American’s new 737 MAX 8 aircraft have a brand new interior that squeezes in more seats. They’ve gone from 150 seats on 737s 4 years ago to 160 seats on most 737s today and now to 172 seats.
The extra space for seats comes by squeezing the seats together. First class drops from 40 inches between seats down to 37. Main Cabin Extra goes from about 35 inches between seats down to 33. And regular economy goes from 31 inches to 30.
It’s not just the seats that get closer together. They’ve removed the bulkhead between first and economy, and they’ve shrunk the size of the lavatories too.
American gets 12 extra seats per plane. And in exchange they compromise their product.
This isn’t a case of premium passengers getting more and everyone else getting less. First class gets less, and the last row of first class gets passengers in the first row of coach kicking their seat backs, as I observed on the inaugural flight for this plane Miami – New York LaGuardia.
American is hyping their win as Global Traveler‘s Airline of the Year and that they won “Best Airline for Domestic First Class” a claim which may be true because they offer more legroom than their competitors up front something that they are actively eliminating with this new standard domestic interior.
American has 100 737 MAXs on order, and plans to retrofit their fleet of about 300 existing 737-800s.
All this project gets them – an inferior product and a costly reconfiguration — is 12 extra seats to sell, two more rows of economy. Did I mention that the inaugural flight wasn’t full?
Two extra rows of coach, and to get there they’ve even got three fewer rows of Main Cabin Extra seats to sell (or to provide to their top elites who have to meet minimum spend requirements with the airline for their status).
They’re buying new seats and new lavatories for the retrofit, a huge capital investment in order to have a leas desirable product. Next step, steal underpants. Then, profit.
American is making huge investments in premium products, such as:
- Lie flat direct aisle access seats in most of their international fleet
- Satellite high speed internet
- Flagship business class lounges with open bar and buffet (as well as some freshly prepared items) and first class sit down dining.
- Renovating Admirals Club airport lounges
- New Casper bedding in premium cabins
But most customers are in coach, and most planes are flying domestically or short haul international. The product most passengers experience, and what American builds its brand and consumer impressions based on, is worse than ever.
American says they are spending “more than $3 billion in new customer products and services” making the mainstay product of their domestic fleet penny wise and pound foolish.
If people don’t attribute a quality product to American Airlines, the investment they’re making in that quality product is diminished. Emirates, for instance, gets far more credit from consumers for offering a quality experience than the angled business class seats throughout the bulk of their fleet deserves. American will have the reverse, an actually good premium product that consumers won’t expect or believe because their brand has been tarnished.
In the meantime they are diminishing the differentiation in the market between themselves and Spirit and Allegiant. They will never have Spirit’s costs or Allegiant’s. They need to earn more revenue. But they seem to think the way to do that is without a better product, just to charge more. Because that’s how business works, said no business owner ever.
American’s CEO Doug Parker has dismissed the revenue premium Delta earns as a function of their hub in Atlanta. But if the airline is going to overcome a geographic disadvantage it has to convince customers to take its own connections when they have choices and even more geographically desirable choices. It won’t convince customers with the new 737 product.