American Airlines is in the midst of a seat “densification” project known internally as Project Oasis. Eventually, the entire narrow body mainline fleet will be modified to add more seats, remove inflight entertainment (IFE) screens, and (at long last) add power outlets at all seats. American received some bad press over the interior selected for its new Boeing 737 MAX 8 fleet. Unfortunately, Project Oasis will update the interiors of American’s existing 737-800 fleet to match the MAX 8. Recently, I had occasion to experience the new “Oasis” interior aboard a 737-800 in first class traveling from Washington, DC to Miami.
American’s New Seats Disappoint
Several weeks before my flight, I noticed that my seat had changed from row 4 to row 2. Experienced AA travelers are aware that American’s 737’s start at row 3. This changed with the arrival of the MAX 8, and the modified 737-800’s. Row 1 is now the first row. My flight had been “oasised.” (OK, I made that word up.) I wasn’t happy, but wanted to keep an open mind. My first thought on boarding was that everything sure is grey, but the bigger overheads are an improvement. That would prove to be necessary in just a few minutes because surprisingly, with the lack of IFE, there is less underseat storage space than before. I travel with a Briggs & Reilly “@Work” backpack, and no matter what I did, it would not fit under the seat in front of me. It’s flown every flight with me since I bought it nearly 2 years ago, and I have never had a problem storing it under a seat. My wife’s even smaller backpack would not fit either, so I had to store both in the overhead bin. I noted my fellow passenger in 2C had the same issue. For some reason, the center console extends way down into the storage space under the seat.
I travel with a small CPAP machine, which did fit in the space immediately in front of me, but as you can see, took up most of the space.
Not surprisingly, the new configuration features less legroom than the old interior. Granted, it’s better than coach, but there’s no doubt that the seats are closer together. American placed a power outlet inside the inner armrest under a cover. I’m happy to have a power outlet, but it seems oddly placed. If you do not “know” it’s there, you won’t see it. The seat is also, for lack of a better set of words, hard as a rock. It was OK for a 2.5 hour flight, but I cannot fathom flying one of these things for 5 or 6 hours on a cross-country flight. (Sidenote: flew United’s new slimline seats recently and they are more comfortable.) While I don’t personally mind the lack of built in IFE, I’ve heard one too many conversations about the lack of it across a number of AA and UA flights in the last year to make me wonder if AA isn’t a little ahead of itself in pulling these systems from their airplanes. On a positive note, the Viasat wi-fi worked well.
My First Complaint Letter in Years
While the service on our flight was some of the better I’ve experienced from American in a while, I could not let the awfulness of this new interior go without saying something. I elected to post a note to American via AA.com. In retrospect, I should’ve sent my compliment regarding the flight attendant separately, but I digress. Here’s the text of my email.
“I recently had occasion to experience one of your 737-800s with the
new “oasis” interior in first class, seat 2B. My wife, was seated in
2A. I want to first tell you that the inflight service provided was
top notch. Unfortunately, I failed to write down the F/A’s name, but
he provided one of the better inflight service experiences in domestic
first I’ve seen with AA in quite a while.
Regrettably, the aircraft experience was less than I expect in any
cabin, much less first class. To start, my Briggs and Reilly backpack
would not fit underneath the seat in front of me. It has flown every
flight with me, including several on your airline, since I purchased
it about 2 years ago. My wife’s even skinnier backpack would not fit
either. We’d checked luggage, so I placed both bags in the overhead
bin. Given the lack of built-in IFE, I am perplexed as to why there
seems to be less space for under seat storage. The power port, while
appreciated, is so poorly placed that I feel I must ask, who signed
off on this design? The seat itself, while comfortable enough for a
2.5 hour flight, is hard, and for the life of me, I cannot understand
your apparent fascination with the color grey. For lack of a better
way to put it, the entire cabin just feels and looks cheap.
I know I’m not your best customer, but I highly doubt I’m your least
desirable. I appreciate some things American has done, such as rolling
out better wi-fi, and I’ll never be able to say enough kind things
about the Admirals Club agents that have taken care of me over the
years. But I must be honest with you, the knowledge that you are
converting your entire narrow-body fleet to a similar cabin is enough
to cause me to book someone else for my next flight. I will not
purposely book a premium cabin ticket to experience such a poorly
designed hard product. Period.”
And American’s Response?
I felt better about saying something until I received American’s response, which I’m including here.
“We very much appreciate the time you took to send us your suggestion about our service and new aircraft interior. Your idea certainly has merit and it clearly reflects the thought that went into it.
It is always helpful for us to consider our service from our customers’ perspective. We try to be responsive to our customers and carefully analyze trend information based upon their reactions. In this way we can identify those service elements that are most appealing as well as improve those that produce a negative response.
Our aim is to suit the needs and wishes of the majority of our customers. As we determine the appropriate action in this regard, your preferences will be considered Mr. Jackson. Thank you for giving us the benefit of your observations.”
