All photos provided by Ron Peel. (Opinions in this article do not reflect those of the photographer)
Wednesday, November 29, 2017 witnessed American Airlines’ inaugural flight of its new Boeing 737MAX, a modern reiteration of a classic 50-year-old airframe boasting new fuel-efficient engines and winglets. In contrast to the conventional acclaim given to pretty much all new aircraft entering into service, American’s new 737MAX was met with unanimous criticism. With an industry-worst seat pitch of 30”, dense configuration of 172 seats over the previous 160 seats, and lack of in-flight entertainment, American’s 737MAX shows American Airline’s acknowledgment of the dominance and shift into the operating model of low cost-carriers -thus confirming an industry-wide trend of a demise of the value of comfort in air travel. In short, this shiny new jet by Boeing, while exteriorly appealing, is a huge disappointment for travelers inside.
American Airlines originally intended for the 737MAX to offer 30” of pitch in the forward cabin and the last three rows to only offer 29” of pitch. The 29” of pitch would have been an industry first; the lowest seat pitch offered by a major carrier before the MAX was 31” on Delta’s 737 fleet. However, following complaints, American rolled back its plan and decided to offer a uniform 30” pitch across all its Main Cabin seats -still the lowest among all major carriers.
Like economy, First Class is a huge downgrade. With only 37” of pitch -that’s less than the current American premium economy pitch- and with seats directly from the Main Cabin Extra (premium economy) section of its long-haul fleet, American’s First Class is set to disappoint American’s most loyal and frequent flyers.
In addition, American has cut out one row of Main Cabin Extra seats and reduced the MCE seat pitch down to only 33 inches. In addition to a significantly smaller chance of an MCE upgrade for loyal American flyers, this also means that a customer flying the same segment on a low-cost carrier like jetBlue Airways can pay a much lower ticket price for only a base economy seat and get one more inch of legroom than American’s premium economy seat. Might I add that jetBlue also offers free in-flight entertainment?
One glaring feature (or lack of thereof) is the in-flight entertainment. American announced in January 2017 that it would not install personal televisions, claiming that over 90% of flyers carried streaming devices. In place of television, American will offer free streaming of movies and audio over Wifi. In the television’s place on the seatback, American opted to install tablet holders and a USB charging port instead.
There are also several small annoyances noted by reviewers on the inaugural flight. I think its minor enough not to dedicate a paragraph to them but important enough to point them out here.
- There is no bulkhead between First Class and Economy
- Rows 12 and 13 have no windows
- The bathrooms are incredibly narrow at only 24 inches wide
- The Wifi and IFE will not work when out of range of the U.S. (Overwater flights)
American’s Boeing 737MAX is a bean counter’s dream. With its capacity for 172 fare-paying passengers, lack of personal television equipment, 14% more fuel-efficient engines, and no additional training needed for pilots, the new 737MAX is the epitome of cost savings. However, all of this comes at a cost to the paying public. With a lackluster opening day and already masses of frequent flyers vowing to avoid this aircraft, American Airlines faces an uphill battle to give this new aircraft any appeal. While the “Worlds greatest flyers fly American”, the worlds greatest flyers also refuse to fly American’s 737MAX. For American, retaining its so-called “worlds greatest flyers” is going to take a bit more than shiny new airplanes.