Extra Room in Economy: But Will It Last?

9008851459?profile=originalIf you've flown on any of American Airlines' 737s in the past year or two, you've seen bolted-in seat trays in rows 16 and 17 that prevent the middle seat from being occupied. The result: Seats A (window), C and D (aisle), and F offer extra elbow room and places for drinks and stashing small carry-ons. Me, I'm on a run, having recently taken four straight flights where I sat in the much-coveted Row 16.

Nice, but don't you find this somewhat strange?
After all, American Airlines' largesse would seem to run counter to the ethos of cramming as many paying customers as possible into Economy Class. What motivates American to bestow this gift of private space (and of being able to use your arm rest) upon us lowly sardines? 

Unhappy Flight Attendants

American Airlines did not take those middle seats off the market out of sheer humanitarianism, nor did the company do this to assuage guilt over having treated its customers like circus clowns in a Mini-Cooper. Rather, it has to do with Federal aviation regulations, which mandate one flight attendant for every 50 passengers. Since those 737s were configured for 154 passengers, American decided that it made better business sense to leave four seats empty than to pay a fourth flight attendant.

The flight attendants, I can tell you, are not amused. And soon enough, maybe you won't be, either, because American may start selling those middle seats again. Mind you, I can't confirm that, in part because conversions like this can rarely be predicted to the exact day. However, there's another factor, as well: When I sent a journalist's inquiry to the good people at American Airlines, they did not respond to my request for more information.

The Armrest Wars

If the brass won't respond, what do the rank-and-file -- that is, flight and gate attendants -- say? That the armrest wars will resume around October, give or take a few weeks. Since the economics haven't changed -- the airline might still be paying more for an additional flight attendant than it would net from selling those four seats -- this might be a case of American Airlines making a concession to its work force. 

Meanwhile, if you're flying American these next few months, find out if your plane will be a 737. If it is, carpe diem.


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