American Plans More Seats, Less Legroom on Domestic Flights

One of the first projects new (US Airways) management undertook at American Airlines after the merger was to add seats to many domestic aircraft. Here’s the plan they put in place three years ago:

Many of the MD80s are now retired, and more are being retired. They added seats for the short term. And when they retrofit US Airways Airbus A319s to have sew seats and extra legroom seating, they reduced the first class cabin and added more seats overall to the aircraft.

But presumably because the US Airways fleet still hasn’t been substantially updated to offer a consistent product across the airline, they see plenty of room to add even more seats to planes.

On yesterday’s earnings call American Airlines President Robert Isom declared they were going to add even more seats to planes.

We think that we have some density issues with our narrow body fleet that we will be addressing in the coming years as well that I think will have benefits in terms of overall revenue production and also will help us from a unit cost perspective as well.

…I think that as I said, we have narrow-body density opportunities as well to pursue.

“Density opportunities” mean squeezing in more seats. This has “benefits in terms of overall revenue production” meaning that they’ll have more seats to sell. And it will help “from a unit cost perspective” because the total cost of a flight is divided across more seats. I love euphemisms.

In February I noted a rumor of American adding seats to its legacy US Airways Airbus A321s so I assume this is the primary fleet that will see ‘densification’.

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. Can’t they just rename themselves American Frontier, or American Spiritlines, and drop the pretense?

  2. AA definitely has “density issues.”
    AA, you’re supposed to make your product better, not worse.

  3. Can you find anything at all they’ve done to enhance customer experience? These are classic corporate trainwreckers who pay no attention at all to customer experience even as we are abandoning them in droves. Now they think they can squeeze people in even tighter! At some point these change from seats into backboards we’re strapped into.

    Any other business being roasted so mercilessly on the top FF blogs which coalesce FF’s and influence public opinion would be reaching out in every way possible to stop the bleeding. These guys instead use their wrecking hammer (the only tool they have) to keep hitting themselves in the head.

  4. I’m 6’5″ 250 lbs and a normal non-exit seat is on the verge of unusable for me now. I fly CLT to west coast a lot and manage to snag exit rows on the pmUS 321s which end up OK for me, but I question how much more they can squeeze out of a regular seat.

  5. Gotta love that AA is screwing over taller passengers. Sure people can lose weight (they shouldn’t have to but at least its possible), but if you are tall you can’t lose height. Seats are cramped enough in economy.

  6. @Jon – I agree with you. Seats are tight for me but I feel badly for my wife, 6’2″ and 36″ inseam. She is hitting the seat in front of her in current configuration and if the seat in front reclines it’s game over for her. We pay more already for extra legroom just so she can endure the flights.

    Short-American Airlines

  7. This will almost certainly involve slimline seats. Pitch probably won’t be that affected, but comfort will.

  8. Maybe these are the missing saver award seats we’ve all been looking for?? Problem solved!

  9. Bittersweet memories…

    American Air to Put More Room in Coach
    FEB. 4, 2000

    American Airlines said today that it had begun removing two rows of coach seats from all its aircraft to ease the crowded conditions faced by most passengers.

    Citing its most frequent customer complaint, American said it would strip a total of about 7,200 seats from its 707-plane fleet, or about 6.4 percent of coach capacity.

    ”Then we’re going to use the space once occupied by those seats to provide more room for passengers throughout the cabin — row after row after row,” Donald Carty, chairman and chief executive of the AMR Corporation, American’s parent company, which is based in Fort Worth, said at a news conference in Washington.

    Among complaints he cited were being ”packed in like sardines,” laptop computer woes, inability to cross one’s legs and having a passenger in front reclining in one’s lap.

    When the $70 million project is complete, about 58 percent of American’s coach seats will have a ”seating pitch” of 34 inches or more.

  10. And then of course they reversed it, as reported in this very blog:

    The end of More Room Throughout Coach
    by Gary Leff on October 21, 2004

    American Airlines will no longer reliably offer more legroom in coach across its fleet.
    They previously announced they were adding seats back in on one aircraft type. Now they’re expanding the decision.

    American will add back a portion of the coach seats previously removed from its MD80, 737, 767 and 777 fleets. On the MD80 and 737 aircraft, only one of the two rows of coach seats originally removed will be added back to those airplanes.
    Reconfiguration of the MD-80s, 737s and 767s will begin after the holidays. The 777 fleet won’t be reconfigured until next fall, as I understand it.

    This, combined with ending the most liberal international upgrade policy among U.S. carrier, obliterates the value proposition that American Airlines offers to the frequent traveler.

  11. @ DL: or American West (the management team running AA was running America West before taking over US Airways in 2005)

  12. They have to find a way to pay for their increased bonuses, across the board pay raises for the staff. Yeah most people in American have become plump and because of genetically modified foods taller as well. So my take on this is, this is an experiment kind to see if they can squish the fat off of people and stress them to get shorter.

    Yep charge the customers more and give them less, so that the CEO and clowns at the top can get better bonuses, short term thinking once again. What will they do cry to Congress when a smaller airlines like Alaska decides to expand and offer better service, more room at better prices.

  13. Just think GREED, Baby!

    Airlines = Greedy corporations, among the greediest…

    We, the passengers have simply become a bottom-line number.

    Capitalism has lost its soul!

  14. You missed the bigger news. American announces they are going to enhance revenue by ending unnecessary engine duplication on flights. After all, most of the planes don’t need as many engines as they have to maintain flight and they are just there for redundancy. This should save on maintenance costs as well since only half the engines need to be maintained. They are also working on a dewinging plan that only uses one wing to maintain altitude. Fortunately, customers have announced that they are working on their own density reduction plan by flying on other airlines.

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