Report: American Airlines Considers Restoring Seat Back Video Screens

Just before the pandemic grew out of control, American Airlines data revealed that frequent customers represented a declining share of airline revenue.

It seemed that a combination of award chart devaluation (higher prices for the best awards), product devaluations (less space per passenger on domestic narrowbody aircraft) and making status harder to earn (minimum spend requirement and taking away the ability to earn as much towards that via credit card) had in fact pushed frequent customer share of wallet towards competitors.

A year ago American Airlines considered some product improvements. They considered bringing seat back entertainment as a product standard for their domestic fleet but in the end just made some minor fixes to their new first class cabin.

Now that the pandemic hit, and the airline is loading up on more debt than even before, they cut first class meals to save money. They’re not expected to return customer-facing investments to where they were prior to COVID.

And yet serial American Airlines leaker JonNYC reports that the airline is again looking at seat back entertainment.

Oddly the airline has been using the time with planes parked to rip out seat back video screens. I have to think if they rejected the investment pre-COVID that it’s an even harder sell now. On the other hand they could give all passengers seat back entertainment for less than 1/3rd the cost overrun on their new corporate headquarters.

Back in the fall The Points Guy made an exceptionally flawed case against seat back entertainment. The truth is that people like seat back screens, personal devices (phones) aren’t a replacement, and even the newest planes look old or cheap without the bright screens in the cabin.

For two years American leadership has said they have a premium revenue problem. If American wants to earn a revenue premium going forward this wouldn’t be the worst start, at least to do once business picks back up a bit more.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. RE Resuming seatback IFE: I’ll believe it when I see it.

    But, hey, were that to happen, it would be a GOOD START.

    To really make a splash, not to mention have seasoned flyers give AA a try again, it would have to be an across the board effort of restoring many of the critical elements of customer service that the airline eliminated in recent years, such as row pitches NOT less than JetBlue’s 32” – and just an overall sense that the customer’s business, regardless of fare paid, is genuinely valued and appreciated.

    That plus implementation of a reasonable fee schedule.

    I’m NOT opposed to fees.

    But they need to offer something of value in return instead of “just because we know we’ve got you by the short hairs, and we’re gonna make it painful because we know we can get away with it…”

    You know, that sort of sadism and abuse, and especially the “hate selling” needs to go!

    If AA ups its game sincerely and meaningfully, then for sure those who gave up on the airline might just be willing to give it a try…

  2. @ Howard Miller — I’m not opposed to fees, as long as I don’t have to pay them. Kinda like my position on taxes.

  3. Isn’t part of their revenue problem their sharply reducing their presence in New York which provides a disproportionate share of premium paying business flyers in and out? They’ve simultaneously made it harder for New York based flyers to earn AA miles by reducing the number of destinations they serve non-stop from New York’s three airports and made it harder to burn miles both by reducing the number of vacation destinations they serve from NY and by the general availability reduction of mileage awards.

  4. I predict they will wait until they are done ripping out the PTV’s before deciding that they need them again. You could not make this stuff up.

    Meanwhile having cut NY, they will now begin the take down at LAX. They are hobbling themselves from the get-go by reducing in these markets.

    They also need to figure out that you cannot achieve what DL has by just copying the shitty things DL does, you have to copy the good things also.

  5. Stating the obvious: There’s a cost to installing stuff, and there’s a cost to uninstalling stuff.

    If a normal company had a Dept that spent tens of thousands of USD removing something for the stingiest of reasons, then backtracked and spent even MORE USD to roll back… there would be mass firings. Ruthlessly.

    The US Air Executive team has done this before with removing AC power onboard. Then they restored AC power at an additional cost.

    Fire the AA execs. Just fire them all. No good can come from any of their decisions. And everyday, we’re discovering that the AA acquisition was a horrible thing for everyone.

    Let me guess. AA ‘s Exec team are going to decide on reinstalling seat-back entertainment but remove AC power again? Because of course.

  6. @VX_Flyer “Let me guess. AA ‘s Exec team are going to decide on reinstalling seat-back entertainment but remove AC power again? Because of course.”

    LMFAO, but only AFTER they have uninstalled all seatback screens AND installed all AC power: because of course!

  7. It’s not like they don’t have the data on this. AA was going down a great path and seeking to be a premium carrier when Horton ordered the new fleet and added customer-friendly product initiatives like seatback IFE (hence the massive debt-pile they currently have, of course). They were improving in a lot of respects.

    Then along came Dougie and his band of US Air misfits rolling into Ft Worth with the double-wide executive trailers pulled by Ford Pintos, balance sheets and axes in hand…here we are today. SAD!

  8. If they want to get more premium-class income, it seems axiomatic that they should have a premium class product that people want to pay for (either by miles or certificates or cash). You can’t get there by dumbing down the product, eliminating food and drink, treating customers as cattle, and failing to optimize the mix of price/value received.

    AA has gone the opposite direction for several years, making the planes less comfortable, eliminating services, cutting food and beverage, adding new little gotchas to penalize changes or service, and generally acting as if their first class product is up to international standard and should be priced accordingly. In fairness, some service is worth the price. Mostly though, AA has devalued the proposition and loyalists like yours truly have fled.

