CEOs of American and Delta Sit on a Boeing 777 and Defend Coach

Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal gets American’s Doug Parker and Delta’s Ed Bastian to sit in coach in the back of a Boeing 777-200. United’s Oscar Munoz refused to play along.

Parker defends the 10-abreast product, though it’s an empty plane so nobody is sitting next to him. Having an empty seat next to you is the number one determinant of how you’ll feel about a flight.

Bastian emphasizes that sticking with 9-abreast seating on the aircraft is core to their strategy of earning “more revenue by having a better product.”

Airline CEOs Fly Coach… Sometimes, on Short Flights

Doug Parker says he flies coach about a third of the time, when he books onto a flight that’s already sold out up front. Parker’s answer to how he’d feel in coach on a transcon?

“Without a doubt, this is, by design, less space than you have in cabins for our customers who desire a different product.”

American Airlines Boeing 787-8 Economy

Parker though can’t get that product a third of the time, and American is removing business class seats from Boeing 777-200s and Boeing 787-8s.

Delta has a new rule that director level employees and above must fly coach on flights under 3 hours.

Neither Airline Will Shrink Legroom Any Further

Delta acknowledges they have Airbus narrowbodies with some rows at 30 inches of pitch, but their CEO says “We’re not making those decisions any longer.”

American had planned to make some rows of their new domestic configuration just 29 inches of pitch, but backed off that idea when there was a backlash when word leaked. In order to get the inches back they reduced the number of extra legroom seats on the plane that allow customers to escape standard coach.

Parker makes the case that slimline seats mean the total amount of space for each passenger is the same. That’s true as far as it goes. But less padded seats, combined with less recline, make seats less comfortable. They’re manageable on those under three hour journeys Delta executives now take in back, far less so on anything longer.

American Airlines Economy, 737 MAX

He maintains that American hasn’t “done anything that makes the main cabin product less desirable than it was before,” though customers who like seat back video, recline, and turning around in the lavatory might disagree. The airline claims customer satisfaction scores for the new interior are the same as scores for the old interior. This just means the new interiors are so bad they offset bigger overhead bins and high speed satellite wifi.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. If you don’t like 29″ of pitch in coach then vote this fall and vote out politicians that are in the pockets of the big airlines. I have sat in a 10 across AA 777 and it was a bitch and I had the aisle seat. Quite honestly I’m not even sure it would be safe in the event of an evacuation. There was one row where the seats stick out into the aisle and the woman sitting in that seat was constantly being hit by the cart. It’s pathetic customer service.

  2. Anyone who believes that airlines really care about your comfort more than looking after their shareholders are living with their heads in the sand

  3. “This is, by design, less space than you have in cabins for our customers who desire a different product.”

    Parker knows BS PR speak like no CEO I have ever seen. It doesn’t even matter the subject he’s speaking to, he can run and dance his mouth around any question thrown at him. It’s unbelievable how ignorant and cocky he is! Well played sir…well played.

  4. @Mark — Do you understand that the gov’t regulation of seat comfort (perhaps one of the dumbest legislative ideas in history) would HELP the major airlines make more money? That’s because it would put out of business airlines like Spirit and Frontier that have even more cramped seats and force the bigger airlines to compete on price. So we’d all be a little more comfortable when we fly, but we’;d all pay significantly more. Except of course the folks who then couldn’t fly at all because it would be more expensive. Still think this is a good idea?

  5. Hey Parker, YOU are the most undesirable CEO on the planet.

    Fly ten hours in coach on a 777, then try to extricate your fat behind off the plane.

    You’ll be limping like a gay guy after visiting an NFL locker-room.

  6. Parker is so delusional and out of touch…well, that is the charitable view. Reality is much worse.

  7. @Gene and @ paul – you are correct. I’ve seen Parker in person – on a 777 flight no less – and he’s very tall, fat and untidy looking – again, much like Trump. Looks like either of them might kill over at any moment. One Big Mac away from a massive heart attack!

  8. Yeah! Maybe American could add a couple of inches of legroom to all coach seats and charge a modest premium for it, in order to keep their revenue constant. They could call it… I dunno… “More Room Throughout Coach”?

    People won’t buy it. People haven’t bought it. A more spacious coach seat, with a proportional fare increase, won’t sell; most people buy on price and to some extent schedule, period.

    If you want more room, buy into the extra legroom, or premium economy, or whatever.

  9. Ooooh, yay!

    Two airline CEOs sit on an empty 777 parked at the gate/hangar, pretend to be “real passengers” for a little bit, and the proclaim their seats are perfectly fine for everyone else (packed cheek by jowl for five to 15 or more hours on a fully loaded plane)!

    How nice of them to take a few mins out of their busy schedules pretending to be one of us!


    What’s next, flight attendants telling everyone the CEOs said “Let them eat cake” during mealtimes on their next 14 hour flight to/from Hong Kong?

    Wheee! The CEO pretended to be me! How thoughtful of them…

  10. Can you imagine that 500 pound quadruple- cheeseburger waddler Trump trying to fit his titanic ass into one of the Super max toilets, or even in two first class seats he’d be forced to buy? His mail-order wife would have to sit across the aisle to give him looks of utter contempt that speak for everyone on earth except the ugliest fat rednecks. Tell us about how “moral” you are supporting that psychotic liar, the most hated man on the planet probably in world history.

  11. I just got off an American Airlines Embraer E75. I’m 6’1″, which is kinda tall, but not NBA height. I have to force myself in the back of the seat to not touch the seat in front of me. I worry the whole trip that the person in front of me will recline their seat and crush my knees. Also, I can’t stand upright in the toilets because of the sloping ceiling.
    I used to joke that airplanes have become like a flying Greyhound bus. But I’ve been on much better buses.
    Flying has become a bitter pill that you have to swallow if you can’t drive to where you want to go. I’m not asking for the opulence of the golden age of flying, but when will these cost saving measures end?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *