Four Routes Where You Want to Avoid Flying American Airlines

Whenever you see a “Basic Economy” fare offered by either American Airlines or United, you want to check pricing for a comparable Southwest Airlines, jetBlue, or Alaska Airlines flight because those airlines don’t have similar restrictions on their tickets. (You even want to check Delta, because at least their Basic Economy fares don’t prevent you from bringing a full-sized carry on bag onboard.)

However there’s now something new to add to the ‘avoid’ list: flights operated by American Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. So far they only have two of these planes. MAXs will be based out of Miami for the most part, however not exclusively. They’ve ordered a total of 100.

There are a few nice things about this aircraft.

  1. Satellite internet, although it wasn’t working any better than standard air-to-ground when I flew the plane On Wednesday.

  2. Power at every seat, although power on the rest of American’s fleet where it currently exists often doesn’t work. There is no current maintenance program to keep it working either, though American says they’re developing one.

  3. Huge overhead bins. Since bags lay sideways we may not have to gate check rollaboards anymore, although passengers need to re-learn how to stow their bags to utilize this capacity.

However:

  • There are no seat back television screens
  • They’ve reduced the distance between each seat (not just in economy but also in additional legroom economy at the front of the plane, and also in first class)
  • They shrunk the lavatories, facing forward I touch the wall on one side and the sink on the other. They shrunk the sinks, too, and those don’t catch the water coming from the faucet. Instead every passenger using the lavatory came out with water sprayed across their shirts (and it sprayed all over the lavatory door, too).

To be fair, I don’t believe the new 30 inch pitch seats in economy – the seats themselves – are worse than some of American’s existing coach seats (which do lag Southwest and jetBlue in comfort). It’s other elements of their interior layout which I believe make this plane worse for customer experience than the existing fleet.

Here’s where this new plane is scheduled to fly:

Dallas-Anchorage, by the way, is 3043 miles. American says they don’t plan to fly the plane transatlantic though it has the range, but this flight is only 200 miles shorter than Boston – London.

This plane was designed for such long routes. But the American Airlines interior wasn’t.

When US Airways took over American they increased the number of seats on American 737s from 150 to 160. With this new configuration they’ve upped that further to 172. That’s a 15% increase in seats in the same space over the past four years.

You’re not going to be getting a discount to fly this product. American believes you don’t pay enough for the tickets you buy today.

However if they’re going to be offering a low cost carrier product they’ll be competing with a much more expensive cost structure against low cost carrier fares. That seems an unwise strategy.

Nonetheless American will be retrofitting their roughly 300 Boeing 737-800s to match the interiors of these MAXs so eventually you’ll want to avoid at least 40% of their aircraft.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. 98% of the people who are flying are not reading this blog and will pick the cheapest flight on expedia so none of this advice really will apply to them.

  2. Compared to the A320 family, the 737 is a horrible plane. And the current trend among most airlines is to make the 737 even worse. No, thank you. If I have a choice on a route, I’ll always pick a A321 over a 737.

  3. On the American Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, we might have more legroom if American Airlines adds a seat belt in the “huge overhead bin.” I could then use the overhead bin to stretch out in comfort and use my seat and seat belt to secure my passenger baggage to my empty seat.

  4. No seatback TVs are a huge postitive, IMO.

    This blog is getting more absurd by the day. A quote from your review article from flying the AA 737MAX: “my complaints about space are really complaints about economy — as it’s experienced today on American Airlines, United, and Delta — more than they are complaints about this economy. The lavatories though are absurd.”

    Are you going to post a similar rant about not flying the Southwest routes where they operate their 737Max, with no seatback TVs and the same space saver lavs? Or the Delta routes where they’ve been operating with space saver lavs for years…

  5. This is silly. If you’re in Dallas and you need to get to Anchorage next summer, you most definitely should fly AA’s nonstop flight (assuming the price is acceptable to you). I’m trying to think of a scenario where any rational person would not make that selection. I can’t.

    In the real world — not the imaginary fancy pants world where everyone flies up front for free — there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking an AA MAX flight in coach anywhere they fly. Heck, at the right price (aka, cheap) I would even fly it to Europe (which, as you say, they’re not even planning on doing). Tens of thousands of people opt to take WORSE aircraft to Europe (like Norwegian, WOW, etc) because they think it’s better to fly cheap than fly marginally more comfortably for more money. If you’re a regular traveller who is willing to fly coach to get where you need to go, the AA MAX is a totally acceptable aircraft. It would be like refusing to fly any 737 because the coach seat width on a narrowbody Airbus is typically 1 inch better. Do people do this?

