A Cranky Jackass Award for American’s 737 MAX Torture Chamber

American, Cranky Jackass

Unlike many of you, I’ve been a fan of traditional airlines increasing density on airplanes over the years. It made sense to me: provide a basic level of comfort and then give people affordable options to buy up if they care. For those who don’t, well, it’ll mean a lower fare. But the key to that proposition is that you have to provide a basic level of comfort (unlike the ultra low cost carriers which provide a basic level of discomfort). The legacy airlines have pushed that boundary, and though many will disagree, I still felt that the line hadn’t been crossed… until now.

American takes delivery of its first 737 MAX 8 later this year, and the airline is starting to leak some details about the configuration. Though I obviously haven’t sat on the aircraft, I believe this proposed configuration with 172 seats crosses that line. And for that, I’m bringing back an old friend. Here’s your Cranky Jackass Award, American.

I had heard whispers of this dense configuration, but it wasn’t until I saw the first mainstream article from Jon Ostrower at CNN that I finally believed it. Now I’ve had the chance to talk with American to get as much as I could out of the airline, which isn’t all that much.

The 737 MAX 8 has the same size cabin as the 737-800. Today, American has 16 First Class seats, 30 Main Cabin Extra, and 114 Main Cabin seats on the latter airplane for a total of 160 seats. This is already more dense than its previous configuration, but it doesn’t bother me. This allowed American to put a good number of Main Cabin Extra seats while keeping seat pitch in the back at 31 inches. I’ve flown it many times and have had no issues. But the jump from 160 to 172 seats is going to be a different story.

The idea that American can put that many seats on the airplane is crazy for a traditional airline. Look no further than a Southwest 737 to see why. Southwest has on its 737-800s, and will have on its MAX 8s, 175 seats in an all-coach configuration, a mere 3 seats more than American with its multiple cabins. This isn’t an exact seat map, but this explains the basic idea in a nutshell.

Southwest has 32 inches of pitch on this airplane, and if you’ve flown on it, you know that it feels pretty spacious everywhere. I say that as someone who is 5 feet 8 inches. Are you tall? You have no choice to buy more legroom. Do you want a premium cabin? Not on this airline. It is what it is: comfortable transport for the masses.

What American has done, on the other hand, is look at this airplane, measure it out, and say, “how can we stuff as many peasants as possible in the back without pissing off our most frequent fliers?” For the frequent fliers, there will still be 16 First Class seats and there will even be an increase of Main Cabin Extra seats to 36. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see them lose an inch in pitch, but it’s still a nice ride.)

So the space allocated to these more premium offerings will increase. How will this be offset? Well, the use of space-saving lavs and probably a reduction in galley space (though I haven’t confirmed the latter) will help to free up room. But it’s still not enough. Coach gets hit hard.

Seat pitch in coach drops from 31 to 30 inches in most rows with 3 rows going down even further, but I’ll get to that later. If you’ve flown on a legacy American A319, you’ve experienced the relative pain of 30 inches of pitch, but seat pitch is an imperfect metric since it’s just the distance from one point on a seat to the same point on the seat behind. As seats get thinner, you can reduce pitch but still maintain the same amount of legroom. Those A319s have in-seat video screens. Get rid of those, as American will do on the MAX, and the seat gets thinner. This helps with legroom, and you’ll hear American crow about that. But legroom isn’t everything.

I’ve sat in some of these seats before on several airlines, and the one thing that really stands out is that the seat in front of you is really, really close to your face. Remember, to get you more legroom, airlines have moved the seatback pockets up higher so they’re at eye level. It feels more claustrophobic, and it has a real impact on comfort. Thirty inch seat pitch is, to me, at the border of what’s acceptable. But once you get below that, you’ve gone to the dark side.

And to the dark side American has gone. To squeeze that last row in, American is actually going to have to give 3 rows only 29 inches of pitch. These rows will be scattered as needed through the aircraft, my guess is 1 in front of the exit with 2 somewhere behind. Contrary to what you might think would be sensible, these won’t be for Basic Economy customers. These will just be considered regular coach seats that really, really suck.

Twenty-nine inches is the domain of ultra low cost carriers like Spirit. Actually, you’ll see 28 inches on many of them. But those are airlines where people expect to feel the pain in exchange for a cheap fare. If I fly Spirit, I know what I’m getting, and I’ve done it. It’s not comfortable, but that’s ok. When a legacy airline puts out a similar product, it’s different. The differentiation that has already eroded so much evaporates even further. To me, 30 inch pitch was the red line.

