Insane: American Retrofitting Planes They’ll Need to Retrofit Again in a Year

American Airlines is in the midst of “Project Oasis” to take the bulk of its domestic fleet – Boeing 737-800s and now Airbus A321s – and give them an interior similar to what they introduced on the Boeing 737 MAX.

  • Boeing 737-800s, which had 150 seats before the US Airways merger, are going from 160 seats post-merger up to 172 seats.

  • They squeeze in these extra seats by reducing the amount of space each passenger gets, squeezing seats closer together. That’s true across coach, Main Cabin Extra, and first class.

  • Since the seats are closer together they’re using rock hard “slimline seats” with less padding since less padding takes up less space. They’re also shrinking the size of lavatories, and they eliminated the bulkhead wall between first class and coach.

  • These seats get no seat back video screens, the planes will all be watch content on your own device. Old US Airways planes at least get seat power in the process.

American had paused the project because of several problems. In the spring they discovered poor quality conversion work by Aviation Technical Services.

  • Overhead bin issues were being reported on aircraft and when they were inspected mechanics found bolts missing and half-tightened and zip ties used to hold things in place.
  • I’m told that life vest compartments were installed upside down and as a result the compartment doesn’t come all the way open.
  • In addition wiring was run improperly from the E&E compartment (electrical and electronic) aft of the cockpit.

This story got buried by the grounding of the 737 MAX. That was another reason for pausing the project. They couldn’t take Boeing 737s out of service for weeks at a time during the peak summer season while being down 24 737s while unable to fly the MAX.

During that time the airline finally came to grips with customer-facing problems in the retrofits. They committed to fix some of the dumb design elements in the first class seat which left it, among other things, with almost no underseat storage. After a huge capital outlay they were going back to spend on fixes that were obvious to everyone the first time they sat down in the MiQ seat.

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

Well even without the MAXs back in service American is sending 737-800s in to be retrofit with the new ‘Torquemada’ interiors. That means flights being pulled out of the schedule, attributed to MAX cancellations, are in some cases really being removed so that the airline can densify interiors with less room for each passenger.

What’s more the ‘fixes’ to first class don’t appear to have been certified yet. That means American is spending money to put the problematic seats in, only to have to rip them out spending money to replace them again later. That’s almost the definition of insanity.

Boeing 737-800 ship 3GS has already been in for retrofit. Ship 3GT is at Greesnboro for Oasis retrofit now, having flown there on Thursday. It’s expected to return to service on October 17. They’re putting in first class seats they’re going to rip out again in a year.

American Airlines shares,

We currently have one 737 and one A321 in for the original modification. The second round of mods, with the changes to First Class based on customer feedback that we outlined last month won’t begin until early next year.

We are restarting the original modifications in order to more quickly install items like larger overhead bins and in-seat power at every seat in more aircraft – items that our customers have told us are most important to them. This will also help us to standardize the fleet, minimizing seating disruptions when aircraft swaps take place.

These modification lines have been planned into the schedule, so we are not disrupting customer travel by removing the aircraft from service.

In fact, pushing forward with the modifications increases the chance that an aircraft swap will cause seating disruptions. Over 70% of the airline’s Boeing 737-800s are in 160-seat configuration today. Adding more 172 seat-configured planes means a greater likelihood that when a swap occurs customers get moved from their currently-assigned seats.

Furthermore it’s absolutely false to suggest that Boeing 737-800s lack seat power today. And while customers may like bigger overhead bins, they do not like less padded seats that are crammed closer in together.

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. Yet AA management continues to wonder why profits are down and people aren’t flying them.
    -no seat back TV screens
    -dense cabins
    -small bathrooms
    -horrible seats
    (And the list goes on)
    Does AA management not see that competing against Spirit and Frontier is a no win situation.

  2. Do they use bulk soap dispensers in the tiny lavs? Does Gary wash his hands or is he afraid of ejaculate in them?

  3. Curious, when do the institutional investors move to throw out AA’s Board, which continues to evidence the lack of a basic premise of stewardship?

  4. why do these economy seats have headrests that jam your head forward? honestly the super thin seats would be fine and comfortable enough if there were no headrest at all. at least the old seats didn’t have a protruding headrest.

    The MiQ seats are terrrible – about the same recline you get in a normal economy seat and so cheap looking. but at least they dont have a headrest that jams your head forward.

  5. I can deal with a little less room, by my god the lack of padding is what makes it excruciating, even on short hauls…in either class!

    Gave up on my AA EP status this year, and the more of these articles I read, the happier I am with my decision.

  6. Is there a way to know when booking a flight if at least the scheduled aircraft is in the Torquemada or normal interior configuration? Anything over about 90 minutes and I’d try hard to avoid this aircraft.

    (I like the Torquemada allusion, and suggest not putting it in quotes. It’s your contribution to the terms of discussion, sort of like SkyPesos in an earlier era on a different topic.)

  7. Gary,

    Are they for sure doing the seats too? Maybe they are just retroing the bins, etc, that won’t be ripped out in a year.

    I see the benefit of a standard seating arrangement across a fleet, but you’re right, doing it now only to have to do it again sure is dumb

  8. @DaveS

    Yes there is a way to guarantee that your aircraft seat isn’t an overpriced flying torture chamber.

    Pick another airline.
    Southwest. Delta. United.

  9. “items that our customers have told us are most important to them.” No American, no. I want IFE an more space.

  10. First this is OLD NEWS. It was announce in early August.

    While the 737 refit seem like a dumpster fire, the A321 ceo and neo design and layout is a HUGE improvement over the former UScareways cabins. I flew the A321 neo across the country and it was great (even compared to DL). Huge bins, seats and spacing was fine, power (yeah!!) and loved the tablet holder (yes I think IFE screen are a waste, sorry). The WIFI was super fast ( a fact why business people prefer AA over DL and UA) and the live TV was great (Saturday golf for 5 hours, now problems). The cabins felt lighter and airier too.

    I hope someone at AA wakes up and even if they remove a single row and go to 166 the 737 will be better. The bathrooms, well let’s face it. . .all the airlines are going to them, time to hit the gym so I can fit in them!

  11. The new AAL 1st class product does suck on the 737-8, flew it BWI-PHX a few months back. I have enough AAL FF miles to secure two 1st class tickets for my and Wifey for a trans-con trip next year, paid for two 1st class tickets on DAL instead.

  12. @CitrusFlyer — You won’t read about it on this blog, but AA’s earnings are INCREASING by about 20% this year. The densification of the coach cabins will undoubtedly increase their earnings further, because it makes business sense to do so. The reality is that most people do not find the new slimline seats to be less comfortable than the old bulkier seats. I regularly fly almost every airline in the USA, and I have no problem with the newer seats. Indeed — and amazingly — I find the seat comfort on Frontier — yes Frontier — to be no worse than the average seat on a major USA airline (mind you, Frontier’s LEGROOM is materially worse, but the seats themselves are not materially less comfortable. (and their lack of recline is often an improvement over having a “recliner” in front of you). This reality means you’re going to see more seats on the airplanes of the major airlines. Arguing against this reality is like advocating for horses and buggies over automobiles.

  13. Enough already. The FAA needs to step in to reassess the evacuation in 90 seconds with a full-plane with smoke in the cabin and typical passengers (young, old, infants, parents, etc.). Scrap the computer models that theoretically calculate the evacuation time. Do it the old way. Economy should be renamed “Munchkin Class.”

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