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American Airlines' 777-300ER Main Cabin

The Biggest Loser: American Airlines Shrinks Seat Pitch

As businesses, most airlines focus their PR efforts on the latest Business Class Cabin upgrade or the refreshed menu from world renowned chefs served in First. But let’s get real  – the majority of people who travel by air fly in Economy Class – after all, the majority of seats on an airplane are coach seats.


The Scoop

American Airlines (AA) just announced that their new Boeing 737 Max jetliners will have more seats than their current 737s – and will be achieving this by decreasing seat pitch. By reducing the space between seats in Economy from 31 inches to 29 inches in three rows, and down to 30 inches for the rest of the cabin.

It’s important to note that this is below what is considered industry standard, which stands around the 30 inches mark. While these 737s will not be doing longer flights, this does represent a marked drop in available legroom.

This is interesting coming from an airline that prided itself back about ten years ago in offering “more legroom in coach” – American had up to 34 inches – yes, 34 inches – of legroom across their entire fleet in normal economy on domestic flights as well. And now we’re seeing 29 inch seat pitch which is standard on carriers such as Ryanair – not befiiting what is widely considered a “legacy” carrier.

Oh, and the best part? They’re thinking of doing something similar to their fleet of 737s already in operation. So the airline might takedown their current product for something much worse.

Most people take for granted the difference one inch can make when it comes to legroom – but I promise you, you’ll feel it when you board one of these new 737MAX aircraft. This is not the direction we should find a full service carrier like American, a member of on oneworld, going but alas this is where we find ourselves in 2017.


The Takeaway

An inch or two might not sound like a lot. So what’s the big deal?

While I can think of a number of reasons not to fly ultra low cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit (being nickle and dimed for just about everything comes to mind), many people choose to fly full service carriers for the extra legroom. By taking away this one “perk” (if that’s what you want to call it), American is giving price-sensitive, value-loving passengers far fewer reasons to keep flying. Oh, did we mention – these 29 inch legroom seats aren’t going to be exclusively assigned to basic economy ticket buyers – a passenger paying full price could very well end up in these cramped seats.

In contrast, AA’s “big three” legacy carrier competitors Delta Airlines (DL) and United Airlines (UA)’s 737 aircraft seat pitch ranges from 31-32 inches and 30-31 inches respectively. (Though United is rumored to be considering making a similar to move AA.)

While ultra low cost carriers Frontier and Spirit don’t operate Boeing 737s, both fly the comparable A320, with a seat distance of 28-29 inches. America’s sweetheart jetBlue also operates A320s, but offers a roomy 34 inches in legroom – the most out of all major US airlines.

What’s most startling is that as an AA elite you don’t really have the option of a type of service like Economy Plus which at least United offers at no added cost for frequent fliers. You might fly American a lot per year – but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be in Domestic First. But that means you’re consigned to what essentially is a low cost product especially becuse there’s no real in flight service beyond AA’s buy on board service. Let’s not even begin to talk about how the airline has already drastically reduced their domestic First Class cabins to just eight seats on most newly delivered A319/A320/B737 aircraft so even then as an elite your chances of an upgrade is slim to none on most flights.  And now this?

So then what becomes the diffrentiantor between AA, your airline of choice, and other low cost operators?

That gap seems to be shrinking by the day.

American Airlines AA Main Cabin

American Airlines Main Cabin seats. Credit: American Airlines

An inch doesn’t sound like a lot (it actually is) but with American first offering Basic Economy rates with limited options, and now minimizing legroom, it sounds like this full service carrier is cutting corners, low cost carrier style. What will they take away next? There might be cause for concern here.


Featured image credit: American Airlines



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