At the end of June American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told employees, “We’re not going through the whole fleet and adding a bunch of seats to airplanes or taking out larger bathrooms and putting in smaller ones.”
Of course that isn’t true. Not only is American Airlines taking delivery of new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft with more seats squeezed into the same air frame than ever before, they’re going through their existing fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft and “adding a bunch of seats” (from 160 currently up to 172) and “taking out larger bathrooms and putting in smaller ones” (in order to fit more seats). They’re also reducing the amount of space between rows in coach, in Main Cabin Extra (extra legroom coach) and in first class.
In fact American has its second Boeing 737-800 in the shop now that will be be reconfigured for less passenger comfort.
Here’s the Layout of Passenger Accommodations or LOPA for existing American Airlines Boeing 737-800s. When US Airways management took over at American these planes had 150 seats, and one of their first moves was to add seats. There are now 160 seats.
And here’s what it looks like once American reconfigures the planes to have 172 seats. This means less space in first class, less space in ‘Main Cabin Extra’ and 30 inches between seats in economy. It means smaller lavatories. It means streaming entertainment only (no screens). It also means bigger overhead bins.
The planes also get ViaSat satellite internet in place of Gogo’s air to ground system, though that’s
been happening on a separate, accelerated schedule.
What’s interesting is that this suggests only 228 of 304 737s will be getting the new interior. Some 737s are slated to leave the fleet of course.
If there’s one bright spot in the reconfiguration, it’s that the overhead bins will be larger. The reason the last passengers to board so often have to gate check bags is,
- Planes are largely full, airlines have managed to sustain capacity discipline even as demand for air travel has grown.
- Passengers carry on their bags instead of checking them in order to avoid checked bag fees.
- Current American Airlines 737s have space to stow just 118 standard carry ons. Even when legacy US Airways management increased the number of seats on the plane from 150 to 160, the bins still held the same number of bags as before.
As they go to 172 passengers, they’re putting in bigger bags that let carry ons stow sideways, increasing bag capacity to one per passenger.