American’s Worst-Ever Coach Product Goes On Sale Tomorrow, Inaugural Flight November 29

At the end of April I broke that American was looking to add a bunch of seats to its new Boeing 737 MAX jets. A few days later it was revealed that the plan involved reducing seat pitch — the distance from seat back to seat back — in 3 rows of economy from 31 inches down to 29 inches, shrinking the rest of coach from 31 inches to 30 inches, and even smaller lavatories than are offered today.

Current American Airlines Boeing 737-800 Economy Cabin

In other words, American was planning to offer tighter seating than any other US legacy airline had ever offered before.

There was enormous public backlash, and there was embarrassment inside the company. So they sort of backed off that plan. Instead of 3 rows with 29 inch pitch, they said each row of regular coach would have 30 inches — still less than ever before — and they’d gain the 3 inches needed to do that by eliminating one row of ‘Main Cabin Extra’ seating.

Put another way, there were would six fewer seats on the aircraft that customers could hope to escape into for more legroom.

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

Not to worry, we’ve been told, because they’ll make up for reduced legroom with less comfortable seats. Slimline seats have less padding, so the amount of ‘legroom’ each seat has can remain the same even while reducing the distance between seats by an inch.

These new planes also won’t offer any seat back entertainment, which isn’t so important to me but matters to many readers.

Seatback TVs are Going Away, Just Like Legroom

However they will offer faster satellite internet and power at every seat. That at least is a significant step for this management. After America West acquired US Airways they removed power from the US Airways planes that already had it. The idea was to reduce weight and save fuel.

According to The Forward Cabin, American internal documents show that the first Boeing 737 MAX flight will be loaded into computer reservation systems tomorrow. The aircraft designation will be ’38M’ and its first scheduled revenue flights will be between New York LaGuardia and Miami on November 29 however they may fly the plane earlier on an aircraft substitution basis.

Remember that 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). Even Delta allows full-sized carry on bags onboard with their cheapest economy fares.

Customers do have a choice, and they need to be educated about that choice.

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. Look at it this way. With all those amazing new seats in the back they can release more award space 🙂
    Oh, actually I shouldn’t have said that or they will start opening up basic economy only awards 🙁

  2. “There was enormous public backlash, and there was embarrassment inside the company. So they sort of backed off that plan” to provide really bad seating. Yea, they are going to try to sneak it in and hope to avoid the backlash. It has been several years of almost continuous bad news coming out of American Airlines. Delta s*cks, but United and American are keeping them in business by their being ahead of them in their race to the bottom.

  3. Delta has been using those tiny tiny bathrooms in the 739 and 320 renovations. it brings a new meaning to sideways sink. Its like squeezing into a RJ lav.

  4. Many of us have only one choice…do we want to fly non-stop uncomfortably or connect uncomfortably.

  5. The seatback screens matter a lot to me, because watching movies and shows on a phone is a pain. Also, AA has more recent movies than are available to download on streaming services.

  6. Its not worst yet, since a good service (however unlikely by grandmas) can turn nightmare into sweetdreams. They have yet exercising kung-fu panda to their customer as another US airline famously known for…..

  7. I’ve been keeping with AA and DL avoiding UA basic economy. Note I’ll avoid any flights on this aircraft on AA.

    Swa still good for short haul on West coast.

  8. “customers do have a choice,” yeah and they always choose the cheapest ones. Only bloggers or the 1%ers pick and choose airlines for amenities. The rest of the plebs pick the cheapest fare, which is why airlines like Spirit and Ryanair continue to make record profits. The only loser here is the frequent flier to wants to get as much free amenities by spending as little as possible.

  9. I am lucky I live in an area that is served by a gazillion airline. co.. But American is the dominant force.

    I love Jetblue , SWE, Virgin , and try to avoid the big ones as much as I can.

    While the airports have improved design and ammenities, airlines have to keep up with inflation costs and a cheap, cheap customer base

    Most expect to fly coach withh all the first class comfort and ammenities but at the same time wont pay more than 1990 listed prices.

