American Airlines Reveals Plans to Offer Worse Seats Than Ever Before

I wrote last week that American Airlines told investors they had opportunities to add seats and reduce legroom. I initially assumed this applied to legacy US Airways Airbus A321s.

Over the weekend I wrote that American appeared to be planning to add seats to its new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft and there’s a similar plan to retrofit existing 737-800 aircraft. One rumor was that they would accomplish this by reducing the number of first class seats from 16 to 12 and reducing legroom in economy as well.

CNN’s Jon Ostrower reports that American will be going from 160 to more than 170 seats on their 737 MAX 8 aircraft. However they won’t be reducing the number of first class seats. Instead:

  • Reduce seat pitch (the distance from seat back to seat back) in 3 rows of economy from 31 inches to 29 inches

  • Shrink the rest of coach from 31 inches to 30 inches.

  • Even smaller lavatories.

Current American Airlines Boeing 737-800 Economy Cabin

American will offer some coach seats on this aircraft virtually indistinguishable from Spirit Airlines.

Not to worry, though, writes Brian Sumers at Skift because American will make up for less legroom with less comfortable slim line seats or their equivalent.

[T]he spokesman said passengers will hardly notice having less room

“The seats we’ll use on the MAX are designed to maximize personal living space, while allowing more comfort, even in arrangement like this where the pitch is a little tighter,” the spokesman said.

Ostrower suggests that United Airlines may be considering a similar move, not surprising since preparatory discussions about these new planes would have taken place while Scott Kirby was President of American Airlines. he is now President of United.

With United and American offering Basic Economy fares that do not even permit bringing on a regular carry on bag, just a ‘personal item’, I think we can genuinely say that American and perhaps United as well are trying to offer the worst product they possibly can.

More seats mean a lower cost per seat, and the opportunity to sell more tickets. It’s a strategy for giving up on earning any sort of revenue premium for their product.

In contrast, Southwest and jetBlue still offer more legroom. They do not ban customers on the lowest fares from making changes or bringing on their rollaboard bags. And Southwest doesn’t even charge for bags (for now). Customers do have a choice, and they need to be educated about that choice.

American’s only friend here is ignorant consumers.

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. Gone are the days of “More room in coach.” AA is leading the way in emulating Spirit Airlines. Soon there will be nothing separating them at all.

  2. This is what people want. Price is still the deterring factor when purchasing for 90% of flying public. I thinks it’s genius. It also increases upswell opportunities: Pay for a seat assignment or end up in the tight seats. And if your 6’3 that’s your own problem not the airlines.

  3. Do American/United actually believe they’ll beat Spirit at their own game? Meanwhile, this also allows Delta to monopolize the market of flyers who want the legacy airline experience.

  4. Makes my decision to focus on Alaska and jet blue even smarter. I guess aa and ual don’t care as long as yields remain high. But for those of us that have to fly a lot, we can vote in better flying experiences.

  5. Time for Congress to get involved. It’s bad enough that AA has destroyed their FF program, now they are destroying their aircraft. Good bye American. Hello Delta.

  6. You could call it Less Room Throughout Coach.

    Every time I get upset with Southwest for a devaluation of program or product, the other airlines leapfrog ahead in the race to the bottom. It’s hard to imagine, but we may eventually look on today’s coach travel experience as the Good Old Days.

  7. UA and eventually DL will soon follow, no question. There is no real, robust competition – the big 3 legacies are all the same.

    Choices are limited. I prefer WN whenever possible but their route network obviously doesn’t quite compare to the legacies even domestically. AS while growing is also limited in the lower 48. JetBlue? Would love to patronize B6 but they don’t service an airport reasonably close to me and their network is so small (and frequency so thin in many cases) that they still couldn’t meet most of my needs even if they did fly closer to my home.

  8. Southwest for domestic travel is pretty good. Aside from the quirks (e.g. cattle herd boarding procecures, rapping FA’s, somewhat less non-stop flights, etc.) and of course no premium cabins, no-cancellation policies, no checked luggage fees, frequent flights, very nice phone reps and of course decent fares – it’s going to be our new go-to airline for the foreseeable future. I used to fly UA and AA exclusively, no more.

  9. Most of these comments are extremely selfesh. What you are missing is that AA needs to pay for the out of cycle pay increases Parker bestowed on the pilots to provide them a living wage.

  10. ” What you are missing is that AA needs to pay for the out of cycle pay increases Parker bestowed on the pilots to provide them a living wage.”

