It’s Official: American Is Cutting Economy Legroom By Up To Two Inches

Filed Under: American

As if the US legacy carriers couldn’t get any worse…

Yesterday I posted about the rumor of American installing 174 seats on their upcoming Boeing 737 MAX orders, which would represent a capacity increase of 14 seats over their current (already tight) Boeing 737s. I speculated that American would eliminate a row of first class in order to accommodate this, and even then it would be a very tight fit.


Well, it looks like we now have our answer, and it’s very bad news for customers. CNN Money is reporting that American will have over 170 seats on their 737 MAX aircraft. The good news is that American is allegedly keeping 16 first class seats, and is also keeping their extra legroom economy cabin (that’s at least good news for elite members).

However, American will be reducing seat pitch (the distance between each row) for three rows from 31″ to 29″, and for the remainder of the cabin will be reducing seat pitch to 30″. On top of that, American will be shrinking the size of some of the bathrooms on the plane.

First of all, I’m not sure exactly how American can make the lavatories on the 737 any smaller — they’re already tiny.

Second of all, I thought fitting in 174 seats while taking out a row of first class would make the cabin tight. However, fitting in roughly that many seats while not reducing the number of first class seats is even more puzzling. I can’t even begin to imagine how tight the economy cabin will be.

American has 100 of these 737 MAX aircraft on order, and will be taking delivery of their first one later this year.

There’s no denying that the quality gap between the legacy airlines and the ultra low cost airlines has been shrinking over the past few years, though at least the legacy airlines have still offered a bit more legroom. Even that advantage is going away now, as American is going to have similar legroom to what you’ll find on Spirit or Frontier. Of course they do all this while using the marketing tagline that they’re “going for great.” Really? Perhaps they should revise it to “going for every last cent.”

And to think that American used to have these advertisements about their economy legroom:

The article also reports that United is apparently also considering reducing legroom to 29″.

It’s a sad day for the legacy airlines. Hell, let’s just call it a sad decade…

  1. Oh my god, this is terrible. 29” is inhumane. I’m 6’3” and my legs barely fit into 31” (usually my knees touch the seat in front of me). If someone reclines, I’m in pain for the whole flight. If someone reclines when pitch is 29”…I don’t even know, it’s game over for my legs and back for a few days.

    The legacy carriers are so pathetic. I miss actual airline competition.

  2. I fly mostly American these days due to business travel and corporate contracts, but their coach service has long been poor (along with United) and is getting worse, as this post points out. Delta, however, is much better and will likely remain so. It’s sad we are losing Virgin as their coach service was also very good. JetBlue is fine, and at least Southwest is consistent.

    Overall, given the endless complaints about American on this blog and elsewhere, its time bloggers start focusing more on airlines that customers seem to like (Delta, JetBlue, Southwest).

  3. Wow, for comparison, Air Asia offers 29″ pitch and those seats are really tight. For a short haul fine, but I would not want to be on a JFK-LAX flight in that

  4. Time to add some govt regulations. Richard Branson may not have much trouble restarting Virgin America…

  5. I was lucky enough to fly LAX to JFK yesterday and it was the first day of AA meal service in Economic class!
    Wow you got a cheese box or a yogurt box.
    And it was free!!! Xoxoxoox

  6. At what point does this become a health and safety hazard? People need room to move in the event of an emergency evacuation. Then there’s the risk of DVT in part from not being able to move much in such cramped quarters. This is getting ridiculous.

  7. A bunch of airline execs on the hill were literally told yesterday that if they didn’t improve customer service, they would face tighter regulations.

    This is a giant middle finger to everyone who runs DC and the people who fly their airline. American will massively dilute the quality of an already deteriorating product to the detriment of everyone on board to squeeze out an extra nickel for themselves. How can this end well for anyone?

  8. It’s long overdue for the American people to come together and get Congress — its members are some of our biggest flyers — to overwhelmingly come together and mandate minimum seat/cabin comfort standards for carriers serving the US.

    Otherwise we are going to end up with having the most miserable experience possible under one corporate apologist excuse or another.

  9. Oh how I miss the days when it fares were sky high, every carrier charged the same fare, and airlines competed solely on service. Anyone who supported airline deregulation in the late 70’s should not be surprised or disappointed at the state of the airline industry today. As long as the traveling public demands the absolute lowest fare possible, and shareholders equally demand the maximum return on their investment, the traveling experience will continue to deteriorate.

  10. I think the level of space and comfort and service on an airplane today are still far superior than other choices, say Greyhound. And the price of air tickets are lower than buses. Not sure where all the complaints come from then.