The timing of all of this couldn’t have been worse. Congresspeople are busy stepping over each other to get jabs in at the airline industry at hearings on the Hill. Many have given warnings that if the airlines don’t shape up, then Congress will act. That’s the worst thing that can happen, yet here we are with another negative story.

Were I American, I’d look at the math and say, you know, maybe we should be ok with 166 seats on this airplane. That’s still more than our wildest dreams a few years ago. But instead, the airline is getting greedy. Others are likely to follow (at least, United is apparently studying it), so now seems like the right time to make my feelings clear. This is going too far, and it deserves the Cranky Jackass Award.

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96 comments on “A Cranky Jackass Award for American’s 737 MAX Torture Chamber

  1. Frankly I think you are being a bit precious on this. For the average passenger just 2 things matter – price and schedule. The avgeeks of the world will protest loudly, others will grumble but I really doubt that people will care when it comes to actually buying a ticket. For pax who fly infrequently or are on the cheaper fares, price really does outweigh the extra inch of legroom

    1. Forgot to add – I write this as someone who is a member of Easyjet’s (invite only) frequent flyer club. Easyjet has a seat pitch of 28 or 29 inches and I’m 6 feet tall.

      1. Most of Easyjet flights are short or ultra short haul, hence the pitch not being so much of an issue.

        1. I paid $29 to fly from Barcelona to London Gatwick on easyJet.

          How much is AA going to charge for those seats??

      2. Easyjet doesn’t flies Americans !!!
        Europeans are slim !!
        And i work for a major US airline and I see everyday how hard is for some passengers to fit on those seats!!!

    2. To a certain extent I agree with you. However if the negative airline headlines persist, the passenger experience with the airlines is perceived or experienced as a terrible thing and adding to the wonders of going through antiquated airports with security being an alternative of a colonoscopy, just wait for the the consumer make different plans for vacationing or reason for travel.

      1. They knocked me out for my colonoscopy. I know of no small seat pitch ULCC unbundler that offers this option.

        Also, a colonoscopy only takes 30-45 minutes which is far far less than a transcon. :)

        1. Have to agree w the colonoscopy gag cause a 5 hour flight with layovers feels worse than that. Plus they put you out for a colonoscopy
          I. E. That’s the only way you’ll be able to fly AAA.

    3. Most companies no longer pay for domestic upgrades but increasingly expect you to work on flights, especially with increasing availability of wi-fi. With seat pitches now reaching the point where it’s almost impossible to pull out a laptop and type (unless you are actually a T-Rex) it will force companies to make the decision of upgrading staff (too expensive), not expect work during flights (decrease in productivity), or choose another mainline carrier (bingo). Our company doesn’t book us on the ULCCs partially because of this issue, and likely American could be added to the list.

    4. I don’t know about that… I’m 5’10” and haven’t had a problem with legroom before — until I flew Frontier a few years ago. My knees weren’t quite touching the seat in front of me, but they were maybe just an inch away. And the claustrophobic feeling of the next seat being so close really was unpleasant. I had no other complaints with Frontier, but I don’t intend to fly them again.

  2. If the planes aren’t at 100% load you’re pissing people off for no reason. If there is no point of difference with LCCs then you have to compete on price. Legacy carriers can’t compete on price.
    As for the space saver toilets – they should be outlawed. You can’t even turn around.

  3. If this airplane was only used for less than 2 hours flights, I would hace no issue with that (although having 3 rows worse than the others bother me somehow).
    No info on seat width, which in my imopinion is as important (ie not having someone else elbows or shoulders on my space.
    If for a longer flight, I fully agree with your position and the award

    1. The 737-Max will be used the way the A-320s and the 737s are used now. It’s an all-purpose plane as likely to be seen between Chicago and Minneapolis as it is Transcon and to Hawaii from the west coast.


  4. I agree completely. 30 inches should have been the barrier not to be crossed (actually 31 in my mind but I’m 6’2 and willing to accept the round number).

    The race to the bottom continues. Thanks for being so quick to slap American with a well deserved jackass award.

  5. Ahhh, the coveted Cranky Jackass returns. I’m disappointed United didn’t get one in honor of Dr. Dao, but I fully concur with the American Airlines Cranky Jackass.

