American Confirms Plan to Fix First Class, Defends Inferior Coach

Over the weekend I wrote that American will fix some of the problems with its new domestic first class seats. They won’t be making changes to the new coach product.

First class has less legroom than before, poorly padded seats, and lacks underseat storage. The power outlets are awkwardly placed. American is going to be making some seat fixes (but not relocating outlets).

Meanwhile, economy has less distance between seats. When US Airways management took over at American they increased the number of seats in Boeing 737s from 150 to 160. The new retrofit program goes up to 172 seats. They get there by:

  • Squeezing seats closer together in first class, main cabin extra (down to 33 inches of pitch) and economy (down to 30 inches)
  • Preserving the amount of space at each economy seat by removing padding from seat backs (making them less comfortable), reducing seat recline, and taking away seat back entertainment screens
  • Capturing inches by reducing the size of lavatories

The inimitable Brian Sumers confirms what I wrote with American. He quotes airline CFO Derek Kerr,

“The seats that we used, they didn’t have some storage underneath,” he said. “They didn’t have holders for iPads that people want. They didn’t have a cup holder type of thing. The approval is in place for that, and all aircraft will be modified.”

American Airlines MiQ First Class Seats

MiQ First Class Seats Are Attached to the Aircraft in a Way that Prevents Use of Underseat Space for Storage

American defends its decision not to do anything to improve coach by saying they almost made the product even worse — their original plan was for some seats to have just 29 inches of pitch (distance from seat back to seat back) but there was such an outrage they backed off. They returned to ‘only’ going down to 30 inches of pitch by giving up a row of Main Cabin Extra. They’re down to just 3 rows of Main Cabin Extra at the front of the plane, in addition to two exit rows, and those have less legroom than before as well.

Sumers gets Cranky Flier to defend the coach product,

“I hadn’t heard many complaints about coach,” he said. “People seem to like whining about the number of seats on the airplane but it doesn’t actually seem like it is that uncomfortable.

The biggest problem with the seats isn’t pitch per se although I find it impossible to work productively on a laptop, and the configuration of the aircraft doesn’t offer enough Main Cabin Extra seats to consistently access a row with more room (at least for someone like me who books within a few weeks of departure).

Instead it’s the lack of padding in the seat. That’s fine for a couple of hours, but American uses Boeing 737s to fly from Miami to Seattle which is 7 hours.

And their brand reputation suffers from the lack of seat back entertainment, which Delta is rolling out in spades.

The first class seats though are shockingly bad. Over the weekend I wrote that it seems impossible anyone from the airline could have sat in one before purchasing them. Now they’re going to spend even more money to rip out seats from planes they’ve already retrofit.

But it gets even more absurd. Sumers writes that American will resume retrofitting planes next month – prior to bringing 737 MAX aircraft back into the fleet (I had previously understood retrofits were put off through end of year). And in the meantime American may be installing inferior first class seats only to rip them out next year once the tweaked version of the seats receive FAA certification.

If they begin 737 Oasis retrofits (or reach the point of retrofitting legacy American Airlines A321s) before getting the seat fixes certified they’ll be taking out perfectly good first class seats with plenty of legroom only to install seats without sufficient padding or underseat storage, only to rip those out and fix them later.

Of course if American really does re-start aircraft retrofits next month they’ll need to stop claiming their shortage of aircraft is because their mechanics aren’t getting planes ready to fly.

Ultimately CFO Kerr points out, “The Oasis Project is really about conformity, and trying to make things easier on the operation” — and not, clearly, about the customer.

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. I wonder how all those whiners who moved from UA to AA or DL after UA moved to the revenue based scheme are loving AA now–since it then did the same thing and now has a vastly worse experience and product than UA in almost every metric.

    I only fly AA now on its premium transcon routes in premium class or a rare international longhaul in premium class. Otherwise, it’s always UA or DL for me. AA really sucks.

  2. oh man, I’m rolling on the floor in crying laughter reading how AA runs the airline! Wow, what a train wreck!

  3. Wait, they’re seriously ripping out good seats, to put in shitty seats, to then put in less-shitty-but-still-not-as-good-as-the-original seats? In what world does it make sense to commit to worsen your product and also at the same time commit to then only halfway fix it later?

