American Airlines Puts Brakes On Reducing Economy Legroom

American Airlines have announced that they will stop work on ‘Project Oasis’ until 2020. Reportedly, only 71 aircraft have had the controversial retrofit applied so far, and with a total of 24 Boeing 737 MAX still grounded, it’s likely AA don’t want to take any more aircraft out of service during the busy summer period.

American Airlines 737-800
American Airlines have paused the retrofit of their 737-800s. Photo: AA

Frequent flyers of American Airlines will be breathing a sigh of relief at the news that Project Oasis is on hold. The controversial retrofit project, affecting most of their domestic fleet, was due to make seats knee achingly short in pitch and bathrooms impossible to turn around in.

However, AA have confirmed that no more Project Oasis retrofits will be performed on their 737-800 fleet until at least 2020. However, this only applies to the 737-800 part of the project. American Airlines have told The Points Guy that they will press on with the A321 refits in the autumn.

What is Project Oasis?

The rather glamorously named program by American Airlines was, in fact, not very glamorous at all. It involved an extensive retrofit of their 737-800s and A321s in order to achieve continuity across the fleet. Put into plain English, the end goal was to squish as many seats as possible into these domestic aircraft.

In detail, they were aiming to retrofit their 737-800s with an additional 12 seats, to bring them in line with the 172 seats on board the MAX. The A321s were to go from their current 181 or 187 seats up to 190 seats on every aircraft.

Project Oasis
Project Oasis. Image: AA

The impact for passengers would be notable. At least an inch of pitch would be lost across all classes of travel, with up to three inches lost in First. IFE screens would be removed from all cabins, even if they were in perfect working order before.

The bathrooms would also be significantly downsized, with the main cabin bathroom shrinking in width by seven inches, leaving it just two feet wide! As a result, flight attendants have been reported by Inc. as saying passengers would rather ‘hold it’ until they land than cram themselves into the bathroom.

There are some positives to the project for passengers, such as power outlets at every seat and larger overhead bins. But let’s be real here; the end goal was always to make more money per flight, by cramming as many passengers in as possible.

Overall, these changes would affect in the region of 500 aircraft (737s and A321s); a massive undertaking by anyone’s estimations. But now it seems the project is being shelved, at least for the time being, but not for the reasons you might think.

Why are they cancelling the project?

With so much negative press around Project Oasis, you might think that public perception or even good old customer feedback might have been the final nail in the coffin. However, it seems this has not been the case.

American Airlines 737-800
The change of plan is not because passengers hate it (although they probably do). Photo: AA

According to American Airlines’ President Robert Isom, speaking at Wolfe Research Global Transportation Conference, it’s nothing to do with how much people hate these changes. It is, in fact, all to do with the grounding of the 737 MAX. Reported by Skift, Isom said,

“We have 71 of those aircraft done. We hoped to have quite a bit more done than that. But with things like Max, and issues with our [union] slowing down, we’ve decided to put off further installation until the beginning of next year. We have 200 some aircraft left to go.”

With American Airlines down 24 aircraft as a result of the groundings, it’s likely that they don’t want to take any additional planes out of service in order to complete the retrofit, particularly with the busy summer season just weeks away.

However, it is a little odd that they have said they will halt Project Oasis until 2020, when the MAX is projected to return to service before the fall. Could it be that American are rethinking this expensive, unpopular project altogether? We certainly hope so.