American’s CEO Finally Tries His Own Coach Product. Here’s His Reaction.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker has finally flown the airline’s new standard coach product, a full nine months after it has entered service.

American debuted a new domestic interior on their first Boeing 737 MAX back in November. That isn’t just the new product that is going on one plane (of which they have 100 on order). They’re taking all of their existing Boeing 737s and replacing the interior with,

  • New seats with less distance from seat back to seat back
  • That have less padding
  • And no seat back video

New American Airlines Standard Domestic Coach Seat

They’re reducing legroom in coach, in Main Cabin Extra, and in first class too. And they’re installing smaller lavatories that one American Airline pilot called the worst experience in the world.

American is also taking new deliveries at the beginning of 2019 of the Airbus A321neo. That will have a new similar dense configuration. And then they’ll be retrofitting existing Airbus narrowbodies to be just as uncomfortable.

Even though American Airlines determined this would be the airline’s new standard product I revealed back in January that CEO Doug Parker had never flown it. In May I uncovered that he still hadn’t flown it.

The fact that the head of the company would roll out a product across the entire airline without trying it clearly suggested to me that as far the airline was concerned it didn’t much matter what passenger experience would be like.

Well the indefatigable Brian Sumers first revealed that Doug Parker has finally flown it.

American Airlines is offering a statement about the experience to those who ask (see for instance JT Genter and Chris Matyszczyk),

He said it was a nice main cabin experience — in line with U.S. carrier main cabin products with a couple of pleasant surprises. The overhead bins are large and it had a nice array of movies. But most of all, they had a great crew of Flight Attendants who kept customers happy.

It turns out there was secret video footage of Parker’s inflight experience.

He flew the aircraft Miami – Quito which has the same scheduled flight time as Miami – New York LaGuardia. The slim line seats are alright, I think, for a three hour flight but I wouldn’t want the lack of cushioning for Washington National – Los Angeles.

What strike me is that Parker was apparently surprised by the experience, although from the statement it’s unclear whether the surprise is the “overhead bins are large” or that he had “a great crew.”

Larger Overhead Bins Fit One Bag Per Passenger

You’d think he would be aware of the overhead bins. Of course in June he told employees the airline wouldn’t be adding seats to existing 737s even though that’s exactly what they’re doing.

We’re not going through the whole fleet and adding a bunch of seats to airplanes or taking out larger bathrooms and putting in smaller ones. We ordered a new airplane this product existed, it allowed us to get on that airplane at the pitch we have on other aircraft one more row of seats we thought that was the right trade-off. And again I don’t view that at all as any sort of effort to degrade the product, or anything like that, it’s just a different product that’s available now and that allowed us to get 6 more seats on the airplane than we would have otherwise on a brand new airplane. But we aren’t going to put that on all the other airplanes or anything like that.

New American Airlines Standard Domestic Lavatory

Parker has contended that their new product isn’t worse than what competitors offer though that’s certainly not true compared to Delta, Alaska, Southwest and JetBlue (and Southwest carries more domestic passengers than American does, and ironically Parker refers to Southwest as “the cattle car.”).

Since American now longer offers a substantially more compelling loyalty program than competitors, they need to offer a better product if they want to earn a revenue premium. Overall I’d choose American Airlines business class over United’s (too few planes with new seats) or Delta’s (too many 767s). But they’re intentionally making their domestic product worse than what other airlines offer, squeezing 22 more seats into the same space since Parker took over and giving up extra legroom coach seats, legroom in first class, and even seat padding for support.

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. Considering how many people I know who fly the cheapest ticket whatever airline and don’t care (or at least don’t think in advance) about things like reliability, seat comfort, legroom, extra charges, priority boarding and the like, I can’t say that his approach does not make sense.

  2. I bet the “great crew” were handpicked for the flight, as it would not have been a secret he would be onboard. Probably took a retinue of honchos with him. No cranky old cows serving on that flight!

  3. @Arthur – I think that’s what they’re going for but it remains to be seen whether they can actually compete with (U)LCCs on price. In the meantime, they’re giving their highest-revenue passengers a reason to go elsewhere (or at least not stay loyal to AA). Delta seems to be taking the opposite approach and not trying to match LCCs but rather give people reason to pay for the better service (or that’s the idea, at least). We’ll see who’s right.

  4. AA needs to do an “Undercover Boss” segment. Then they’d really seat what’s what. And maybe add a “Secret Shopper” or two while they’re at it.

  5. OK, now that the FF program has been gutted, the routing has been made more difficult and the seating has been increased it’s time to compete with Spirit, Frontier, Ryan Air and Easyjet etc. That NY to Miami flight airfare should be slashed to $49 and you are now in the discount no frills airline game. A little hard to pay the mortgage or executive compensation at $49 a passenger but at least you showed them AA can be a CRAP airline and you get the additional benefit of paying less in income taxes. Who buys mediocrity at full price? BTW Ryan and Easyjet have newer planes so you’ll need another $ billion to play this game.

  6. Sad to say, from a business decision angle HE IS RIGHT. About a decade ago, AA decided to offer all passengers more space than other airlines. They expected passengers to flock to AA. In reality, passengers immediately turned to the lowest fare.

  7. This AA bashing is getting tire some. I fly AA and DL and the experiences as similar. I prefer MCE on AA since they don’t make it a separate class of service like DL. Also the AA crews are just as nice and helpful as the DL crews. As for seating. I am sooo glad the AA IFE is going away. The storage space you gain is amazing and the AA app with hi speed internet is a much better experience then the DL IFE. As for bathrooms DL shrunk them on their airbuses A320/319’s several years ago and AK and SW use the same bathroom as AA. . . it’s no different. Also while the AA 737s are more dense then before, the A321 will have two fewer seats then DL.

    I know a lot of people aren’t Parker fans, but you weren’t fans of Richard Anderson in the early years either. If your going to compare, do it fairly.

  8. @Sun Viking 82 – Saying that Southwest and Alaska “use the same bathroom as AA” is incredibly misleading. Alaska has one more lavatory than AA does, so it matters ‘what are they doing with the space?’ and only AA is taking out larger lavatories and replacing them with smaller ones across the fleet. Having a few small lavs versus a future AA where all the lavs are small on domestic narrowbodies is different. And as for Southwest they’re giving the space to the passengers versus squeezing pitch the way AA does.

    Delta has more high speed internet at this point than American does. Saying that American crews “are just as nice and halpful as the DL crews” is certainly a minority opinion.

  9. @Donato there is a difference between doing 33 inch pitch throughout the entire cabin and shrinking pitch in first class, main cabin extra, and putting in less comfortable coach seats with less pitch than ever before. Delta earns a revenue premium over American, customers are willing to pay more to fly Delta instead of American, American isn’t going to reverse that by making their product even less attractive.

  10. “Considering how many people I know who fly the cheapest ticket whatever airline and don’t care (or at least don’t think in advance) about things like reliability, seat comfort, legroom, extra charges, priority boarding and the like, I can’t say that his approach does not make sense.”

    I used get angry when read each of these stories about the Max, Project Oasis, and other strides in the race to the bottom. But a few months of very frequent flying have taught me that most people are exactly like what @Arthur describes– they want the cheapest experience possible. Sadly, it seems that the only people who care about a customer-focused flying experience are those of us who are road warriors, av geeks, and/or travel hacking hobbyists.

    If most people book through sites like CheapoAir and prefer their Spirit and Wow flights, American’s short-sighted management clearly wants to compete for that business. There’s little that rants on this site and others will do to change their minds. To modify HL Mencken’s famous quote:

    “Project Oasis is the theory that average flyers know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

  11. @Adam L
    Delta consistently outperforms USdbaAA financially, so I’d say Delta’s approach is working.

  12. Just off a Jetblue E190 and I dont get the complaints about these bathrooms. The Jetblue sink was much bigger, but it was hard to take a piss standing up due to how low the ceiling was. Width looks about the same.

    Obviously, the in-seat experience was much better on jetblue. But you are really into this bathroom thing.

  13. @Gary
    I stated my bit on the history of AA and extra space.
    I personally avoid AA and fly DL specifically for the slight space advantage and the slight likelihood of less IRROPS.

  14. Many are opposed to government regulations with good reason . Regulation seems to be the only way to keep the seats from being crammed even closer together. Marketing and competition are not doing that . I’m in favor of a mandated minimum seat pitch and width .
    For me the lav is less of a concern.

  15. “Considering how many people I know who fly the cheapest ticket whatever airline and don’t care (or at least don’t think in advance) about things like reliability, seat comfort, legroom, extra charges, priority boarding and the like, I can’t say that his approach does not make sense.”

