American Will Offer Less Legroom, But Don’t Worry You Get Less Comfortable Seats and No Seatback Video Too!

BoardingArea blogger and teenager The Unaccompanied Flyer interviewed American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and asked about the airline’s plans to squeeze more seats into Boeing 737s — meaning less legroom. They’re going from a 31 inch standard in regular coach down to 30 in most seats and even just 29 inches in some rows.

You know, one person goes out and prematurely releases that we’re going to have three rows with 29-inch legroom and causes an uproar. No, we’re not moving towards becoming a low-cost carrier.” Mr. Parker went on to explain why he believes that 30-inch legroom won’t be noticeable. “These new slimline seats allow us to put more seats on a plane while at the same time, keeping the same level of comfort. I’ve sat in the slimline seats and I couldn’t tell the difference. Without having those bulky seatback TVs, you also get more room in front of you.”

Seatback TVs are Going Away, Just Like Legroom

Sure, there’s going to be less space between the seats but:

  1. They’re slimline seats with less padding and that takes up less room. So you’ll really feel it on your bum and your back, not your legs.

  2. And without seat back entertainment, you’ll focus on your phone. Phones are small, and that will make the space around you feel bigger.

Parker may not be able to tell the difference between slimline seats and regular coach seats, but passengers can. Certainly it’s a bigger deal on longer flights (and American will use their 737 MAX 8s on long domestic flights to be sure) but I even find the slimline seats to be uncomfortable flying United between Austin and Houston.

And while I don’t mind streaming entertainment on a plane versus having seatback video on demand (I always carry my laptop, though with these seats it may be tough to fully open) but many readers do. I wouldn’t enjoy positioning my phone and watching purely on its screen.

And You Didn’t Think it Could Get Worse Than Legacy US Airways Aircraft

If I were running American I might think that the median independent traveler wouldn’t become aware of the inferior product, so they’d still book American Airlines when it was cheapest or most convenient. However, I’d be concerned about corporate managed travelers. A corporate program is going to care about getting the best deal for its employees, including reasonable seat standards, and will be well aware of the difference.

To avoid hemorrhaging corporate business I’d likely try to reduce the legroom in first class and existing Main Cabin Extra extra legroom coach seating, and combined with reduced lavatory and galley footprints, use the space to add more rows of Main Cabin Extra — and offer those seats free to corporate customers. In other words, I’d guarantee them a better product since they’ll know better than to book American Airlines otherwise. (My guess is that current above-average legroom in first class won’t survive anyway, there’s little to suggest new American Airlines management wants to offer a better product than competitors.)

Of course I’d be sad to see legroom in the better seats shrink, and that would further undermine the claim that the airline is offering whatever product customers want at a variety of price points… since they’d be offering increasingly inferior products at each price point.

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. I live in Europe but regularly travel on ba, Ryanair , easyJet , lufthansa , Swiss, Brussels, and others where slimline are the norm in eco as are the complaints listed above. Frankly: never had an issue about confort. Perhaps I’m lucky that I’m not clinically obese like many a passenger these days

  2. While @William might have said it in a more pointed way, I too have never had a problem with Slimline seats comfort. But then, I’m pretty thin. My only problem is the reduced pitch making laptops impossible to use if the seat in front is reclined.

  3. I agree with your point that frequent flyers will become savvy enough to book elsewhere. If only they didn’t gut AAdvantage…

  4. IMO – Parker and all of the Airline senior staff and their families should be required by federal law to fly coach whenever traveling. Then we would see how long it takes them to widen the seats and increase leg room, and recline for international trips.
    I have been getting CC offers from UA for a long time and have not taken them up on it because I busy gathering bonus signups with airlines that are not trying to give me an enema by squishing me, and no I am not obese.

  5. That’s some pretty impressive writing and reporting from a high school senior. I bet he lands a good industry job when he gets out of school!

