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American Airlines

American Airlines’ Doug Parker Calls Reduced Seat Pitch “Much More Comfortable”

American Airlines’ Doug Parker Calls Reduced Seat Pitch “Much More Comfortable”
Jeff Edwards

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker used an appearance at the Airline Passenger Experience (APEX) Expo in Boston to defend the airline’s latest reductions in seat pitch and the infamously tiny lavatories on the carrier’s new Boeing 737MAX aircraft. The AA head also said lawmakers should not get “involved” in regulating passenger comfort.

At this year’s Airline Passenger Experience (APEX) Expo in Boston, Massachusetts, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told industry insiders that new aircraft cabins with drastically reduced seat pitch configurations are more comfortable than many of the economy class cabins with greater seat pitch in service today. The airline executive lamented that if the flying public better understood the concept of seat pitch, passengers might be more aware of how much more comfortable an experience the tighter seating plans provide.

“That 30-inch pitch, having done it myself, is much more comfortable than our existing 31-inch pitch on an MD-80,” said Parker during the APEX Expo’s opening presentation in comments first reported by Air Transport World. “It feels like a much better product. I think the whole definition of pitch needs to be better understood. The fact is that a seat is an inch [slimmer] and more comfortable. The traditional measure of simply pitch, and comparing pitch to aircraft that have very different seats, doesn’t really give the customer what they need to know about the amount of space they have.”

Parker said that today’s technically advanced seat designs actually give passengers the same amount of legroom but still allow the airline to fit more passengers on the aircraft. He complained that the traditional way of seat pitch no longer accurately indicates the amount of legroom a passenger might expect to find once on the aircraft.

Parker also used his onstage interview with APEX CEO Joe Leader to discuss the notoriously small lavatories on American’s new 737MAX aircraft. The AA chief managed to, at the same time, both pass the buck and defend the tiny restroom facilities famously referred to as “the most miserable experience in the world” by one American Airlines captain.

“In this case, Boeing did a nice job of designing a bathroom that is a couple inches narrower than the one we’ve had in the past,” Parker said. “Real estate inside the cabin is incredibly valuable. Our customers care greatly about that, so if we can give them two more inches inside the cabin by having our bathrooms two inches narrower – as Delta has done, as Southwest has done – I think that’s a good thing. We haven’t had complaints about it – we’ve had some press about it.”

After his presentation, Parker said legislation to regulate airline seat size and legroom was unnecessary. He told reporters that he was “reluctant to see the government get involved in customer-type issues.” He added that densely packed cabin configurations were not a safety issue and expressed confidence that “any sort of study will bear that out.”

One person who disagrees with that assessment is Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger best known for his heroics during the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson.” The now retired pilot took to Twitter in the days before Parker’s presentation to decry ever more crowded airline cabins and the potential safety issues posed by this trend. The aviator linked to a New York Times op-ed questioning the ability of passengers to quickly evacuate today’s overcrowded commercial flights.

“Airlines continue to make seats smaller to increase revenue despite safety concerns,” Sullenberger wrote in his September 20th tweet. “@FAAnews must require more realistic demonstrations, not just simulations, to prove planes can be evacuated quickly.”

[Photo: Reuters/Mike Stone]

View Comments (39)

39 Comments

  1. MIT_SBM

    October 2, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    If reduced seat pitches are “much more comfortable” why are the airlines increasing the seat pitch in the “premium” classes? Don’t those who pay more want to be “much more comfortable”? When AA and other airlines shed the spacious seats in favor of “much more comfortable” reduced pitch seats and suites in the premium classes, charges premium rates and still have customers paying those rates without complaining then I might be convinced.

    Oh, and by the by, why not let real customers (not paid actors, compensated customers or cherry picked ones) speak on how comfortable they find the reduced pitch seats once they have spent a few hours sitting in them non-stop cross country (USA), trans-Atlantic, or tran-Pacific?

  2. edgewood49

    October 2, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Parker is such a slime ball he is imply following in Dick Anderson’s shoes except Anderson to his credit realized cattle cars weren’t making it.

    I use to fly AA not since Dougie took it over. Maybe he’s blaming the pending rules on the ME3

  3. PHL

    October 2, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    Investors like Doug and until the airline stops making them money, he’s not going anywhere unless he gets involved in some #Metoo or DUI(again) scandal.

    He should fly on one of AA’s planes with 30″ seat pitch on a 5 hour transcon red eye packed full of other passengers. See how he enjoys the legroom and space then. See how he does squeezing into the narrow lav and trying to even read or watch something on a personal device until the passenger in front of him reclines a few inches.

