2017-05-04 05:17:02
Update: On New Planes, American Airlines Will Add Seats and Reduce Space

American Airlines plans to pack more seats on its new planes, reducing the space between rows from 31 to 29 inches in three rows and 30 inches elsewhere in the economy section.

The plan, to be introduced on the airline’s new Boeing 737 Max models, would make American the first legacy carrier to creep closest to low-cost competitors like Spirit Airlines, which offers 28 inches of space between seats — a metric known as “pitch” — in economy.

Boeing’s 737 Max is the next-generation 737, a model commonly used by American Airlines on domestic and near international destinations. The first four will arrive in the fall and feature slim seats that reduce seatback depth.

“People focus on the numbers, but the well-designed seats are set up to be space efficient and improve overall living space,” said Josh Freed, a spokesman for the airline.

Thinner seats are quickly becoming the industry norm, and while they may give back some space, frequent fliers complain of discomfort.

“Airlines put in more seats by using seats with less padding, so that’s not more comfortable for the customer,” said Gary Leff, the author of the travel blog Viewfromthewing.com. “It’s less legroom and more uncomfortable seats.”

Not long ago, in the early 2000s, American advertised itself as the airline with more room throughout coach. Instead, the industry has had more success selling seats with extra legroom in new premium economy cabins, cramming the most-cost-sensitive passengers in tighter quarters in the back.

“The lesson was, only some people care enough about it to pay for it,” said Seth Kaplan, managing partner with the industry publication Airline Weekly. “Most people just want safe, cheap transportation.”

Whether other carriers will follow American’s lead remains to be seen. Many expect United Airlines to make a similar move, given that its president, Scott Kirby, was, until August 2016, the president of American Airlines. United Airlines declined to comment.

On similar 737 economy configurations, according to SeatGuru, United offers 31 inches of pitch, Delta Air Lines 31 to 32 inches and Southwest 32 to 33 inches.

American’s reward may be more revenue, but it could lose customers.

“Even if the average traveler doesn’t pay attention to this and has an uncomfortable flight, major travel buyers with corporate contracts care about the experiences their travelers have and the airline may risk losing lucrative business travelers,” Mr. Leff said.