The Hidden Message in American’s New Tighter 30 Inch Coach Seats

At last week’s American Airlines Media & Investor Day I got a sneak look at the airline’s new coach seats that are spaced more closely together than ever before.

American’s 737s are going to have 30 inches of pitch in regular coach, that’s the distance from seat back to seat back. That’s one fewer inch than they currently offer, and two fewer inches than Southwest.

American wanted to show that the seats aren’t all that bad to sit in. Somewhat counterintuitively they argue that the seat won’t be worse than current coach because of:

  • Less seat padding. Your bum may feel it on a long flight, but legroom is actually the same.
  • No video screens. You may be bored but those take up room.
  • Less recline. You can move your seat back as much, but the person in front of you can’t either.

I don’t think you can get a real feel for a seat either way with a few minutes in a ballroom. That’s a totally different experience than on a packed plane flying Miami – Seattle. As I wrote though,

I did find the new seats tight. Are they tighter than regular coach? It’s hard to say. I appreciated that the seat in front of me didn’t recline much and it was easier to keep my laptop open-ish on my tray table. An extra half inch of width is appreciated.

I don’t think the legroom was especially different. I did feel like it was a claustrophobic seat, and having the seat in front of me closer at shoulder level is where things felt tight.

But what is American Airlines really trying to tell us with these seats? Reader Megan took a closer look at the way American set up the seat and caught a hidden message. Let’s call it the Straussian Reading of American Airlines Economy.

Am I the only one who noticed that the magazine is positioned perfectly in the seat back so that it reads F U?

How terribly appropriate.

Let’s take another look:

The executive setting up the seat for display does have a certain Snidely Whiplash quality don’t you think?

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Was on a Delta MD88 yesterday and the Flight Fuel menu was also perfectly positioned to read FU. They’ve been trying to give us that sentiment for years, just trying to be blunter about it now.

  2. I chose to Stop flying them now I’ll likely never come back even if they fix saver award availability

  3. I still don’t understand why they insist on also removing padding from the BOTTOM of the seat, which has absolutely no impact whatsoever on seat pitch. Sure, it may cause the plane to weigh slightly more, but when you consider that people won’t complain QUITE as much if their asses aren’t sore by the end of the flight, it seems like a worthwhile investment… as it stands right now, it’s difficult to endure even a 2.5 hour flight on the new Spirit slimline seats that offer a similar amount (or lack of) seat cushioning… At least if they kept the padding on the bottom but reduced it on the seat back, it would be more tolerable for longer flights.

  4. ughhhhhhhhhh I was EXP for 3 years and many more as PLT. I refuse to fly AA since 2017 but its almost IMPOSSIBLE from MIA!!! I have avoided them A LOT but still I fly them enough to be GLD………. because they are the only option to my destinations!!

  5. What has been telling for me lately is I had a discussion with my wife recently. She had flown a regional AA jet outbound on a business trip and Southwest on the return. She simply said “I was surprised how much nicer and bigger the Southwest seats seemed”.
    Sure this was a regional jet experience but that is about what 30″ is like many times.

  6. It is very obvious what AA is trying to tell us. They are telling us that they could care less about our comfort or safety and if you are a large person you better buy a FC seat. Gary looked ridiculous sitting in the seat. Can you imagine flying 4-5 hours in that tiny crammed in space?

  7. Ugh. Living in Philadelphia, one of the few options we have for certain routes is AA. I’m getting so sick and tired of being nickel and dimed to death by these greedy airlines. It’s just never enough! I have to find other options.

    PS–I have flown different airlines to get to places like Tokyo and Singapore. My ass is ridiculously sore after a few hours. I can’t imagine taking AA to Rome now with 30″ seats and less padding.

    Please! Save us from this.

  8. Simple solution. Fly another airline or upgrade your seat. But if you’re so pathetically cheap to fly econ, don’t complain about being treated like cattle.