  6. @brandote — I didn’t see your post. Apparently there ARE people who refuse to fly 737s because the seats are narrower! Different strokes for different folks. But these are eccentricities, not mass-market behaviors.

  7. i’m no fan of AA but it’s honestly not the worst. I’ve survived flying Norwegian’s 737 Max 8 on SWF-EDI, which is roughly same distance as BOS-LHR. And there’s no WiFi or in-seat IFE on Norwegian.

  8. The title of your post is “4 routes to avoid”. I have to fish through the article and only about half way through so I see a mention of any routes. With a title like “four routes to avoid…” I’d expect to see the four routes specifically mentioned early on then an explanation of why. Not endless rehashing of previously written work. Do better.

  9. Here’s a shocker: In late 2016 I flew Allegiant for a 2.5 hr flight on plastic seats that didn’t recline and … dare I say it: no TV screen!!!!

    I’m still in therapy…

  10. The takeaway from all this is that airlines, aircraft, and seat choice all contribute to TIST: Time In Seat Tolerance. My 75 year-old, 200 lb father would be able to tolerate the AA Max route MIA>MCO at about an hour in seat, but DFW>ANC to join us for an Alaskan cruise? I think not. Meanwhile, my 25 year-old daughter, who weighs in at 100 pounds and barely reaches my shoulder, fIies Frontier regularly and can’t tell the difference between their subway style seats and her grandfather’s Lazyboy recliner.

    The bigger issue for the general public–my heretofore ignorant daughter included–is that people fail to do a little research to discover that there can be better alternatives available for the same price, especially when taking into all those extra fees on LCCs and E-.

  11. When an airline is profitable but then they decide to add more seats at the cost of passenger comfort that is just greed. I’m not some anti-capitalist. Actually I’m pro-capitalist. I’m just saying that everyone has limits. It’s like someone that says that a 28, 29 or 30 inch pitch is just fine yet they are a small person or have short legs. Then they are upset at people who complain that are maybe tall and can’t fit in smaller seats. It’s sad that airlines that have tried to provide more room or better comfort have not been able to make that work for all passengers. Also if seat size in economy is not important why do people try so hard to upgrade, move to exit rows or get MCE seats.

  12. Every change AA is making is worse and worse. They haven’t made a single positive change lately (as of 2011).
    Oh and they want $2700 for me to keep my EXP status. Ha!

  13. @iahphx I choose flights based on a variety of factors including: fare, schedule, and equipment. If that makes me eccentric in your opinion, then so be it. But I’m not a brainwashed AA fan boy schlepping in and out of DFW or CLT to get places. I live in New York, and the cities I fly to most often: LHR, LAX, HKG, MIA, BOS, and ORD, are all served by many airlines…the exception here being MIA, I’ll always fly AA, but for the time being, on LGA flights, I have a choice between a 737 and A321.

  14. The author makes great points, unlike a few of the of the commenters…
    Not having a seat back TV is not in keeping with the industry and certainly worth bemoaning. Southwest airlines is different; they have a completely different business model. Dont compare a no change fee, bags fly free, super friendly SWA to AA to justify their moves away from customer comfort.

    Saying 98% of readers will use expedida so the advice isn’t relevant is nonsense. Your number is abetrarry and the conclusion is also baseless. Whether or not a majority of readers use internet low fare apps, we can still use the information to make better informed decisions about the airline we choose among the low fare options.

    The person who expressed frustration about “AA bashing continues unabated” should realize that telling the truth isn’t bashing.

    To the author and those with fair and logical comments, thanks for your insights.

  15. Southwest’s MAX8 is at least as comfortable as their earlier 737-800’s. Those are what I once would have called acceptable but in this race to the bottom they are now among the best coach cabins.

    It’s not the aircraft; it’s the airline.

  16. These days, virtually all flying is equivalent to “voluntary waterboarding.” No fun at all! And even Southwest has added rows of seats so, yes, the pitch on their 737’s is decreasing, too. I’m prone to claustrophobia on these very full flights with little room to move around – and what happens in the event of an emergency? The sooner I’m off the plane, the happier I am…

    Anyhow, American has lost its way, as I knew would happen when Parker took over. I’ve never been a fan of his misguided leadership. I didn’t make Platinum for the first time in several years thanks to a heart attack and a cardiologist who restricted my flying for several months. And that’s when I received an “offer” from AA to keep my Platinum status for a payment of $1500…!!! I wrote AA customer service and explained the situation, asking if they might consider reducing the $1500 buy in. A customer service agent was sympathetic but no reduction. So then I, like many of you, finally realized that AA doesn’t really care about me or any of its loyal customers, and also, like you, figured that $1500 would be better used choosing convenience on any available flight on any available airline over unrequited loyalty from AA. Bye bye, AA.

