American Airlines is in the midst of a brand project under the leadership of their new Vice President of Marketing. That includes addressing some of the consumer pain points that are dragging down customer perception of the airline.
Earlier in the month I wrote about three key improvements American is considering: a new wifi provider for their international fleet, improved domestic first class seats, and fixing the dividers on international business class seats.
Multiple sources are telling me that American is now debating bringing back seat back video screens to the domestic fleet. Last summer Delta completed installation of seat back video on its 600th plane while American remained committed to ripping out seat back screens from domestic narrowbody aircraft that have them today.
American has staked out a position that with high speed internet and streaming entertainment, including live TV, they’re preparing for the future. Most customers bring ‘their own devices’ although that includes their phones capable of video.
- On flights with seat back video, customers certainly use seat back video
- They prefer it over watching on their phones, even when there’s a place to put the phones so passengers don’t have to hold the screens (and even on planes with power outlets so they don’t burn down batteries)
- Families with several children often don’t have enough devices for everyone
I don’t value airline inflight entertainment but I’m an outlier. I bring my own device and I make sure it’s loaded up with everything I need. Mostly I want to work on the plane, and need internet access, but when I’m too tired to work I’m picky about what I watch and plan ahead.
A year ago American Senior Vice President Kurt Stache laid out the company’s vision that seat back screens would be obsolete in 3-5 years, and that not installing the screens saves hundreds of millions of dollars (it costs about a million dollars per plane to offer seat back entertainment). It also saves weight, and therefore fuel.
Delta’s plan now is mounting tablets at seats and streaming content to the tablets and they report that this cuts their cost by two-thirds. This is the Airbus A220 system, and will be the system for their Airbus A330-900neos. A lower-cost alternative that leverages the streaming capabilities American is already investing in could make such a move more viable.
To be clear my understanding is that no decision has been made to reverse course on inflight entertainment. And officially American Airlines tells me that “we are not rethinking our decision” to stream to customer devices on domestic flights rather than installing screens at each seat. However “as always, we continue to listen to customer feedback and are proud of the progress we have made to deliver high speed WiFi and free live TV.”
American has paused the retrofit of their Boeing 737-800s into the new ‘Oasis’ interior style that matches what’s offered on the Boeing 737 MAX. That should give them time to fix some of the problems with it, such as first class seats without meaningful underseat storage and uncomfortable seats.
It could also give them time to consider whether they want to be eventually taking seat back screens out of the legacy American Airlines 737-800s that already have them (since if memory serves those are at the back end of the retrofit schedule), or whether the Oasis retrofit could mean installing tablets for showing wirelessly provided entertainment even on planes that today do not.
Whether or not specific initiatives come to fruition the leaks coming out of American recently largely seem to be about making positive investments for customers and improving the travel experience. That’s certainly a departure from what we’ve seen over the past few years.