American Airlines Cuts Seat Pitch on Its Boeing 737s and A321s

Sep 28, 2017

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American Airlines took delivery on Thursday the first of the 100 ordered Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. This newest version of the 737 will offer faster ViaSat WiFi, slimline seats, no in-flight entertainment screens — and less seat pitch than any other AA jet.

After backing off its original plan to install as little as 29 inches of pitch in some rows, the airline “decided to space all Main Cabin rows with at least 30 inches of pitch.” Still, this makes AA’s legroom on these 737 MAX less than even low-cost carrier Ryanair.

In order to squeeze all of these seats in without making the experience completely feel like Spirit, the airline is going to install “slimline” seats. The slimmer seats mean that you’ll get a little more legroom than other seats with 30 inches of pitch. However, this comes at the expense of seat padding, making this less than ideal for a longer flight — which unfortunately is just what the 737 MAX is designed to fly.

30 inches of seat pitch with a slimline seat and a 5'11" man.
30 inches of seat pitch with a slimline seat and a 5’11” man.

Unfortunately, the slimline seats aren’t going to be showing up just on the new 737 MAX, scheduled to debut in service in November. At American Airlines’ Investor and Media Day on Thursday, the airline announced it is going to “harmonize and optimize” its fleets. Currently American has 52 sub-fleets, or different seating versions of aircraft, and it wants to drop this number to 30.

This is going to make it a lot easier to figure out what experience you’re going to have onboard American Airlines’ currently very inconsistent fleet. However, it means that there are going to be cuts to seat pitch.

AA Fleet Harmonization slide

On American Airlines’ Boeing 737-800s, this will mean an increase from 160 seats to the same 172 seats as the 737 MAX 8. (The two airplanes feature exactly the same cabin length and width.) Airbus A321s will go from two seating configurations to one: 181 seats on legacy American Airlines aircraft and 187 seats on ex- US Airlines aircraft will become 190 seats on all planes (except the three-class A321T variant that flies from the West Coast to the East Coast, with 102 seats.) While AA didn’t highlight this point in the presentation, the airline can accomplish this only by reducing seat pitch.

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