  4. edgewood49

    October 2, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    PHL, I think he has claimed to finally flown in the new configuration and used the lav claims he has not sure of the length of flight
    I realize he’s not going anywhere neither is AA. I don’t do DL, AS is my main squeeze (mm flyer) using UA some now and actually not bad

  5. DBCubix

    October 2, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    Execs should have this same pitch in their offices and the same tiny labs for executive washrooms. Let’s see just how comfortable reduced pitch is.

  6. controller1

    October 2, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    @MIT_SBM states “If reduced seat pitches are “much more comfortable” why are the airlines increasing the seat pitch in the “premium” classes?”

    As AA places more seats on their planes, part of that is accomplished by reducing the seat pitch in the First/Business cabin and the Main Cabin Extra area of Coach.

  7. southpac

    October 2, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    It seems many people like

    MIT_SBM

    don’t even understand what seat pitch is. It’s NOT a measure of legroom. As Parker points out, you can decrease seat pitch & increase legroom at same time, by using newer & more comfortable seats, with thinner seat backs. Before complaining about legroom, learn what EXACTLY you are complaining about.

  8. MIT_SBM

    October 2, 2018 at 5:50 pm

    @southpac

    People like MIT_SBM typed nothing about legroom. So maybe you should not try to criticize people like me so something I never typed.

  9. WebTraveler

    October 2, 2018 at 6:04 pm

    Doug Parker is ridiculous. These new seats SUCK. The thin seat cushion is crap and wears out and before too long you are sitting on plastic and metal. The lack of leg space is even worse. Further, these new seats I have to stretch to just reach down under the seat.

    Doug Parker is liar.

  10. am1108

    October 2, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    In a way he might be right, if you think of the slimline seats they reduce the padding in them and use different materials and structures than the older seats.

  11. Score8

    October 2, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    I’m fine with the seat pitch. It’s the seat width that is a much bigger issue.

  12. fotographer

    October 3, 2018 at 2:02 am

    why is he still employed?

  13. mvoight

    October 3, 2018 at 6:58 am

    If the distance to the seat in front of you is shorter, because the seat is smaller, how does that give you more legroom?
    If the seat is smaller, then there is less underseat space for your legs.

  14. RAAng

    October 3, 2018 at 9:01 am

    If I could I’d stop flying his airline just because he seems to think I am stupid. Unfortunately, my home airport is a hub, so I’m stuck with him unless I want to drive/limo 2 hours (on a good day) to Newark.

  15. justpassinthru

    October 3, 2018 at 10:36 am

    And paying more for a ticket is much more economical for the Customer…it is a pity that customers just don’t understand.

    I can honestly say I have never heard a customer complain about the pitch…by focusing on that he hopes to distract from the ridiculous width, minimal cushion, and other truly subpar characteristics of most main cabin seats….

  16. formeraa

    October 3, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    And it’s not just Doug Parker! Have you looked at the lavs and seats on Delta’s newly reconfigured planes?

  17. bigbirdwithsilverwings

    October 3, 2018 at 10:38 pm

    “Seat Pitch is the distance from any point on one seat to the exact same point on the seat in front or behind it. While it is not the exact equivalent of “legroom”, it does give a very good approximation of how much seat room you should expect.”

    expect net to 0 seat room on a 30″ pitch regardless of what seats are used.

  18. Superjeff

    October 4, 2018 at 4:44 am

    Mr. Parker should be required to fly round trip coast to coast in Economy class middle seat with the 30″ pitch at least once a month. Having flown in an airplane with 30″ pitch, my knees were against the seat in front of me, and it was miserable. I’ve only been on one airplane with the new smaller lavs (on United, which, unfortunately, also has them) and that was a miserable experience too. We are fast coming to the point where we need to re-regulate because if I want a miserable experience, I can fly Spirit or Frontier. I don’t need to pay extra for that lousy experience on the US3.

  19. rjlon

    October 4, 2018 at 4:47 am

    I wonder of Mr Parker finds the inclusion of IFE boxes which effectively remove a large portion of the leg space form use more comfortable? Luckily I can often avoid coach travel and make every effort to avoid the 737 MAX flights. I much prefer the old MD80’s or their modern cousins the B717 but then I am fortunate sit away from the engines.

    If AA want offer more cramped less frills travel because that is what the pax want then be honest. Pax voted with their cash not to support more room throughout coach, they wanted cheap. Basic Economy is cheap just be honest about it.

  20. 200nites

    October 4, 2018 at 4:56 am

    He’s just wrong……..

  21. Richard Street

    October 4, 2018 at 4:57 am

    The thing that really shows a lack of imagination is the contention that government should not get involved in customer-type issues like seat size/comfort/safety. There are two flaws to this thinking.