  11. GUWonder why should they legislate, aren’t you an adult whom can bring your business elsewhere than AA.

  12. Ugh I agree this is bad news. Do you think AA will continue to overbook flights or is increasing the # of seats in a plane part of the answer to not overbook a flight?

  13. Meh. Plenty of other carriers have pitch at 30 inches or 29 inches.

    United likely doing something similar

    MRTC was a market failure. People can whine and complain all they want, but the market prioritizes low cost above all.

    And do you seriously think THIS government is going to impose more regulations? lol.

  14. Looks like good news to me. More seats will be made available to redeem all those CC sign up bonus miles on. More people can be made happy with a free flight.

  15. This is basically just giving people what they want. There is always the option to buy more legroom. So it’s becoming more “get what you pay for” with less bundled benefits. This is what he consumer wants.

  16. @Roberto — The fact that bus seats are uncomfortable does not mean it is okay that airline seats are uncomfortable. It’s a logical fallacy: Bad practices shouldn’t be excused because there’s something else out there that’s worse.

    Interestingly, you see politicians do this all the time when they’re accused on wrong-doing. “Yeah, okay, but look what THIS politician did.” Okay, great, that’s two bad things then, but it still doesn’t excuse anyone.

  17. Americans will complain for a while but they’ll continue to sink their fat arses into these seats and carry on as normal, and the industry knows it.

  18. @Nick – it’s not “giving consumers what they want” when it’s been demonstrated BE just raises prices across the board, and the new BE price was just the old lowest fare

  19. I have flown Spirit and Frontier lately coming from AA (gold elite) because of price. Ultimately it’s not the seat pitch reduction that perturbs me because I get that on the ULCCs. It’s that the price of those seats will not actually compete with ULCCs when the conversion is complete. This hurts people who need to fly AA (and UA) economy because of location, business restriction or ultimate destination. They just want the incremental revenue from people upgrading into seats with increased legroom. I don’t know how people flocking to other airlines suddenly spring back because the situation is now comparable to ULCCs. Price is king.

  20. I’m not that tall so for me 29″ is just about OK for short flights – say 2 hours or less – as long as the seats don’t recline. EasyJet in the UK has this and I think it’s probably better than BA’s 31″ with recline. But for anything longer it would be dreadful.

    We fly a lot on AA long haul and I’m alarmed at how they are downgrading the economy cabin. Fortunately, we still have status and can always get Main Cabin Extra seats at least, and often get upgrades to Business or First. Of course now they’ve also downgraded the AAdvantage programme we’re likely to lose our status next year too and could be condemned to horrors of the economy cabin.

    Time to change airline? Trouble is they all seem similarly bad.

  21. The race to the bottom continues…

    Does legroom matter to me? YES! Does service matter to me? YES! Do those things matter more than price to me? ABSOLUTELY. I’ll be voting with my dollars on this one. B6/DL have been getting the majority of my domestic travel dollars for a few years now and it looks like it’ll be that way for the foreseeable future.

    @Mike: You’ve got it right. I didn’t get to experience life under airline regulation, but even life on the airlines in the late 1980s/early 1990s was substantially better than it is today. I hear people talk about high prices, but prices for domestic flights in the USA are absolutely insane compared to what many international routes go for. I don’t know that I can even use the word “service” with what the US airlines dish out at the public. Possibly contempt or disservice.

  22. When US Airways first bought American, Doug Parker, the head of US Airways, indicated that US Airways would bring its service and planes up to the level of the then American Airlines. However, since the merger, most of the old US Airways planes continue to be sub-standard, lacking TVs, power at seats, etc. On top of that, American has recently decided to stop ordering any more of its new planes with PTVs in a race to the bottom. In addition, AAdvantage MileSAAver award availability has become totally non-existant for many routes. This latest salvo of American trying to squeeze even more money from its flights at the expense of its passengers is the last straw for me. I plan to redeem my existing AAdvantage miles for travel on a OneWorld partner when I can and do all of my future domestic travel on Delta and jetBlue.

  23. This is a direct result of constant consumer demand for lower fares without sacrificing seat size, pitch, free meals etc. It’s kind of like taxes – people want all sorts of government services but they don’t want to pay for them. There is a democratic solution for the flying public however – book your flights and pay for them according to space and amenities, or stop your whining and sit in a sardine can and “stay thirsty my friends.” Your call.

  24. Does anyone know if they are actually going to invest in some Recaro type seats? I was on a WOW air 321 with 38 rows and with the recaro seats it was actually quite comfortable. I don’t think the trade-off always has to be about legroom if they can invest in more efficient seats.

