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This Is the Sneaky Way American Airlines Claims to Give You More Space With More Cramped Seats

Inc. logo Inc. 10/7/2017 Chris Matyszczyk
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More seats, more comfort?

You are really, really going to appreciate this.

Airlines want you to believe you're getting something, as they take more things away from you.

They take more money, through their ever more damnable fees. And now they take more space by cramming additional seats into their newer planes.

He was attempting to show the positive side of the airline proudly reducing the so-called seat pitch -- the distance between the back of one seat and the back of the seat behind-- to a mere 30 inches on its new Boeing 737 MAX planes.

"These seats are designed to make efficient use of the space available and feel more spacious, so a 30-inch pitch will feel more like today's 31 inches," he said.

I wanted to believe him. I just know that airlines only think about their customers, not about money.

My faith was, I confess, a touch strained this week when American's CEO Doug Parker crowed that his airline will always make money.

"I don't think we're ever going to lose money again," he said. "We have an industry that's going to be profitable in good and bad times."

Some might observe that oligopoly -- four airline groups hold around 83 percent of all airline seats in the US -- certainly has its benefits.

Let's, though, return to those incredible 30 inches.

What spatial magic has American performed with these seats to make them seem -- in its eyes -- more spacious?

First, you'll find the seats thinner. There's simply less cushioning. A few millimeters here and a few there and, look, greater seat pitch.

Then there's the fact that these seats now recline only two inches instead of four.

The effect, the airline hopes, is that you'll feel more personal space because you won't feel so invaded by the person in front of you.

Of course, you'll also have a more limited ability to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.

Oh, I almost forgot. There are no seat-back TV screens either. It's bring your own device or else.

There's another little kink. The window seats have been shoved up closer to the windows, so that each seat is now, pause for breath, half an inch wider.

Those who tried the seats out at the airline's media day this week didn't seem overly impressed. But that will inevitably be an artificial impression anyway.

What matters is how these seats perform when you're stuck in them for four or five hours. With another hour on the tarmac waiting to take off.

When I fly, I'm able to tolerate most coach seats for a couple of hours.

Longer than that and my brain feels pain, as my body feels shoddy.

Of course, it's worse when there's no chance of, say, a middle seat being empty, as airlines do everything they can to fill up every plane possible.

Even if it's by canceling flights on which not "enough" people have booked.

Ultimately, too many passengers have too little choice as to which airlines they fly.

American is gambling that its spatial trickery won't make things worse, as it makes more money per flight from an additional number of seats.

I can't wait to try these new seats for real.

Yes, that was me trying to be enthusiastic.

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 


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