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,
- Reconfigure Airbus A321s by the end of 2021
- Prepare for a new cabin in the Airbus A321XLR
- Introduce a new cabin when they take delivery of new Boeing 787-9s
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.”
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.