  9. I agree with Gabriella (and also live in Philly so sometimes find myself flying AA more than I would like to) but I would point out that (for now) the 30″ pitch seats will not be for flights to Rome or other international destinations. As far as I’m concerned, I will continue to vote with my wallet. Basic Economy for the price that Economy? Will fly a different carrier whenever I have a choice.. 30″ seats on a 737? Won’t book domestic on AA any more. I have no problem driving to NYC or even WAS to fly other carriers. Screw AA. The final FU is on them (and Parker).

  10. @MisterM seriously? On most planes/routes, 90% or more of the plane is economy… are you really accusing 90% of the population of being pathetically cheap? Get off your high horse and grow up.

  11. Tom- It would be interesting to see what would happen if seat spacing could be controlled electronically and pax could pay for as much or as little space as they wanted, down to the 1/2 inch.

  12. @Tom, the lack of cushioning in the seat bottom is also for your benefit. Having less cushioning improves headroom

  13. Take a look at that picture and its confined area of mobility.

    Now remember back to your most recent flight and think of all the different passengers of different sizes.

    I recall quite a few pax that were over 250-300 lbs and severely obese. And yes, they will suffer for their own weight issues with the reduction in space.

    But anyone sitting next to them will also suffer due to the confined area. AA’s decision to reduce that area by shrinking the seat pitch will make a flight unbearable for all involved.

    Not to mention, what happens if a 300+ lb passenger is seated in an aisle seat and there’s an emergency requiring an evacuation? How quickly will ALL THREE passengers on that row be able to vacate their seats in an emergency?

    I think AA needs to reevaluate this for safety reasons.

  14. Are they really saying that people can be evacuated from these seats in under 90 seconds? 70% of Americans are overweight (36% obese)… if they represented the population correctly and filled 70% of the plane with heavy-set people… they will NOT be able to evacuate in under 90 seconds.

    Looking at those pictures makes me feel claustrophobic. With some turbulence, that guy’s knees will slam into the front seat.

    I hope people choose another airline to protest against this so this doesn’t eventually become the norm. If they kept “regular” economy the same (price-wise) I wouldn’t mind having this on heavily discounted “basic” economy (then I’d at least have a choice!).

    Also, I can’t believe someone above commented that people who choose economy is “pathetically cheap.” Soooooooooo sorry that most people can’t afford to spend $3-5000+ for business class. Ugh.

  15. To Doug Parker: I’m sure you pride yourself and your team on your math skills, but I think you’re missing it here, big time. Let this LAX based flyer do the equation for you:

    Lifetime Gold and still loyal (me) – point devaluation – unicorn saver space – 2 inches of pitch – IFE = Southwest

  16. Wonder if Parker and his clique with the other US3 blame the lousy seats on the government subsidized ME3? Such a convenient excuse it could be…

    Even with a pro-capitolism Congress (on a selective basis), the only manner our health and safety will not be impaired with such pathetic seats is if the passengers/public petition Congress to get into action and require the FAA to amend the rules ASAP. As an option, Congress can always have the FAA relax the rules against foreign carriers and allow more 5th freedom and strictly local flights to hammer our “Gang of 3” carriers.

    The first crash with those crummy seats will make some personal injury attorneys very wealthy.

  17. American Airlines can do this only because WE let them. Enough is enough. It’s time to Boycott companies that provide SUBPAR SERVICES & PRODUCTS. This will continue as long as people are paying for those pathetic seats. The only way they listen is when we vote with our dollars. This applies to all companies, not just the airlines. I have FIRED several companies in 2017 due to poor services or products, and have not looked back. STOP, STOP, STOP supporting this insanity! When planes constantly leave empty they will have no choice but to return to a higher level of customer service. This is EASY to fix. Give your hard earned dollars to an airline that deserves it. If you buy these seats, DON’T BLAME AA!!!

  18. I keep reading about “new seats ” and new configurations in planes.
    I wonder how much money the airlines spend buying seats and reconfiguring the planes.
    All that money and effort to gain an inch front to back.
    What does that add to their bottom line?
    One more row of miserable customers?
    I wonder if they have done a cost benefit calculation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *