Report: American Airlines Tinkering With First Class, Won’t Fix Oasis Coach Seats

There was a rumor swirling earlier in the year that American Airlines would reverse course and start giving back some space to passengers in coach.

  • In late 2017 American Airlines rolled out a new coach product. It featured less space than ever between seats (not just in coach, but less space for extra legroom coach and even for first class). There was less recline, too, and no seat back video. They found space for more seats by squeezing inches out of the lavatories. And they found space by taking padding out of the seats.

  • They’ve been taking more comfortable Boeing 737-800s and ripping out those interiors to match what I’ve sometimes called “Torquemada configuration.”

  • However they paused the project. Rumors were they were re-considering it, though the airline maintained they were just avoiding taking planes out of service to be retrofit during peak summer travel. That seemed less than credible when the suspension of retrofits was planned to last through the end of the year (i.e. through fall and into winter).

However this is one uncomfortable product, and not just in coach. The seats themselves are tough to take for flights over 3 hours, and they’re being used on seven hour flights. First class seats even don’t have proper underseat storage, and have a bar that protrudes from the seat back.

American realizes they have a problem earning a revenue premium for a product that doesn’t deserve one, and in fact their financials show that many quarters they lose money flying and only make money as a company from selling frequent flyer miles to banks.

Unfortunately it looks like while American plans to fix the lack of underseat storage in first class, as I predicted, JonNYC is reporting confirmation that only a few other minor tweaks are ultimately planned for the Oasis retrofit cabin.

Improving the first class seats is important. The new first class seats are still inferior to what’s being replaced on legacy American Airlines Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A321 aircraft, but the new seat they’ve been using has been so bad I’d only come up with two explanations for it,

  1. No one ever tried this version of the MiQ seat before buying it and installing it
  2. They didn’t know what they were sitting in.

And everyone I’ve ever met at American has been smart enough that choice 2 isn’t possible.

Unfortunately adding an inch to first class has to come at the expense of economy. There’s no indication they’ll be removing a row of seats.

  • The most likely scenario seems to be squeezing Main Cabin Extra (already there are only 3 rows of Main Cabin Extra in addition to the two exit rows)

  • That means either turning one row of Main Cabin Extra into regular coach, or reducing the distance between Main Cabin Extra seats – already there’s only 33 inches, not the traditional 34 – 35 inches.

  • That’s because the other alternative would be taking the space from regular economy, but American isn’t going to want the heat from offering some seats with just 29 inches of pitch.

Most disappointing is the suggestion that the internal debate on whether to go back and add seat back entertainment screens has been resolved in the negative even as Delta has reached 700 planes with seat back screens.

That’s not surprising. The lack of improvements to economy is consistent with the mental model airline President Robert Isom articulates, that they are at a disadvantage if they offer a product better than what’s provided by Spirit and Frontier.

[T]oday there is a real drive within the industry and with the traveling public to want to have really at the end of the day low cost seats. And we’ve got to be cognizant of what’s out there in the marketplace and what people want to pay.

The fastest growing airlines in the United States Spirit and Frontier. Most profitable airlines in the United States Spirit. We have to be cognizant of the marketplace and that real estate that’s how we make our money.

We don’t want to make decisions that ultimately put us at a disadvantage, we’d never do that.

I do not love what American is doing to their domestic fleet. They say they want to be a premium airline and have customers pay more to fly them — a strategy inconsistent with offering a product that isn’t as good as before. Flight attendants don’t understand the mixed message from the airline about what product they’re supposed to deliver, and customers develop their opinion of the carrier based on coach and aren’t willing to give the airline’s international business class investments the credit they deserve.

A year ago I nearly died laughing at this Chinese language take on the Oasis product though in fairness I think two and a half hour flights are passable in rock hard slim line seats with limited leg room. The problem is a lack of extra legroom seats to book where you can open a laptop and work, and that American’s roadmap is to flies these planes on seven hour flights.

For the majority of passengers, who fly in the coach cabin, if it’s true that hope of a reprieve from the new domestic standard interior is off the table then it seems that the beatings will continue until morale improves.

The good news, however, is that it sounds as though we won’t see American resume taking out the good interiors on their Boeing 737-800s and replacing them with the ironically named ‘Oasis’ interiors for another year.

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. For any reference with a straight face that American is a “premium carrier” is the equivalent of the oxymoron re “Amtrak service.”

    As the USAir management squad foisted upon a once great carrier and persistently focused on devolving AA into a total has been, the only answer is to vote with our feet.

    For me, that means switching over to Delta which still operates a pure first class product out of ORD. First flight at end of the month to LGA. I would not consider AA, despite being a loyal flyer since 1959, until new management is in place.

    Indeed, should a recession hit in next year, does AA’s Board even have a plan to relieve its failed management and pull AA out of the toilet where Parker et al have aimed into?

  2. What has to happen for Parker to leave? The market cap on AA is ridiculous and everything he’s doing seems wrong.

  3. AA is a mess. Doug Parker has to go.
    Their on board product both hard and soft product is terrible. The problem with American is they want to compete with Spirit but their customer base flies American cause they dont want to fly Spirit! If I wanted to fly Spirit I know it will be cheaper and I will get have a bad experience. Nowadays, I fly AA and i get the Spirit experience. Now we are only talking about planes and flight attendants, when you add how AA is never on time, plane changes, terrible ground experience, bag delays, wifi doesnt work, etc, etc… then you dont want to fly AA at all.

