Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

If you have a choice between Believe It When I Hear It and Believe It When I See It, the latter seems a safer bet.

It's certainly the case when it comes to airlines.

Yet airline executives sometimes talk to their most important (translation: those who spend most money) customers at private gatherings, in order to help them believe the truth.

Or, at least, a truth.

One such gathering, hosted by American Airlines, took plane recently in Dallas. Only so-called Concierge Key customers were invited.

These are people who seem to spend more time on American Airlines than they do in any other single location.

Helpfully, an attendee slipped onto the Flyer Talk forums to disclose a little of what American Airlines' executives apparently said in the hallowed confines of this private affair.

Rowingman--for that is his Flyer Talk handle--revealed the airline's executives are aware of some passengers' unhappiness, especially regarding the new Oasis configuration in which the airline has tried to stuff as many seats in as possible and graced Economy Class with tiny bathrooms.

It's even reduced the legroom in First Class. Which seems like precisely the sort of the thing that would make a Concierge Key member grind their key ring into their teeth.

Rowingman offered this big news: 

We talked about the Oasis seats a lot, and there was a wide acknowledgement from AA that they have an issue there, and that it will be addressed. They directly stated that the Oasis conversion has stopped until they "fix" the seats in First, and that the seat was a miss.

The seats in First.

You at the back ensconced in the new, thin seats that hurt your behind after more than a couple of hours, well, you don't matter so much. 

Economy Class is Economy Class.

It seems, though, that First Class passengers have complained their seating enjoys a "plastic feel, lack of the middle space under the seat in front of you, weird power location, odd storage."

American has admitted its premium revenue has been slipping. Could this be a contributory factor?

Still, I've glided past the dramatic part. Rowingman claims that "the Oasis conversion has stopped."

Could this be temporarily? Could this be permanently? 

I don't want to raise hopes, so I asked the airline. I didn't receive a response.

Perhaps it's because I'm not Concierge Key. My keys only fit an old Chubb lock.

I was forced, therefore, to ask some knowing sorts inside the airline.

I was told by one American Airlines insider that some believed the airline had endured second thoughts about the whole Oasis thing "since before they started the conversion."

I dug further. It seems that a few planes are still enjoying the conversion therapy in locations such as Tulsa, Oklahoma and Greensboro, North Carolina. 

One American Airlines employee offered hope, with a vast kicker: 

All others [Oasis conversions] have been stopped, but it might also have to do with freeing up aircraft due to the Max grounding.

With the 737 Max being currently non-operational, American, like other airlines, is being forced to find planes to act as substitutes.

Might it use this interlude to think more deeply about at least one or two aspects of its seat-stuffing habit?

It's hard to believe much will happen. 

When you've made such a massive investment in planes like the Max and put as many seats as you dare inside them--and retrofitted many Boeing 737-800 planes to mimic the Max--turning back isn't easy.

Then again, the issue of maximal discomfort has reached financial spheres.

After American announced some of its financial shortfalls, an analyst asked Doug Parker, the airline's CEO, a very direct question

Maybe it's the configuration of the aircraft that's holding you back, from a revenue perspective?

Parker was reportedly evasive in his response.

It's a lesson for every business.

At some point on your drive for maximum profit, your customers begin to realize you're taking advantage of them. 

It's harder for airline passengers to react to that because they have so few choices when they fly. But for those who have Delta as an option, there's a real temptation.

American gambled. It thought that by inserting better Wi-Fi and bigger overhead bins, passengers would be appeased. Or, perhaps, numbed.

When you make Economy Class passengers supremely uncomfortable, many get used to it.

When I flew United's Max 9, for example, I heard few complaints.

First Class passengers, on the other hand, have a louder voice and an excess of self-confidence.

But if American makes them more comfortable, will Economy Class passengers be squeezed even more? 

Oh, that wouldn't happen, would it?

Published on: Apr 21, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.