No one really liked the American Airlines “Oasis” retrofit. The first class cabin layout earned the nickname “noasis” and was the butt of many jokes and cause of much customer frustration. The carrier (eventually) took the problem seriously and decided to revise the conversion process. The new work is now underway, with N955NN in the shop receiving its new interior. And there’s a big IFE shift in play: The screens are being removed.
Sources confirmed that the aircraft will have the screens removed as part of the work. It is a “prototype” design for the revised Oasis project and the first aircraft from the legacy AA side of the operation to have its embedded inflight entertainment screens removed since the merger.
The move to pull screens out of the cabin is not too surprising. American Airlines (and particularly CEO Doug Parker) has long held the belief that extra amenities like that don’t move the needle when it comes to passengers choosing to fly with an airline or their willingness to pay more for that option. The carrier could also argue that the move is ecologically friendly. It will reduce the aircraft weight, resulting in lower fuel burn. But that impact is likely tiny compared to other factors at play.
It also comes against the backdrop of Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian standing on stage in from of CES and the world last week and highlighting his company’s commitment to keeping screens on board and growing the number installed across its fleet.
And it raises once again the debate around what drives passenger decisions when it comes to booking travel.
Does in-flight entertainment really matter?
Passenger surveys often show things like entertainment or wifi on board matter a lot. We’ve seen results suggesting that travelers will forego bathrooms on board for the sake of better wifi, for example. But when it comes to actually making purchases the evidence is far less clear. Schedule and price continue to dominate on that front, with loyalty programs and IFE/C options a tertiary factor at best.
Still, airlines must consider the full travel experience. United Airlines hopes that its CRJ550 will help shift some premium travelers back to its long-haul network based on a better inflight experience for the 45-90 minute connecting flight feeding from their small home airport to the hub and then onward in a Polaris business class cabin. Delta Air Lines similarly sees the commitment to embedded IFE screens across its fleet keeping passengers happy on shorter flights as well as delivering a more consistent experience on the connecting itineraries. That consistency matters to passengers, often more than shows in surveys.
American Airlines can still deliver a broad range of content and does so on board, so long as passengers bring their own screens to play it on. The on-board streaming IFE content selection is broad and American also pushed through its inflight wifi upgrade spectacularly fast. It now delivers high-speed options from Viasat and Gogo that supports streaming across its mainline single-aisle fleet. Yes, there’s a cost to using that connection compared to free wifi, but it is there.