WASHINGTON, June 13 (Reuters) - In a move likely to relieve taller air travelers, American Airlines Group Inc will reduce leg room by one inch instead of two as originally planned on some seats in its Boeing 737 MAX jets.
Last month American said it would shrink the distance between some seat backs, or pitch, on its new Boeing Co 737 MAX jets from the minimum of 31 inches on its current 737-800 fleet, to 29 inches.
The backlash was swift at a time when relations between U.S. airlines and their passengers have sunk to a new low.
In an internal email reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday, the company said it had “received a lot of feedback from both customers and team members” and said it had decided to space all main cabin rows with at least 30 inches of pitch.
The company said “airline customers feel increasingly frustrated by their experiences and less valued when they fly. We can be leaders in helping to turn around that perception, and that includes reviewing decisions that have significant impact on the flying experience.”
Doug Kidd, executive director of the National Association of Airline Passengers, said American’s decision “is a move in the right direction” but added airlines should do more and charge more if needed. “It’s those last few inches that make the difference,” he said.
The MAX will still be configured with 172 seats, up from 160 on the current 737-800s, but the airline will add the space by switching one row of premium seats to main cabin seating, the email said.
American, which plans to start taking delivery of the MAX in the fall, said the new seat is designed to “feel more spacious so a 30 inch pitch will feel more like today’s 31 inches.” The change may be made to other American aircraft.
United Airlines President Scott Kirby said in May at a congressional hearing the airline had not made a “final decision” about whether to cut pitch to 29 inches in some seats. Nearly all United seats currently have at least 31 inches of pitch.
At the congressional hearing in May, airline executives faced scathing criticism for their customer service, after the furor surrounding a passenger being dragged from a full United Airlines plane to make room for airline employees. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Sanders and Steve Orlofsky)