  25. American needs to remove the ability to recline the seats in economy where they are implementing this enhanced iron maiden seat pitch. If they think air rage is a problem now, just wait until someone reclines their seat on these planes with the new configuration.

  26. Those slimline lav’s will deter people from using them and reduce maintenance cost. I think we might also see a reduction in FA jumpseats

  27. This is less than Ryanair’s 30 inch seat pitch. I won’t be surprised to see United follow. In the meantime I’ll be flying with other airlines.

  28. The folks at Citi Prestige new what they were doing by cutting Admirals club as a benefit and devaluing redemption on american ! Clever move after all !

  29. That’s worse than being dragged down an aisle.
    Once due to a plane swap got one of those 29″ seats, and promised myself it will be the last time.
    Hope no one books those seats so AA loses money on each flight.

  30. This is the airline industry equivalent of the “wealth gap” where business class and steerage continue to get farther apart. The wealthy are catered to and the rest of us can just suck it.

  31. Oh, well. At least the shareholders must be happy with that – after all, it’s only Wall St. happiness that matters.

  32. So….are the three rows that have the 29″ pitch rather than the 30″ in the rest of economy going to be cheaper? Or is it going to be people booking last minute who are already paying higher fares that get stuck with them, for an additional kick in the pants?

  33. Anyone who is a CO-UA Flyer knows the hell that flying the Smisek era 737-900 is…AA is just falling in line with that with their MAX purchase…AA will learn the same lesson UA has, it’s not a 757 no matter how much Boeing changes the numbers on it, or adds fancy advertising names, lighting, or engine cowlings…To be on any 737 above the 800 series is torture…Personally, I blame Boeing just as much as the Airlines…

  34. The problem with the concept of allowing passengers to “choose” to pay for more legroom is highly misleading. Many of those seats will be taken by elites and if you don’t have the luxury of booking early, none will be left. Back in the ’80’s when smoking was allowed on flights, I was often assigned to a seat in the smoking section (as a non-smoker) because the non-smoking seats were taken.

    What really amazes me is the fact that legroom has been an issue for the past twenty years and during that time Americans keep getting bigger and taller and seats and legroom have been getting smaller. And It will only get worse until people lobby Washington to intervene and start regulating this. Health and safety of passengers should prevail over airline greed. Just pay a few more dollars for your flight and be comfortable and safe.

  35. I also dislike the loss of what we have available to us currently, but you can always pay extra if you prioritize other facets of the experience over price. Those who already pay extra (through volume of business via status or pure amenity purchase) already receive these benefits and will continue to receive.

    The overall issue is and always has been that people in aggregate value price above all else when it comes to BIS – we continue our long march into domestic travel essentially as a flying bus (which for the majority of folks reading this blog, it already is).

  36. I think the airlines are simply responding to physical trends. It has been known for a long time that the average height of humans is shrinking. Not only that, but thanks to Michelle Obama’s healthy eating campaign, Americans are also much thinner. Lastly, flying in the US is at an all-time best with regard being the least stressful means of transportation.

    So when you factor all these fake facts together, it makes absolutely zero sense at all.

  37. I tweeted my frustration about cramming more seats in, but given the reply i received from AA CR about the lack of Saaver award seats, I imagine any reply will be just as useless (they said they were sorry that I found no value in EXP status, which is no where close to what I had written).

    Sigh. How greatly (sic) things have changed in the last 3.5 years.

  38. I gotta bank some more miles so I can have one big business class flight then just avoid planes for another 5 years and just travel by car…come on Elon, build that Hyperloop already!

  39. Does anyone think that Doug Parker (or any member of the AA Corporate Executive Team for that matter) has actually EVER flown in economy class? He certainly has never had the need to try to redeem AAdvantage miles for a ticket. I have 450k miles sitting in my AAdvantage account waiting to be used, but I refuse to waste 60 or 70k miles on a domestic economy seat because there aren’t any Economy MileSavver seats available. Haved been based in Texas for 20 years and due to my business geography (all domestic travel), my only options for flights are UA, AA or SWA, so long ago, I chose what I thought was the lesser of three evils. Extremely disappointing to see what has become of AA.

  40. This is a dystopian nightmare. If it weren’t true, it could be from The Onion.

    I’d love to have sat in on their internal planning sessions – just to comprehend the depths of their idiocy. The economics are transparent (hell, I’m sure they’d make us stand up if they could). But what I want to know is if they understand that they’ve crossed the line of simply decency and physical capacity to withstand confinement. If they don’t understand that, they should. But I bet they do – and that’s even worse.

