As coach seats grow increasingly more cramped, carriers continue to insist that passengers have enough room. The Wall Street Journal’s Middle Seat travel column recently asked the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines to back up these claims with action. Two of the CEOs sat down in coach with the WSJ in order to defend their decisions.
Ed Bastian, Delta’s CEO, and Doug Parker of American agreed to sit down in coach for interviews with the Wall Street Journal this month. Both men are 6-foot-3-inches tall, making for a snug fit in their middle seats on each carrier’s configured Boeing 777-200, even without other passengers around to jostle for the armrests or to recline the seat in front of them. Delta and American have both set up their rows in the 777s such that the seat pitch (the distance between one spot on a seat to the same spot on the seat in front of it) in coach measures approximately 31 inches, though Delta has one more inch of seat width than American because they configure nine seats across a row to American’s ten.
Bastian and Parker both claim to fly coach regularly. Bastian told the WSJ that he typically takes coach for his domestic travel and that Delta recently passed a policy requiring director-level employees to fly coach for any work-related flight under three hours. Parker noted that he takes a coach seat when there are no first-class or extra-legroom seats available, estimating that this occurrence takes place about one in every three flights.
While the CEOs pledged that seats in coach won’t get any smaller, they also pushed back against the idea that passengers are currently too cramped, stating that their airlines offer many options (at an additional price) for those who need or want more legroom.
“The customers that really value additional space have a lot more options on us,” Parker told the WSJ, noting that their 777 has 66 extra-legroom coach seats as well as larger premium economy and business class seats. Bastian similarly said that passengers who desire more space can buy it on Delta flights.
Critics have long been suspicious that airlines purposefully make coach seats uncomfortable in order to get travelers to pay a premium for more space, and commenters on this WSJ article made it abundantly clear that Parker’s and Bastian’s comments do little to assuage their doubts. They also slammed United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, for refusing the interview entirely.