  4. American Airlines boils my blood with this kind of stupidity. NO ONE, no one, no one likes the OASIS configuration. NO ONE! That plane looks like a spirit plane, albeit Spirit ‘big seat’ are actually wider and more comfortable than American first class seats! What is not clear to them?

  5. Please measure the pitch on DL, 30 inches in coach, same as AA and UA. Only difference is the stupid box for IFE screens, that reduce pitch even further. Also, DL is putting more seats then AA on their A321s ceo and neo as well as on their a319 and a320s which is making up more then 1/2 of their domestic fleet now. It’s only a matter of time that their love affair with the a220 adds more seats.

    A couple of corrections. . .A321 will re-start refits after the summer season. They have refit one and have trialed it mostly between PHL and SEA this summer. Feedback has been positive as has the feedback about the A321 neo. Also, A320s are getting power outlets. 737 will restart refits next year once the MAX come back on line.

  6. When a company makes a poor decision…

    Then poorly implements that poor decision…

    And then attempts to rationalize the poor decision and its poor results…

    Why do I need to continue?

  7. @ Gary — Fine with me. I don’t sit back there anyways. Let the coach dwellers subsidize my ticket.

  8. @sunviking, in case you missed it, this blog name is “View from the (AA) Wing”. It doesn’t matter if UA, DL or any others are comparable on the low points.

  9. You have to give AA credit their sub par product in every cabin taught me to pay more and fly elsewhere and avoid them at all costs
    They are fooling very few with their defensive posturing to claim otherwise

  10. @Gene – First class is getting worse though, they’re ripping out 40″ pitch and replacing it with 36″ pitch and less comfortable seats even after these ‘fixes’

  11. @sunviking82 – Delta is a mix of 30″ and 31″ (with seat back screens), it’s not accurate to claim they’re 30″ across the board.

    A320s are getting power outlets, under the current plan, by *end of 2021*. In the mean time the basket of deplorables fleet continues.

    And it’s certainly not accurate to say feedback has been positive on the oasis interior 737s. All AA actually claims when pressed is that likelihood to recommend scores weren’t worse than the legacy US Airways fleet – despite high speed internet and bigger overhead bins.

  12. And the stock price is $25.83 off a 12-month high of $43.89, and they only make a profit due to selling AAdvantage miles, not from flying. So why is that management team still there? Who exactly is it that is liking the job they are doing?

  13. @gary I am sick and tired of you ripping in AA management. In case you’re not aware, PT Barnum employed dozens of clowns and the enterprise survived, even thrived, for over a century.

  14. @Johhny
    AA management fully deserves to get ripped for ruining a once respectable airline
    that should have been the country’s best
    It also once had the best frequent flyer program and acceptable customer service
    They have destroyed nearly every aspect of their company ,most of the customer experience and One World

  15. @dwondermeant It was a joke. If you’ve followed me on this site, I have frequently lamented that Doug is still there.

  16. @DaveS

    Wait. I thought they were supposed to be targeting a sixty dollar stock price? Or did I hear wrong and it was really sixteen?

  17. I’ve been offered a job in upper management at AA. It’s a smallish salary and lots of stock options.
    Do you think I should ask for the options to be puts?

  18. We at Unitedless are currently looking at installing church pews (albeit the plastic variety).
    Without the armrests each row will be able to seat 8 instead of 6. The good part – since we can’t increase the total number of passengers without adding another cabin attendant we will be able to give you more of that FREEKIN’ PITCH. Using plastic will reduce weight tremendously!

    It’s a win – win. You get your extra knee room + Gary can use his laptop comfortably to write more blog articles, We save boatloads of money on gas.

  19. Would anyone be surprised if they take more space from coach and give it to the front cabin?

  20. Those “First Class” seats are an absolute embarrassment. They just keep getting worse its horrific! They added back a divider (kinda) but it appears that even though the seats may be slightly more padded they absolutely pale in comparison to previous iterations.
    Jesus, I understand somewhat degrading the coach experience, but for the love of God let people at least pay for a nice experience in First. Pathetic and sad.

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