American Airlines Has a Second Boeing 737 Being Reconfigured For Less Comfort

At the end of June American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told employees, “We’re not going through the whole fleet and adding a bunch of seats to airplanes or taking out larger bathrooms and putting in smaller ones.”

Of course that isn’t true. Not only is American Airlines taking delivery of new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft with more seats squeezed into the same air frame than ever before, they’re going through their existing fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft and “adding a bunch of seats” (from 160 currently up to 172) and “taking out larger bathrooms and putting in smaller ones” (in order to fit more seats). They’re also reducing the amount of space between rows in coach, in Main Cabin Extra (extra legroom coach) and in first class.

In fact American has its second Boeing 737-800 in the shop now that will be be reconfigured for less passenger comfort.

Here’s the Layout of Passenger Accommodations or LOPA for existing American Airlines Boeing 737-800s. When US Airways management took over at American these planes had 150 seats, and one of their first moves was to add seats. There are now 160 seats.

And here’s what it looks like once American reconfigures the planes to have 172 seats. This means less space in first class, less space in ‘Main Cabin Extra’ and 30 inches between seats in economy. It means smaller lavatories. It means streaming entertainment only (no screens). It also means bigger overhead bins.

The planes also get ViaSat satellite internet in place of Gogo’s air to ground system, though that’s
been happening on a separate, accelerated schedule.

What’s interesting is that this suggests only 228 of 304 737s will be getting the new interior. Some 737s are slated to leave the fleet of course.

If there’s one bright spot in the reconfiguration, it’s that the overhead bins will be larger. The reason the last passengers to board so often have to gate check bags is,

  • Planes are largely full, airlines have managed to sustain capacity discipline even as demand for air travel has grown.

  • Passengers carry on their bags instead of checking them in order to avoid checked bag fees.

  • Current American Airlines 737s have space to stow just 118 standard carry ons. Even when legacy US Airways management increased the number of seats on the plane from 150 to 160, the bins still held the same number of bags as before.

As they go to 172 passengers, they’re putting in bigger bags that let carry ons stow sideways, increasing bag capacity to one per passenger.

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. Blame the flying public for being so price sensitive. The vast majority of the flying public makes their purchase decision based on price alone, assuming reasonably similar flight time. There are very few routes where they compete on service level, and even then that’s mostly those flying in F/J. The mainline carriers have to compete with the LCCs, and this is their only chance. The alternative is they continue to offer more room than LCCs, take a loss on flights they directly compete with LCCs on, and make it up by gouging customers on the other routes.

    What I could get behind is regulation that says the seat pitch and width must be displayed online when comparing and purchasing tickets.

  2. It’s going to get harder to avoid these planes and I have a ton of AA, Avios and Iberia! No!!!! Have to keep looking for the McDonnell – Douglas planes!

  3. @WR –

    If the density is being increased due to “the flying public being so price sensitive”, then how do you explain AA reducing the pitch in First Class?

  4. Can airlines touch the pitch on exit rows? The current 738’s have 40″ pitch in the exits (I think?), can they reduce that, or does the FAA restrict the exit row pitch to certain standards?

  5. I love how people continue to parrot the ridiculous ‘flying public makes their purchase decision based on price alone” after AA had to reverse their basic economy moves and AA CEO as quoted as saying they were losing customers by not offering wifi.

    People who parrot this line do not understand that the flying public is not on a plane every week. In fact, its 2-4 planes a year. That means it takes time for the bad experience to filter to a change in behavior.

    AA makes fleet decision last year, and launches garbage plane in March.

    Joe buys his Christmas flights today, not knowing anything about these enhancements. Joe flies on December 23rd and hates it. He repeats the poor experience on his return flight on Jan 2.

    Joe is not making his next purchase until April 2019 when he decides to take the kids to Disney in July (bad idea Joe).

    So AA made decision July 2017, and that doesnt reflect on Joes purchase until April 2019. Theres an even larger delay if Joe lucks out on a legacy plane.

    Of course, the executive doesn’t care about this. They’ve likely taken the golden parachute well before the chickens have come home to roost.

  6. @JJJ – Good post.
    I recall reading once that Doug Parker stated that 75% (or something along that line) of the passengers on a plane at any given time only flies once a year. So, all these people who say they’ll never fly AA again don’t have much influence on the business decisions of AA.

  7. These stories depicting the actions of management are enlightening.

    As such, I am convinced of a serious trend that perhaps only Drucker could explain. Perhaps more than any other industry, the senior management of U.S. airlines evidence an , in-depth issue with integrity and credibility, to the detriment of the traveling public, as exemplified by AA’s Parker.

    This trend in such negative behavior is quite apparent even in those CEOs who left their airlines. Indeed, Amtrak’s CEO is ex-Delta CEO Richard Anderson, known on the railroad as “Delta Dick.” Under his regime, Amtrak has walked back legal agreements with states to improve infrastructure, misled Congress on the traffic carried by long distance trains, relied upon poor management decisions to take apart dining service, all the while not properly training diner/lounge crews to grow revenues through cocktail sales.