    I’m 6’5″ and I no more would fit in an American Airlines Max coach seat than an A380 would fit into a gate at Dubuque, Iowa. I know we have the airline industry we want, but doing this as well as United’s 10-across 777-300s is just inhumane. While I find Congress’ grandstanding this week repugnant, I understand why Congressmen and Congresswomen are proposing re-regulation. American and United certainly are at the forefront of Congress’ wrath and, with good reason.

    This is the crap that causes some of the “incidents” that are increasingly being filmed on cellphones. This is the crap that makes passengers upset and angry. We want cheap fares, yes. But this????

    1. Well put Davey. The 10 across on 777 is becoming common place. Delta is one of the few hold outs. I am tall and equally disgusted by AA seat crunch. I remember when American had ‘more room in coach’ slogan. Now what is their rallying cry? At 29″ and the person in front reclines you may get hit in the nose.

      1. I was once in the back row of a Continental 737 when some bimbo in front of me fully reclined, or wanted to. I told her if she got any closer, my wife would think she was the other woman.

        What I hate more than anything else is someone coming down I’m my lap. The pitch reductions mean the person in front is close enough to kiss. Really

  6. Thanks for the prompt post and commentary on this.

    All AA executive staff, and their families (positive space passes), should be required to travel only in the 3 rows with 29 inches and we’ll see how long the configuration lasts.

    Consider a new tier in the Cranky Jackass Awards to American for this decision and the ironic timing after the Congressional grilling.

      1. They get the unsold seats. Which are often premium economy, because people will buy out cheap 29″ seats all day while leaving premium economy unsold.

  7. As a FF that is 6′-2″ I agree completely with this Cranky Jackass award. AA has long been my fallback option when DL doesn’t work for me. They may well soon see themselves lose a customer. I don’t live in an AA hub and likely would never get status with them but my 5-6 flights/year is likely more than any leisure traveler would do, and at last minute fares as well. I’m probably far from alone being in that camp and AA’s move to match the ULCC’s to I assume chase those customers is short sighted. Sure I could pay up to more legroom but corporate travel policy won’t let me expense that and it’s easier to just take my business elsewhere.

    Even the 30″-31″ seat pitch on DL planes is a discomfort when not in Comfort+. For example the older MD aircraft where the seats don’t recline forward. Many times the person in front of me has thought I was using an anti-recline device. No, I’m sorry sir, my knees are doing that.

  8. Ok…I was wrong…I guess this was Cranky Jackass material after all. Still doesn’t feel like it though.

  9. I really wish this would’ve been leaked out before the Congressional hearing. AA won’t even say which rows will have 29 inches.

    1. Better yet, Congress should have had a special seat and table build for them — one that mimicked 29 inches and a small workspace.

      1. And a special rest room (airline size) for them to use during breaks. After waiting in line, of course. And a couple of burly attendants to jiggle the rest room to simulate mild turbulence.

  10. I had read as well (maybe in a Skift article?) that AA was considering retrofitting some of their existing 737s with some 29-inch seats.

    1. Itami – Yes, they’re looking at retrofitting them to this config, but I’ve seen no confirmation that’s going to happen yet.

        1. Interesting. When I think about it now, given their combined Dallas, Chicago, and South Florida exposure among other places, American might have the most direct ULCC competition among the Big 3. Of course you still see NK and F9 in places like Atlanta and Denver, but maybe American felt some extra urgency to try squeeze CASM lower?

        2. As terrible as that pitch is, it makes sense from an operational perspective, so that aircraft swaps don’t create INVOL DBs. I don’t know if the extra rows/weight would impact the non-MAX 737-8s with impactful weight restrictions on westbound transcons.

  11. I think it is a bit simplistic to say that people only care about price and schedule. While people may not look at hard product for making a choice amongst airlines, I would definitely argue that people’s overall pain in flying influences whether they choose to fly at all. While there are certainly situations one must travel for e.g. funerals, going back to college, etc. for many people flying is discretionary and non-essential. People will just choose to do something else with their travel or discretionary income. And that’s the real killer.

    1. well said. I’m on the camp that won’t buy ULCC and now the ULCC within a legacy. how inhumane and in indignant.

      Southwest product looks reasonable. though, given their high prices I’d probably drive.

  12. Doesn’t this configuration look odd to you from a revenue perspective as well? It looks like AA will be using their 737 MAX’s as utility players, doing as many 90 minute mainline flights as they do transcon.

