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American Claims ‘Less Is More’ with New Coach Seats

Although the year is only half over, American Airlines is the likely winner of the Georgie (for George Orwell) award this year. The airline’s recent announcement that the new 10-across economy seats in 777-300s will give a “feeling of more space” than the standard nine-across seats could easily have originated with 1984’s Ministry of Truth.

The math is simple and uncompromising. At nine-across, 777 optimum economy seats are approximately 20.5 inches wide between armrest midpoints—the correct way to measure seat width. Thus, nine seats take up 185 inches. When you fit 10 seats into those 185 inches, each seat gets only 18.5 inches. That’s actually narrower than the ultra-tight 737 seats, typically 19 inches, and among the tightest one will encounter on any major airline. American not only is using the ultra-narrow design on its newest 777s but also is likely to retrofit its current 777 fleet with them as well.

So the American flak machine says that a seat two inches narrower gives a feeling of more space? Let’s get real here. American will stuff 10-across seats in economy cabins because it can make more money that way—and because it knows economy-class travelers are used to rock-bottom comfort standards.

But please, American, even if you decide to degrade cabin comfort, at least retain your credibility: Don’t try to convince us 18.5 is wider than 20.5. Don’t tell us, “Less is more.”

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