American Airlines revises its decision to jam passenger seats closer together

American Airlines, which has a hub in Philadelphia, has revised its decision to shrink legroom in the economy-class cabin by 2 inches, after receiving complaints from the flying public.

Instead of reducing the “pitch” — the front-to-back space between rows — by 2 inches on three rows of the new Boeing 737 Max jets, the airline said it had decided to reduce the  pitch by 1 inch, from 31 inches to 30 inches. The rest of the main-cabin rows will be at 30 inches.

“We have received a lot of feedback from both customers and team members,” American said in a statement. “It is clear that today airline customers feel increasingly frustrated by their experiences and less valued when they fly.”

The new aircraft will still have 172 seats — 12 more than the 160 seats on the plane now —  made possible by using a thinner, lighter seat and a better design, with the result that distance between seats will “feel more spacious, so a 30-inch pitch will feel more like today’s 31 inches.” the airline said.

American, which operates more than 400 daily flights out of Philadelphia International Airport, has ordered one hundred 737 Max jets, a new version of the Boeing 737-800. The first four will arrive in the fall, with more to come next year.

Frontier and Spirit Airlines’ aircraft have the least legroom, at 28 inches. Virgin America, JetBlue, and Alaska have the most in economy class, between 31 and 32 inches, according to SeatGuru, a website that offers aircraft seat maps and seat reviews.

American’s reversal comes after public hearings on Capitol Hill into the forced dragging of  a United Airlines passenger, David Dao, off a plane by security officers in Chicago on April 9.

“There are larger issues here,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.,) said last month before a Senate transportation subcommittee. “Passengers feel like they’re being treated as self-loading cargo. We have all experienced firsthand or heard from our folks back home about an explosion of fees for services, airline IT systems failing and causing prolonged confusion and delay.

“And adding insult to injury,” Nelson said, “American Airlines is slashing legroom in its new Boeing 737 jets to squeeze more passengers on its planes. While these are certainly not new complaints, they seem to be getting worse in the public’s eye.”

American president Robert Isom said this week that the airline wants to help turn around that perception, and “that includes reviewing decisions that have significant impact on the flying experience. We’ve reassessed what’s appropriate.”

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