It’s Time For American Airlines To Retire Its Airbus A320s

American Airlines retrofitted its domestic fleet. Legacy American Airlines Boeing 737s and Airbus A321s that had seat back entertainment had those screens removed. They added seats to planes, giving each passenger less room (even in first class). They even shrunk the lavatories.

There are two strange things about this fleet, though.

  • The ‘new domestic product’ was poorly planned. They didn’t even build a cabin mockup before they began installing seats. As a result they got a lot of the details wrong, bolting the first class seats to the floor without thinking – preventing passengers from having underseat storage space – and lacking the tablet holders in first class that were giving to coach passengers. They wound up having to retrofit planes that they’d just retrofit to fix the problems.

    Ultimately it was clear that the details of the product weren’t important enough to the airline to matter, even though it would be the primary product offered to its customers, because the airline’s CEO at the time didn’t even bother to try it for over six months after it was flying.

  • A decade into the merger, and over 5 years from rollout of their new product, they haven’t updated the entire fleet – and have no plans in place to do so. There are some positives in the new configuration like larger overhead bins. But Airbus A319s, which still have seat back entertainment screens if they were purchased by American Airlines before the merger, haven’t gotten these.

    And the legacy US Airways ‘Basket of Deplorables’ planes haven’t been touched, other than new seat covers.

The condition of the interiors of American Airlines A320s is sad. The American Airlines social media team tells customers that will change – but that isn’t true.

Whenever I’ve flagged photos like these, the response I’ve gotten has been ‘well passengers wouldn’t want us to delay their flights to fix these seats’ – but that begs the questions, (1) why is it always the A320s? (2) What are they doing – or not doing – when the planes aren’t flying to maintain the interiors so that this doesn’t happen so frequently?

American Airlines retired its Embraer E-195s, Boeing 757s and 767s, and Airbus A330s during the pandemic, and its MD80s right before that. But this fleet of around 48 planes continues to operate. Many of them date to the 90s, from America West Airlines and from US Airways prior to being taken over by America West. The newest one is 17 years old (only three are less than 20 years old).

Leaving aside the regional jets that remain parked, the carrier is not even fully utilizing the mainline aircraft that it has yet. To be sure there have been delays delivering new aircraft from both Boeing and Airbus. However there’s no announced plans to retire these Airbus A320s, or to update them. And they’ve been flying these planes for years having already updated their Boeing 737s and Airbus A321s, a process that continued throughout the pandemic using government cash.

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. Gary, all of what you write is irrelevant. Don’t you remember? The route network is the product. That is what people are buying. That is what people care about. Silly goose.

  2. My primary objection to these planes is that they are not clean. Parts are often broken so normal debris just accumulates in the cracks, etc. They are basic AF, much like AA.

  3. I’m Platinum for life with American Airlines . I was EXP many years but had challenges using the SWU. To me it’s why I held my EXP status with many transatlantic trips. I got frustrated with the new “US Airways” so I left for United. Whilst not perfect, they are much better than American Airlines . Pathetic that with American Airlines Plat for life is ranked lower than current flying Plat. Oh well, their loss. If anything, my American Airlines status helps when flying British Airways within Europe.

  4. Flying commercial passenger service has sucked for over 20 years. It’s the reason it my mode of travel of last resort.

  5. The greed of the airlines squeezing more seats into an already cramped space is a major factor in today’s air rage incidents. Passengers use to be able to escape to the lavatory for a breather, but now 1/2 the people can’t even fit into the coffin sized loo!

  6. The A320’s are essentially “tweeners”…too inexpensive to retire and too old to refurbish. Later in the decade I’m guessing they will be the next to be retired, but for now, AA (and the flying public) is stuck with them.

  7. You forgot to mention these are the most comfortable economy seats in the AA fleet. Every aircraft except for the A320 was fitted with slimline seats with no padding and they’ve taken away seat pitch.