    Unless we achieve a new paradigm in transportation leadership, we are doomed to a perpetual race to the bottom re customer experience—and safety.

  8. Related to the change in bathroom size, is there at least one ADA bathroom on international flights? I know there is on American 77W in business class which I have flown twice for that reason.

  9. @Rick, thanks for posting that Dallas News piece. I guess it really is true that the doors are the choke-points, not the seat pitch… even though I’m sure 28″ of pitch (meaning more pax) certainly does not help a faster evacuation.

  10. @JJJ

    Your scenario reinforces, not belie the argument that consumer focus solely on price.

    Joe Q. Public, who flies once a year, isn’t going to remember how miserable the flying experience was on a flight taken a year ago. Instead, he will simply type his flight into Expedia, CheapOair, etc. and chose the cheapest flight that shows up on the matrix.

    Your argue re: AA walking back its BE restrictions is even more absurd. AA’s BE flights were never a fare intended to compete at the lowest fare levels, rather they were simply the lowest AA regular economy fares, but name changed to force people to pay more to get what they were previously already entitled to.

  11. @WR

    If people were willing to pay more to fly, what would airlines do?
    1) Configure planes to give more space per passenger
    2) Charge higher fares for the same cramped space and pocket the extra revenue

  12. I fly a lot more than 2-3 times a year…I do an average of 65,000 miles a year. This constant squeeze is so discouraging. I HATE getting on a plane…the whole experience is repulsive. I do it because I have to, but doesn’t American airlines (or the others) give a damn about passenger experience?

    The airlines have this yield management thing down cold, so every flight is packed (and they have to keep reminding us of that…several times as we board, “This flight is going to be EXTREMELY full”…just so that no one starts thinking they might actually have a comfortable experience.

    I hope there is a special place in you-know-where for the executives who are happy to keep stockholders flush but screw the passengers.

  13. Yawn. Gary cares about this. Not sure that many other people do. Parker cares about the BoD & shareholders. Not customers. Because, well, he’s a CEO.

    JJJ completely misses the fact that AA doesn’t need “Joe” to ever fly them again. Joe is completely replaceable as a customer, there is an almost endless supply of Joes.

  14. Hey Doug Parker, imagine the extra revenue that would accrue if you ditched exit rows completely.
    I am sure your lobbiests can buy off all the right people to make it happen.

  15. I fly AA , DL a lot and you seem to be very DL blind when it comes to your evolutions of the airlines. DL almost 3 years go put smaller bathroom and reduced pitch on their legacy NWA airbus fleet and DL, AK, SW and UA use the same bathrooms as AA on their new 737’s. AA’s move to standardize the fleet is a smart one and yes the bathrooms are tight, but so are the bathrooms on other airlines.
    The larger bins, seat power and device holders (yes much better then those seat back monitors that take up legroom and seem to be broken more then working lately on DL) are great additions.

    Also, main cabin seats on AA and MCE situation hard head and shoulders above the product DL has on their domestic fleet. Okay, so lots of people don’t like Parker, get it, but lets report on facts, AA isn’t doing anything the other airlines aren’t doing too.

  16. “some kind of a minimum standard seat size & legroom for health & safety reasons.”

    People always complain about this but it’s not happening. There’s no meaningful safety concerns here by having a tighter seat. And health-wise, aside from an extremely tiny risk of DVT in susceptible individuals that can be mitigated by minimal stretching, there’s no health risk.

  17. Kevin, people remember bad experiences very, very well. People carry grudges for years. It’s basic marketing, winning a customer back is a long and expensive process.

    Bob, there is a long line of dead companies who also thought they didn’t need Joe. They forgot that Joe likes to tell his friends and family all about his vacation, including how horrible the flight with AA or United was.

    Sprint is an example of a company who went straight into the “price is all the matters” line of thought, and they managed to sell plans at half the rate of Verizon and AT&T by deferring investments in their infrastructure. They quickly fell into 4th place as Tmobile roared past them by offering a superior product because they DID invest in their network (and charged a little more than Sprint). Talk to someone who used to be a Sprint customer and left them around 2012 when the network was at its worst. 6 years later, and I guarantee this former customer is happy paying more elsewhere and has no intention in going back.

    It got so bad that last year Sprint offered 1 year of service for free! No catch. No fine print. 1 year of service for free. Still 4th place. I managed to convince my gf to take advantage of the offer, but it took a lot of convincing because she had heard from all her friends (the Joes) about how bad Sprint was.

  18. Think about how much easier the transition will be when RyanAir reaches out to buy AA………. Just saying

  19. So listing to what Doug Parker says and what is actually happening, do you think that he is simply a liar or than he believes what he says which would make him psychotic?

  20. ugh, I know how to avoid the 737 Max, but how am I supposed to distinguish the decent 737s from these new, horrible 737s.

  21. Unless you are flying first, or even main cabin, you may as well fly Southwest. At least with Southwest, there are no change fee and no baggage fees.

    But it sounds like even fist and MC are compromised on American. Looks like Delta and United will pick up market share.

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