    Why would I pay triple the cost for a nonstop A321 ride SFO/JFK? IFE is virtually non-existent airline-wide. We’ve been steadily abandoned in California, for years— Nonstops reduced, lounges shut or whacked in half, frequencies reduced, etc. What food is served has gotten semi-inedible. Flights are full and late, thanks to the ultra-tight schedule.

    They did away with the Alaska partnership, and are now reversing this (we hope, but they abandoned ship at the nice AA/AS terminal at SFO). Aadvantage is tighter than ever, both in terms of earning points and almost non-existent spending the points on flights you’d want to take at anything resembling historical redemption rates. All Euro flights seem to include a leg on BA, and $500 in garbage fees and taxes. Nonstop redemptions coast to coast have doubled in cost, and First class rewards are fleeting.

    In summary, they raised rates, cut service, abandoned loyalists and NOW they complain that they can’t get premium revenue reliably.

    Cry me a river…… You made your own bed, AA. I have discovered that DL is not as bad as I’d experienced, these days. That UA is entirely more convenient, with just as bad a frequent flyer program. That WN is far more convenient and customer friendly if you’re flying coach, and that their FF program is quite usable. And AS beats AA in terms of award availability almost everywhere they fly, or their partners go, and really isn’t a bad airline. It’s not the AS of old (“you just get more!”), or VX (the perfectly decent airline they ate, then jettisoned all their competitive advantages), but I can manage dealing with the stodgy 737 to/from NYC if I can actually GET a free flight, or First Class at reasonable cost.

    No, AA still hasn’t figured out they’ve done their level best to CREATE a dumbed-down airline out of my historical favorite….. and lost me and a lot of other former EXPs who gave them that premium revenue they now can’t figure out if they want to cut their operations to get us back. Get a clue.

  9. Long time former AA EXP who walked away last year. As I told all the reps who contacted me in my last EXP year, when someone actually noticed that my travel had gone down (travel on AA went down, as I corrected them), the problem is that AA doesn’t give me a reason TO fly AA, just keeps giving me reasons not to. Apparently that concept is too complicated for Discount Dougie et al.

  10. As an EP, the problem with the new cabins are that the F seats are hard and uncomfortable, with bad storage and an odd USB port placement, the lavs/galley are is packed and the coach seats are cramped and hard in MCE.

    I liked the option of IFE when not working on a flight.

    The lack of IFE is problematic with my wife as the kids need all sorts of devices and batteries to be entertained and the iPads drop and fall.

    We book JBlue when we can for family trips, so my AA benefits aren’t great value.

  11. Why is Doug Parker still around? This pandemic should have gotten rid of him. No plan whatsoever. Now they are out of the 757s and 767s, they have no replacement for those routes, instead they will fly them with OASIS A321s which are horrible. Again, I will not fly AA for international routes on MAX and A321s without IFE, I will choose Delta instead, specially now that they have LATAM.

  12. So American under Parker has done a major worsening of their product, with engaged customers getting the most harm, then the airline decides to make things worse yet because AA has already driven off the most desirable customers? If they’re trying to be Allegiant that’s a spectacular idea, under any other circumstances it’s just awful. A pack of monkeys pushing random buttons on a keyboard could do better. Sheesh.

  13. I prefer having IFE and that would be a good start. But, Oasis with IFE is still a deal breaker for me. I’m a longtime EXP and have been disgusted by the decline in product over the years. I spend a considerable amount of my time on planes (and a lot of my company’s money) and will pick the most comfortable option. If they want my premium revenue then give me a premium product.

    It seems that Delta is the only airline that is heading in the direction that aligns with my priorities, and I’ve been really impressed that they have been leading the way on customer friendly initiatives during the pandemic. I wish AA would do the same if they want to keep me as a customer.

  14. Look at a 20 year old Delta A320 and they look fresh, modern, and new. Take a brand new AA A321 with ‘new’ (ruined) oasis interior and it looks old, dated, plain, and cheap. It’s amazing how they made the youngest fleet of major carriers look like the oldest. They could easily follow the DL model of putting tablets that stream to the seatbacks. Customers don’t know the difference, they are easily replaced, and the cost is minimal. Such an easy win.

    Me personally I bring my iPad on board and have largely made peace with their wifi entertainment. Watching a movie on a phone is just not going to happen. I’ll listen to music instead. At that point they lose any marketing or safety messages they will announce as no one is going to watch tv or a movie on their phone. Just won’t happen en mass.

  15. Now AA has cut live TV from the streaming entertainment to your device too which is another blow….I didn’t use it to watch sports but to watch LIVE TV….CNN, Bravo etc….they just get worse and worse.

  16. Take a look at that last cabin photo. It’s not only that their newest planes look old or cheap without the bright screens in the cabin, they simply scream “ultra low cost airline” which contradicts their premium revenue proposition.

  17. Take a look at that last cabin photo. It’s not only that their newest planes look old or cheap without the bright screens in the cabin, those planes scream “ultra low cost carrier” which contradicts their premium revenue proposition.

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