United recently announced a number of fleet changes that will be welcome news to elites at the 1K and Global Services level, clearly listening to customer feedback. Will American follow suit?
Adding Premium Seats Back to Planes
In the past two weeks, United made a few announcements regarding the number of premium seats they are adding back to their fleet. This is welcome news for frequent flyers as well as those who prefer to buy premium tickets, even those who simply want to buy an inexpensive upgrade from time-to-time.
First, a retrofit of United 767-300 aircraft from 30 business class seats to 46 Polaris seats plus 22 premium economy seats. One of the last moves that American made positively affecting their fleet in a similar capacity was their move to standardize trans-continental flights with A321-T aircraft and offer the only true first class product in the US market.
Matthew covered many of these changes earlier in the week in aggregate but the addition of new CRJ 550 aircraft that are also premium-heavy and a statement of their mission indicated United knew they were missing the market.
E-170/175s Are My Favorite Domestic Equipment
Traditionally, regional jets were both the bane of frequent flyer’s existence and an absolute necessity. Narrow jets like the Embraer 135/145 or CRJ 200, 700, and 900 didn’t have room for rollaboard suitcases forcing business flyers to leave them at the plane door and hope for the best as they waited for them to arrive following the flight. They didn’t offer wifi, nor IFE, little to no first class seats, headspace was cramped and mechanical delays became the norm.
The Embraer 170/175 series changed all of that. Passengers could bring standard rollaboard suitcases on the plane, they came equipped with wifi which in-turn offered IFE to passenger devices, galleys with capabilities for hot meals, longer range and most importantly, 9-12 seats in first class respectively.
Compared to the larger, mainline A319/320s in the United fleet, my chances to upgrade were significantly better because of the E170/175 fleet. While an A320 holds 138 passengers in coach with 12 first class seats, an E175 could run two flights (offering travelers greater flexibility) each with around 64 seats in coach and 12 seats in first. Instead of a pool of just 12 seats by which to secure an upgrade, I have 24 split by a couple of hours over two flights. If those two E175 flights are replaced by an A319, there are just 8 first class seats available.
The E175 is absolutely perfect for flights of about 150-180 minutes and I love the product. Every survey I return for United reflects that I will choose to fly another carrier with a connection if the E175 is not used on my desired route. It is clear that they are listening to their customers, especially with the addition of the new CRJ 550s.
Polaris Lounges Are Best-in-Class
United has invested heavily in its long-haul business class Polaris lounges. While I am a fan of American Express Centurion lounges as well, Polaris lounges are built to a higher standard, feature both buffets and seated dining room space and tend to be very large. Not a single other US carrier has a competitive product to the Polaris lounge, not even American’s Flagship dining first class spaces within their normal Admirals Clubs.
It’s just one more way that United is beginning to lead the pack instead of lag behind it among US flag carriers.
American’s OASIS Initiative Is Universally Hated
American has taken the loathed space efficiencies of the 737-MAX and applied it more broadly to their fleet. These adjustments include lavatories that are so small they are nearly unusable, to the point that American’s CEO, Doug Parker, won’t even sit in it, yet expects customers to do so. Gary Leff continues to remind readers about how bad OASIS is, and he is right to do so – the product is appalling and flight attendants hate it too. When the Daily Show covers fleet changes on one specific aircraft of one specific airline, it’s bad. Really bad.
OASIS is the embodiment of American’s unending mission to make their product worse for their customers. American was just following Delta’s orders up until OASIS, deteriorate the product, increase requirements, make cheap economy fares competitive with LCCs and force faithful customers to buy up for the same experience they used to have included with their fare. But OASIS took it a step further, and for once at least American was thinking for themselves. It’s driving customers away. Customers in the know avoid MAX routes where possible and those who are uninitiated take with them their bad experience on the plane as a bad experience with American.
Will American Follow United’s Lead?
The big three (Delta, United, American) have played copycat since American completed their “merger” with US Airways along with Delta and United. All of the carriers have typically followed Delta’s lead, though not in operational efficiency from Basic Economy to revenue requirements for elite qualification. Frankly, it’s been boringly predictable.
However, from time-to-time, some changes are positive for customers and the big three tend to mimic each other in those trends as well, like when American originally followed United’s Basic Economy lead disallowing an included carry-on but then rescinded this policy instead opting for Delta’s approach to allow them.
With the stock price performing terribly compared with their peers, the carrier losing money on actually flying customers (though remaining profitable overall due to their lucrative credit card contracts) maybe American will wise up and follow United’s lead. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, after all, this is the year I intended to return to American after leaving them. However, American doesn’t really have much to lose by reversing course. American can certainly see the benefit of premium-heavy aircraft like the A321T, and that the rest of their strategy isn’t working, is it too much to imagine that American won’t follow United to the premium promised land?
What do you think? Will American follow United’s lead in adding premium seats and equipment back into their fleet?