    Firstly, it shows that the airline is only thinking of ‘safety’ in terms of ‘can we get this number of people off the plane in an emergency’ and not ‘is it healthy to have people crammed in like this’. Anyone that works in an office understands that health and safety of a desk includes the ability to sit comfortably for a prolonged period of time and not just whether they can escape in the event of an emergency.

    In liberal democracies there is broad (but not universal) understanding that government intervention is generally discouraged unless the industry has demonstrated an inability for competition to drive safe behaviours. This is the case because government are often not the best people to set such standards and often get this wrong. I would argue however that in this case the airlines have had their opportunity to show they can be trusted to sort out the problem on their own and should not welcome some intervention.

    Second, the benefit of regulation is that it would be applied uniformly to all airlines. Less passengers per plane would equal more or bigger planes. Either of these solutions benefits larger airlines who can optimise and take advantage of economies of scale. Yes there would be a small increase in costs for consumers but this would be the same for all airlines.

    If I were the airline I would also be privately arguing for government ‘advice’ to be given that people who travel regularly (or for long periods) should travel in a Premium/Business class. Most private passengers may choose to ignore this but many businesses would be pushed to fly their employees in premium cabins.

  22. MitchR

    October 4, 2018 at 5:25 am

    I agree with Score8. Seat width and overweight and inconsiderate passengers next to me are the issue. Tried to purchase a $1,400 RT second ticket to Hong Kong to keep the middle seat open. Couldn’t do it. Only choice was a $5,700 Biz class.

  23. Freebird

    October 4, 2018 at 5:25 am

    What we all needed! An airline CEO mansplaining “seat pitch” and in the process telling us that we are dumb and don’t understand the real meaning of ‘comfortable’.

  24. chadbag

    October 4, 2018 at 5:55 am

    He is “nuancing” his speech. tryig to turn a technical example into a generality.

    It probably is true that a 30″ pitch in a newer cabin provides as much or more legroom than a 31″ pitch in an older cabin using thicker seats. So he may be technically right for his specific example. But he tries to generalize it that seat pitch is not equal to comfort when I think most of us who have flown in recent years would disagree.

    I booked on AA to Japan last year when they had an awesome sale. But I made sure that it was a JAL codeshare flight, not an AA served flight. My few AA experiences in the last few years have been terrible. JAL on the other hand was awesome. Even on an older 787.

  25. blondietink

    October 4, 2018 at 5:58 am

    As a family, we are pretty tall (6′ plus) We can’t cut our legs off at the knees and reattach them. I have a hard time on the current seat configuration planes with my knees hitting the seat in front of me. They will give a person with a wide girth a seat belt extension for free. Will they give me a seat with more legroom for free? Not my fault that I am tall. I pity the people in the seats in front of all of us when our knees keep hitting their seats through no fault of our own.

  26. idrivethebru

    October 4, 2018 at 6:45 am

    Leg room is not an issue for me as I am at 5’7″ on the short side. What is an issue is the ability to open a laptop and do any meaningful work which is darn near impossible with the current pitch. It is also difficult for the middle or window individual to exit the row if anyone in the row ahead has reclined at all. That is the bigger issue regarding safety as in an emergency I suspect that many individuals will neglect to bring the seat forward

  27. Bear4Asian

    October 4, 2018 at 7:12 am

    Require all executives to fly in these silly seats every other flight and we’d see action. Self interest creates creative solutions. Narcicissts don’t

  28. ckfred

    October 4, 2018 at 7:27 am

    Remember that Aa tried Mor Room Throughout Coach in the early 2000s. CEO Don Carty thought that AA could charge higher fares in Coach, to more than make up for the loss of 2 rows of Coach.

    It didn’t work. There are simply too few people who will pay for a reasonable amount of legroom, as well as 9-across seating on a 777.

    Eventually, Aa put one row of coach back into much of the fleet. The 757s got 2 rows out back.

    Sully does have a point. When Boeing or Airbus tests an evacuation at max. capacity, you don’t have elderly people, young children, business people who insist on bringing the laptop with them, and millennials who want to take pictures and post to social media non-stop in the test.

  29. gay

    October 4, 2018 at 7:50 am

    That’s a Trumpian sales pitch.

  30. cfa2005

    October 4, 2018 at 8:49 am

    I used to fly 90,000 miles a year domestically. Flying–and the total contempt in which airlines hold their paying passengers–finally convinced me to re-engineer our small consultancy so that I could remove American, Delta, and United Airlines from my life. I’ve done that, and my life is immeasurably better.

    The reason that Mr. Parker can get away with such nonsense as he spouts in this article is that there is no competition in domestic airline travel. Both the Federal Trade Commission nor the Antitrust section at the Department of Justice should have fought the last two airline mergers on antitrust grounds. They didn’t, and the current crock that passes for an airline industry is the result.

