American Airlines Giving You Even Less Legroom On Its New Planes

Image courtesy of Andrew W. Sieber

You might have felt sorry for the airline industry when members of Congress literally asked why airlines “hate the American people.” After all, they’re just businesses trying to make a go of it, like the rest of us. Then you see that a major carrier has decided to give passengers even less legroom than they currently have.

American Airlines is planning to scrape even more legroom out of its economy-class passengers’ seats with its next wave of new planes, CNN Money reports.

The incredible shrinking legroom is going to allow American to cram another row of seats onto its Boeing 737 Max aircraft, CNN explains. Three rows of the plane will see the distance between seats shrinking from 31 inches to 29; the other economy class rows will “only” shrink to 30 inches of pitch between seats.

The 18 seats that only get 29″ of room will cost the same regular economy fare as the rest of the seats that get 30″, CNN reports; they won’t be separated out into the basic economy bare-bones fare.

The bathrooms — never exactly luxuriously large — will also be shrinking by a few inches, CNN reports. The combination of the two will allow the airline to cram in 170 seats onto the plane instead of the current 160.

American is adding 40 of the 737 Max jets to its fleet by the end of 2019, with another 60 above that on order. American is also considering making similar seat-cramming changes on its existing fleet of 737-800 planes but hasn’t yet decided one way or the other.

Sources also told CNN that United is considering a similar reduction in space on some of its aircraft, but the airline refused CNN’s request for comment.

In this, CNN points out, American and other legacy carriers are now starting to provide less room than “budget” carriers… but largely for more money.

Widely-disliked Spirit Airlines and its low-cost competitor Frontier provide the least amount of passenger space, with seats pitched 28″ apart. Delta and United range between 30″ and 31″, but JetBlue, Southwest, and Alaska all fall into the 31″ to 33″ range.

Collapsing legroom is particularly annoying to travelers because one, it’s physically uncomfortable and two, there’s nothing you can do to mitigate it. You can avoid baggage fees or cramped overhead bins by changing how you pack, but barring some complicated and troubling science-fiction future, we can’t exactly swap out part or all of our bodies just to travel painlessly. And of course, it’s not like they ever shrink first class by an inch to accommodate more coach class passengers.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.