American Airlines Is Decreasing Legroom for Some Economy Passengers

May 3, 2017

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The economy experience on American Airlines is about to get a bit tighter. The carrier is planning to shrink its seat pitch from 31 inches to 29 inches on some of its Boeing 737 MAX, which it’s set to take delivery of later this year. The move comes as the result of adding more seats to the single-aisle aircraft.

The 2-inch shrinkage in pitch will only be on three rows (18 seats) on the plane, however, the rest of the economy cabin will also see similar decrease — from 31 to 30 inches. According to CNN, American’s planning to have more than 170 seats on its new 737 Max aircraft. As a point of comparison, it offers 160 on its current 737-800s. AA said it’s also choosing to keep a Main Cabin Extra section as well as 16 first-class seats, which it offers on its 738s.

Thanks to the decrease in pitch, American’s MAX product will be in-line with what ultra low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier offer, which are both at the industry minimum of 28 inches apart. And compared to other carriers, Delta and United offer between 30 and 31 inches and Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska offer between 31 and 33 inches in economy. According to CNN, United is also planning a similar move to offer less room in economy, however, nothing has been confirmed yet.

When AA takes delivery of these new single-aisle 737 MAX aircraft, they’ll be used primarily on North American routes. The 29-inch seats will be spread throughout the cabin — two rows in the rear and the third in the forward of the cabin. In addition, AA said that in order to fit the additional seats, it will also shrink the lavatories on board. The carrier said it might make similar changes to its existing 737-800s, but that’s not yet confirmed.

The world’s biggest airline is the first of the big three legacy US carriers to shrink its pitch to the point of being on par with what low-cost carriers offer flyers. AA plans to add 40 of these MAX jets to its fleet by the end of 2019, and it has 100 on order. A spokesperson for the carrier said it hasn’t determined how it’ll decide which passengers will get the seats with the decreased legroom, however, it won’t be part of its new basic economy offering.

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