    On shorter flights, do they really think they can sell 16 F fares, especially when they’ve got 36 MCE seats as well? Sure, for frequent (but not SUPER frequent) fliers, the chance of getting upgraded (at least to MCE) goes way up, which may marginally help loyalty, but I really suspect that at least on shorter flights, they’re going to cause a lot of pain in coach for not much more revenue. (I guess they’re trying to replicate their MD-80s, with 16 F seats and 35 MCE seats?)

  13. Cranky, will AA have to conduct evacuation drills before they will be allowed to use this configuration? Whenever there is an emergency I read where some people try and bring their suitcases or briefcases. I can’t imagine a plane packed like this would pass the 90 second test.

    1. Fred – Yes of course. I don’t know if American has to do it or if it’s Boeing, but there are limits on the number of seats allowed. Remember, other airlines in all coach have more people on the aircraft already.

    2. On the Boeing 737-800/-900 series aircraft, the maximum number of passenger seats as tested by the manufacturer is 189, if the aircraft is equipped with two pair Type I and two pair Type III exits.

      If an operator wishes to increase seating capacity on an aircraft for which it already has Operations Specification approval, 14 CFR § 25.803 states that a combination of analysis and tests may be used to show that an airplane is capable of being evacuated within 90 seconds under specific conditions. If the FAA Administrator finds this combination of analysis and tests will provide sufficient data on the emergency evacuation capability of the airplane, and the data is equivalent to that which would be obtained by actual demonstration, then an actual demonstration may not need to be conducted.

      However, it is FAA policy to prohibit the use of analysis and test for the purpose of increasing seating capacity greater than 5 percent above the seating capacity established by a full-scale emergency evacuation demonstration. For the AA change, if its full-scale emergency evacuation demonstration was successfully accomplished on a B737-800 aircraft, and the maximum seating capacity established is 160 passengers, the analysis and test method would allow an increase up to a maximum of 8 additional passenger seats without requiring a full-scale emergency evacuation demonstration up to the maximum pax confi of 189 (8 = 5% of 160). So, in the AA situation, where they are requesting an additional 12 seats, the FAA would permit the addition (since 172 is less than the maximum 189 seats permitted) BUT would require a full-scale demonstration, since the 12 seats is greater than the 5% permitted, or 8 seats.

  14. I’m genuinely and pleasebrly surprised you are calling out your LUS/HP buddies on this one. Until 12/9/13, the narrative on here was AA could do no right and of late it’s been the LUS leadership can do no wrong.

    Bottom line is instead of courting high value customers like the AA standalone plan was centered around, LUS leadership is focused on low value, low fare fodder which seems consistent with their approach and previous carrier(s).

    Low CASM is fine and wonderful, but depending on how these will be deployed it may not be optimal for the same markets the LAA 738s are serving today out of MIA/LAX/DFW.

  15. Have been on a United 737-800 in Economy lately? I think it is 30 inches. IT IS HORRIBLE. Thank God it was only 2 hours. I’m 6′ 2″, my wife is 5′ 5″. I was in pain and my wife thought her seat was too tight too.

    When you put 35″ in Economy Plus and 30 (?) inches in Economy. THAT IS BS.

    I fly 12+ times a year. Worse flight ever comfort wise.

    1. Agree – the United 737’s are nasty, nasty planes (and effing uncomfortable, too); I’m not precious about Boeing vs Airbus – I love just as many of the former (777, 767, 787, 757, 727(!!)) as I do the latter (A380, 319,320,321), but the 737 is not a nice plane to fly in. It’s sales figures, however, would suggest that doesn’t matter at all….

  16. What should be noted here from CF’s point of view is that this change for the AA New 737s is that they make Southwest’s business model look luxurious. I’m a self employed road warrior who pays for my tickets (can’t afford upgrades) and won’t ever hit AA’s status levels, so the width of seat, space between seats and ability to put baggage under Southwest’s seats are looking like a better experience every day on the interior. Southwest’s two free checked bags are another benefit.

  17. Cranky,

    I’m 6’2″ and 280lbs, so not a small guy, I’ve been on the LUS 128 seat A319s (without AVOD, thankfully) and actually was reasonable comfortable. I’m not a huge fan (and should note for disclosure I do work for Piedmont) of the concept of 29″ seats, but I doubt its a dealbreaker. Then again I mainly get to fly on CR2s so most anything seems an improvement to that.

