AA's new 737 Max jets will see squeezed legroom in economy / Boeing

US carrier to slash legroom to 29 inches in certain economy seats

It’s been a rough few weeks for the airline industry, starting with the passenger being dragged from a plane on United. And just when you thought May was going to be better, American Airlines has announced that it’s to cut legroom.

AA will slash seat pitch by up to two inches in its 737 Max jetliner fleet, although by how much depends on the seat. The economy cabin will see legroom shrunk from 31 inches (roughly the industry standard) to 30 inches, and three rows – two at the back, and one higher up – will lose an extra inch, making it a tighter squeeze than Ryanair.

By trimming the legroom, AA plans to fit three extra rows on the plane. The airline ordered 100 737s in January as part of its “next-generation” fleet, with plans to have 40 in operation by 2019.

An American Airlines spokesperson told Skift that the airline is toying with “something similar” for its existing 737s.

The news – first revealed by CNN – follows in the footsteps of British Airways, its codeshare partner, which revealed plans in November to add 52 seats to its longhaul 777 fleet by slashing legroom. BA’s 29-inch seat pitch will match easyJet’s. Ryanair comes in at a comparatively roomy 30 inches.

With the legroom to differ from seat to seat in AA’s plans, there is speculation that the airline will use seat pitch to determine price, although AA says there are no plans to do so as yet. The airline’s new “basic economy” fares – rock bottom prices which allow the airline to compete with no-frills rivals such as Spirit – do not include a carry-on bag or the ability to select a seat. AA says it has no plans to assign the 29-inch seats to its basic economy passengers.

John Walton, who writes about passenger experience for Runway Girl Network, told The Independent: 

“It's unfortunate that American thinks the way to compete with low-cost carriers is a race to the bottom. With the already narrower seats on a Boeing 737, this will be the least amount of personal space offered to passengers in living memory."