During the question and answer portion of Thursday’s American Airlines earnings call, Wall Street Journal reporter Alison Sider asked about the airline’s removal of seat back entertainment screens from its domestic aircraft, and whether they have any regrets?
Delta Air Lines is considered the most premium of the large U.S. carriers, despite not offering dedicated business class lounges or as valuable a frequent flyer program. They committed heavily to seat back entertainment, with newer technology that’s less costly so they stream content to each seat rather than hardwiring the plane.
United Airlines in the last month announced that it would retrofit its domestic fleet to offer screens at each seat as well. That will leave American Airlines as the only one of the 3 global U.S. carriers without screens on its domestic planes.
American has actively removed screens, even from planes that had them, as they installed their new domestic ‘Oasis’ interior – cramming more seats into planes, reducing the number of extra legroom seats, reducing padding at each seat, while also offering high speed internet and larger overhead bins.
Airline President Robert Isom dodged the question on regrets, saying instead that he “want[s] to focus on what we’ve got” which is already acquiring new aircraft, while others are “talking” about what they “might do” (referring to United’s June order of 270 new planes, the first of which has already been delivered).
- they were the first to have high speed wifi (I don’t think that’s really a fair distinction, though Delta found Gogo’s 2Ku system wasn’t as robust as hoped)
- they will be “getting back into live entertainment as well” which they pulled early in the pandemic as a cost-saving measure, arguing that there was no live sports, but hasn’t yet been brought back. An airline spokesperson tells me “we don’t have a timeline” for when this will return.
- customers don’t need seat back screens since “90% of customers bring their own devices” and that these have better screens than seats do – but I’m not sure a cell phone really is the same thing for many.
- and seat back entertainment is bad for the environment and eliminating them enhances “sustainability” since planes without screens are lighter and more fuel efficient. He doesn’t speak to how their adding seats to aircraft, also discussed during the call, increases weight and fuel burn (unless offset by fewer flights) and Airbus 321ceos are even weight restricted on several routes so they’re carrying seats and burning fuel without even carrying passengers.
In the opening prepared remarks section of the call, Isom said they’ve brought back an operation the size of the old US Airways in just a few months at American, which perhaps shows his frame of reference.
If American does find itself forced to reconsider seat back entertainment, something that was under discussion prior to the pandemic but ultimately rejected, the claim that this is bad for the environment becomes an awkward one to walk back.