  18. I’m only 5’11”, but an inch in the waist away from having to use a seat belt extender. Yes, I’m fat.

    Airline flights for me generally require healthy doses of ibuprofen, as fitting in a 31- or 32-inch pitch seat generally requires me to sit in a very cramped position. A seat pitch of 29 or 30 inches will force me to impersonate a fetal T. Rex for the length of the flight. I’d prefer “standing seats” (provided there was at least 6’6″ of ceiling height) over seats that tight. At least with a standing seat I wouldn’t have my knees in my throat.

    I predict that AA’s decision to make seat pitch this tight will cause a lot of air rage, a lot of angry pax and FAs (especially given the micro-sized galleys and lavs), and a whole lot of political grandstanding. As you mentioned, the timing is absolutely horrible as well, and AA is doing a great job of appearing tone deaf and politically naive here. Even if they were planning to do this, they should have waiting at least a few months for things to settle down a bit before announcing it.

    1. You bring up a huge point — air rage. The tighter confines do make people a lot more irate. The lavatories are no longer a place of refuge – I won’t lie – I spent 30 minutes in one because my ass was hurting so bad on an “unnamed budget airline” where I forgot to get a good seat assignment in advance (or pay for it). This was a few years ago before they shrunk them, btw.

      But on my more luxurious flights in Emirates First Class or AA Flagship first, the extra space really does make the 12 – 16 hour flight a heck of a lot more enjoyable than being stuck in back with a bunch of people.

      I’m definitely more cranky when i’m in regular economy versus Main Cabin Extra/Premium cabin on Alaska, etc.

      I think this is just going to make American look and feel like Spirit + now.

  19. AA has a very large 737-800 fleet and now they want to configure them with nearly the same number of seats as the 737-900 used by other airlines or the 737-800 that WN has but without a first class cabin.

    The only real recourse is to do your homework on seat size using seat guru or an airline’s own website.

    The DOT might require that airlines disclose basic minimum seat size that an airline sells for a specific class but it is highly unlikely that minimum sizes will be implemented because it would kill the ultra low cost carrier segment of the industry.

  20. Gotta pay for those raises they decided to give labor.

    Do the seats in front of the 29 pitch seats recline? If not, not awful. If so… even Spirit doesn’t do that.

      1. Greyhound actually removed a row of seats (plus the center aisle seat at the far back) on their MCI coaches, taking their seat count from 55 to 50 and increasing pitch to 33-34 inches.

        The airlines have a problem when Greyhound offers a hard product that is technically better than what they provide.

  21. Is there a reason why rows need to be spaced in increments of 1 Inch (resulting in 3 tight rows), rather than spreading the rows evenly so that each gets just a little under 30?

    1. Or what about reducing the 6 rows of economy plus by 1/2 inch to raise those 3 rows of 29″ to 30″?

    2. Seat tracks to which the seats attach do not have an infinite number of possibilities for seat placement. The emergency exit rows and placement of windows are fixed. Airlines have to place seats within those constraints. Some airlines disregard seat placement relative to windows but seats must be configured by federal regulation to provide access to the emergency exits.
      AA simply chose to give plenty of seats in front of the emergency exits plenty of space but were forced to create multiple rows with little space behind the emergency exits and to create multiple rows which are not equal to others because the number of rows does not cleanly fit in the amount of space provided – as evidenced by CF’s diagram.

      The problem is simply that AA wants to put a comparable number of seats on the 737-8MAX and 737-800 as other carriers put on the next larger aircraft in the series – the -9MAX and -900. Given the size of AA’s 737 fleet, they will be adding thousands of seats to their fleet. They should simply have ordered larger aircraft and admitted that they have reached the capacity of their 737s using industry standard seat space. They opted for the 321 as their largest narrowbody and it can hold more seats without reducing seat space as badly as they are doing on the 737s- but perhaps they will do the same thing to other aircraft too.

  22. American has officially gone where no legitimate airline should go. First, they financially squeezed us for every possible thing short of oxygen masks, they’re going to physically squeeze us. My husband is 6′ 2″ tall and his knees are already tightly pressed to the seat in front of him. When the passenger in that seat reclines, his legs are compressed. He actually had to undergo knee surgery after the passenger in front of him reclined! I’m utterly serious. The greed is oozing from every word American has said about the new configuration. Unfortunately, I live in the DFW area, so my options are pretty much AA or Southwest. Southwest is looking better and better, in spite of the much longer drive to the airport. Southwest would be thrilled to pick up AA’s disgusted Dallas/Ft. Worth passengers. United’s recent bad press is likely a fleeting thing. The bad press AA will receive won’t be so short lived. Passengers will remember it every time they’re ready to book a flight.