    Before the pay increases, top end of the pay range can easily exceed $200K for widebody captains. That’s not a living wage by you ??!!

  11. @henryLAX

    I don’t actually know what the lower end is, but it’s not generally smart to gauge whether a company is paying a living wage by quoting the top end of the payscale.

  12. This is all well and good if the flyer paying the cheapest fare ends up in the tight-pitched seats. But what if you have a last minute business trip and these are the only seats available? The first time I pay $1100 for 29 inches of legroom is certainly the very last time I’ll fly American.

  13. Said it before, I’ll say it again. AA, DL and UA view customers the way vampires view the living. Keep us alive only enough so they can suck even more blood from us.

    It’s what they do.

  14. “The seats …designed to maximize personal living space, while allowing more comfort, even in arrangement like this where the pitch is a little tighter,” the spokesman said. ”
    these pitches are no longer laughable. by this reasoning you can fly AA without buying a ticket.

  15. “Most of these comments are extremely selfesh. What you are missing is that AA needs to pay for the out of cycle pay increases Parker bestowed on the pilots to provide them a living wage.”

    It was a joke. I live in Dallas and the pilots I know basically said it was an unexpected gift and they think Parker is a chump. In my mind pilots are significantly overpaid, not to mention a bunch of ungrateful whiners.

  16. Once again all tall people will be screwed yet again. It’s getting to the point where I can’t even fly safely because I won’t be able to put my feet on the floor with such tight seat pitches. People over a certain height should be allowed to sit in premium economy or whatever they’re calling it these days. Not like we can change how tall we are.

  17. @John why does Congress need to get involved? You just said you’re taking your business to Delta. Enough customers do the same thing and AA will pay dearly for this change. Stop turning to the Govt for all the answers. You have much more power!

  18. On the plus side I assume it will take American forever to actually implement this, since they can’t seem to update anything quickly.

    My real question is will they ever add MCE to US Airways planes…

  19. Once again . . . is there really any reason left to fly American? Or United, for that matter? At least in terms of Coach/Economy, that is — I suppose if all you do is fly them in First . . .

    (With that in mind, I *do* have to admit that I will be flying AA for the first time since 2009. I used Citi ThankYou Points to book a flight, before devaluation, next month to SFO-DFW-MSY return.)

  20. In the hearing regarding United’s forced removal of a passenger, Congress has informed the airlines that they had best get their act together re customer service or Congress will step in and make them. I think it’s about time they do so as it is painfully obvious customer service has been thrown out the hatch in favor of higher profits.

  21. Could someone PLEASE explain how they configure 170 seats? If there are 16 F, that leaves 154 in coach. 154 does not divide by 6, so how will this work? So many frantic stories about this, yet no one seems to stop and actually think about this. The math doesn’t work.

  22. I suspect it will be 25 rows of 6 seats = 150. To get to 154, the 1 row of 4 will either occur at the exit row (like UA 737-700) or last row of coach (because fusualage tapers, I suspect the last row will be .5 narrower)

  23. So, American is saying that their product sucks, that they know their product sucks, that they not only don’t care that their product sucks, but if fact are actually working to make it worse. Nice. Maybe, just maybe, they could try to, I dunno, improve their product. They could even give it a fancy name, like “customer service”.

  24. As someone who does not currently fly a lot, I have in the past and I have a lot future travel coming up, so I have been paying more attention here. But when I do it usually internationally which include a couple of domestic legs first, I am 6ft and athletic 210 lbs., I like my space. I also like to watch to the video on the seat back screen, I read where they will do away with as well to save weight and increase fuel since, most travelers carry their devices, they will however offer wifi at a fee to watch their aboard movies.
    I also read where they are going to one aisle. So does this mean they currently use two aisles such as 2-4-2 seat arrangement, what will the new seat arrangement look like? a 3-3 or 4-4 seating.

  25. also considering removing overheading reading lamps since most people have the “flashlight” app on their smartphones

  26. @WingIt – You’re right on all accounts except for price. I live in a WN hub city and they are almost always the most expensive carrier by a long shot. There was a time when WN was a LCC, but that was a long time ago.

  27. 10% of US adults are 6 ft. 1 in. or taller. What proportion of this group have zero leg room at a pitch of 29 in.? If this isn’t a safety hazard (timely emergency disembarkation), I’d be very surprised.

