American’s New Domestic Interior Was Such A Disaster They Now Build Cabin Mockups For Testing

After flying American’s new domestic interior for the first time on their inaugural Boeing 737 MAX flight three years ago, it was clear that passenger experience wasn’t top of mind in designing the cabin. American Airlines now acknowledges this, and admits they failed to focus on important details while designing the cabin.

American’s new domestic product, which Chief Operating Officer David Seymour told flight attendants in a meeting last week would be rolled out across all of the airline’s Boeing 737s by the end of May, includes:

  • 172 seats rather than 160 seats (before US Airways management took over there were just 150 seats on these planes).

  • Thinner seats with less padding and less distance between seats in regular economy, Main Cabin Extra, and First Class

  • Smaller lavatories, bigger overhead bins, and high speed internet

  • No seat back video screens, and no ovens in the coach galley for serving hot food on long flights

These things American Airlines is fine with. However the details of seats in first class didn’t get the attention necessary. The first time anyone sat down in those seats problems were obvious. For instance the seats were bolted to the floor in a way that meant first class didn’t have the usual underseat storage. They gave tablet holders and USB power to coach passengers who had to use their own devices. But first class who ahd to use their own devices didn’t receive even this amenity.


Oasis First Class Lacked Underseat Storage

The program to retrofit planes into this new configuration was called Oasis. American had a separate project to retrofit the retrofit called Kodiak. And it’s that experience that both Seymour and CEO Doug Parker spoke to flight attendants about, admitting they got things wrong planning for Oasis that they don’t want to repeat as they,

A flight attendant asked whether a mockup was ever done of the airline’s Oasis interior before they rolled it out, since it should have been obvious how bad the experience is. There wasn’t. COO Seymour acknowledged, “there were certainly a lot of learning points on that. What should have been done, and a lot of the work we’ve done is collaboration with a lot of different groups there and there wasn’t as much collaboration as we needed to have.”

Now, though,

We are doing a lot more mockups and there’s a lot more involvement with all of the work groups we have..”In that particular case…I’ll tell you obviously we certified it that way, it was right at the bare bones, it wasn’t practically applied.

…We’re now building those actual mockups, stationary so that we can actually get the flow and see how the carts go through, see how the passengers with their bags go through.

It was a mistake that should not have happened, it did.

Doug Parker added,

We should own this. Immediately post-merger we didn’t do a very good job of having a cross-functional group do this work. and it was largely driven by…network planning people, get the airplane to work the best for network planning and seats etc.

As Parker acknowledged, they were interested in figuring out how to get 172 seats into planes. The original plan meant even less space for passengers, but they were shamed into backing off of that. They didn’t pay attention to what it was like to experience the seats, or work a flight in that layout.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Parker reminds me of the trash options we’ve had for our past two election cycles. In this amazing country can we really only come up with recycled “leaders”?!

  2. “They gave tablet holders and USB power to coach passengers who had to use their own devices for first class, but not first class.”

    ??

  3. When a new field uniform was designed for private Russian soldiers, the otherwise really pathetic czar Nicholas II insisted on marching in it. He wanted to be sure that it was comfortable for his men. Surely AA and its designers can match that. An 8 hour sit in the main cabin by everyone involved from the corporate president on down, would do their customers a world of good. As it is my club’s tiny Pilatus B-4 glider has far more leg room than you get on a big jet in ballast class. Kodiak bears eat people.

  4. The stock buyback plan and Parker’s touting his stock-only compensation went off w/o a hitch – until covid hit and then AAL became the airline industry version of Gamestop.

  5. I have a recommendation for AA on new retrofit …… should be called Death Knell.

  6. The airline is more than happy to make most of its customers as uncomfortable as it can possibly get away with making the experience, but doing so with its premium cabin customers was too much even for AA. Why? Because premium fare customers are more likely to bail ship from AA — as they may be less price sensitive than customers in the back of the flying bus, at least during normal times — and are more able and willing to shop based on product.

    But what AA is going to hit is the difficulty in struggling to out-Spirit Spirit when it comes to the economy cabin passengers on which AA relies to keep it afloat. Toss in devaluations of the AA loyalty program and further customer alienation that way too, and AA will find that its core money maker also won’t be as core in the marketplace either and that it can only milk the AA frequent flyer program so much before it has no more valuable milk to give AA.

  7. This wasn’t the result of a lack of mock-up or poor planning. They knew full well what they were implementing. If they overlooked anything, it was customer reaction. Yeah we do have a point where enough is enough.

  8. Live in dfw and avoid AA like the plague. Took them to london on an old broken 777 because air canada cancelled my flight. Many thing’s were broken, I would’ve had a better experience with my usual delta airlines with a layover in jfk/atl.

  9. Wasn’t the FAA supposed to run actual hands-on simulations to get people out in time? AA im sure would have failed that test.

  10. Despite negative changes to Aadvantage (AA was not the only one devaluing), Oasis is the tipping point for me. I’ve flown the plane in First and it’s a very uncomfortable experience. Unfortunately, I don’t see them reversing course on this and it’s going to cost them customers, likely myself (longtime EXP, lifetime PLT) when we resume traveling. It’s a shame as their international business cabins are very comfortable. But, for those of us doing lots of domestic travel, as well, it’s just too uncomfortable.

    Shocking to me that Southwest has more legroom than AA…..

  11. Never been a fan of Parker or his ‘Operation CHEAPSAKE’ approach to business. As a longtime Business Traveller, I have flown all the Majors and I saw what His Team did to USAirways and now American. This ClownShow has a proven track record of One Step Forward, Three Steps Back…..have never seen a Management Team hell bent on fleecing it’s customers and using the argument “it was what the customer wanted’. Travel has certainly changed over the years but AA’s Management Team is the the most arrogant,out of touch and least customer focused of any airline in the industry.

  12. I have actively avoiding USAir before the merger for the obvious reasons. Now I can say that Parker succeeded in turning AA into US: from making planes the most uncomfortable to ignorant employees and general luck of service. Now AA is no different from the premerger US except more stingy FF program.

  13. The ONLY objective for Parker and his team, and teams like his as we’ve seen multiple times over, is to bring the greatest return to the shareholders as possible in the quickest time possible.
    Customer experience….. not his concern.
    Gotta take care of the shareholders first and foremost.

  14. …. and it’s to bad Alaska Airlines partnered with American.
    But maybe they saw this coming and took into consideration the 14 American frequent fliers who would fly Alaska domestically rather than Amercian now…..

  15. Ruining the First Class experience when that was still a cash cow, and now having to invest to fix it when business travel will never be the same again. Sounds like a well thought out strategy to me…

    I think the airline that comes up with the best coach experience will be the one gaining the most loyalists (“best” as defined by a combination of cost vs comfort). And the airline with the cheapest fare will win with those passengers who care about $$$ most.

  16. We get more legroom and underseat storage on the new planes that Allegiant flies between Memphis and Las Vegas than we get on longer AA flights in coach. As seniors, it’s literally impossible to crawl out of the seats in AA coarch to get to the bathroom that is already so small you have to back into it and then close the door. It’s really scary to think about how hard it would be to get out in an emergency when everyone is pushing to get off. Several years ago when Allegiant was only flying really old airplanes, I would have never imagined that I’d now prefer flying Allegiant than flying American which I flew a lot before retiring. No matter who you fly in coach, it seems you need to bring along a chair pad to keep from sitting on seats that feel like you’re sitting on wood.

  17. It’s the sad reality with all these mergers… they tout all these benefits and synergies for the customers, but when the reality hits, it’s mainly benefits for the management team and shareholders. Customers and employees get the shaft.

    Mergers are just another way for companies to cut expenses and go down to bare minimum standards. Rarely do you see merged companies actually increase their value to the customer. Why? Because they need to make the merger look good by making money… And easiest way to make money is to cut costs… yeah, corporate downward spiral for ya.

  18. Sadly, this is nothing new for AA or the industry in general over the past 4 decades. Bob Crandall did the same sort of things in the 1980s and 1990s. Doug Parker worked for Bob back then, and he learned the game plan well…. Management always wins, customers and employees are an afterthought at best. Perhaps deregulating the industry wasn’t such a great idea after all.

  19. I’m 5’6” tall, slight of build and 140 LBS.

    If I feel cramped in an older coach seat, I can’t imagine what a bigger person must feel in the redesigned ones.

    In the quest for more $$ by cramming more people In substandard conditions, the all the airlines bottom (pun intended) line will suffer.

