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.”
That wasn’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.
American Airlines has taken delivery of 14 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft out of the 100 they have on order. You want to avoid flying American Airlines 737 MAXs if you can.
They’ve also completed modification on (4) of their existing 737-800 aircraft to offer a brutal experience to match:
- Registration N979AN Ship 3DM
- Registration N980AN Ship 3DN
- Registration N982AN Ship 3DR
- Registration N983AN Ship 3DS
And there are 3 more ‘in the shop’ being converted to torture tubes:
- Registration N981AN Ship 3DP Expected to return this week
- Registration N805NN Ship 3EE Expected to return this week
- Registration N990AN Ship 3DV Expected to return next month
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.
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 bings that let carry ons stow sideways, increasing bag capacity to one per passenger.
Here’s the thing. You can pretty well avoid an aircraft type like the 737 MAX, though aircraft swaps are always possible substituting one type for another is less common. You’ll see the scheduled aircraft type when booking a trip.
You’ll have to check the seat map for modified 737s. These are likely to be more prone to a swap though, and specific tails won’t be assigned to a flight until a couple of days prior to departure.
That means flying American Airlines 737s at this point is akin to playing passenger experience roulette.
Next year we’ll start seeing new similar interiors on Airbus narrowbodies.