I wrote earlier today about my disdain for the pageantry of Congressional hearings, but don’t think I am excusing the doublespeak on the another side of the dais. As American Airlines looked members of Congress in the eye with the promise of improved customer service, news emerged of its plan to cut economy class legroom by 1-2 inches.
Actions speak louder than words and AA has opted to reduce legroom in economy class even further on its 737MAX aircraft, of which it has 100 on order. Legroom will drop from 31″ to 29″ inches in three rows and to 30″ in the remainder of the economy class cabin. The new aircraft will squeeze in 174 seats through reduced seat pitch (distance between each row) and smaller lavatories.
Yes, smaller lavatories as well. Don’t let that go unnoticed either. American legroom will be on par with Spirit Airlines but without the corresponding price reduction. I’m sure AA will defend this with some sort of babble about “our articulating seat pans mean that you won’t be able to notice the difference” or something like that, but we will. There is no way to truly compensate for reduced legroom through seat ergonomics.
But I’ll be honest: I don’t care all that much about this news. I don’t fly AA and have no plans to. But something else concerns me greatly. CNN is reporting–
American isn’t the only big airline heading in this direction. United Airlines () is considering a similar move, according to a person briefed on its evaluations. United declined to comment.
I trust that United will have more discernment than American. Reducing seat pitch is a problem of both optics and comfort. Should legacies begin to further reduce seat pitch, Congress may step in and actually approve Sen. Chuck Schumer’s perennial bill on legroom on a bipartisan basis.
Let’s remember House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster’s opening statement from yesterday’s hearing–
As a general rule, I don’t believe in over-burdening our businesses with regulation, or re-regulating industries that have been successfully de-regulated.
But I shouldn’t need to remind you that Congress will not hesitate to act, whenever necessary, to ensure your customers are treated with the respect they deserve.
If we don’t see meaningful results that improve customer service, the next time this Committee meets to address this issue, I can assure you, you will not like the outcome.
Now if a Republican congressman bought off by lobbyists is willing to issue this warning, United and American better be on guard.
I’ll return to Oscar Munoz’s letter to MileagePlus members last week. In it, he stated–
This is a turning point for all of us here at United – and as CEO, it’s my responsibility to make sure that we learn from this experience and redouble our efforts to put our customers at the center of everything we do.
Will United really argue with a straight face that it must reduce legroom to keep fares low? I hope not, for such a defense will be about as convincing as Munoz’s first apology that UA3411 passengers had to be re-accomodated.
But here’s the truth, the sad truth. If United cuts legroom, will I still fly them? Of course. Will others? As long as they are cheap, yes. It may be the race to the bottom, but consumers (myself included) are unwilling to hold airlines truly accountable. So the cuts will continue…