You can't believe your own eyes. (Or your legs. Or your butt.)

That's the message you'll likely take away from what the CEO of American Airlines said recently.

Because American Airlines isn't alone in reducing the spacing between seats on some of its planes in order to cram more rows in and increase revenue. But the airline sometimes seems to be in a class by itself when it comes to justifying it. 

Case in point: American Airlines CEO Doug Parker's remarks during an almost obsequiously accommodating interview in Boston last week.

The quick background: American used to space 31 inches between economy seats as standard. They've shaved an inch off that now, both on new planes and on older planes that they're retrofitting. 

Doing this has a lot of ramifications, but one is that it means they can fit at least one additional economy class row, meaning usually six more seats, on the same size plane. 

You can defend this as a business decision, on the theory that more seats will always mean more revenue. That's debatable but certainly reasonable to suggest. 

But what's much harder to do is to suggest that taking away seat pitch could actually make the whole experience more comfortable than when passengers had a little more room between them. 

Here's Parker, trying to pull off that argument anyway:

That 30-in. pitch, having done it myself, is much more comfortable than our existing 31-in. pitch on an MD-80. It feels like a much better product ... I think the whole definition of pitch needs to be better understood. 

The fact is that a seat is an inch [narrower] and more comfortable ... The traditional measure of simply pitch, and comparing pitch to aircraft that have very different seats, doesn't really give the customer what they need to know about the amount of space they have.

So much to unpack here. First, "having tried it myself": It created a bit of a PR problem for American earlier this year when Parker admitted that he'd never actually tried himself to fly in one of his airline's new, more cramped economy cabins. 

(As my colleague Chris Matyszczyk points out, he's since remedied that gap in his personal experience.)

Parker appears to be referring in his quote to the extra inch passengers gained at eye level when American removed video screens from economy, plus whatever space is gained by replacing what used to be standard airline seats with newer, thinner, less padded seats. 

I mean, maybe you could make that argument, if we wanted to view all this very charitably.

Of course, nothing prevented American from making these other changes without reclaiming roughly three feet of cabin space and adding an extra row. 

But for taller readers, you tell me: What's more comfortable: 30 inches of seat pitch or 31?

And for shorter readers, for whom 30 is nearly as comfortable as 31 anyway, is it more comfortable to have thinner seats and no video screens?

Or is it instead, as Parker apparently claims, "much more comfortable"?

Published on: Sep 30, 2018
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