    We deserve what we get!

  10. Southwest and JetBlue don’t fly where I need to go. Strike 1.

    Southwest has no assigned seating. Strike 2.

    Southwest has no meaningful elite program and no premium seating. Strike 3.

    Southwest’s a decent airline. It’s not the savior everyone wants it to be.

  11. Tony. I’m not a blogger nor a 1%er. I do pay for sear assignments or try to fly on Delta where my platinum status lets me upgrade to comfort+. It’s worth spending a bit more for my creature comfort. Oh yeah I’m only 5’8′ but even 31′ inch pitch is a huge squeeze to me

  12. Would love to fly anyone else but AA Boston to Phoenix but AA has the best non stops.. Jet Blue should take note and change their schedule so you don’t have to take a red eye back to Boston.

  13. The previous new 737s were a pain because you lost lots of legroom due to the caged electronics. Will those go away now, or do they stay because of the power outlets? I switched from UA as 1K million miler to AA when United greatly devalued benefits after the CO merger. With the race to the bottom in comfort, I thank my parents every day that I’m only six feet tall. MCE on AA is a joke anyway, the only seats seem to be bulkhead and exit row. I guess it’s now time to just fly whoever is cheapest, because I get very little extra comfort for my extra spend to maintain elite status.

  14. If you’re tall and it’s a real issue, buy the economy comfort seat upgrade.

    Let them eat cake I say!

  15. Besides eliminating legroom, do the new slimline seats eliminate reclining too? If not it will be very
    difficult to get from the window seat to the aisle. Not sure being penned in a economy seat is a good way to travel.

  16. Peter Flato: when you get around to pleading with JetBlue on the Boston/Phoenix route and their gawdawfull overnight return, please put a word in for us in Albuquerque. We have ONE nonstop per day from New York City. It is from JFK, arriving 4.5 long hours later at midnight and returning another 4.5 long hours. Lovely to be dumped at JFK at 6AM with no sleep.

  17. Until I personally SEE the New Seat on the New Aircraft, I would not be too quick too judge. If the Galley Area is reduced….That is not an Issue for Any Pax (even the so Called Airline Critics like Mr. Leff). Smaller Bathrooms may not be something I would recommend with the Public’s greatly E-x-p-a-n-d-i-n-g Backsides, but It is What It Is. Where the Issue truly lies is in a Department of Transportation/FAA refusing to intervene and REQUIRE a Standard of Seat and Cabine Comfort to provide adequate and acceptable transportation. Blame the Spirit’s/Frontier’s and other Bottom feeders that Stuff an Aircraft with Seats, offer Rock Bottom fares (where even They cannot be making much of a profit) and Passengers continue to patronage yet Piss/Bitch and Moan when They Really Want a Better Travel Experience but are UNWILLING to Pay for It. The MarketPlace is Speaking and Correcting Itself……YOU want Cheap, You Get Cheap.

  18. I got stuck in Main Cabin on one of American’s A319s running the shuttle from DCA to BOS yesterday. They’ve snuck this same seat configuration (30″ pitch in slimline seats) onto those planes as well, although admittedly they seem to mostly use them for shorter flights like the Northeast shuttle.

  19. Reece,
    Where have you been recently — oh, say since 2000? Airlines have cut back flights so much that there IS no choice. As lonesomecowboy above you points out, the is ONE non-stop flight from Albuquerque to ANY place on the East Coast north of Baltimore, departing 30 minutes after midnight, arriving 6am at JFK. There is also ONE Southwest flight to BWI each day. Moving on down, the next non-stop eastward is Atlanta. Where is any choice in that set-up?

    So, all of you, cut it out with the nonsense about voting for cheap. It is absolutely not true for much of the country.

    My experience is that it is a choice between the Titanic lifeboat and last-flight out of Saigon: grit your teeth and go.

    This is hardly the primary reason, but I recently left Albuquerque. Discretionary travel has become too damned unpleasant and not really cheap at all. I don’t always have the choice I recently made which was Amtrak sleeper to Chicago and non-stop to Helsinki

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