Rumor: American to Admit Defeat, Give Passengers More Space in Coach

In late 2017 American Airlines rolled out a new coach product. It featured less space than ever between seats (not just in coach, but less space for extra legroom coach and even for first class). There was less recline, too, and no seat back video. They found space for more seats by squeezing inches out of the lavatories. And they found space by taking padding out of the seats.

Not only was this new interior what’s going into their new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, but they’ve been taking more comfortable Boeing 737-800s and ripping out those interiors to match what I’ve sometimes called “Torquemada configuration.”

And they’re brgining on new Airbus A321neos that will have a similar setup, and which serves as the basis for retrofitting their existing A321s also. In other words, this is the new domestic configuration for American Airlines.

However this is one uncomfortable product, and not just in coach. The seats themselves are tough to take for flights over 3 hours, and they’re being used on seven hour flights. First class seats even don’t have proper underseat storage, and have a bar that protrudes from the seat back.

It’s no surprise that American realizes they have a problem earning a revenue premium for a product that doesn’t deserve one, and in fact their financials show they lose money flying and only make money as a company from selling frequent flyer miles to banks.

There are rumors swirling in social media that American may do something about it, and reverse course (slightly) on what is internally referred to as ‘Project Oasis’ taking existing planes and turning them into torture tubes.

JonNYC who usually has excellent sources weighs in to suggest he had heard such things several months ago and that it’s possible something is in the works.

One version of the rumor has them removing a single row of coach seats, restoring 31 inches of pitch (distance from seat back to seat back) in economy. Another version has them removing a single row of Main Cabin Extra (extra legroom coach) to accomplish the same thing.

When American’s plan for their domestic fleet was first announced it was revealed they intended to go as low as 29 inches from seat back to seat back with some seats. The ensuing outcry caused them to back off and hold the line at 30 inches (down from a traditional 31 inches). They did this by reducing the number of extra legroom coach rows. Aside from exit rows deemed ‘Main Cabin Extra’ they have just 3 rows of extra legroom seats at the front of economy on the Boeing 737 MAX and reconfigured 737-800s.

Taking away even more extra legroom coach seats would be a huge problem. Aside from customers who book a month or two out there’s little chance to get one of those. That means their valuable customers won’t have a shot of a slightly less bad economy experience when not buying (their degraded) first class product. It’s already super tough to get, this would make it near-impossible.

An extra inch at each standard coach seat would help, but the seats still lack sufficient padding for all but the shortest of flights and still lack seat back video (which matters little to me but customers in general love, which is why Delta is committed to them).

Ultimately the most common rumor is of a slight tweak to American’s worst product, not a run at making the product better than average.

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. @Kerry,

    I agree, the DL A220s are some of the best planes out there. More comfortable seats and they reinforce DL’s commitment to double down on IFE seat back screens. And in the case of the A220 not only did they commit to keeping IFE screens but they up’d the game by placing yet even larger screens in the seat backs and doing so with a state of the art wireless interface. DL’s – NPS – Net Promoter Scores – show that having IFE seat back screens translates into increased NPS scores.

  2. I work for AA. I purchase tickets on DL for travel. Sad to see what has come of my once great airline.

  3. Every year I ask.myself, why should I continue to support AA? I have been a Gold member for over 6 years and every year it seems that there is diminishing returns. I am considering not bothering this year and moving on to another airline rewards program.

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