    Arthur, if they were consistently offered the lowest price, that might be true, but hat has not been my experience. American used to be my airline of choice, but now it is Southest. I wish it were not so, but Southwest offers more flights where I need to go, offers a better overall experience, and is usually one of the least expensive options.

  16. Many are opposed to government regulations (with good reason) .It seems marketing and competition are not limiting how many passengers are crammed into less and less room . I am in favor of minimum seat pitch and width regulations .
    The lav is less of a concern for me.

  17. This whole article and the long, long lead up to the first Parker flight simply confirms the obvious: AA management does not give a damn about passengers.

    I am an ordinary 6ft1″ – 220 pound American male and I find the “new” seats unmitigated hell. Okay, okay if this is the last flight out of Saigon, but it is not.

    These cramped planes are for an ordinary American (nationality) business/leisure flight. No way would I will pay to fly on these, even for an hour.

    Why, oh why, do Americans settle for mistreatment in the name of capitalism? There is no virtue there, only abuse.

    American Airlines will be saddled with these wretched planes long after Parker has laughed all the way to the bank many times over.

  18. Gary summed it up well:

    “The fact that the head of the company would roll out a product across the entire airline without trying it clearly suggested to me that as far the airline was concerned it didn’t much matter what passenger experience would be like.”

  19. How about he flies a random overbooked flight with no notice to him or the crew. Then we will see how great the crew of flight attendants are. The man is a patent liar. “…he told employees the airline wouldn’t be adding seats to existing 737s even though that’s exactly what they’re doing.” So why would anyone believe his statements?

  20. Flew AA this morning on a 2hr domestic and got the new product. I sat MCE so it was fine and I didn’t try out the lav. But what stunned me was that, for the first time in 3 years, I had a pleasant flight crew and gate crew. I was stunned! They smiled, were helpful and kind, what a turnaround from my experiences the past 3 years. And I only flew them today because they were slightly cheaper than DL and my company required it…

  21. Just flew the 737, upright the whole way on both segments. Even the F/A could not recline the seats so guess I will step up my weight lifting.

  22. @Robert — The problem with judging an airline on a single flight or two is that flight crew performance can be quite random. Every airlines has good crews and bad crews. Some airlines seem to have more good crews than others.
    This whole seat/lav thing seems stupid, but as the author of this blog, Gary can focus on whatever he wants. I’m 100% certain, however, that the future of domestic flying is going to be slimlines and small lavs: that’s how the economics of the business work. Interestingly, I took my first ever “medium haul” flight on Frontier the other week from DCA because it was a fraction of the cost of the other carriers. Once you deal with their carry-on luggage “problem,” Frontier’s seats, service and lavs are not that different from DL, AA, UA and AS.unless you’re very nit-picky. I could even see a world where the majors cram a few more seats on their airplanes by eliminating all coach recline, which for most travellers wouldn’t be a bad thing. Complain all you want, but you won’t be getting more space on an aircraft unless you’re willing to pay for it.

  23. Wow! I’m proud of you Dougie. Me? I would have to dress in disguise if I flew in the cheap seats. How were the drinks?

  24. He did not experience economy unless he was on a fully booked plane with no special crew attention. Was crammed into a seat with no middle seat was open and the passenger next to him spilling over into his space, had the person in the seat behind him repeatedly kick the back of his seat for no apparent reason, had the person in the seat in front of him reclining as far as possible and had a screaming baby on board. If he didnt have all these things then its not a typical economy flight and is just a PR stunt.

  25. He was experiencing the „nice array of movies“, but you claim there is no in-seat entertainment? How do you think that happens?

  26. Sadly, AA, like most American businesses just simply don’t give a damn about customer service or loyalty anymore, it is all about the numbers. Customers are the same, whoever has the cheapest price gets the booking. In coach, you don’t often notice a “huge” difference and honestly for three times the price, “most” people aren’t willing to upgrade to biz class for a flight that is 3 or 4 hours or less, hell most of them can tough it out on an international flight for 8 hours or less when you can get a coach trip to Europe for $500 or less as opposed to a biz class that is anywhere from $2k to $15k. Much of it depends on your budget and if it is your money paying for the trip or a company paying on your behalf but any budget minded company isn’t going to pay $1500 for a biz flight that is 2 or 3 hours long when they can get the same one for $300., the big corporations might.
    The bottom line for most people is the bottom line 😉 I’d personally rather fly coach to get there and use the funds on a more expensive room, attractions, shopping, etc than to pay a ridiculous amount for such a short time. Most of the people I know feel the same way, there are other splurges on a personal trip to spend your money on. Again, even if I were writing it off as a tax deduction, I’m still paying the money out of pocket or out of my company bank account at some point which means it ultimately means less in my personal account!
    Now all things being equal, I’d pay a little more for a slightly better experience (most people would)…

