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.