    1. WN is the only full service, more space in coach, “luxury” carrier. And they haven’t changed their model one iota.

    2. I also live in DFW and, despite Cranky’s prior post, will be flying Alaska as much as possible to avoid American like the plague.

  23. If American could assure passengers that these aircraft would only be deployed on short- and medium-haul flights, this MIGHT be acceptable. MIGHT. But you know these planes will be doing transcons, Caribbean and northern South America flying, too.

    Never thought I’d say it, but the A321 is rapidly becoming my aircraft of choice in the AA domestic fleet. The A319 is a sardine can in the back (and has a micro-cabin in F), the A320s are geriatric relics from the US Airways days, and the existing 737s already feel narrow and crowded. Despite the mixed bag you get with the A321 (will it have in-seat power? will it have TV screens? spin the wheel and find out, because we’ve got no plans to refurbish them!!!) at least it has a baseline level of comfort… for now.

  24. Curious to see what others think but I would prefer less legroom if the seats were wider. I know that it likely wouldn’t work but I’d even endure 27″ pitch in a 2-2 configuration on the 737’s/A320’s. I’m 6 feet tall but have wide shoulders and hate rubbing arms with the person next to me.

  25. Alpha Brett,

    I agree. This seat pitch issue really gets compounded when the seats in front are reclined. Try being that pax in the middle or window seat attempting to get into or out of their seat with the seats in front reclined. Obstacle course. This in some respects could be considered unsafe. Just my two cents. Mahalo.


  26. The average person doesn’t think about legroom and pitch numbers. They just buy a ticket get on the plane and think that’s what it is so American we’ll just take advantage of that and pack more seats in.

    But the news is out now so American can judge public reaction before the planes come out and can make adjustments if people are really negative about it.

  27. OK, price is everything, the only thing, I guess! Why not eliminate the aisle, put a seat in there each row, have each row going forward a little more pitch than the one behind, get rid of seat selection, board from the back door, ready, set, go, get to your seat–“survival of the fittest” boarding. Riding in the overheads–50% off. Let Ryan and any foreign company start operating In the US. AA, nice knowing you!

  28. Like corporations everywhere they are going to do what they want off the backs off the working poor. Buy a politician get what you want. This is nothing new.

  29. Soon American Airlines will eliminate any complaints from Cranky or any other passengers by replacing all the flight attendants with the Hell’s Angels.

    1. Hell’s Angels would be an improvement over the hardened old battle axes who work most of their longhaul routes.

  30. It looks more like the Salty Sardine Can Award. Cause that’s what it’s gonna feel like when you board this p.o.s. Too bad they will probably be merging with another airline pretty soon. Cause they are starting a price war they can’t win. Poor strategy when you combine poor service which American has always Benn known for. I can remember better data and the current abuse that passengers take from flusterd union stewards and passengers that can’t take the Sh….any more. I personally have not flown AAA airlines for over 10 years as a result of a disgrunteled steward who couldn’t control herself…
    The high flying days are over in American trunk airlines as we can see from recent events. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg for customer abuse and mismanagement on the cattle lines.

    1. Ironically, maybe the airline industry wins by downsizing seats to the point where Congress mandates a certain seat size. Then the capacity of all planes are reduced and prices zoom up.

      1. I wrote this in a stand alone comment but thought you might find this interesting:
        In 2014, the National Association of Airline Passengers (NAAP) requested the FAA to amend Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 25 to include two new sections. In its petition, NAAP requests the FAA set uniform minimum standards for seat width and seat pitch, and NAAP proposed the minimums be 36 or 38 inch seat pitch and 19 inch seat width.
        The original submission and the FAA’s response can be found here:

  31. Anyone else remember this AA TV commercial (quite a few years ago, but not ancient history either): a FA asks a traveling businessman if there’s anything he needs, he answers, “well, I’d really like more legroom.” Then the FA grins, brandishes a power wrench, and starts moving seats to make more space.
    Those were the days, hmm?

    1. Yes, I do remember.

      I also remember writing to AA customer service when that product (MRTC – more room throughout coach) started going away. American’s response (approximately): “It will only be removed on aircraft flying leisure routes.”

