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AMERICAN AIRLINES TAKES DELIVERY OF FIRST NEXT-GENERATION BOEING 737-800; SCORES BIG WITH ATTENTION TO DETAIL ONBOARD

Do you remember the first time you ever flew? What did you remember about it? How big the cabin was on the inside? How small those cars looked on the ground below? The pain in your ears from the air pressure, or perhaps the gum you had to chew to make it go away?

Alice Liu, American Airlines’ Managing Director of Onboard Products, remembers something completely different from her first flight as a 13-year-old, and remembers it so fondly that it helped fuel her desire to work in the airline industry. Despite the nerves and excitement of moving with her family to a new and unfamiliar world across the Pacific, and the experience of seeing the tops of those fluffy, white clouds for the first time, what did Alice remember most about her 18-hour-trek from Taipei to Dallas via LAX?

The food, of course.

That’s right. Good old, economy class airplane food, which she enjoyed so much that she asked for a second helping. If I can read your thoughts right now, you must either think that someone so passionate about airline food (!!!) is either flat-out nuts, or a match made in heaven for the job she does for American. Based on my experience onboard the delivery flight of American’s first Next-Generation Boeing 737-800, featuring the innovative Boeing Sky Interior, I’ll vouch for the latter.

With an effortless lift off of Boeing Field’s runway 13R, American took possession of its new baby yesterday, carrying 20-some staff, journalists and special guests onboard the three hour and 22 minute flight to Dallas-Fort Worth. The Seattle sun even made a rare morning appearance, perhaps a fitting foreshadowing to the future satisfaction of frequent AA flyers, thanks to the carrier’s fleet modernization plan that will see them take on 54 more Next-Gen 737-800s over the next two years.

The newest addition to American’s fleet offers increased fuel efficiency (up to 2%), more overhead bin space (up to 54 more bags than its original 737s), themed LED lighting (ceiling and side lights that range from blue to white to amber depending on the time of day and service being performed), newly designed seats and power ports throughout the cabin. While these all seem like amenities that will please even the most demanding passenger, at a price tag in the USD $80 million range, its critical that an airline gets every detail exactly right. Fortunately, American has Alice and her team on its side.

While the beautiful new aircraft will be introduced into mainline AA service on June 1st, the process from conception to delivery was much longer than any trip the shiny airplane will ever take. Alice’s group has spent years poring over every last detail of the plane’s interior, from the look and texture of the dual mini-tables in each First Class seat to the flexibility of the leather head rests in Economy to the panels covering the ventilation system throughout the cabin. According to Alice, the new First Class seats alone have undergone a four-year development process.

That doesn’t come as a surprise when you consider the challenge involved in figuring out the preferences of some 105 million passengers a year, which often can be as fickle as the Dallas weather. To illustrate this, Liu mentioned a study American had done a few years ago that found that customers wanted healthier onboard snack options. So American added pricey fruits and vegetables to the menu, and subsequently performed its highly-scientific “trash test”—just keeping an eye of what snacks were coming back from the aircraft untouched. The verdict? When it came to making a decision onboard, the same passengers who responded that they wanted healthier snack options preferred the same old cookies.

Nonetheless, Liu’s group, which is responsible for the cabin interior, in-flight entertainment, food & beverage (of course!) and onboard retail, works tirelessly to engage and respond to American’s customer base. While her team does collaborate extensively with Boeing in working out some final design details on the product side, taking care of every other onboard detail for a fleet of about 650 aircraft is obviously a massive undertaking, and one that I never truly appreciated until being the first to walk onboard a brand new, fresh-off-the-production line, Next Generation aircraft.

“Design is all about the details,” Alice says. “It’s the thoughtful details that really complete the travel experience.”

Which seems like a fitting viewpoint from someone who, despite the slender stature she carries, is still known to sneak in an extra meal from time to time. While the instant noodles of her Taipei-to-Dallas adventure may have been replaced by king prawns and artisan cheeses, Alice’s eye for detail is as keen as it was at 13, and that passion permeates throughout every little detail onboard the newest addition to American’s fleet.

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