  41. Lol. The guy who makes the decision is the one that will benefit the most from it. The CEO and his fatter bonus, if he can still sell those seats.

    Unless people vote with their wallets and say enough is enough, or petition to have minimum seat space legalised, this will be the new normal.

    Or, dont fly..if u can help it.

  42. It really rather interesting… the airlines all keep telling us they have to make economy more miserable because people only care about the cost when searching for flights. And yet, between elite status changes, cheapening the value of award flights, and racing to the bottom in Y they give us no reason NOT to compare only the cost. I guess the collective corporate decision has been that Y is steerage and Y+ is for the people who otherwise care about arriving with legs still attached at the knee.

    On another note, I’d imagine at a certain level of pitch it does become a regulatory concern of whether everyone can evacuate in the required time.

  43. I flew American between Philly and Dallas on a strength 737 – it was tiiiiight!! I think they’ve already started …

  44. I implore everyone to constantly tweet american about this. Tell them what a fat POS Doug Parker is. Complain about it constantly to every FA. They’ll get the message eventually.

  45. @Brian – tweet = good, and call the House Aviation Subcommittee (202-226-3220 and email [email protected]) and chairman Bill Shuster. If there’s any issue today in Washington that has the potential for bipartisan support – this is it.

  46. I seem to recall years ago AA did something about better seat width and pitch, and charged higher fares, this was before Main Cabin Extra, do I have that right? And then they were losing too much money? It is race to the bottom by both airlines AND their customers!

  47. Could someone PLEASE explain how they configure 170 seats? If there are 16 F, that leaves 154 in coach. 154 does not divide by 6, so how will this work? So many frantic stories about this, yet no one seems to stop and actually think about this. The math doesn’t work.

  48. We should celebrate this accomplishment by AA. This is a triumphant display of capitalism’s finest achievement! If there is a demand for cheap fare, there will be supply of 25-28” pitch seat. 🙂 As consumers, we can either start losing weight (AA Executive CC should include free membership at 24hr Fitness) or pay for Main Cabin Extra.
    As matter of fact, I think AA and NK should merge. Their new name should be know as Spirit of America! Hahah!

  49. How will I be able to tell (when booking flights) if I’m flying on the aircraft with the smaller pitch seats?

  50. I gotta be honest, at 6’1″ and a non-elite, I fly whoever lets me pre-book “extra legroom” seats at a reasonable price. I remember back in the day when you couldn’t reserve those seats in advance unless you were an elite or a full-Y fare… and I learned to watch upgrade windows and snag those seats as elites got upgraded.

    I fly all over the world, and I don’t mind Ryan Air and Air Asia — I buy the bundled fares that give me access to that seat with extra legroom. When I price out a ticket, the question isn’t who gives me the most legroom in a standard coach seat, but who lets me sit in the exit row for the cheapest total price. (EasyJet and AirAsia make it easier with their bundled fares, as I always check bags on those flights. Less so in the US.)

    I actually do appreciate the ability to buy the extra legroom seats. Remember, AA tried MRTC several years ago, and people weren’t willing to pay for it. I’m willing to pay for extra legroom, other people aren’t. This aspect of unbundling (for better or for worse) gives those the willingness and ability to pay more the opportunity to do so, and those that don’t wan’t to pay for it, don’t have to. AA and UA had two different approaches; UA’s approach won, and AA’s didn’t. The market really did speak.

  51. AA First Class or JetBlue…thats all thats left.

    When in economy, (im 6’1), I always stretch my leg in the corridor. If theyre gonna keep making seats tighter, sorry not sorry I will stretch my big ass leg in the corridor. I need to breathe, yall.

  52. Every time the US3 reduce service/legroom/perks/… there is an outcry – and then the majority of travelers go back to buying the cheapest fare without any consideration for the hard product or service…
    The airlines are not evil – they are businesses that give their customers what they are asking for: The majority want cheap fares above all, a few are willing to pay for Economy+/Premium Economy/Business Class, so the airlines are differentiating their product offerings and will keep doing it to maximize profits…

  53. Why aren’t people marching about this ? They’re marching about everything else….this is horrendous ! Economy is already like a can of sardines.

  54. As an AA elite, my disgust for AA doesn’t have to do with the airline researching whether it makes business sense to provide discomfort to their customers. My disgust with AA has to do with the fact that AA is forging ahead with this terrible business plan DESPITE the outrage from customers and Congress’ warnings to the US 3 this week.

    It’s ridiculous how incredibly arrogant the AA Executive Management are, especially after they were hauled before a bipartisan committee.

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