Tuesday, May 22, 2018

More American Airlines frontline staff criticize Boeing 737 MAX

American Airlines’ rollout of the Boeing 737 MAX is generating a lot of discontent among AA employees as more and more pilots and flight attendants get their first experience flying the aircraft.

American began operating the MAX earlier this year. There are now eight MAXs in AA’s fleet with 20 to be in service by the end of 2018. The MAX is the same size as the Boeing 737-800, of which AA has several hundred, but the MAX has a more fuel-efficient engine.

The MAXs now coming online seat 172 people, as opposed to 160 people in the 737-800s now in AA’s fleet. A large number of those 737-800s are about to be reconfigured to match the cabin configuration of the MAX, however.

And that increasingly has AA employees on the frontline concerned about what’s coming as part of Project Oasis, which the reconfiguration of the 737-800s has been dubbed.

To get more seats on the MAX, American Airlines installed new lavatories that — according to one AA captain who spoke at a recent crew meeting presided over by AA President Robert Isom — are only 75 percent of the size of the lavs on AA’s fleet of 737-800s.

That AA captain who spoke up called using one of the new aft lavs on the MAX the “most miserable experience in the world.” The captain further explained that he couldn’t even turn around in the new lav. The Chicago Business Journal obtained an audio tape of the crew meeting in which the AA captain spoke.

Isom responded to the concerned pilot and tried to explain why AA installed the kind of lav it did on the MAX, though he didn’t dispute the AA captain’s experience using the lavs. Nor did Isom signal that AA was about to rip out the smaller lavs and replace them.

Isom said the real estate on the MAX is very valuable, hence the need to maximize the revenue that real estate can generate by maximizing seating on the MAX. One way that was accomplished was by downsizing the lavs and by decreasing the seat pitch throughout the MAX, and soon throughout hundreds of 737-800s.

At the crew meeting, Isom didn’t shy away from the fact that AA is intent on maximizing revenue and profitability. Isom cited Spirit Airlines as one of the nation’s most profitable airlines and suggested AA was looking at how Spirit got to be such a cash cow.

Isom also intimated that the new MAXs are configured to help AA be more like Spirit when it comes to generating revenue and profits.

But other AA employees have come forward to the Chicago Business Journal in recent days and suggested it’s not going to be fun working on the MAXs or 737-800s when they are reconfigured to mirror the MAX.

One flight attendant told me in an email: “I’ve worked the MAX three times and have gotten hurt three times,” though the flight attendant didn’t immediately specify what the nature of the injuries were.

Still, the flight attendant said many within the ranks of American FAs are “embarrassed” about the MAX product that the carrier is rolling out — “no TV, manual (safety) demos, tight aisles; slim, cheap seats.”

But the source, who worked for American CEO Doug Parker at America West, U.S. Airways and now American, said he understands where Parker is coming from in doing what he’s doing with the MAX.

“He was one of my favorite CEOs, as he knows how to fill planes and make money, but at the same time, I’m sorry, but he’s cheap," the source said.

(Lewis Lazare - Chicago Business Journal

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