  8. Somebody above said “sucks.” Certainly true. It didn’t start there, but since USAir took over American all those years ago, the spiral has certainly continued. American continued to fly the junky ex-TWA DC9’s and MD80’s for YEARS after they promised to replace them with 737’s. Their international product has been 2nd class–even in 1st class for DECADES. IMHO, American Airlines is an embarrassment to our country.

  9. You wanna retire a perfectly OK airplane because the seats are not perfect. It’s a domestic aircraft. It fits the market and it’s all profit. United has those dMe A320 and honestly the AA ones are configured much better without the toilet being in the galley

  10. Not even a mockup!! Tell’s it all about the clueless clowns that took over and ruined American Airlines.

  11. But seriously folks . . . the real problem to which Gary speaks is AA management’s inability to deliver on its “number one” objective of every aircraft being ready to fly at the start of every day. The aircraft being flyable, the toilets functioning, the seats being usable.

  12. “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” —Theodore Roosevelt (Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910)

  13. It just keeps getting OBVIOUSLY worse at AA. They just don’t get it or anything relative to customer/passenger experience. The pictures are ridiculous evidence of how poorly they operate. Heck, city busses don’t operate with seats ripped out. Pathetic.

  14. I’m on one right now. Boarded the plane and announced a maintenance delay due to a broken fuel door with no ETA.

  15. It’s obvious that most of you know nothing about how airlines are ran today or what most people care about. Seats break and during short turns their is no time to fix them and parts might not be available. This happens with the old and the new seats. The old seats are actually much more reliable. Most people don’t care what the plane looks like, they just want the cheapest ticket and to get to there destination on time.

  16. I wonder what world you live in … have you realized they are short of planes and the ones they got are barely stopping since everything is very delayed? Why dont you write about Delta and their shitty old 767 ? …. I wonder who fked you bad over American airline’s ahaha get off their jock

  17. @grant – they really aren’t short of narrowbodies when their CEO said at the JP Morgan Industrials Conference the ones they haven’t aren’t fully utilized

  18. You do realize, that when they see those photos they will start charging extra for the seats with a missing seat back in front. They will call it the “padded footrest” option.

  19. I agree with Johan… the a320 is my favorite aircraft in the AA fleet, as I also find the coach seats on the the a320 to be the most comfortable; it might just be my imagination, but it feels to me like the seat pitch was left unaltered from the US days.

    @ Cody… the comment about city buses made me laugh… when i was a kid, the city’s transit agency was responsible for transporting middle and HS students; they operated at least one bus that had all the seats removed except those over the wheel wells. We assumed getting this bus on your route any morning was some kind of punishment.

  20. Let’s put this in perspective, American has 956 airplanes of these 48 are Airbus 320-200 AC, with more Max and 787/900’s to come. They have the youngest fleet versus Delta/United/Southwest, remember 500+ were ordered when they were taken over by US Airways, so this conversation regarding these AC is really a waste of everyone’s time, have you been on Delta’s old AC?

  21. Before the grounding of the MAX, they had announced plans to retired them, but then put them off and added power ports. I think with 88 more MAX and 20 -800 that can be refit, it’s time to send these off to the desert.

  22. @James Walter: LT Platinum aren’t treated any different than Platinum. Not sure where you’re getting that, other than perhaps you mean you’re flying with less LP achieved than a typical Platinum flyer.

  23. It’s not the plane it’s the interior. Ask Delta. Plenty of older birds with classy interiors.

  24. You think this is bad? Try American Eagle operated by Republic if you want some filthy broken down interiors.

  25. Southwest is the most profitable airline in the US and operates with no IFE screens, slow internet, and 737-700s that are equally dated. Most fliers want a cheap ticket for a couple hour flight.

  26. While I understand all of the above, and empathize with all of you, my expectations are pretty low when boarding any AA plane – and I’m Platinum. So I’m never disappointed and sometimes pleasantly surprised. (Full disclosure – not as surprised as I was when upgraded on DL’s new 321neo ATL-BOS last night. Wow, was that nice!)

