The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
HOME    E-MAIL JOE    PRINT    SEND LINK     2017 COLUMNS     JOE'S ARCHIVES     SEARCH
The Flying Hell We Own
May 5, 2017 -- American Airlines confirmed this week that its newest aircraft, the boastfully named Boeing 737 Max, will be a flying hell.

The planes will be configured with just 30 inches of legroom at some coach seats and only 29 inches of pitch at as many as three rows on each aircraft.

Let me put that news in its proper perspective. This from the Brancatelli File on February 10, 2000:

"Under the painfully prosaic rubric of More Room Throughout Coach, American announced it would spend $70 million to rip 7,200 seats from the coach cabins of its more than 700 jets. The result: American's 75,000 remaining coach seats will each offer from 34 to 36 inches of leg room, up from the industry's current sub-human standard of 31 inches or less.

American's seat reconfiguration isn't original. TWA tried removing coach seats in 1993. American itself tested an Executive Coach program in 1997. What's new here is that American is choosing to reconfigure coach for all travelers regardless of the fare paid."

You got that? In less time than it takes for a child to be born, grow to adulthood and be eligible to vote, American Airlines will have reduced seat pitch by as many as seven inches per seat. That's a nearly 20 percent reduction in your living space. A 29-inch seat is, objectively, inhumane for anyone who is taller than, oh, say, 5-feet, 5-inches tall.

And, yes, of course it gets worse. This leg-breaking initiative was created when a fellow named Scott Kirby was president of American Airlines. Kirby is now president of United Airlines. You know United will do the same thing on any new aircraft it takes.

It is also nearly certain that American and United will begin reconfiguring existing aircraft with less legroom, too. It's just a matter of time. There's no reason to think Delta won't join them, that Alaska Air and Southwest won't continue to shave legroom and that JetBlue Airways, whose stated goal is to be just a bit less crappy than competitors, won't float a centimeter above the pack.

Now I can go batshit crazy here and write a screed about the dark hearts of the men who make these kinds of decisions. I could opine for paragraphs about the fact that the airline industry has invented its own term--densification--for this behavior.

I could go on at length about how an industry under siege for dreadful customer service shouldn't stuff more seats on planes and make conditions worse.

I could point you to my Seat 2B column from June, 2012, that predicted airlines were scheming to make things even worse in coach than they already were.

I could point out that 29-inch pitch, like the tight quarters of 31-inches seats, are a potential health risk, raising the chance of DVT.

I could add that airlines are making seats even skimpier as Americans are getting taller and heavier.

I could note that the Federal Aviation Administration has a positive responsibility to ensure that aircraft can be evacuated quickly and that 29-inch pitch on single-aisle planes with nearly 200 seats probably cannot meet the existing specifications for emergency evacs. At least not in the real world where you and I fly as opposed to the self-certifying alternate universe that the FAA allows the airlines and the aircraft manufacturers to construct.

Or, of course, I can simply fall back on the tried and true meme: Airlines are in a race to the bottom and the bottom is an ever-plunging dark hole of pain, parsimony and indignity.

But why bother? There is only one way to fight this. Stop flying. Shut your wallet and stay home. Tell your companies that you refuse to fly on business until conditions improve. Take your families on holidays that can be reached by car. Don't step on a plane. Ever.

You're not going to do that, though.

So why waste another second of my time or yours talking about this?

If you buy and you fly, there is no reason for the airlines to think they must improve things. If you carry credit cards that generate miles or bank points that transfer to miles and put all your charge volume on those cards, the banks will continue pouring money into the airlines, too.

It's your fault. It's my fault.

Yes, the men who run airlines are nasty people with no standards, no conscience and no sense of business dignity. But you fly no matter how far the in-flight standards fall. I have no reason to think you'll stop patronizing American and the others that continue to create in-flight conditions that threaten your health and safety.

We bought this. We own this. End of discussion.


This column is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.