Is American Planning to Eliminate a Row of First Class From Its 737s?

American Airlines says they’re planning to add seats to domestic planes.

I assumed at a minimum this referred to legacy US Airways Airbus A321s. There’s a rumor though that already-squeezed Boeing 737-800s will go from 160 to 174 seats.

I asked American about this and was told only “nothing to announce at this time.” They did not choose to offer a denial.

Here’s another version of the rumor,

Just got out of a meeting and we were told that starting with the 737 max the AA 737s will go from 160 seats to 174. Not sure of the breakdown of F/Y. As other 737s cycle through service their seating will be increased as well.

American already squeezed an extra row of seats into their 737-800s (going from 154 to 160) eliminating 3 rows of ‘Main Cabin Extra’ extra legroom seats and some additional nips and tucks. With only 3 extra legroom rows left besides the exit rows they’d likely need to:

  1. Drop a row of first class (down from 4 rows to 3) and reduce first class legroom. Currently American offers 40 inches of pitch in first class on the plane which is more generous than competitors (United and Delta offer 37 to 38 inches on the same plane, and Delta’s Airbus narrowbodies have just 36 inches from seat back to seat back). The goal would be to add two rows of seats in front of the emergency exits.

  2. Add a row of seats behind the exits, mostly from squeezing legroom from ‘regulary’ economy seating.

American Airlines Boeing 737 ‘New’ First Class

This would be a bridge too far for any hope of domestic upgrades on reasonably business travel heavy routes — even, perhaps, for ConciergeKey members.

American has nearly 290 Boeing 737-800s. It’s their domestic workhorse and 30% of the mainline fleet. American has 100 Boeing 737 MAX 8s on order.

To be sure I had not heard this specifically from within American, I have absolutely no independent verification.

But it’s consistent with airline President Robert Isom telling investors “we have narrow-body density opportunities” to pursue (and my first guess that this referred to legacy US Airways A321s may have been too narrow) and I’ve found that usually the answer ‘nothing to announce’ means ‘we don’t want to tell you’ rather than ‘it’s not true’ although it could also mean ‘final approval hasn’t been made for this decision.’

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. There is only so much “squeezing” that can be done within the body of the aircraft. Looking at the past performance over time, it appears that in approximately 6.7 years from now American Airlines will have the same seat layout and policies as Spirit Airlines. Well done, American! Let’s hope United and Delta also choose to compete in this race to the bottom.

  2. I’m a BOS-based EXP who pays for F both for business and personal reasons but sometimes upgrades on personal flights when the fare difference is too great. This would probably be the final straw for me to finally try DL in spite of Sky Pesos. The current AA F experience on the 737s is pretty nice with good legroom and comfortable seats. If they ripped out a row, cut legroom and no doubt removed PTVs at the same time, that would really be it for me. Fingers crossed this is just AA putting out a rumor to gauge reactions of their best customers but I’m not hoping for the best.

  3. American FA’s have already done away with predeparture beverages way too much of the time, even when the flight is on time and normally boarded

    maybe they should just eliminate first class altogether. that way they could forever end all griping about the near unavailability of first class award travel (except at ridiculous “monopoly money” miles prices) and the near inability to upgrade to first class, because first class won’t even exist

  4. AS is doing this now as well as a new Premium Coach, both of which are winners, I love the new configuration in first much more room. The premium coach is really nice plenty of legroom, equal to the old FC. AS seems to be doing it right these days and as a AS FF I am glad to be rid of Delta

  5. 174 PAX is impossible to reach on a 737. 172 seems more likely and not by removing any FC seats but by reducing FC pitch to align with Delta & United. Delta and United 737-800’s are 166, this is just one more row of seats. Also, remember, American added a row of seats to go BACK to 160 after they removed a row.

  6. Why compete on “Customer Experience” when iit’s apparently easier for today’s airline management gurus to model themselves as lemmings trashing any element of physical comfort and service?
    Another reason to not be supportive against the Gulf airlines; to tolerate market intrusion by Congress to regulate seating per physical health common sense; to push for cabotage for better foreign carriers to fly within the U.S.
    Just as strict adherence to “the pure market” destroyed true competition in our health care, so has it devastated now our transportation sector, in a rush to mimic the Soviet Union model!

  7. I’d speculate that they will take the F pitch down to match DL/UA and add more in the back. Unfortunate, beacause their F pitch is noticeably better, at least on the 737. I do wonder how their paid F load factor is vs DL? I remember thinking last week on an AA flight, “wow, this really is way better than DL up front.”

  8. This may go far to cut back the constant me-me-me caterwauling from the sadomasochistic league. Customer satisfaction levels for some may rise to glassy-eyed euphoria, which means the phone videos could get ugly.

  9. 737 max aft lav has been redesigned providing additional room for an extra row. That and newer, slimmer seats.

  10. Idiotic if true. That gives this EXP zero reason to remain loyal to AA (and give them guaranteed income). My miles are already worthless.

  11. It’s time to star regulating the airlines again. They are not competent to mangage themselves.

    They are all racing to the bottom.