      As a frequent flyer, AA lifetime Gold, and airline/airplane geek, I know change is inevitable. At the same time, as Cranky said, American has crossed the line with the 737 MAX cabin. Cranky’s Award was earned and deserved.

  32. I’m starting to wonder if ANY airline has anyone in their PR departments who have any sense. Between United’s insensitive response to Dr Dao, to AA’s terrible timing with this, when everyone is hating on airlines…. it makes you wonder. Having always been a rabid defender of airlines, I truly now think they deserve whatever they get from the gov’t. They crossed the line.

  33. I happen to work for AA, and even I think this is truly awful. Generally I’m proud to work for AA, but thus just leaves me SMH…

  34. I know I’m going to get down-voted to hell for this comment… :)

    There’s a potential gender angle on seat pitch that I haven’t seen anyone cover at all. Taller passengers are more likely to be men than women. At a casual level, men also tend to be over-represented relative to the airline customer population in transportation industry media, including comment sections (ironically, my comment is an anecdote that supports this point). The result from combining these two variables that are not independent (men are statistically more likely to find seating too cramped AND participate in industry media) is that seat pitch issues could make up a disproportionate amount of complaints in the media about the airline industry compared to the opinions of airline customers in general.

    I don’t have anything beyond a late-night-can’t-sleep thought experiment to support this claim, but it would be interesting to see if seat pitch complaints are over-represented in media relative to the opinions of airline customers, especially in consideration of the opportunity costs of increased seat pitch.

  35. I recently declined premium travel on British Airways in favor of Delta and American for a LAS-VCE and ATH-LAS trip because the intra-european flight on British Airways in “business” was 30″ seat pitch. But British Airways seems to get away with 30″ in business for these intra-european flights!

  36. I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t see what the big deal is with having 3 rows out of the entire plane at 29″ pitch. It’s been stated multiple times in the comment thread that 30″ is the limit, and it just so happens that 30″ is what the majority of coach is made up of.

    The only passengers that aren’t able to select a seat assignment are those purchasing basic economy fares…it seems to me that the 29″ rows will be avoided by passengers pre-selecting their seat, which would result in basic economy passengers filling them in (or stand-bys). For the passengers I just referenced, flying AA still has to be a better experience than a ULCC. Just seems like there’s a ton of fuss over something that will impact very few people (and probably none of the people complaining about it in the comment thread).

    1. Riiight — because no regular flier ever has to buy a ticket last minute or change flights. Elite travelers will end up in these seats. And they will not like it.

    2. Will American mark them or otherwise indicate to passengers selecting seats that these are reduced legroom rows, or will only people who know how to use SeatGuru be able to avoid them?

  37. I think maybe the legacy airlines are starting to sell a product, that even though it sells, is so disagreeable that the result will be customer hatred and an increase in disruptive behavior. Consider that often the economy passengers board at the front, walk through the first class section with comfortable arm chairs, perhaps filled with pax with a drink in hand. Now if the destination were a tolerably comfortable coach seat, perhaps, that’s ok: pax choose which class to buy. But now if the coach seat is torture the coach pax gets really unhappy and cranky. On a one class plane this might be better tolerated.

  38. It’ll take ten minutes longer to turn a plane, because those overhead bins are already overfull and now you’ll have that many more people hauling their bags to row 32 only to discover they don’t fit and have to go all the way back to the jet bridge, where you’ll need a few rampers to quickly? move so many bags off the bridge and in to the belly. This seems a logistical nightmare for smooth operations, and is a reason why most high density operators make a big deal of limiting carry-ons.

  39. For personal domestic bookings, this is why I fly (Jetblue / Southwest) before (Alaska) before (Delta) with (United/American) as the last choice. 31-32″ pitch is a coach class seat, anything less is something that should be left for the bottom-feeder ULCCs which I will not fly.

  40. Recline on the 737 MAX? No information so far apparently, but allowing recline ahead of a 29″ row is worse than an ULCC. Reclined seats in a 30″ row in legacy coach is uncomfortable enough.

    Conversely, it would be a new low for a legacy carrier to configure coach with “pre-reclined” seats across the backbone of their fleet.

  41. As someone who is 6’4″ and had to fly DFW-SJU on a Legacy AA 319, this might be the tipping point to keeping me from ever flying AA again. I know “more legroom is available in MCE” but when the choice is putting myself into a position that causes me physical pain or paying a $100 upgrade because I just happen to be taller, my decision will likely be flying another airline.

  42. KLM’s 30″ pitch 737s in Europe are just minimally manageable for me a 6’2″. And these are generally 1.5 to max 2 hr hops AMS-ARN or -ZRH or -TXL. Most Europeans are also on average much slimmer than USers, so lateral space is better.
    I cannot imagine a 3 or 4 hour domestic US segment in 29″ pitch. An utter horror show. Even 30″ pitch is rough. SWA’s 737-7s with 31″ pitch feel noticeably tighter than their -8s.
    Boo on American. I hope customers revolt!

  43. Cranky, what factors interplay with American’s actions here? Many red lines were crossed before AA cross your “red line.” When people base their lives on Walmart and fast-food then should we not expect airlines to succumb to the limited finances of the flying public? 50% of the worlds wealth is controlled by too few individuals, while the middle class in America shrinks via globalism and other factors that marginalizing labor (including this website).

    It would be absolutely fascinating to see you interview James (“Jim”) Phillips from Vereinigung Cockpit or Milt Isaacs, CEO of Air Canada Pilots Association. I think your readers would be interested to know about the hundreds of RyanAir pilots under investigation for Tax Fraud and how the investigation in these matters are showing that RyanAir has defrauded several European countries out of tens of millions of euro. Here is an excellent opportunity for some investigative reporting!
    http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Reportage-Dokumentation/Profit-Auf-Kosten-aller-Der-gnadenlo/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=799280&documentId=41668418 (hopefully you speak German)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZEpVnWaI5E (KRO: Mayday! Mayday! Ryanair)

    Unfortunately, Crankyflier.com is not critical of Ireland’s alleged violations of UN tax law (via Apple and RyanAir) and US Labor Law (via NAI). Legacy carriers continue to grapple with ME3 vertical integration plus subsidy via state governments in addition to NAI violation of US-EU ATA. How can we not expect legacy carriers to subsidize unfair competition with higher seat density?

  44. In 2014, the National Association of Airline Passengers (NAAP) requested the FAA to amend Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 25 to include two new sections. In its petition, NAAP requests the FAA set uniform minimum standards for seat width and seat pitch, and NAAP proposed the minimums be 36 or 38 inch seat pitch and 19 inch seat width.
    The original submission and the FAA’s response can be found here:

    1. While it no surprise that a customer advocacy group would ask for minimum seat sizes that are well above current, it is an absolute given that these minimums will never fly. 19 inch wide seats don’t even work in either Airbus or Boeing aircraft without taking out a lot of seats.

      Most importantly, eliminating very tight seat pitches would eliminate the ultra low cost carrier segment of the industry. While AA might like to push that possibility, it simply won’t happen. There are many airlines worldwide that operate with seats this close together and it does happen in the US as well.

      Right or wrong, AA is banking on pushing some passengers into roomier seats and taking the space from “the masses” who they believe are not brand loyal anyway.

      With the potential that half or more of their domestic fleet could have seats this tight in a few years, AA clearly is willing to define its product as much more differentiated between classes and sub-classes and for many people much tighter than what other carriers will offer for those same prices.

      It is the free market system and will only be changed if safety is really at stake. I’m not so sure that there won’t be much more disclosure required for seat size and potentially requiring a ‘not less than” size for certain fare types.

      1. I absolutely agree with you, Tim. I provided the docket just to show that, as far back as three years, a passenger advocacy group tried to get FAA to mandate seat sizes and pitch. And that was way before these last several negative customer service issues that have received such massive media attention. We all know that, sometimes, the squeaky wheel does indeed receive the grease (a la Colgan families), and Congress is not immune to bowing to loud (and wealthy) lobbyists.

  45. Frankly this configure is just an insulting, slap to the face. Even first class has been dumbed down significantly. They’ve done away with leather seats in favour of the cheap triangle cloth, and there’s no AVOD either. Honestly i hate bringing a tablet with me. So what exactly am I paying a premium for now?

  46. AA EXP for 15 years here – when recovering from IRROPS or booking really last minute, I have snagged a few of these Oasis back of the bus seats now. Unless I have a dire need to take the flight, if I’m not in at least MCE on this plane I will ask to be bumped to a later flight. Not tall, but also not willing to sacrifice my health and safety to be on the back of this config. 2 years later it’s still just as bad.

    Before making these decisions on an aircraft layout the design team and their management chain all the way to the top need to get some Butt In Seat time (however much the pilots should get in a 737 MAX simulator x 3) before the decision can be made.

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