    What I can’t figure out, and don’t know why no one else asked – where are they flying that mess? PHL to BAN? Where’s BAN? Bad Ass Nashville?

  27. “They even shrunk (sic) the lavatories.” No, either they SHRANK them or they had shrunk them. Duh!

  28. As sunviking82 noted, there was a previous plan to retire the A320s; 2023 or 2024 as I recall, but that is no longer true with the delays on new aircraft delivery.

    The lack of a cabin mock-up on the 737 Oasis retrofit was a concern that I pointed out two years ago in my question to the then CEO. The Oasis issues were many, including aisle spacing in the first row of FC such that it was difficult to pull even slightly wider luggage through. One passenger even got her bag completely stuck during deplaning. The subsequent Kodiak retrofit corrected the issues, but a cabin mock-up would have caught this very expensive mistake.

  29. While some are mentioning that they have the most comfortable coach seats, there is one first class seat model (it’s in one of the photos in this article – the one where the back is gone but not the actual seat bottom) that is (and always has been) so uncomfortable – it’s from the America West days.

    I remember I was not impressed when flying in paid F back when it was US Airways from PHL-LAS. It was a painful 5 hours! At least the service was good. In contrast, I had an ancient 757 on one of my return flights and it had the old beige leather seats – my goodness were they comfortable!

  30. Note to the basketball man child in pic #3: It’s not appropriate to wear shorts/sneakers when flying commercial. Ewwww.

  31. I recently gad a flight in a very old AA A320 and the interior was poorly maintained, visible silver tape on armrests and wall panels, but the legroom in the back of economy was Excellent. I brought my own entertainment. I would hate for AA to refit the interiors and add more seats. Maybe if they could just maintain them better.

  32. I always buy F as due to health issues, cannot sit with my legs dangling down for 5-6 hours (I regularly fly MIA LAX SFO) I no longer can get a wide body with lie flat between MIA LAX. And yet they want $2500-4500 to sit on a Max8, Neo, etc. Passenger comfort is no longer a priority but credit cards are. Looking for another airline as I will not pay them $3000+ to sit on their horrible airplanes! The only option left is MIA JFK SFO for $4000+. Just bought a one way SFO JFK MIA for $2200+. Time to find another airline as I can’t afford these fares on a regular basis!

  33. I flew first class from Richmond to DFW on 21 February. About 20 minutes before takeoff, the gate attendant announces to the waiting passengers (there were a lot, the plane was pretty full) that the back TWO toilets were inoperable for the flight, and encouraged everyone to make a “pit stop” before boarding. This was a big 737, probably close to 200 seats. One toilet for 200 people. I am not an authority on the health regulations re: passenger aircraft, but I can’t help but think that was some sort of a violation.

  34. Old Gary, stop with your tiresome AA Bashing.

  35. It’s not true that the A319s purchased by AA before the merger still have swayback screens. They’re gone too.

  36. Anti-American Airlines is off my list of ever flying with again.
    Over 14 hours to fly back from the Bahamas when it should have been 7hours with our connection. No compensation or even an apology for their crappy service and a pilot lying about what held us up. Worst seats in the industry so screw them I will gladly pay extra just so I am not flying with them
    SouthWest is better,Spirit is better so if discount is a better experience than why use them?

  37. @James – nope, legacy American Airlines A319s still have seat back entertainment screens. The US Airways ones got new cabins in the same layout but without the screens, and used A319s the airline acquired eg ex-F9 planes, got the US Airways treatment.

  38. AA recently started Oasis for A319s. The first A319 to get Oasis is an ex-Frontier. Look up beam5192 on Youtube for a cabin tour.

  39. While I agree they need updating they are still more comfortable and the AA 737!

    I only hope when they do replace they replace with airbus or the A220 like Delta purchased.

  40. It’s Time For American Airlines To Retire

    Also, you spelled “America West” wrong.

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