    Enough routes in the US are de facto monopolies that the old arguments about “competition” and “markets” are B.S. Height discrimination is unjust. Time for regulation.

  28. @Ken —> OAK is a large Southwest hub, too. Here are some comparisons of the least expensive nonstop flight from SFO or OAK to LAX, on June 20th, one way (all flights depart SFO unless otherwise noted):

    AA — $89
    AS — $59 (on VX metal)
    DL — $58 ($48 for Basic Economy)
    UA — $64 ($49 for Basic Economy)
    WN — $49 (from SFO —> NOT a hub)
    WN — $59 (from OAK —> hub)
    VX — $59

    Now keep in mind that without some sort of status, or a co-branded credit card, all of these airlines CHARGE for checked luggage . . . or don’t permit you to check a bag in Basic Econ. That said, *certainly* if I have just a carryon, I’m flying VX — it may be $10 more than WN, but I get FF miles I can actually use. (Yes, I know that lots of people use WN’s Rapid Rewards points, but not from travel to Europe or Asia — which is where I spend most of my points on airfare.)

  29. @Jason Brandt Lewis – That is an incredibly competitive route, and there is nothing like that out of Denver. Very rarely we will get some good fares to close destinations like Vegas or Dallas. But other than that it’s a tough market.

  30. @Ken, it’s not that I doubt you, but how about DEN-SFO, one-way, non-stop, same date (6/20/2017)?

    AA — NO non-stops available; $92-325 w/one stop + plane change.
    AS — (only non-stop service is on VX)
    DL — NO non-stops available; $121-196 w/one stop + plane change for “regular” Economy/Coach ($106-$131 for “Basic Economy”).
    WN — 5 non-stops available, from $69-$161 (to SFO —> NOT a hub)
    WN — 5 non-stops available, from $77-$134 (to OAK —> hub)
    UA — 12 non-stops available, from $84-$214 for “regular” Economy/Coach ($69-$199 for “Basic Economy”)
    VX — 3 non-stops available, from $69-$114

    CLEARLY your preference of airline plays into what you choose to fly. So, too, does the departure/arrival time, but — getting back to AA for a moment . . .

    IS THERE ANY REASON LEFT TO FLY AMERICAN? (Or Delta or United for that matter?)

  31. @Jason Brandt Lewis – If WN is cheapest, or even slightly more, we will always fly WN. But when we travel they are never the lowest for us. Just dumb luck I suppose. I found some flights to LAS for $39 NS OW on WN, but not on the dates we needed. So sometimes they are cheapest, but not when we travel unfortunately.

  32. American has the best network for the places I fly. Legacy airlines support a vast network. Anyone can fly DEN-SFO and make money. No route stucture for low cost carriers. All the hate for the pilots doing a job no one else will or can do? Remember salaries are market driven.

  33. @Frequent flyer —> “American has the best network for the places I fly.” Yes, well, CLEARLY if (for example) I lived in Ft. Worth, I’d probably be flying AA¹, too! (As it is, I live in the SF Bay Area and overwhelmingly fly VX, which — aside from Europe and MSY — pretty much flies wherever I need to be. “Favorite airlines” are often nothing more than “convenient airlines,” and there is no denying the fact it’s pointless to fly an airline — any airline — if they don’t go where you want to go . . .

    “Legacy airlines support a vast network. Anyone can fly DEN-SFO and make money. No route stucture [sic] for low cost carriers.” Yes, well, while it *is* true that legacy carriers (by which I am *presuming* you mean AA, DL, and UA) support a vast network, I wouldn’t exactly call Southwest’s network tiny! ;^) As far as anyone making money by flying DEN-SFO, I have no idea if that’s true. Is that the world’s most profitable route? Or, are you simply implying “anyone can fly between major cities and make money”? Clearly that’s not true. In terms of LCC’s not having any route structure, this too is clearly false. What LCC’s lack is a route structure serving smaller cities like Monterey, California or Peoria, Illinois or Midland-Odessa in Texas.

    And finally, I don’t understand this comment at all: “All the hate for the pilots doing a job no one else will or can do?” Who hates pilots?

    ¹ As it is, I live in the SF Bay Area and overwhelmingly fly VX, which — aside from Europe and MSY — pretty much flies wherever I need to be. Trips to NOLA are covered, usually, by WN or UA, though next month I’ll be on AA (first time since 2009). Europe is covered by European-based carriers (VS, IB, TP, etc.)

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