American Airlines Changes What Main Cabin Extra Means on Their 777-300ERs

At the beginning of 2000 American Airlines announced More Room Throughout Coach with an extra inch or two of legroom for all seats in the coach cabin by removing two rows of seats. Customers didn’t give American the revenue premium they had hoped for, and they began to add a row of seats back into some aircraft in 2003 and ended the More Room Throughout Coach program in 2004.

United Airlines in contrast introduced Economy Plus extra legroom seating to the front of their coach cabin in 1999. This was available at the time to full fare passengers and elites (including Star Alliance Gold members). Gradually this become more restrictive. Star ALliance Golds lost access. So did full fare customers. And after United’s CFO called elites ‘over-entitled’ they restricted economy plus to seats available at check-in for Silver members.

United hadn’t monetized the seats via upsell, and Continental management expected to eliminate the extra legroom seats but figured out they could make more money selling those seats so they remained.

Meanwhile Delta introduced Economy Comfort extra legroom seats at the front of the coach cabin in 2011, and American brought back extra legroom to the front of coach in 2012. This year though American took away free access to these seats from full fare passengers and those on extra miles awards.

US Airways never added this sort of section to its planes. And as American has densified its cabins it has reduced the number of Main Cabin Extra seats in some existing aircraft. Four years into the merger they haven’t added these seats to most legacy US Airways planes. Their new standard coach product, first rolled out to new 737 MAXs, limits these seats as well to only 3 rows and with a bit less legroom than before.

Nonetheless I was still surprised to see what they’ve done reconfiguring their Boeing 777-300ERs as they add a premium economy cabin to the aircraft.

On American Airlines seat maps Main Cabin Extra extra legroom seats are a redish orange color. On the 777-300ER the front of coach is Main Cabin Extra.

In addition they call exit rows and bulkheads, seats that have extra legroom by virtue of the cabin configuration, Main Cabin Extra as well. Here are those seats on the current 777-300ER.

American would beg to differ with my characterization of legacy US Airways aircraft. They sell Main Cabin Extra on those planes — that’s just the branding for exit row and other seats that happen to have more space. But they don’t have a section at the front of the cabin with extra legroom.

With the Boeing 777-300ER reconfiguration it appears they’ve gone US Airways style. The former Main Cabin Extra rows are now the new premium economy cabin. And it’s just the bulkhead seats behind premium economy in that section that is Main Cabin Extra. There is no more section at the front of coach with extra legroom.

Instead the exit rows are naturally sold as Main Cabin Extra and they sell a block of extra legroom middle seats at the back of the plane as Main Cabin Extra.

Here’s the bulkhead row behind premium economy:

And here’s Main Cabin Extra towards the back of the plane:

American is eliminating the idea of a section of extra legroom seats at the front of coach from their 777-300ERs. Presumably this is about squeezing more seats into the plane, but has the added benefit of making sure Main Cabin Extra isn’t “good enough” for those who might buy up to Premium Economy.

And that’s all on top of changing the Main Cabin Extra section in their 777-300s from 9-abreast seating to 10-abreast, taking away shoulder width. With this reconfiguration the plane goes from American’s best long haul plane for elites flying coach to arguably their worst long haul plane for elites flying coach.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Holy crap AA is nuts to think any elite would be willing to do 10 seats across, well one more aircraft in AAs fleet I’ll never book. Looks awful.

  2. It’s basically similar to what Delta has done with their A350s with the new premium economy section. DL has taken away Comfort+ on these planes, but the few bulkhead and exit row seats (which presumably have more legroom) are now designated as Preferred, so complimentary to select (for certain?) elites and possibly available to purchase for non-elites?

  3. Do FAA regs allow putting “fully reclining” seats in the overhead bins? That’s an opportunity Parker seems to have overlooked.

  4. AAnother dAAy…

    …AAnother reAAson to put this crAApy AAirline on your “NO FLY” list AAlong with…

    …Allegiant (which is a NEVER, EVER fly in our family due to its chronic, and well publicized safety related incidents that are eerily reminiscent of ValuJet…and the some of the same names both of the airlines have in common), Frontier & Spirit…

    So what else is NEW?

  5. it looks like with Mr. Parker in charge AA is becoming AAllegiant. The next logical step for Mr. Parker would be to acquire Allegiant and to fully adopt the latter business model.

  6. So now it looks like there are only four good MCE seats on the 77W, rows 31 and 32. And that is only if you can put up with the noise and traffic from the lavs and galley. The center bulkhead seats are treated as an aisle by other passengers in coach. The seat map makes it appear that the seats in rows 33 and 34 have the same width and legroom as non MCE economy seats. This is a major AA MCE devaluation on the plane that needs MCE the most. Elites should avoid the AA 77W and DL A350-900 when flying economy.

  7. Regarding my previous comment, rows 31 and 32 have eight seats but the aisle seats will have to deal with galley and lav traffic and commotion more than the window seats.

  8. @AdamH According to Gary these do have extra pitch. It’s just not apparent from the seat map.

  9. I think AA is missing an opportunity on this. They should have expanded the MCE rows or created new ones in addition to the PE seats. Figure it this way, many mid or lower level elites that may not clear for business cabins might be able to get PE. Also many passengers would likely buy PE seats on long hauls like DFW-HKG. Then they could still reap revenue from the new MCE rows as in the past. Also by pimping the PE seats to elites as “upgrades” they can keep revenue in the business seats and for top tier elites while still selling MCE to the masses. It’s not like these 77W’s are flying short haul.

  10. I always liked the MCE seats on this flight. Better legroom and decent width. However, if they add an extra seat, the seats would be hard to deal with on a long hall flight such as DFW-HKG. One more reason to fly on another airline for long haul to HKG.

  11. @Sexy_Kitten7 The exit rows I understand, but does the middle section in the back actually have more pitch? Where did that pitch come from? Were those always better seats?

    AA needs to get with the competition and take out a row and have a real E+ like UA and DL. This is simply not competitive.

    UA has 102 E+ seats on their 77W. If you take out the section of 4 rows where the PE seats would go if they had the same they would still have 62 E+ seats to cover the rest of the cabin.

    If I am a frequent flier who knows he/she will be in Y I am going with UA.

  12. In that last seating chart, look how many seats are marked as green “preferred” seats. This means AA will charge you a fee to select any of those aisle/window seats in row 37…and who knows how much farther back that goes. This practice alone, which I have seen across most AA flights now these days, has caused me to pretty much stop doing business with them.

  13. AA goes from bad to worse! Prices in business have skyrocketed while economy legroom and customer service have gone down the drain. Looking into alternative airlines now, because AA couln’t care less.

  14. I find this all so discouraging. I now drive everywhere I can — within reasonable distance — and avoid American more and more. I have started using Southwest more. Fewer amenities, but at least you know what you’re getting and you’re not into this constant downgrading, even though I fly 50-75K a year on AA.

    Really, except for Southwest, which has a different approach altogether, the rest of them are all about equally bad. I recently had the worst experience of my life on United.

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