  17. @ DaninMCI — You are correct. It IS “greed” to cram more passengers on airplanes. But this IS how capitalism works. (OK, it’s not how Amazon works, which enriches its shareholders by being the largest non-profit company on earth, but I’ll assume that’s an outlier). AA’s profit margins are not huge by corporate standards. They face ferocious competition on domestic routes from ultra low cost airlines that have figured out that customers are willing to be uncomfortable — and stupid enough to be suckered — by a bad product with lots of hidden fees.

    As a consumer, you have choices. You can pay AA more money and fly in first class comfort. You can choose to fly another airline. You can decide to drive, or to stay home. These are all reasonable choices. But AA is doing exactly what AA should be doing for itself. The guys running the company didn’t grow the business from a small, unsuccessful regional airline (America West) to the biggest airline in the world by being bad businessmen.

  18. I’ve used those sinks and managed just fine, not sure what you’re doing wrong to get water on yourself… And getting it on the door, lol, how the heck did you/they manage that? It’s angled into the lav…

    Don’t be so dramatic…

  19. Its simple. Airlines need to constantly grow revenue. Airlines answer to shareholders not customers. So every year any public company is going to have to find a way to grow revenue. The easiest way to do that is add more seats. If we were a CEO of an airline, we would be doing the same thing. Its economics.

  20. @Baron — Flying coach is like submitting to “voluntary waterboarding”?

    Really? What universe do you live in?

    And I thought that flying coach was like submitting to a small bit of personal discomfort to get someplace I needed/wanted to go at a reasonable price.

    I’m trying to think of how you’d describe travel before the dawn of the jet age. Is flying coach worse than taking a stagecoach?

  21. Can somebody please help me?
    I’m crying so hard I can barely see the keyboard.
    I can’t do this, my brain hurts so much and I have such a bad headache.

    My mom is in Hospice, I just spoke with the hospice nurse & I tried to talk to my mother but she won’t wake up. I spoke with her yesterday and I guess the very last word she will say on this earth is my name. I though she was going to last longer but she isn’t.
    Can somebody research flights for me Leave Marseille France starting Sunday & stay about 10 days to 2 weeks in Chicago. I know there are cut off days for when the fare flights increase for Christmas but I don’t know what that date its. I’m so upset I just can’t do this work. The best flights with the best connections and price. I know it is going to cost me over $2,000. When I did the first search and saw the prices I quit, I’m just crying to hard to see or think.

    I think connecting through Spain is usually pretty good, there is a low cost carrier from Marseilles to Spain but I can’t think of the name right now.

    At this late date I’m sure I can’t afford economy plus. My poor hips with arthritis, it’s gonna be a rough trip on economy.

  22. “I’m trying to think of how you’d describe travel before the dawn of the jet age. Is flying coach worse than taking a stagecoach?”

    Sometimes we do lose sight of the fact that the “race to the bottom” really is a first world problem. The degradation of comfort and the determination to squeeze every last piece of self-loading cargo into the tube is indeed sad. But it beats crossing the country in a DC3 during the “clipper age.” The seats were bigger and the people were smaller. But it was also a multi-day odyssey with a dozen fuel stops and no lav. People puked from the turbulence, while others smoked like chimneys to cover up the stench.

    Something better ultimately came along. And it will again.

  23. @Gary – i thoughtI had read on airlineroute that American had swapped out the Max for a 757 really recently. You sure them flying the Max to ANC?

  24. Hello, Sad! I just tried Priceline.com (section to pick your own flights.) I see a Lufthansa flight departing on Tue. Dec. 5, returning Mon. Dec. 18 for US$1400s which is cheaper than Sun. or Mon. Also, if you can drive or take a train to Barcelona or Paris, the price drops to ~$1140. Please feel free to email me at gopatbb@hotmail.com for more help.

  25. Sad, there are flights leaving Marseilles on Sunday connecting through through Brussels to Chicago for under $600, but there’s an overnight in Brussels so you won’t get to Chicago until Monday afternoon. Return is on Dec 13.

