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?