  6. What I really don’t understand about these slimline seats is why they offer so little padding on the bottom… I understand the lack of padding on the seat back because this obviously increases overall legroom when you’re trying to jam more seats onto the plane, but why so little padding for the bum? After a flight on these seats, it is always the bum that is hurting the most, by far… why not just add an extra inch or two of padding on the seat bottom, and then maybe people actually won’t notice… wouldn’t decrease leg room or seat count at all, but it would VASTLY improve the customer experience…

  7. @Tom —> I agree that, on the face — er, butt — of it, that doesn’t make any sense. OTOH, I’m sure it ties into overall weight and how that affects fuel economy. After all, it’s the “Bottom” line that counts . . .


    @Gary —> YOU may not mind the disappearance of IFE via seatback screens because you always have your laptop, but when the electronics ban gets extended and expanded, what do we do then?

  8. After 20 years of flying on AA, I’ve dumped them for Alaska/Vitgin or Jet Blue.
    AA has flushed themselves down the toilet with their new Torture Class seating.

  9. @william – have you flown an intra Europe flight on those carriers with slimlines blocked at over 6 hours nonstop?

  10. It’s Doug Parker what did you expect? Remember when they used to charge for soda in Y when he ran Useless Airways? I used to be EXP but he was the reason I decided to just book the best available flight in F for my trips. No longer loyal to any airline.

  11. IFE = Book. Screens or streaming is irrelevant as a factor in my ticket purchasing decisions.

    Two or three rows with 29 inch pitch is also irrelevant to me as a purchasing factor.

    Slimlines suck.

    I prefer the legacy US aircraft to some legacy AA aircraft (A319, ahem)

  12. Has it occurred to anyone that Southwest, with 32-33″ pitch, will soon become thought of as a luxury carrier?

  13. “I’ve sat in the slimline seats and I couldn’t tell the difference. ” – Doug Parker

    When was the last time Doug Parker actually flew in a Coach seat? Revenue passengers get bumped from First / Business class all the time for the CEO.

    Did he actually sit in one for more than a few minutes?

  14. Doug Parker can always fly positive space in F. So if he “sat” in a slimline seat, it’s likely that he did so for a minute or so, with no one else seated next to him. He’s not exactly a small person, he should fly in a middle seat on a full flight between LAX and BOS and see what he has to say about all of the extra room afforded by removing IFE and using slimline seats.

    For a intra-Europe flight, or US domestic flights <3 hours, I could tolerate a slimline seat, but not on a full flight with typical AA obese pax.

  15. Yes, pie him in the face! You think Parker sat in a slimline seat transcon?

    This is it, I’m not renewing AA status anymore.

  16. It really is going to be a flying bus, except that most buses today have decent legroom. A flying chicken bus, then.

  17. They can put their nasty, uncomfortable slim line seats where the sun don’t shine. After a 4 hour flight from LAX to ORD i find my back and my legs to be in terrible pain. not only do the seats have absolutely no padding they also cut the seat bottom shorter to give the appearance of more leg room. That means less support underneath your legs. These seats are unhealthy and anyone who travels regularly is going to end up with lots of health issues because of them. It’s just bad for your body and the airlines know it but could care less because of $$$$$$$. I’ve already stopped flying United because of them and I’ll stop flying AA too.

  18. I find it perplexing how frequently Doug Parker angers passengers with his arrogance. And despite this, he and his US Airways management continue to roll out directives that seem to be hostile to AA passengers.

  19. Slim seats are horrible and not just for heavy folks. When I’ve had the misfortune of flying them in Europe I’ve ended up sitting on my foot to the pressure off my lower back.

    That said, I’m happy about the lack of IFE. I wont fly the 319 because if I get stuck in coach it is miserable. The IFE box so big enough that you can’t put your feet by your bag, and then if you move the bag the box cuts into your leg. It’s a horrible setup, and it amazes me how much space they needed for these.