  4. As @Frank said, if I wanted to fly Spirit I would fly Spirit. But even worse for America is that some of my colleagues who willingly fly Frontier and Spirit have flown American and they have said never again. They said the experience was horrendous from start to finish and the aircraft was super uncomfortable. In reality, it probably wasn’t any worse than Spirit or Frontier but the fact that they paid a premium to fly American instead of Spirit or Frontier likely led them to the conclusion that it was worse since they had higher expectations.

    This ultimately means that unless American is going to match the prices of Spirit and Frontier they will lose customers who are not willing to pay a premium for the same experience. Even worse, if American decides to match the prices of Spirit and Frontier they will lose more money than they already are because there is no way they can compete on the cost side with Spirit and Frontier.

    Project Oasis needs to go as does Doug Parker and Robert Isom and the rest of the executive team if American is going to start offering a superior product that would command a revenue premium and might lead them to higher profitability.

  5. It’s sad to see AA decline so much. Living in Iowa until 21 years ago, I used United with a since of pride – loved Row 26 on the B727.

    In DC switched to AA cause nonstop to Miami where we had friends. Only a couple years did I earn status on AA since work didn’t give me enough travel. 1st was on a challenge for only two RTs for Gold. Then lost due to job change. the new job was so rough and I missed the status, I bought a Biz ticket on AA to Delhi to get as far away from DC as I could, and got Platinum. I’ve maintained since through purchase. I also have Citi AA Exec card for club access. I spend close to $2,000 for this, but it’s my choice to spend money and my hubby doesn’t like to fly, so the perks help him get through it. Lately I just buy first class tickets when he’s coming with me the 4-5 times a year he flies.

    Therefore, I’ll be putting the pencil to paper this fall to see if I should rethink this. I have an AmEx Platinum and HH Aspire incidental fees for club access if we need it.

    I’m cashing in my AA miles, and after ticketing 2 more RTW trips for just me, I have 8K & hubby has 551 🙂 used the Asia – MiddleEast 50K deal in 1st twice once with a shower and once with Qatar for lounge experience (You’al say it’s great)

    I’ve pretty much used up my credit card sign up bonus eligibility so need to get blogging so I can earn through the lucrative referral business, eh? Gary! 😉 if I want to continue to fly around the world in First Class! Fun Hobby! 🙂

  6. Perhaps, Parker and Isom would quit AA and start a new low-cost airline to compete with Spirit? Otherwise their talent in cost cutting is just getting wasted.

  7. It is becoming clear that since AA is a flying credit card machine, just one recession and it will collapse. Legacies are like dinosaurs: they go extinct eventually.
    No tears lost from Delta, United, JetBlue, SouthWest, Alaska, Frontier and Spirit. They don’t need American.

  8. If their competitors truly are Spirit and Frontier as the clueless idiot said, then why do AA prices not reflect such competition? Why would anyone spend more for the same (or worse) experience as Spirit and Frontier? Amazing…

  9. Agreed that if I wanted to fly Spirit I would already be doing so. And, AA’s fares are not lower than Delta or United, so they are trying to compete against a better product at the same fare??? That defies all logic.

    I’m an Exec Platinum (qualified the past few years and have already qualified for 2020) who primarily travels for business, so I’m more interested in a comfortable experience than a lower fare. Really disappointed in what AA is doing…. not only with the Oasis plans, but also cutting the number of biz class seats on the international planes.

    Except for cancelling one of their credit cards I haven’t voted with my feet yet, but will be doing so after I hit the 2M mile mark this year.

  10. It’s been a while since I flew AA first, but recently flew round-trip between Sarasota and Seattle using miles. I was appalled at what American calls first class. The seats were passable, but I was planning on getting some work done on the long leg from Charlotte to Seattle and there is no power point or USB in first class! I worked for about 90 minutes before my laptop went dead.

    And this crap about byo entertainment system is exactly that… crap. I don’t want to bring my laptop and a tablet just because AA doesn’t provide IFE. I can’t rely on my laptop because of the lack of power. Delta is looking better every day, American flies to more places I want to go. Caught between a rock and pitiful excuse for an airline.

  11. I’m curious to see how AA plans to add storage beneath the seats in first if indeed there are such plans. AA may take some consolation from the fact that Delta is using a version of the MiQ seat in first on its new A220-100s and in premium select (economy) on its widebodies that offer the product. Delta’s A220-100 first-class seat suffers from the same lack of space under the seats. AA may have an easier time increasing space under the seats than Delta because AA doesn’t offer video and 737 cabins are almost 10 inches wider than the maximum width of the A220-100 cabin.

    If there is an AA plan to increase space under first-class seats, will that plan be extended to MiQ seats in premium economy? I’d like to see Delta do the same with first on the A220 and premium select on its widebodies.

  12. It looks that AA never knows what they are doing ,first they spend a fortune changing for OASIS ,now they want to go back to previous configuration ,all the money spended ,where are the stocks holders ?//

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