The Bottom Line
I did not expect an answer stating I was so right and they were changing everything. However, this response leaves me wondering if my note was even categorized in the right data bucket, much less read by anyone. I’m not really sure what “suggestions” I provided, but OK. Like I noted in my complaint, I’m not their best customer or their worst. If I’m flying somewhere on my own time/dime, I typically shell out the cash for first class domestically. I’m lifetime Gold with AA, but flew/spent enough to earn it anyway. Again, not the most valuable customer, but not the least valuable.
None of that really matters unless you put your money where your mouth is. To that end, I discovered that Delta is running a nonstop from DC to Miami in March when we will be traveling for Spring Break. It’s a Republic operated E175, but I know my backpack will fit under the seat in front of me. I also know I’ll most likely get a pre departure beverage within seconds of taking my seat. Best of all, I am a lot less likely be delAAyed. I put my money where my mouth is. Everyone else should too. The Project Oasis interior that American seems bent on inflicting on us is not acceptable, at least not in first class, and I will not pay for it.
-MJ, December 8, 2018
Thank God most of my airline traveling days are behind me, I have never seen an industry that has so little regard for their customers. Being an “old school” type of person I was used to industries that worked hard to IMPROVE their customer experiences. When changes were made it was always an improvement. NOT in the airline industry. I have never seen a race to the bottom with so many participants as there is in the airline industry. Airlines, it seems, will take nothing off the table to save a dime at their customers expense.
How about writing about the trial and tribulation of us the average folks who never fly first class and have to put up with the cramped spaces in the Coach that is getting tighter and smaller as airlines cram more seats in.
Having said so, in recent AA flight from Philly to Indy, the coach seats in Embraer 175 seemed to be a little wider, more comfortable, with a little more leg room, and the plane was quieter. I was impressed. Maybe the almighty Boeing want to look it over and learn something from Brazilians!
The E175s are really nice for coach very much agree. So are the remodeled 757’s that are used a lot for international but sometimes you can find them hub to hub.
Interesting. We are flying to Chicago in January and planned to go AA. That’s out now. they just lost 3 customers.
I believe you should go ahead with your AA flight and see for yourself if they deserve to have you as their customer.
The same thing happened to me and my partner – we had booked 4A/4c a few months ago, and never went into AA.com, to see that the equipment had changed to the 737-MAX. As such, we were now in the last row of first class domestic. In the new oasis config, there is no floor to ceiling divider between coach and first, just a small panel near the head. This means that coach passengers in row 5 store their luggage under row 4. I am EP with AA, but I’m not a snob, and so this did not really bother… Read more »
It’s amazing (in a bad way) that AA’s new First Class seats not only have less legroom, but inadequate space to “stow personal items under the seat in front of you” (in FA safety briefing verbiage). With IAD (and then DCA) as my nearest airports, AA has always been my fallback airline after United. It’s now clear the time has come to look at alternative carriers. I’ve only flown Delta maybe 2-3 times in my entire life, but seems like they (or Southwest or JetBlue) are/will be a better alternative going forward.
I never had a problem putting my rather large backpack under the seat whether in coach or first with their wonderful IFE — it was industry leading with content in my opinion. I did recently sit on an old US Air 319 that had the oddly placed power outlet and no IFE. I found the seat to be fine with comfort, but there was zero space under the seat. I twas in first. It looks like it’s the USAir seats that they adopted for the new cramped interiors with no entertainment. Separate note — they are pushing HARD that whole… Read more »
I too have heard complaints about the removal of seat back entertainment. Also reducing under-seat space too is just adding insult to injury. How the heck do UA and AA think they can compete against SWA if they offer nothing better, but add nickel and dime charges? If I can do without IFE, I can fly SWA, get the legroom, and avoid the baggage charges (and get much, much friendlier stewardesses). The Delta Connection Embraer’s you mentioned do not have seat back entertainment, but I look at it this way: If I fly Delta and get the IFE on all… Read more »
“[Y]our preferences will be considered Mr. Jackson” … and forgotten.
I flew AA from FLL -LHR through IAH in economy. I generally try to go business but this was a last minute flight and economy was my only practical choice. I cannot remember a more uncomfortable flight. The seats were hard plastic shells with little padding and minimal recline. Never again! I will no longer fly AA…it was just too unpleasant. In contrast, I returned on a BA direct flight from LGW-FLL. The plane was clean, the seats were very comfortable and the service was very good. I used most of my AAdvantage Miles last year so I have little… Read more »
I have to agree. We only fly two to six “legs” a year and being close to Raleigh and Charlotte, have been AA customers for years – going back to Continental and beyond. No more. This winter’s round trip to Europe and Spring’s RT to Costa Rica will be with someone else. Bottom line: AA does NOTHING to justify my loyalty to their brand. Thank God their stupidity doesn’t extend into the cockpit.
