I wanted to add a few additional thoughts on American Airlines, especially given some criticism I encountered from the imaginary blog readers in my head.
1 – As you may have read in my post on premium cabins, I almost never fly first class. When I do, it’s a special treat, not a matter of course. So, I really do have a lot of experience with economy class seats, which is why I feel qualified to say that American Airlines seats are absolutely terrible. Just to provide a point of contrast, I recently flew United’s revamped A320 to and from Seattle, and the new seat design is clean and efficient, if not particularly impressive in any one area. They have an additional literature pocket where the IFE would go (since short haul planes don’t need IFE, and United offers direct-to-device entertainment), and the seats make great use of thin-line padding so that the seat feels comparatively roomy, even in the non-Economy Plus rows. A couple weeks ago, I was on Southwest to and from Salt Lake City, and their new seats are similar – thin, stiff (supportive) padding, reasonable leg room, and a generic, unremarkable economy experience. And let’s be clear: the point of economy is to be as painless as possible. No one is going to step off an economy class flight and rave about how amazing the seat was – the best economy can hope for is for a passenger to not be miserable during the flight. Most domestic economy classes accomplish this, while some add some nice touches, like Virgin’s on-demand food and drink options or Alaska’s Inuit-themed decorations.
2 – Apparently, I was way off base in talking about how old the American seats were. See, I sent a complaint to American Airlines about the terrible seats, since I really was annoyed at how terrible the flight was. I even asked for a refund on my Main Cabin Extra purchase, since, due to the aircraft swap, my row wasn’t even in Main Cabin extra anymore. To American’s credit, they responded quickly and positively, which I can’t say about too many other airline customer service departments. However, they did add that the seats are “relatively new” (relative to what?) and that they’re made with “high quality leather and wool fabrics.” Remember what I said yesterday about it maybe being worse that American chose these seats on purpose? Well.
3 – Customer service also cited “literally thousands of hours of research” that went into the design of the new seats, and I don’t doubt it, given the complexities of designing anything that goes on a plane. What sticks out, though, is how anyone could look at the final product that resulted from these thousands of hours and somehow think it represented a competitive product.
Luckily for passengers, there is a newer version of the 737 interior that American is rolling out (at the same time that it is retiring those MD-80s I was ragging on yesterday). The problem is figuring out which version is on which route. Given the wide disparity in quality (assuming that the new interior represents a step up, which – from photos at least – it seems to), I’m still going to hold off flying American on anything but the A321T that they run from SFO to NYC. Maybe I’ll check back in five more years to see where they’re at.