    If I had my way, American, United, and Delta would be liquidated and their assets sold off. (I’m fine w/Southwest and JetBlue staying as they are because they, at least, don’t hold paying passengers in total contempt.) We would then take out a clean sheet of paper and start all over with new companies in this industry. There would be one ironclad prohibition: No one who worked in the ‘old’ airline industry could work in the new one. That would bring a different set of people with different ideas about how to run airlines and treat passengers. The result would be infinitely better than the current thugocracy treating millions of paying passengers with total contempt because they believe–rightly, in my view–that anyone who is stupid enough to fly on American, Delta, or United must be a certifiable moron with an I.Q. in single digits.

  31. Dianne47

    October 4, 2018 at 9:09 am

    I wonder when was the last time Parker (or any top airline execs) actually took a flight in economy. I avoid American and will certainly not be flying that airline in the future.

    The rear lavs on Southwest’s newer aircraft are tiny. I can barely fit at five feet tall and 120 pounds. How is a “customer of size” or a mobility-impaired person supposed to be able to use these new AA lavs?

    Parker’s comments are not just laughable, they are lies.

  32. jerryss

    October 4, 2018 at 9:24 am

    The new way of working; if you say it often enough, it will be true. it works for Elon, Apple, politicians…

  33. laperk1028

    October 4, 2018 at 10:35 am

    These are the most ridiculous, totally out-of-touch with reality comments from Doug Parker! By telling me that I’m too stupid to understand (although I’m “smart enough” to be able to spend at least $10,000-$15,000 per month with AA), he’s just alienated a loyal customer. And, by the way, he is wrong on every count.

  34. BC Shelby

    October 4, 2018 at 11:46 am

    …I’d like to change places with Mr. Parker for a day of flying steerage at a 30″ pitch. I’d like him to feel how uncomfortable it is when you are tall and suffer from sever bone arthritis as well as circulatory matters like I do. I’d like to see him on a five hour flight try to contort himself painfully into that small space and then have the person in front sitting in his lap most of the way when they recline. I’d like to see him try and crawl over two other people to go to the loo with his stiff achy joints. I’d like to see him concerned bout blood pooling because he cannot move his legs at all for the entire flight.

    I used to like flying American, back in the “Astrojet” days, when they had a true “professional” attitude.

  35. POatParker

    October 4, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    I need a shovel to shovel the SHIT Parker is peddling! He is be DUMBER than he thinks the general public is, if he thinks we are going to buy his SHIT! He has far exceeded the bounds of human dignity.
    In addition to ALL the comments above about safety, medical issues, etc., one more must be considered. The more people you cram into an irritable situation, i.e. cramming them into horrible, beyond human dignity, confined spaces for long periods of time. Eventually, you will have many more passenger problems, such as lashing out, fights, etc. This is not safe for anyone!
    I welcome government intervention when you have DUMB, non-customer centric CEO’s, like Parker, screwing with the human dignity of his customers!
    Parker NEEDs to go! ZERO respect!

  36. Berniecfc

    October 4, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    Got to love Doug Parker, treat everyone as stupid and they will believe what I tell them. I have yet to fly a plane which reflects the seats in the safety video, three abreast, all seats have two armrests, where can they be found? As for the seat pitch, making the seats smaller gives more leg room. Does this mean in the future we will all be sitting on the edge of our seats? Will this help to increase the experience? Seating on the edge of our seating in expectation something exciting might happen, like service from a friendly flight attendant? Cramped conditions have to be a safety issue, trying to squeeze out from a middle seat to the aisle and then crab walk down the aisle to try and get to an exit. I see government intervention might be needed before Doug and his money team get totally out of control or God forbid we have a major incident before someone wakes up to the safety issues. I’m sure Doug isn’t losing any sleep counting his bonus dollars.

  37. hinshaw

    October 4, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    He is a disgusting liar who has taken a once excellent airline and turned it into doggie doo. But this was predicted by most AA AAdvantage fliers once the US Air-AA merger was announced and long before it was consummated.

  38. spartacus

    October 11, 2018 at 6:57 am

    It’s exactly this type of attitude why Congress is getting back into watching the airlines closely. Seat pitch and size of the seats is something they’re looking at closely in Washington.

  39. AArlington

    October 15, 2018 at 9:45 pm

    Was on a AA 319 today in regular coach (aisle) and had to “man spread” the entire way. 6’2”. Fortunately the middle was empty. Could have had a middle in premium economy but I also have broad shoulders.

    I don’t travel as much as I used to but don’t remember it ever being this bad.

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