    If you want to get their faster, the cheapest thing I am seeing is leaving Sunday on Lufthansa and connecting in Munich to Chicago for about $1600. Cheapest return is Dec 11, it looks like after that prices jump.

    Other people on here may be able to do better.

    Try Google flights, it’s pretty easy to use. Feel better.

  26. And Air France comes in at $1407 roundtrip from Marseille on Dec.6–18 or $1390 returning on the 19th.

  27. “Something better ultimately came along. And it will again.”

    Maybe there will be teleportation, but otherwise the breakthrough in comfort is when there is no longer a huge financial incentive to cram as many passengers as possible into a small tube for efficient long distance travel. Can the jet engine be reinvented so that fuel costs become minimal? That would be a revolution. Imagine how wonderful air travel would be if everyone could have more space and didn’t have to pay for it.

  28. I would like Gary to be an advocate with the FAA regarding the safety of airlines’ policy of continuing to pack more people into a finite space. How will people be able to vacate the plane in an emergency? As it is, I have observed flights where there are 8 or more passengers in wheelchairs waiting to board. How fast are they going to evacuate even if seated in first class. What about people with oxygen devices? What about people with “little fifi”? American Airlines in an obscure document tells disabled passengers to ask other passengers to help them. So you help them, inadvertently injure them and get sued. People have no idea that disabled passengers have been authorized by the airline to make such requests. The bottomline is safety. Gary, please discuss this and take it to the FAA.

  29. If airlines are going to reduce seat pitch to the bare minimum then they should also get rid of recline altogether. Who are they trying to kid? they could also do away with the tray tables altogether too, just provide a cupholder. These new seats are no more comfortable than the seats at Mcdonalds, or in the terminal waiting area, or in movie theatres, or in the doctors waiting room. Do you get reclining seats or expect them in any of those places. These seats are not made to be comfy big recliners, they are bare bones public space seating like a park bench. Cramming people together in a high tension sitiuation is stressful enough, without having the person in front of you able to intrude into your limited space, reduced space economy seating, at their whim. This is a recipe for conflict, increased stress, and unnecessary discomfort.
    Some airlines have already realized this and eliminated recline on their cheap seats. Of course they have more experience as low cost budget airlines than american does. But American will learn that adding to passengers discomfort and flying misery is no way to run an airline. Legacy, budget or low cost, if your passengers hate you they will fly some other airline who at least tries to be thoughtful and considerate of their passengers well being and satisfaction. If you keep squeezing your passengers you will soon find you are left with all lemons.

  30. Gary,

    There was a story on here a while back where an executive at AA saying something like 50% of AA’s passengers fly with them once a year. I imagine that number is similar at the other major airlines. To me, this is the most telling airline statistic when trying to understand the motivation of the carriers.

    I think it’s safe to say these people are infrequent travellers who have no brand loyalty and choose flights primarily on price. When FULLY HALF of your customers would be willing to take the flight at the next gate over to save a few bucks, you have to compete with changes like this. There just aren’t enough frequent flyers to fill the planes otherwise. Like it or not, the Spirits/Ryanairs/Frontiers have set the fare expectations for a huge segment of the customer base.

    At the same time, frequent flyers have gotten more demanding and entitled in the face of these changes. We expect lounge access, free bags, access to extra-legroom seats, free upgrades, etc. and we piss and moan if we don’t get them. With all the efforts to monetize the front cabins over the last few years, I’m sure the airlines wish they’d never rolled out free upgrades in the first place and would get rid of them altogether if they could figure out a way to do it without losing business in the transition.

    I know you won’t like hearing this, but in the end you are just your fare.

  31. @Sad: As someone who went through something very similar a few years ago, I understand your pain. Just take things one day at a time and ride it out. It’ll be a tough journey, but this too will pass.

    Don’t worry about the cost right now. I know that sounds dismissive, but the money will sort itself out eventually. Find something that gets you there quickly rather than cheaply.

    The hardest conversation I’ve ever had was telling my brother in New Zealand that Mom had just had another, bigger stroke. He said he’d already booked a flight home to Canada the next morning. I told him there was an Air New Zealand flight leaving Auckland in 4 hours, and if he wanted to see her alive he needed to be on that plane no matter the price. He was, and she stopped responding an hour after he reached the hospital.

    Time outweighs cost in these situations.

  32. AA cancelled plans to use this on DFW-ANC. It will be a 757.

    I’m sure AA cancelled it because they realized how stupid an idea it was. The configuration of this plane is stupid enough. Using them on DFW-ANC is a joke.

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