US economy passengers unable to afford “extra legroom” seats have been given a minor reprieve by American Airlines.
The carrier has reversed a decision to reduce the seat pitch — the distance from one point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front — in three rows of seats to 29 inches (73.6cms) on its new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft after public complaints about the proposal.
Instead, the airline will reduce the pitch by 1 inch to 30 inches, bringing into line the rest of the main economy cabin. That’s still 1 inch less than on American’s existing 737s because it is adding 12 seats to bring the count up to 172.
Airlines have been cramming more seats into basic economy class cabins as air fares have fallen in real terms. They argue the move has been offset by new slimline seat designs that mean passengers still have sufficient personal space and American says its new seats will seem more like a 31-inch pitch.
American’s 29-inch seat pitch was not the worst available — low-cost carriers such as Spirit Airlines have 28 inches — but it was seen as a low water mark for full-service carriers.
An internal note obtained by US media said the airline would make up for the increase by removing a row from its extra legroom section.
“Designing aircraft interiors is an art and a science,” American president Robert Isom said in the 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.”
The reversal comes as US carriers faced increased criticism over their treatment of passengers following an incident involving the forced removal of 69-year-old David Dao from a flight in Chicago
The incident involving United Airlines focussed the attention of politicians on passenger rights and left airlines facing attempts to introduce a raft of bills addressing passenger rights.
Congressional hearings in May saw the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Republican Bill Shuster, issue a sharp warning that it expected “real results” from airlines trying to clean up their act.
Shuster warned the airlines Congress would move to ensure customers were treated with the respect they deserved is airlines didn’t produce “meaningful results that improve customer service”.
United Airlines was back in the news last week when a video emerged of an elderly man being pushed to the ground by one of its employees in a 2015 incident in Texas. The man, 71-year-old Houston lawyer Ronald Tigner, is suing the airline for $US1 million.
The incident reportedly stemmed from Tigner’s attempts to get an illegible boarding pass reprinted after security officials refused to let him through a checkpoint.
“We have seen the video from 2015 that shows completely unacceptable behavior by a United employee,” United said in a statement. “This employee was terminated from United in August 2015 following the incident.