My 20 year relationship and 8 million miles earned crashed & burned before the horrible prison like cement seats American continues on its death spiral with uncomfortable seats shrinking leg room and customer service that has no empowerment to typically help customers The handwriting was on the wall years ago when American discontinued all customer service phone contacts at the corporate level for guest relations Then there is the programs terrible saver award availability and massive devaluation By switching programs when flying/redeeming to Australia on Qantas I now save 80,000 miles per round trip booking Want to keep getting ripped… Read more »
I appreciate your comments, as well as feedback from others. I recently retired and will not be travelling as much. I lived and worked in the Caribbean and so I was all but forced to use AA. I did enjoy the few years of AA Platinum and some of the lounge access from other airlines, e.g., Cathay Pacific in HK…..memorable! I did manage to save close to 600,000 miles and so your comments re: AA programs did greatly concern me. Can you explain a bit re: AA’s “massive devaluation” of their frequent flyer program? I will be using my saved… Read more »
The response from AA appears to be “form letter” in context and therefore I would not expect a true response to the complaint. I agree with you, traveling by air no matter what class is more like an overcrowded elevator. Very confining and uncomfortable. What are you suppose to do with your feet if the under the seat is compacted with carry on items. There is never enough overhead space too.
The letter you received from AA reminds me of just about every response we’ve had from them. It is like talking to a condescending robot who neither hears or cares what you’ve said. As with AA in years past, there is also no heart left. Sad in comparison to America West, and even following the US Merger. We’ve been the lowest level of Elite status for 25 years, and dropped it this year. It just wasn’t worth it anymore and especially to be treated disrespectfully in the process. Oh, where or where have the days gone, where First Class meant… Read more »
I had the same experience from TUS to DFW. Thankfully only a 2 hour flight but the backpack I normally travel with also had to go into the overhead bin along with my suitcase which I always hate to do as I try to be sensitive to space for other travelers, and those in the front row seats of First. The lack of space under the seats is terrible, and I found my power outlet after a little searching but the poor woman next to me was searching forever until I realized what she was doing and helped her out.… Read more »
Not for long. The A321 are getting the same (terrible) seats.
There you go again, confusing AA with a transportation company. They are NOT a transportation company and they continue to prove it every day with this kind of action. They are simply a marketing and sales company. If they get you somewhere sometime that is great but it isn’t the purpose of the company. Which gets more attention from a CEO …a plane with 250 passengers 10 hours late to Paris or the website is down and they can’t sell 250 tickets to Paris? The former is unnoticed the latter gets people fired (ask the previous CIO).
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Every time I see I’m on a MAX, I know I’m in trouble. I have the same B&R bag that has fit under every seat in every sort of plane I’ve been on for over 250 flights and it does not fit. Neither does my other carry on, so up into the overhead they both go.
It’s really knowledgeable post ! Thanks for sharing…
Interesting. We are flying to Chicago in January and planned to go AA.
Interesting. We are flying to Chicago in January and planned to go AA. That’s out now. they just lost 3 customers
Great Post! Thank god there are still some airlines which take care of customers preferences. I am also so concerned about the airlines policies. So, I always book my tickets through Flight desk India. They always keep their policies crystal clear.
Well, it took me forever to figure out how to send a reply, and not necessarily to Joseph. Yes, AA seems to have made some terrible choices — I only flew business (a purchased upgrade as my client only bought economy), but the weird removable screens are a puzzle. On my flight back it took the flight attendant 30 minutes to get it working, and then it was removed 20 minutes before landing. Buying an upgrade took some doing as you apparently have to call AA to find out how. and then when I complained (more in the interest of… Read more »
Three years ago I stopped flying American and told the Admin that if they put me on American they would be looking for another job. They knew I meant it. What took you so long? You were flying in First Class with your B&R backpack and had no clue at how poorly this airline treats its real customers. Welcome to the world
A nice FA in Italy put my daughter and me in MCE seats for free on an award flight back to JFK. I asked nicely and she said yes. It was amazing. So it can never hurt to ask. Plus, I had seen the seat map that morning and almost all the MCE seats were empty (maybe because most cost $110 extra). ANYWAY, at one point I ventured to the lavatory at the rear of the plane. When I walked into Economy I could not believe how small and tight the seats were. This was a 767-200 in a 3-4-3… Read more »
@Joseph N, Southwest does have IFE, you just have to bring your own device and log in to their wifi. IFE TV is free on SWA.
Regarding the power ports on these new AA configurations, is it 115 volt with US-standard dual-blade receptacles?
@Miles, they’re standard N. American plugs. Given the location of the outlet, I could not tell if it also accepted European plugs.
Five years ago flew Delta first class Phoenix to Boston, small seats. Stews made it nice, were attentive. On the return, however, the airline put a drunk from their airport club in the seat next to me who stated Delta had cancelled his prior flight so they bumped him up to first class. The guy immediately started flirting and coming on to me which revolted me, with his very pungent alcohol breath to boot. He constantly kept nudging my elbow which I tried to keep off the arm rest to talk with me, kept swearing and making passes at the… Read more »
The cost of power ports is the space under the seats – can’t have it both ways people. I say dump BOTH the power AND the IFE. I’m perfectly capable of bringing my own IFE and I also travel with a power brick.
I don’t disagree about power impacting space. The thing is, the 737-800’s always had power. The last few dozen delivered (60ish airplanes??) had IFE too. Never had a problem with underseat storage on either of those airplane types. Now, I do. There is something specific to the design of this seat that was poorly conceptualized. I don’t personally care about IFE, I bring my own. Others place more importance on it.