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