Thursday 18 January 2018

The world's biggest airline is making economy class even more cramped

Economy legroom

Airplane interior. Stock photo: Deposit
Airplane interior. Stock photo: Deposit
An American Airlines Boeing 737-800. Photo: Deposit

Soo Kim

American Airlines, the world’s biggest carrier, is planning to cut legroom in its economy cabins by up to two inches, in a bid to make room for additional passenger seats.

The seat pitch on board the US airline’s new Boeing 737-800 Max aircraft is expected to be reduced from 31 to 29 inches on three rows, and to 30 inches across the rest of the economy class cabin, CNN reports.

Passengers in the 18 seats with two inches less legroom will be charged normal economy fares and these seats will not fall under the airline’s new basic economy fares, which are lower priced as passengers aren’t allowed access to overhead bins, reserved seating or to accrue air miles.

It is yet to be determined how the airline will decide which passengers will be seated in the rows with the least legroom, but a spokesperson for the airline claimed the reduced legroom would be hardly noticeable.

An American Airlines Boeing 737-800. Photo: Deposit
An American Airlines Boeing 737-800. Photo: Deposit

“The seats we’ll use on the Max are designed to maximize personal living space, while allowing more comfort, even in an arrangement like this where the pitch is a little tighter,” an American Airlines spokesperson told Skift.

The new cramped economy seating will have nearly the same seat pitch as America’s “ultra low cost” carriers including Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines, both of which have a tight seat pitch of 28 inches. Rival carrier United is reportedly considering a similar change, according to CNN.

The new Max jets -  operated mostly on North America routes - will offer more than 170 seats, compared to the 160 offered on the airline’s current 737-800s (above), and will retain the airline’s costlier 'main cabin extra' economy seats, which offer extra legroom, as well as its 16 first class seats, while the toilets will also reportedly be smaller.

A total of 100 Max aircraft are on order, with 40 expected to be delivered by 2019, the airline said.

The seat pitch reduction is the latest in a series of changes American Airlines has unveiled this year. Last month, the airline introduced a new “simplified” boarding process, where passengers are prioritised according to nine numbered groups, up from the current four, and with those in the airline’s recently launched ‘basic economy’ class embarking last. And those with priority boarding are split into five groups.

Back in January, the world's largest carrier decided to ditch seat-back monitors on its new Max aircraft because most passengers travel with mobile phones, laptops and tablets. Instead of investing in screens, the airline said it will upgrade in-flight internet speed, to ensure passengers can browse the web and stream movies quickly.

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