At the beginning of 2000 American Airlines announced More Room Throughout Coach with an extra inch or two of legroom for all seats in the coach cabin by removing two rows of seats. Customers didn’t give American the revenue premium they had hoped for, and they began to add a row of seats back into some aircraft in 2003 and ended the More Room Throughout Coach program in 2004.
United Airlines in contrast introduced Economy Plus extra legroom seating to the front of their coach cabin in 1999. This was available at the time to full fare passengers and elites (including Star Alliance Gold members). Gradually this become more restrictive. Star ALliance Golds lost access. So did full fare customers. And after United’s CFO called elites ‘over-entitled’ they restricted economy plus to seats available at check-in for Silver members.
United hadn’t monetized the seats via upsell, and Continental management expected to eliminate the extra legroom seats but figured out they could make more money selling those seats so they remained.
Meanwhile Delta introduced Economy Comfort extra legroom seats at the front of the coach cabin in 2011, and American brought back extra legroom to the front of coach in 2012. This year though American took away free access to these seats from full fare passengers and those on extra miles awards.
US Airways never added this sort of section to its planes. And as American has densified its cabins it has reduced the number of Main Cabin Extra seats in some existing aircraft. Four years into the merger they haven’t added these seats to most legacy US Airways planes. Their new standard coach product, first rolled out to new 737 MAXs, limits these seats as well to only 3 rows and with a bit less legroom than before.
Nonetheless I was still surprised to see what they’ve done reconfiguring their Boeing 777-300ERs as they add a premium economy cabin to the aircraft.
On American Airlines seat maps Main Cabin Extra extra legroom seats are a redish orange color. On the 777-300ER the front of coach is Main Cabin Extra.
In addition they call exit rows and bulkheads, seats that have extra legroom by virtue of the cabin configuration, Main Cabin Extra as well. Here are those seats on the current 777-300ER.
American would beg to differ with my characterization of legacy US Airways aircraft. They sell Main Cabin Extra on those planes — that’s just the branding for exit row and other seats that happen to have more space. But they don’t have a section at the front of the cabin with extra legroom.
With the Boeing 777-300ER reconfiguration it appears they’ve gone US Airways style. The former Main Cabin Extra rows are now the new premium economy cabin. And it’s just the bulkhead seats behind premium economy in that section that is Main Cabin Extra. There is no more section at the front of coach with extra legroom.
Instead the exit rows are naturally sold as Main Cabin Extra and they sell a block of extra legroom middle seats at the back of the plane as Main Cabin Extra.
Here’s the bulkhead row behind premium economy:
And here’s Main Cabin Extra towards the back of the plane:
American is eliminating the idea of a section of extra legroom seats at the front of coach from their 777-300ERs. Presumably this is about squeezing more seats into the plane, but has the added benefit of making sure Main Cabin Extra isn’t “good enough” for those who might buy up to Premium Economy.
And that’s all on top of changing the Main Cabin Extra section in their 777-300s from 9-abreast seating to 10-abreast, taking away shoulder width. With this reconfiguration the plane goes from American’s best long haul plane for elites flying coach to arguably their worst long haul plane for elites flying coach.