  12. All this speculation and people upset that they don’t do predeparture beverage service?! Surely you realize how absurd you sound. When you’re stepping into the aircraft why not ask your FA prepare you a drink give her your seat number? Or is that too difficult..

  13. 174 is not impossible. Current is 160.

    Add 3 rows of coach (18) and remove one row of first (4) is a net add of 14.

    3 Y rows need about 90 inches of cabin. You get 40 from removing the row of F alone. Squeeze a 3 inches out of each of the 3 remaining F rows and you are at 49 in front of the exits you only need to find 11 more inches out of other Y rows, galley, etc to get 2 rows of Y.

    Then you squeeze out one row of Y behind the exit rows. Tight for sure but seems doable.

  14. I’m not a big guy, but it would help me if the seat in front of me couldn’t recline. I dropped a pen on the floor of a 737 on Thursday. While I have the capability to retrieve it, Ihad little potential to reach it. Maybe it’s a conspiracy to fetch detritus from the cabin.

  15. Gary how do you know what is and isn’t possible? Any LOPA changes are between management, the FAA and APFA pursuant to the CBA. You and your blog reader flock is of no consequence and the extent of the considerations and planning is far above and beyond anything someone who has NEVER worked for an airline can begin to comprehend. Quit with the refrain that you’re so loyal to AA, you’ve only been flying with any regularity for about five years when UA became less lucrative for you. In March 2010 you bragged that you got 2MM and in your own words rarely flew AA and partners.

  16. I think you’d be hard pressed to show the ability to evac 174 out of a 737 in less than 90 seconds, especially with tight seating in main cabin. At least, if the FAA is going its job.

  17. AA has become just another Spirit. No reason to choose them unless you are guaranteed a first class seat. Just be sure to bring your own food because the meals they serve are horrendous.

  18. Funny that @Josh G never suggests it *isn’t* possible. Just goes off on a tangent about what he considers to be my level of loyalty to American or something.

  19. I’m simple minded and only a lowly Gold with AA. Upgrades for Gold are rare and usually only see them on off peak, non-elite heavy routes with aircraft that have 4+ rows of First Class. In my simple math the percentage cut in the front cabin goes from 16 to 12 so a 25% reduction in upgrade availability. So assume that on an average flight 50% of this cabin is paid so 6 of 12. This leaves 6 upgrades for all leaves. As more Ex-Plat, Plat-pro, Plat members see less upgrades they will be tempted to take their business elsewhere. These are your best, most loyal customers. Not sure this is a good move for AA

  20. @Josh G…. no need to have such a bitter attitude. Gary is certainly entitled to his opinion and you are entitled to yours.

  21. As a 15 yr EXPLAT, AA has been in a service nose dive ever since the merger into US Air. They have transitioned from friend to foe and could care less about the old AA FF’s. Although I have been a loyal AA customer until the merger, AA has become a dispicable choice since. One fully recognizes when in contact with the previous AA employees versus the US Air folks now in charge. Everything has tanked. My alternative is to reduce travel to absolute essential no other choice travel and to seek ways to the avoid the AA abuse of FF. Too bad.

  22. You’ve got to pay these now-high union wages somehow. Sadly, more seats on aircraft is a no-brainer. It’s a very unfortunate dynamic for passengers: the best way for an airline to make money is to pack its aircraft to the brim. Everyone is a little less comfortable, but the airline gets to sell 14 more seats.

  23. Yesterday Charles Leocha said it all succinctly:

    “This Sunday we ponder why airline service is so abysmal. Are our shopping actions the reason for our flying discomfort? Are we determined to get the lowest airfare while dreaming of wonderful customer service?

    When it comes to airline travel, we are our own worse enemies. We are willing to sacrifice comfort and convenience for price. The airlines have noticed and their technology to keep prices low is excellent, while their technology to improve the passenger experience stinks. Airline passengers have demonstrated time and time again that they are willing to sacrifice service at the altar of frequent flier miles and cheaper airfares. So, that is the Holy Grail of airline marketing — price over comfort.

    The airlines have been spending more on technology that gives passengers what they “say” they want rather than on providing real customer service. In the long run, over the past decade, passengers have “voted with their wallets.” That vote has shown passengers want low prices more than good service.

    The Internet put airline pricing squarely in the hands of consumers. They are voting every day for lower prices and poorer service.”

  24. I gave up on AA Platinum this year and went to SWA A-list. My reasons: the plat-pro, usually hard to get upgrades, fact charged for upgrades and then not given pre-departure drink & food in first now disgusting, lying about delays (15 min rolling extension delays when they know its a 2 hr issue) … and now this… proves i made correct decision early this year. #AAsucks

  25. QF squeezes 174 seats into their 738’s. 12C at 37in and 162Y at 30 in. I flew AKL-MEL on one and it was not that bad but the bathrooms are tiny…

    I don’t know how AA would fit in MCE however…

  26. Too bad for this news. I book, and gladly pay extra, to fly American with its decidedly better first class seating on the 737 and S80 aeroplanes. Last row of First Class window seat is nice and private with good leg room. Delta’s a complete joke. United is hit or miss.

    Hopefully this doesn’t pan out. Too bad Alaska doesn’t fly the routes I need–they actually are adding first class leg room!

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