  20. Just a modest proposal here, but since Parker feels so strongly that these changes don’t suck, he should permanently illustrate this by not only personally flying on the worst seat on any flight, but requiring every single executive and board member (and let’s not forget their families) to do the same at all times under any circumstances. After all, if the big brass are sitting in the middle seat with the new slimline seats, they must be ok. Enjoy that middle seat in the back next to the toilet, Doug!

  21. I hope the unaccompanied minor grows up to be a seven footer. Then we’ll see how much he likes those thin seats on Frontier.

    But maybe Dougie will hire the kid to be a press AAgent. You gotta love this softball question:

    “So, I mean, I know you’re aware of the unfair competition by the Middle Eastern airlines, and I guess what I’m asking is, is there really unfair competition?”

  22. If current trends (shrinking seat pitch, decreased back/bottom cushions, etc.) continue, airlines will soon be putting hardback aluminum shell seats in economy class. Can’t get any thinner than 3/8″ aluminum shells, can they? With aluminum shell seats, they won’t have to worry about punctured seats and cleanups will be a lot easier. Just be sure not to hit your leg, arm or face against the seat edge.

    As for me, perhaps I could pass myself off as an emotional therapy pet to someone traveling in First or Business.

  23. I have met, and even dined with, Doug Parker, on several occasions at analysts’ conferences in the past when my columns and detailed data reports covering the airline industry were published regularly in Planebusiness.

    As I recall, Doug is pretty tall and had a fairly athletic (as in broad) build as well. So I’m a bit sceptical about his claim that the pitch and comfort level of these new Slimline seats is anywhere being near being something he could even fit into with a modicum of “comfort” for a short-hop, let alone a flight from even New York City to Florida (or further).

    When I see him, his family members, and others in the C-suite, regularly appearing with ordinary passengers in “selfies” posted on their social media in these truly awful wooden-like subway station (for those familiar with the ones in NYC or park benches…er…”seats”…for medium and long-haul flights, I might begin to take his word for it that these “seats” are even “passable” for such flights.

    But we all know we’ll see pigs flying across the skies daily and herds of Unicorns galloping all across this land before THAT happens, so I’d take his comments with the grain of salt they so obviously deserve.

  24. Last time I checked “those bulky seatback TVs” never took up much legroom. Guess I was sitting incorrectly.

  25. At this point, it seems like the best thing to do is to continue letting the fools making these decisions keep on at it; for passengers to push back by documenting the effects of the extreme abuse that more and more air travelers are encountering and posting to social media; and continue to offer the airlines all the rope they need to hang themsleves with lawsuits, and ultimately, government regulations.

    It’s manifestly clear that those running the industry are utterly incapable of controlling the impulse for greed at all costs that is behind the rapidly escalating abuses being reported by passengers daily in social media, along with some of the most egregious offenses that get picked up by mass media news outlets.

    So the best thing fare paying passengers can do is continue to record and document everything they either personally encounter, or witness others encountering, that reflects the continued and relentless abuse people experience from the government sanctioned oligopolistic behavior resulting from the lack of meaningful competition now within the industry after the wave of mergers in the past 10 years, and the barriers of entry (capital, gates, facilities, take-off/landing slots, among others) that are now virtually impossible to overcome in the absence of direct and meaningful intervention by the U.S. government at some future point in time to address the lack of competition that is the root cause for these absurd, and patently offensive, “seats” and ridiculous aircraft “densification” cabin configurations announced by American and being “studied” (translation: it’s already done and decided but we have to just wait a few months before announcing to avoid the appearance of collusion) by others (like United).

    The more people speak up and post videos about the insane behaviors either acted out by passengers that result from the constant abuse, disrespect and humiliation that has become an ordinary part of air travel, or the ridiculous and craven policies carried out by stressed out and already overburdened airline employees who are tasked with being the agents of the obscene greed grabs by current airline managers, the better.

