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