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Decrease in American Airlines Coach Legroom on the Way


Airline passengers within the United States have had a significant amount to complain about in the over the course of the last three weeks, but they can soon add an additional item to the list: Later this year, American Airlines intends to give some passengers almost as little legroom as some of the most hard-hitting discount airlines.

An American Airlines spokesman revealed this past Tuesday that the carrier’s Boeing 737 Max jets, which are expected to first to arrive later this year, will have merely 30 inches of seat pitch in most coach seats—thus providing passengers with an inch less space than in the airline’s older model 737s.

Worse, “up to three rows” will have 29-inch pitch, which about equal to the extremely low-cost carriers, including Frontier Airlines, give passengers. With the exception of the discounters—who normally have 28 or 29 inches of pitch—US airlines have been disinclined to decrease the standard pitch below 30 inches.

In the context of aircraft, pitch is defined as the distance from any spot on a seat to the exact same spot on the seat directly in front of it.

American Airlines did not enter into specifics on how it plans to determine which passengers sit in the rows with the least legroom. However, the spokesman said that the passengers will barely notice having less room because the difference will be so minimal.

“The seats we’ll use on the MAX are designed to maximize personal living space, while allowing more comfort, even in arrangement like this where the pitch is a little tighter,” the spokesman explained. As of now, American Airlines has placed 100 firm orders for the jets.

The news of the projected seat changes was initially divulged by CNN. The CNN story claimed that United Airlines is contemplating a change on some of its planes that will be similar to the change by American Airlines. Currently, United Airlines offers a pitch of 30 or 31 inches in the majority of coach seats.

CNN reported that the new setup will enable American Airlines to include at least 10 additional seats than on the 300 737s it already has in its fleet. American Airlines refused to reveal the exact 737 Max seat count with Skift, but the spokesman of the carrier declared that the new 737s will maintain 16 first class seats. American Airlines also intends to keep some seats with extra legroom for frequent flyers and travelers who pay extra.

The American Airlines spokesman revealed that the airline is deliberating “something similar” for the older 737s. They presently have 160 seats, which is 10 more than American Airlines had on the aircraft prior to its alliance with US Airways. Directly prior to the merger between the carrier, new management rapidly added seats.

Adding seats has been a focal point for a majority of US airlines throughout the past few years, being that carriers commonly argue that by offering more seats, they can diminish their costs for each individual one, and thus sell cheaper tickets.

Airlines have been doing what they can to maximize the space of their vessels, including the shrinking of bathrooms and the reducing of galley space, but they generally seem unable to avoid the necessity to decrease legroom as well. Even JetBlue Airways, notorious for offering more space than most of the competition, is planning to reduce pitch on its A320s and A321s. However, despite this reduction, JetBlue Airways will still be relatively spacious considering it aims to have about 32 inches of pitch in regular economy.

American Airlines’ alterations should not come across as a shock. Last week, on the carrier’s first quarter earnings call, President Robert Isom insinuated that American Airlines would shortly be increasing the number of seats on some of its 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,” Isom asserted.

Although the strategy makes sense in terms of business, lawmakers and consumer advocates are generally not in favor of the decision by American Airlines to employ this. Ironically, this decision divulged on the same day as a US House of Representatives Committee held a hearing regarding airline customer service. Various lawmakers criticized airlines in declaring that they must begin addressing passenger complaints, or the Congress may work to enact greater regulations on the industry.

Featured Image via Wikimedia.

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