It wasn’t long ago that I brought the Cranky Jackass award back in order to chastise American for cutting seat pitch just a bit too far. I, of course, had joined a chorus of others who lambasted the airline for making the move. And now it’s been reversed. This isn’t a huge victory, but it is a win for those who fly in the back and should be celebrated.
If you recall, American’s plan was to squeeze an incredible 172 seats on its 737 MAX 8 aircraft which will arrive later this year. How was American going to do that? Well it was going to cut First Class seat pitch by a couple inches and do the same in Main Cabin Extra. Then it would pack in coach seats and use space-saving galleys and lavs. The end result was a mind-numbing number of seats. And three of those rows cut below my red line on minimum basic comfort, 30 inches of seat pitch. (They were at 29 inches.)
Now American has surrendered to the uprising and has decided to cut out one row of Main Cabin Extra (MCE) and replace it with a regular coach row instead. That means there will now be 5 instead of 6 rows of MCE on the airplane. It will then spread those inches throughout regular coach so that nobody has less than 30 inches of pitch. Considering American gave up one row that it could have used to upsell coach passengers for this, it is a real victory and one the mildly limits American’s ancillary revenue generation opportunities. So travelers should celebrate.
Here’s a crudely and inaccurately drawn diagram of what’s happening. (The inaccuracy is that Main Cabin Extra isn’t all together in the front behind First Class. There are actually three rows forward and then 2 on the window exit.) But you get the point.
It’s not just travelers who should be happy. A lot of people at American are going to be happy as well. I heard from a lot of people internally who were embarrassed about the decision to go with 29 inches of pitch. They felt as I did that this crossed a line that separates the legacy airlines from their ultra low cost counterparts.
Presumably, though I have been unable to prove this, whomever leaked the news in the first place did so for this exact reason. Can’t win a fight internally to preserve seat pitch? Leak it and let the public put pressure on. Like I said, I don’t know for sure that this is what happened, but if so, kudos to that person. This worked brilliantly. If it was just a happy accident, well, it still ended well.
Of course we don’t know what the experience will actually be like on the airplane. After all, there are still 172 seats crammed into this tube. Seat pitch isn’t a great metric since you can keep personal space the same by just using a thinner seat. But will the new seat American uses be comfortable? And will there be enough lav and galley space to properly service 172 passengers? We just won’t know until the airplane starts flying.
Would I have preferred to see American just remove one row of coach from the airplane? Sure. But maybe the new experience will still be ok. We’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, this is a win for everyone in regular coach who might have been stuck with an inch less room. It might not seem like much, but I say you take what you can get.