  27. re airline shrinking lavs…I flew a UA 753 the other day (yes, the model where they recently added 21 econ seats and removed one lav…) and sat just behind the lavs. 5 hour flight (from OGG, lotta kids). About 1 in 5 lav users were a parent with a young child, trying to squeeze into the lav, and
    the doors fold inward. Not a easy task I’m sure!

  28. Make parker ride that crap as an undercover customer and then see his “surprise” reaction.

  29. I’ve read several comments around people only wanting the cheapest tickets. Has anyone considered that people buy the cheapest ticket because airline marketing is terrible? The average customer has no idea what they are getting especially when it comes to seat size and amenities. Goto any travel site try brooking a car or a hotel room there’s tons if information available to help to you make the right choice. Try booking a plane ticket… Economy and Basic Economy great what does that even mean? Sure airlines have the whole overhead storage and baggage covered only because they want to charge you extra so they make sure to be clear about that part.

    I recently flew Delta airlines from SAT to LGA with a layover in Atlanta I think the first time from what I can remember. My flight was cancelled due to bad weather I rebooked my flight over Twitter in 15minutes while everyone else was lining up at the ticket agent. Delta has excellent customer service compared to United.

    In December I flew Cathay Pacific first time in a long time… from HKG to TPE on Christmas Eve. When I book I thought their ticket prices were expensive give the duration of the flight but I had no choice. Turns out their product was fantastic, I was surprised I got a meal and it was pretty good. Leg room was fine.

    I flew WestJet last week… from LGA to YYZ outbound flight was cancelled due to bad weather so I head to rebook. Got in touch with customer service in under 10 minutes with a callback flight was rebooked in 10 minutes they even refunded my baggage fee. Again great customer service.

    Again airlines are terrible at marketing their product. If airlines marketed plane tickets like credit card companies marketed signup bonuses and perks I think the relationship would be much better. T-Mobile is a great example of a company that turned around an industry with terrible customer service and terrible business practices.

  30. Probably a good point about marketing. But maybe the occasional flyer just can’t be bothered to notice the ads or the differences in quality, and have not had as many marginal experiences to be aware of what you are getting for a little more – they just think “both airlines get me from point A to point B”. Nor do they think, when they have a bad experience, “if only I had flown the other airline”. And as to another comment, I don’t have anything against SW, but I don’t find they are as cheap as they used to be, their routes are kind of limited, and without any partner airlines, I have had problems with IRROPs with them. The LCCs work fine when they work fine, but in my experience, UA, AA and DL take better care of elites in IRROPs (and also takes good care of those in F or J generally).

  31. Miami-Quito is quite a bit further (~1800 miles; 3.5 hours) than Miami-LGA (~1100 miles; 2.5 hours). Quito is currently an hour behind Miami, so that might be where you got the same scheduled time.

  32. Interesting his comments weren’t about the seats at all. Overhead bin space and a great crew – overhead bin space doesn’t impact my comfort in a seat. As far as a crew goes – it helps, but again doesn’t impact my seat experience. I’ve decided now to pay for MCE from now on. It’s not worth being squeezed into the sardine seats anymore. Last January, I was on a new place from FLL to DFW, I’m 5’8″ and my knees were touching the seat in front of me. No more, I’ll use my miles for biz/first tickets from now on. Devaluation of miles has gotten so bad over the past 5 years.

  33. Parker got me to stop flying American and after 25 years leave their once superior program
    The slime line seats was just the whipped cream on the topping to facilitate a no return
    Today I enjoy Alaska Jet blue southwest and on rare occasion Delta or gasp United
    Overseas I fly Cathay BA Qantas Emirates and Singapore
    I don’t miss a thing at American except some non stops that saved me time
    However there is nothing like flying a carrier who is reasonable & fair and treats customers respectfully and recovers from problems
    Recovery from problems is the number one reason I don’t fly American
    Second tied for first place saver award availability

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