    Let the airlines hang themselves. In fact, please bring it on, so we can stop complaining about it, but instead demand from our congresspersons and Senators the type of sensible relief the airlines clearly are unwilling to undertake of their own accord.

  26. Rather than having the execs fly in the new seats, have the Board of Directors of AA fly coach. Then maybe something will change…..

  27. Point of fact: an ordinary NY City transit bus has the exact same 29″-pitch as the seating planned by American. Yes, the EXACT SAME 29″-pitch for a bus whose purpose is to transport people over short distances, for perhaps, up to 90-mins at most if one gets stuck in gridlocked travel attempting to go from one end of the city to the other due to an aversion or phobia of riding the subway!!!

    How seats with 29″, 30″ or even 31″ pitch can be deemed rational or remotely acceptable for trips across an entire continent, or more, is incomprehensible. Unless, of course, we’re calling it the functional equivalent of the “kiddie table” since, really, anyone older than a certain age or below a certain height and weight can fit in these seats to begin with — beginning with the pretty tall and fairly broad Doug Parker.

  28. The fact of the matter is that American is a for profit business that is ruled by Wall Street’s demand to maximize profits. Maximizing profits means providing customers as little as possible while charging them as much as possible for what they get. Normally, competition prevents businesses from abusing customers in the name of profits. The airline industry, however, lacks the requisite level of competition to ensure abuse and exploitation of customers does not occur.

  29. I think we need to have airline executives, and their board of directors, fly in coach, especially the seats that don’t recline at all in front of the exit row.

    Please ask your Congressman to start thinking about how we can regulate this unfriendly industry to 1) hold them accountable for acceptable customer service AND to 2) eliminate their punitive “change” fee policies.

  30. @john —> Respectfully, I disagree with the concept that “. . . competition prevents businesses from abusing customers in the name of profits. The airline industry, however, lacks the requisite level of competition to ensure abuse and exploitation of customers does not occur.”

    There is NOWHERE that American flies which is exclusive to AA. That is, I *do* have alternative carriers from which to choose, and I choose NOT to fly on AA. This is proven by the fact that I haven’t flown them since 2009¹. And at this point, I certainly have every intention of continuing to not fly on AA in the future.

    Insofar as competition, while there are plenty of people who opt for DL or UA on flights that would be serviced by AA’s 737s, I — and many others — prefer to fly on AS/VX, B6, or WN, and do so without sacrificing comfort or service².

    ¹ As I’ve mentioned, I will be flying AA SFO-DFW-MSY r/t to take advantage of a Citi Thank You Point redemption before the devaluation. That said, the 1st and 4th leg are on A321s, while the DFW-MSY leg is on an MD-80 (and thus presents its own problem).

    ² Though food and IFE may be sacrificed if choosing to fly WN, it is a choice the consumer is free to make — while also choosing not to pay luggage fees or changes to one’s itinerary.

  31. I’m 78 years old and I haven’t had a decent flight or phone call since both were deregulated. Oh yuh, and I’m saving a lot of money too.

  32. “ask our congressmen” to regulate the airline industry? LOL. Congress is so corrupt they can’t even investigate something as simple as Russian meddling in our election. Unless they make CASH from the investigation they won’t waste their time.

  33. It’s naive to imagine that once an exec or board member flew cross country in the slimline seats they would return to the slightly more comfortable seats and pitch of the past. They know the seats are uncomfortable. They know our experience is unpleasant. They. Don’t. Care. They are interested in profits and nothing else.

  34. @Mark – Just like nobody seems to care about dead people voting and people voting more than once in presidential elections.

    BTW, how are Russians affecting the election when voting machines aren’t connected to the internet?

  35. I’d like to see these executives fly on a full plane for 4+ hours. Once that happens, then they’ll know what it’s really like in these seats.

  36. @KeninDFW – I’m moving to Fort Worth in a few months so there will be another Ken in DFW soon 😉

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