American Airlines Drops Plan for 29″ Pitch on 737 MAX 8

No Legroom Airplane Seat

Outrage ensued last month when CNN broke the news about American Airlines’ decision to cut economy pitch length on their new 787 MAX 8 planes.

The report stated American would decrease the standard economy pitch length on its new 737s  from 31″ down to 30″, and that 3 rows (18 seats) would be curbed to a tight 29″.

These plans were drawn up in order to fit as many as 10 additional seats on the single-aisle aircraft, the first of which was set to be delivered later this year.

In comparison, the current 737-800s operate a 160-seat economy class with a standard 31″ pitch throughout. This new seating plan was set to retain American’s Main Cabin Extra section at 36 seats as well as 16 first class seats.

AA 373-800 Economy Seating (current)
Current 737-800 economy seating on American. Image courtesy of airlinereporter.com.

What Changed?

In an internal memo on Tuesday, June 13, American Airlines confirmed their reversal of the 29″ pitch length decision.

American Airlines President Robert Isom stated, “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. This is the right call for customers and the right call for our team members who take care of them,” Isom added. (source)

So, what changed?

American said they “received a lot of feedback from both customers and team members” in regards to this extra cut. (Anyone surprised??)

The memo also stated: “It is clear that today, airline customers feel increasingly frustrated by their experiences and less valued when they fly. We can be leaders in helping to turn around that perception, and that includes reviewing decisions that have significant impact on the flying experience.”

The new 737 MAX 8 will operate with the 172 seats planned. However, to make this happen with a standard 30″ pitch in economy, American will cut a row of Main Cabin Extra seats to leave them with the following: 16 first class, 30 Main Cabin Extra, and 126 economy. American currently has 100 of these planes on order.

Boeing AA 737-800
AA 373-800 in flight. Image courtesy of boeing.com.

What’s the Norm?

The industry minimum for pitch length is 28″, which some ultra-low-cost carriers, unfortunately, opt for. With this in mind, the 29″ pitch decision from American would have placed the airline toward the bottom rung in terms of front-to-back seat space.

Economy Class Pitch Comparisons (Single Aisle Aircraft)

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 31”-32”
American (Current/New) Boeing 737-800 31”/30”
Delta Boeing 737-800 31”-32”
Frontier Airbus 320 & 321 28”
JetBlue Airbus 320 & 321 32”-34”
Ryan Air Boeing 737-800 30”
Southwest Boeing 737-800 32”-33”
Spirit Airbus 320 & 321 28”
United Boeing 737-800 30”-31”
Virgin America Airbus 320 & 321 32”

Regardless, at a 30″ standard pitch, it’s still possible the seats could feel a little cramped.

American Airlines spokesman Joshua Freed has a response to those concerned. Freed has said the carrier doesn’t measure legroom, which it considers a subjective experience that varies with the length of each passenger’s legs.

Instead, he said, the carrier can shrink the distance between seat backs — the “pitch”  — because seats themselves are thinner on the 737-Max. He mentions this product should still provide a good experience for customers. (source)

Are “Pitch” & “Legroom” the Same?

Technically, no. The true definition of “pitch” is the distance from one point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front of it.

For this reason, many airline customer service representatives argue that a shorter pitch doesn’t necessarily mean less room.

In the American Airlines memo, the company reiterated the idea that a 1″ decrease in pitch length won’t really affect customers all that much, stating: “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.” (source)

What Else Is Different?

Due to airline reports that the majority of passengers now bring their own entertainment systems on board (laptops, tablets, e-readers, gaming systems, etc.) the new 737 MAX 8 planes will no longer have personal in-flight entertainment systems.

The planes will have a satellite-based WiFi for use on personal devices, but we’re still unsure at what cost to passengers.

Additionally, rumors of smaller lavatories were circulating when American made the initial 29″ pitch decision; we’re unsure if the reversal will affect this space.

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