    To design (if it can be called that) an interior without building mock-up cabins and tested by the very people who have to endure/work in them is heresy.

    What happened to focus groups? Of course we all know the airlines don’t give a crap except for cramming as many people into a flying tenement as possible.

  20. I would be astounded if anyone that was on the planet when Parker and his crew of lightweights took over AA is surprised. USAir was the epitome of poor management, disgruntled and uncaring employees who had an inbred culture absolute no concern about the service they were providing for those who were paying salaries, their customers. Sadly, by the time they got ahold of AA that once proud and world class operation was heading in the same direction after two decades of mismanagement by those who followed Bob Crandall. It is now a “marriage made in hell” and is being taken way beyond the employees to planning and failure to recognize passengers expectations. Yet, Parker just recently bragged his has the Republican (as well as liberal) politicians in his hip pocket as his greedily hand goes in the publics’ pork barrel till yet again.

  21. Flew JFK to Phoenix and back in this configuration. Upgraded to “first/business” outbound and used seat-guru to find an economy seat with no seat in front of it for the return.

    Without any exaggeration, the return flight in economy was significantly more comfortable than the outbound in first/business. No wonder I got an upgrade!

  22. Well said TW, until Parker and his cronies are out and new management in to bring AA back to a class airline, it will remain at the bottom. The board of AA is useless to allow this to happen!

  23. So disappointed in AA after 4;0 years as an advantage client it has only gone down hill, switching to Delta even though I may pay more. Seats are so uncomfortable, no water or wipes during covid unless you ask, rude American Eagle staff, little walk thru during flights by staff and leg room for 6’4 hubby is hideous

  24. I was an AA flyer for years primarily because of AAdvantage. AA’s abandonment of NY was increasingly becoming problematic. And the constant operational issues and rolling 30 minute delays. But I ultimately hit a wall with Oasis.

    As others have mentioned, First was not comfortable. And then I got stuck in one of the last rows of economy minus on long flight. At 6’1” – not exactly a giant – I was miserable. That was the last time I flew AA. Switched to Delta and learned to live with Skymiles. Redemption is not good, but Delta treats everyone far, far better. And between elite status and companion fares through the Reserve card, I fly in First far more regularly. And in direct flights given Delta’s operation in NY.

    It’s truly a shame, because AA has so many (potential) competitive advantages. The airline refuses to put customers and employees at the center of its focus, and it shows.

  25. Gary, are you physically able to write a nonnegative blog post, especially concerning anything re AA? A vast majority of your posts highlight only negatives and if the subject isn’t obviously so you spin, reframe, and jump to conclusions that support that narrative. You cover interesting topics and have managed an inside track to all things AA but rather than use your knowledge to expand the headline it becomes “oh look, another failure by management.” That’s easy, especially all things AA, but perhaps you could use your platform to be enlightening and engage in interesting discussion?

  26. I know it’s easy to say that Oasis was AA focusing on shareholders not customers, but AA executives have discovered that this isn’t a valid trade-off. Alienating customers is not a profit-winning strategy. Truth be told, it wasn’t JUST the seats, so fixing the seats alone isn’t going to bring butts back.

  27. This all goes back to the unsustainable pay increases they gave to flight crews back in 2017….now they have to fund it. Pre-pandemic, I flew about 100X per year. I’ll never get on AA again. In Feb I had to get to Amarillo. I took Delta to MCI and drove the 250 miles instead.

  28. So they made a mistake on the 737 ( I bet they evenually remove a row), the A321 refits are actually pretty great so not complaints there. What about DL mistakes on the 757, A321, A319, A321. . . they pack in more seats then AA does with even smaller lavs on the Airbus planes. Oh but wait, DL doesn’t do anything wrong and AA does everything wrong. . NOT. Read the last 6 months feedback on FlyerTalk, DL is falling fast.

  29. It’s really REALLY amazing to me at how AA is still in operation.
    Another fail by AA and Mr. Doug Parker.
    WHY do people still fly AA? WHY?!
    They knew what they were doing and people still fly AA.
    What a joke!

  30. I hope to resume flying in the coming month and was once a loyal AA front cabin client but I will never get on a 737 MAX again with their micro toilets and absurd seat pitch. I thought the 319 was fine.

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