines.

    When Jetblue stumbled recently they poured everything into recoverying, showing customers the plans they made to climb back. Compare this with Delta, AA, and UA telling us to “like it or leave” to lifelong customers. Buh-bye! You are so low in public opinion you’re stuffed in one of your closet loos with the morbidly obese orange orangutan bully, no lower to go except out.

    “Uniquely American”

  2. I do my best to avoid AA as it is, if one of these seating configs makes it on the routes I fly I’ll choose another airline. Currently only schedule will push me to AA…

  3. I’m waiting for Part Nine of your AA Max Lav story. Are you also trying to sell the rights to Hollywood for a major motion picture?

    Is there nothing else to write about in the world of miles and travel? I just don’t think this is going to be a big deal to 99%+ of the pax who fly this plane. Personally, I would prefer a bigger lav. I’d also prefer a bigger, better padded seat, better legroom, more free food, friendlier flight attendants and perfect on-time reliability. But I’m kind of used to living with the “imperfections” of living in the world.

  4. Unlike many I will pay for the extra leg room. I will pay for some comfort as long as it fits my budget.

    Doug Parker is a joke as a CEO, he has never been on the aircraft his paying customers fly on.

    Everyone should know that Doug Parker does not receive a salary from AA, he is only paid in AA stock. With this in place he will only chase Wall Street and the customer be damned.

  5. It is absurd When Parker says the industry is moving towards smaller bathrooms and more seats. Parker is about a third of the industry. Make bigger bathrooms and stop densification. Then the whole industry would not be going in that direction. It would be illegal for Parker to call Scott Kirby, but if Kirby followed the oligopolistic signal and reduced seat density, then the industry would be moving in the opposite direction.

  6. Just experienced the new bathroom design — but on a Southwest plane. Terrible, just as Gary described – water splashing out into the aisle after 90 minutes of flight time. Impossible to wash hands or sit down in lav. But AA clearly not the only offender.

  7. @EJ — Same lav on the WN MAX? I’ve actually flown on that plane and used the lav. I noticed it was small, but I’ve seen similar “micro lav” designs on other planes I’ve flown (like maybe on UA?). I didn’t have a “splash” problem. The annoyance was similar to the level of petty bathroom annoyances I constantly encounter when I travel: like no hot water, automatic sinks that don’t work right, soap dispensers without soap, lack of paper towel dispensers, paper towel dispensers that dispense tiny amounts of paper, etc. I could go on forever. It’s just life.

  8. @EJ. “Impossible to ….sit down in lav.” Seriously! So how are women supposed to go to the bathroom? What happens if the airplane food gives someone the runs? Everyone has to go to the bathroom sometimes.

  9. I’m not understanding the issue. why don’t they just remove the doors from the lavs and replace the sinks with hand sanitizers? In fact if I were Parker, Basic Economy would not include lav privileges.

  10. Why should anyone purchase a product that the CEO of the company doesn’t even bother to use (the 737-8 MAX) and has NEVER been seen using (standard coach/economy, that is) on other aircraft?

    Of course, and as noted elsewhere, not too long ago when our country still believed in the concept of COMPETITION, and our government took pains to maintain and promote meaningful competition either through legislation or regulatory enforcement, airlines as crappy and hostile towards its passengers as American, and most of our remaining OLIGOPOLIST airlines, are, would be shunned in favor of those airlines that offered something better – and they’d ultimately fail as any business that treats its customers as badly as American does (or is just plain awful, say the way Eastern, Pan Am, TWA, Braniff, Tower Air, or PeopleExpress just to name a few as American also is).

    But, unfortunately, at the moment, our country seems to lack the will to challenge the ongoing abuse that’s arising from the lack of meaningful competition in our domestic airline industry.

    Hopefully, this will change in a few years. But with the clearly articulated preference of the current administration to favor big business over the consumer, it’s not just hardly surprising that Doug Parker could care less about the crappy product he doesn’t even bother to fly himself, unfortunately, it’s also hard to imagine things improving anytime soon.

    Oligopolies suck. They’re essentially a tax on consumers and the entire economy of the country by the few who benefit from the windfall profits that result from a product where demand is assured no matter how awful the product itself is because there’s no threat of being undercut by a competitor who sells a better product for a similar price.

    Our country needs to either foster competition by freeing gates, other terminal facilities, take-off and landing slots at congested airports, etc., and by instigating aggressive anti-trust enforcement against the cross-ownership of our airlines by Wall Street, hedge-funds, and other large institutional interests who are currently demanding the type of hate-selling, passenger hostile, fee addicted, sadistic abuses nearly everyone agrees already exist and increasingly is out of control as expressed by these micro-bathrooms and extreme cabin densifications.

    Failing an ability to foster a climate where new entrants can emerge, the public, ultimately, will find itself more and more viewing reregulation as the lesser of the two evils between greed run amok (as it is now) and a need to hold the line against the now out of control unrestrained greed and arrogance that’s cutely referred to as a “Race to the Bottom” that’s anything but cute when one is stuck in a teeny tiny seat, in an IFE-less, no legroom, microbathroom, densified 737 for three, four, and more hours that the CEO doesn’t even bother to fly.

  11. I’m starting to think you won’t see a true densification strategy from Delta. They smartly have driven the increase seat Rev with neutral seat growth and increased pricing premium. They managed to increase pricing to all customers via competitive advantage (operational effectiveness and more consistent service), as well like everyone else – via the Basic economy move. As you said it was a price increase, psychology what a great way to “reset” the consumers expectations overnight. And still the best Basic E out of all legacies.

    Another place their capturing spread is devaluing their sky miles while obviously still controlling their redemption cost.

    Business wise they’re super effective. I’m curious what will bite them in the butt though long term.

  12. The 737 Max on American Airlines is a disaster ! Terrible aircraft!! IF you, us customers to be heard write to AA customer relations Attn Doug Parker and complain the way things are with American Airlines terrible planes terrible service !

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