Perhaps it was the complaints from customers. Or maybe it was the recent stories and blog posts attacking American Airlines, with many arguing the carrier had crossed a line with its new plan to reduce legroom on some narrowbody planes.
But about a month after confirming plans to shrink seat pitch on its soon-to-be-delivered Boeing 737 Max aircraft, American Airlines said Tuesday it had altered the strategy to make it more passenger friendly.
The airline will not try match the legroom that Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines offer, as American had once planned.
As it tried to cram more passengers into each plane, American had expected to be the first non-discount U.S. airline to shrink seat pitch below 30 inches. Only three rows in each 737 Max would be affected, with the rest having 30 inches of pitch, a measurement more competitive with other full-service airlines. American never said exactly how it would allocate the three rows with the subpar pitch.
The decision received considerable attention, and ultimately American decided it wasn’t worth it. Its first four 737 Max aircraft will arrive later this year, and all regular economy seats will have 30 inches of pitch. That’s one fewer than on the airline’s existing 737s, but it still roughly matches industry norms.
“It is clear that today, airline customers feel increasingly frustrated by their experiences and less valued when they fly,” American told employees in a message Tuesday. “We can be leaders in helping to turn around that perception, and that includes reviewing decisions that have significant impact on the flying experience.
Pitch is not legroom. Instead, it’s the distance from one place on a seat to the same place on the seat in front of it. But seats with less pitch generally also have less legroom.
American’s new 737s will still have 172 seats, or 12 more than the current 737, which has the same-sized cabin. American will eliminate the need for 29-inch pitch rows by slashing a row of its extra legroom section, called Main Cabin Extra, it told employees.
“Designing aircraft interiors is an art and a science,” Robert Isom, American’s president, said in an internal note. “It requires us to take into account customer experience, revenue, and other considerations. We’ve reassessed what’s appropriate for the markets served by our new 737 MAX and have found a way to deliver a minimum of 30 inches of pitch for all Main Cabin rows.”
American said customers may not notice they’ll have one fewer inch of pitch compared to the current 737s. “These seats are designed to make efficient use of the space available and feel more spacious so a 30-inch pitch will feel more like today’s 31 inches,” it said.
American also said it may install the same configuration on its more than 300 existing Boeing 737s.