American Backtracks On 29″ Seat Pitch, Yay?

Filed Under: American

Last month started with news that American Airlines would be installing 174 seats on their upcoming Boeing 737 MAX orders. That would represent a capacity increase of 14 seats over their current (already tight) Boeing 737s.

This was to be achieved by reducing seat pitch (the distance between each row) for three rows from 31″ to 29″, with the remainder of the economy cabin having an also-reduced 30″ pitch. American also announced that the lavatories would somehow (shockingly) being reduced in size to make the entire configuration workable.

Obviously, this was a disappointing development, as a 29″ pitch is really only competitive with Spirit. And that’s not generally considered something to aspire to.

As expected, the reaction was almost universally negative, leading to an announcement from American today that they are making slight adjustments to the seat plan to avoid having rows with just 29″ of legroom:

Last month we shared plans that our Boeing 737 MAX would arrive with three rows at 29-inch pitch. Since then, we have received a lot of feedback from both customers and team members, and after taking a fresh look at the interior of that plane, American has decided to space all Main Cabin rows with at least 30 inches of pitch.

It is clear that today, airline customers feel increasingly frustrated by their experiences and less valued when they fly. We can be leaders in helping to turn around that perception, and that includes reviewing decisions that have significant impact on the flying experience.

30″ seat pitch isn’t an improvement

While this theoretically shows that American is listening to feedback, it’s mostly spin. American’s configuration of the 737 MAX will still be uncomfortably tight in economy, with a lesser pitch than many of the so-called budget airlines offer in the same markets. These aircraft will also feature slim-line seats, which won’t have seat-back entertainment.

To top it all off, eliminating a row of Main Cabin Extra means fewer opportunities for people to escape the cramped seating of normal economy. 18 seats will now have an additional 1″ of pitch, but there will be six fewer seats with a “reasonable” amount of space.

Basically, rather than reducing a row of Main Cabin seating, or otherwise looking for ways to make the overall experience less horrible, American has doubled-down on industry-leading discomfort. Their new aircraft will have less legroom than Southwest, JetBlue, or Alaska, and will be on par with Allegiant. Even the tiny Alaska/Horizon Q400 will have greater pitch than a mainline aircraft that American will use on non-premium transcons and Hawaii routes.

And I’m not sure how that counts as providing “leadership” in improving the perception passengers have of legacy carriers in the United States.

What do you think? Is this an improvement we should be excited about?

  1. I think this was there plan the entire time. Under promise, over deliver. Classic customer service tactic.

  2. Will this work if seats were gotten with BA miles? Have my $300 Ritz Credit that I still need to use for this year. Wanted to use it next year for Skymiles tickets booked with Korean but was told by Delta that there’s no way to upgrade (except maybe at the airport), even with paying.

  3. Wait, what? AA’s main cabin extra seats will only have 31″ of pitch? Is that what you’re saying here? That’s preposterous. On par with other carriers main line domestic Y class, and less than airlines like B6 who offer 32″ and 34″ of pitch on the A321 and A320, respectively. It’s like AA and United are trying to become domestic ULCC’s while sticking with their crappy full service product internationally. Great for their bottom line, awful for the traveler and front line employees.

  4. @ BR — Main Cabin seats with be 30″, Main Cabin Extra will have more — likely 33-34″.

  5. Several years ago I recall AA TV ads showing them throwing out two rows of seats in economy saying that they’re responding to passenger input for more legroom. Now they want passengers to feel overjoyed by reducing pitch by an inch instead of more while simultaneously becoming the industry leader in least legroom in economy class. Pathetic!

  6. Lipstick, meet pig. In Harry Potter speak, this might bump the coach cabin grade up to “D” for “Dreadful”.

  7. Remember though, this is the same seat pitch as the A319, so it’s not new or surprising. I’m not saying that non-MCE seats on the A319s are the least bit comfortable (terrible for a 5h DFW-BOG flight), but it’s consistent with other new short-haul mainline aircraft.

  8. I guess I’ll just have to vote with my wallet by not buying AA tickets anymore. It’s just a shame that most people who fly don’t follow this type of news, so it’ll be too late for them. At least until AA’s reputation cements as being about as comfortable as Spirit.

  9. AA Is without doubt the worst US based airline BAR NONE. Worse then United, worse then everyone. Even Spirit may have them beat based on honesty and transparency alone. I’m not talking premium or international. I’m talking the bread and butter economy heavy domestic flights. They are just the worst and this makes me hate them even more. Totally out of touch.

  10. AA put a huge push on a while back (was it really the early 90’s?) by advertising 35″ pitch in Y. That sold me and I became a loyal AA customer.

    As time passes and the pitch minimizes I no longer fly AA. I thought EK was bad in Y with 31″ on some long haul flights (DXB-DFW on 380) but the new 30″ on a 737 is not supportable.

    Glad I now have Elite on AS and with the new merger will be able to fly better for the next several years – unless AS realizes that the bottom line will suffer if they also don’t stuff more sardines into the can.

    We can only hope.

  11. How much longer can this race to the bottom go on with AA, United et al? Can we ever hope for a “rebellion” at some time by our fellow travellers?
    Who’d want the job of advertising these carriers good points? It’s a small short sentence : We’ll get you there: we promise nothing else “.

  12. Far be it from me to defend tight pitch, but I’m 6 foot and just got off a Frontier flight (sitting in the very back of an A320) and was able to cross my legs. The new slim seats provide space to do so. I think the biggest problem with the slim seats are the lack of seat cushion.

  13. I think everyone is forgetting that although the brand name is “American”, the company is actually US Airways, or to be very technical, AmericaWest. If you follow the management strategic decisions of those companies you’ll see it’s all in line with what they’re doing today.

  14. I am looking forward to being a free agent in 2019. No more EXP status with American is my plan. I will pay for cheap biz fares on any airline and use miles when necessary.

    Bye bye American.

  15. Bring a ruler and measure for yourself. I bet the seats will be 29″. They’ll just say it’s 30″.

    We joked years ago when Carney was still CEO of American and they stopped the first class only service out of Love Field. Legend Airlines announced they had stopped operations on a weekend night. Immediately we chimed in “I hear Carney working the drills to chuck those seats out of the planes.”

    Once again, race to the bottom.

  16. @ Andrew @ Seatback — Keep in mind though that the Airbus seats are typically wider by about an inch, so there’s more space per passenger in general.

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