Artist's concept of an American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8. Image courtesy of Boeing.
On Monday, November 29, 2017, American Airlines became the second U.S. airline to complete a commercial flight using its brand-new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. Flight AA 1292, from Miami (MIA) to New York - LaGuardia (LGA), landed at 9:49 AM local time, according to FlightRadar 24. The Boeing 737 MAX is the latest generation of the best selling aircraft in the world, and offers many technological improvements over the previous, confusingly-named "Next-Generation 737." These enhancements include more powerful and fuel-efficient CFM LEAP-1B engines, new "Advanced Technology" winglets, as well as other aerodynamical enhancements. Furthermore, all 737 MAX aircraft feature a new cockpit, with LED flight displays from the Boeing 787, as well as Boeing's signature Sky Interior.
Earlier this year, American Airlines made headlines when they announced that they had opted not to install seatback entertainment screens on its 737 MAX aircraft. You are literally "left to your own devices" when flying on American's 737 MAX. In addition, they announced that economy will contain a maximum of 30 inches of pitch, with some rows in the back having a confined 29 inches of pitch, irritating many customers and embarrassed employees alike. Due to the massive public outcry, American Airlines later backtracked on this decision, and stated that all rows in the Main Cabin will offer 30 inches of pitch. They accomplished this by removing one of the "Main Cabin Extra" rows, which contain extra legroom. However, this is certainly not appreciated by AA elites, who, now, have even smaller upgrade chances on flights, due to the smaller number of premium seats onboard the aircraft. As the 737 aircraft family approached 50 years in operation, American Airlines took delivery of their first two of 100 aircraft on order, registered N324RA (fleet number 3RA) and N304RB (fleet number 3RB). These were stored at a facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma before the first revenue flight today.
The previous night, both aircraft were ferried over to Miami International Airport (MIA), and are currently operating exclusively between LaGuardia and Miami. This decision is to perhaps familiarize flight crews with the new aircraft before deploying it on longer, cross-country routes, and observe the public's reaction to the removal of seatback entertainment screens and decrease of legroom in economy.
At the time of this writing, several journalists had already published reviews of American's 737 MAX after this morning's flight. As ThePointsGuy.com's JT Genter cleverly stated, "AvGeek-wise, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is a wonder. Passenger-wise, the American Airlines 737 MAX 8 is a horror." This couldn't have been more true, as the passenger experience in both cabins has been severely compromised by the airline's wish to suck more revenue out of consumers.
First and foremost: The Main Cabin seat. American Airlines has chose to install B/E Aerospace's Meridian seat in its 737 MAX aircraft. These seats are the same you'll find on Southwest's 737 MAX aircraft, but they appear to offer a USB port , as well as a tablet holder, compatible with both smartphones and tablet computers alike, with a small storage area right behind it (this is where the seatpocket literature is apparently supposed to go, but American has placed those in the large storage pocket below, near the passenger's knees). Furthermore, American has pushed these seats up directly against the window, adding a little more bit seat width (many passengers have complained that the industry standard of 17 inches of seat width on the 737 is too narrow). This is the same seat that is supposed to be installed on United's 737 MAX 9 aircraft, according to Runway Girl Network, but I'd assume that United's seats will come with an acceptable 31 inches of pitch, the standard for U.S. domestic economy.
Interestingly, the Meridian seat is also the one that Southwest claims is 17.8 inches wide, the average width of an economy seat on an Airbus A320 family aircraft. Using a clever measuring trick, B/E Aerospace made the armrests narrower, allowing the seat itself to gain some width. However, this could make for people fighting over the armrests, especially those who are sitting in the middle seat.
B/E Aerospace's new Meridian seats onboard a retrofitted Southwest 737-700. American's version is similar, but with a tablet holder, power outlets, and USB charging ports. Image courtesy of Ben Wang, Airways Magazine.
One of the most distinctive differences you'll notice with this aircraft is the decrease in pitch, or space between seats. According to American's CEO, Doug Parker, the reduction in legroom is that the seat is one inch thinner compared to previous models installed on the 737, so the "30 [inches of pitch] feels like the old 31 in terms of passenger comfort." I find this laughably ridiculous, as Ryanair, an Irish Ultra-Low Cost Carrier (ULCC), which has been under fire before when its CEO proposed forcing passengers to pay to use the restroom, has 31 inches of pitch on its upcoming 737 MAX aircraft. American's seat pitch in its 737 MAX aircraft (and upcoming 737-800 retrofits), thus, is less than what budget carriers are offering.
On this aircraft, there are only three rows of Main Cabin Extra, which comes with a paltry 33 inches of pitch. For reference, 33 inches is what most international carriers offer in REGULAR economy, not to mention five-star airlines like Asiana (34 inches of pitch on the A380) and Thai Airways (36 inches of pitch on the new-retired A340-500). There are only three of these "extra legroom" rows to escape to from regular economy; furthermore, in a move that is frustrating to AA elites, there will not be as much upgrade space on these aircraft as there used to be, slimming the chances of an upgrade. Furthermore, another issue with this setup, according to JT Genter, is the fact that the overhead bin above rows 9 and 10 on the left side of the aircraft is not available for passengers to use; rather, it is used to stow emergency equipment, such as first aid kits.
The First Class cabin is also a step back in terms of passenger comfort. For the 737 MAX 8s, American Airlines installed the legacy U.S. Airways first class seat - which is also the base of their international premium economy seat, but with a pitch decrease (38 to 37 inches), and the removal of the entertainment screens, of course.
American's 737 MAX First Class seat will be similar to their international Premium Economy seats, shown here on a Boeing 777 (artist's concept), but will lack some legroom, and the entertainment screen. Image courtesy of American Airlines.
Genter also reported on some of the rows that are actually desirable on this aircraft. Aside from the exit rows, which offer a generous 38 inches of pitch, row 8, the first row of Main Cabin Extra, located directly behind first class, has almost 40 inches of pitch. This is due to the fact that American decided to install "floating bulkheads" on the 737 MAX aircraft, so there isn't a solid wall between the two service classes. This means that passengers in the first row of economy will finally get to store their bag under the seat in front, though this presents some privacy issues for the folks up front. However, certain rows, such as 12 and 13, as well as the last row, are undesirable because of the lack of windows and the lack of recline, respectively.
Also, have I mentioned that the recline of economy seats has decreased 50%, from 4 inches to 2 inches?
Despite these shortcomings, there is one positive aspect about the new economy seats. Every passenger is entitled to a power port, located underneath the seat in front. This means that no passengers will ever have to fight over who gets to use the power port.
Last but not least: The lavatories are certainly one of the most-hated aspects of this new aircraft. I've used a narrow "SpaceLav" on Delta's 737-900ER before, and still had room to move around. However, these lavatories are more narrower than the previous ones, making it even more uncomfortable for many passengers. Because American Airlines has crammed almost 10 more seats on its 737 MAX 8 aircraft - which feature 172 seats, the most on any U.S. based airline - the two economy bathrooms, shared between 156 economy passengers, are just two feet wide each. Not only is this going to make for some awkward positions while using the restroom, but will also force the sink to splash water all over the lavatory, due to the ridiculously small basin.
Overall, American Airlines' new 737 MAX 8 is definitely a step back in terms of passenger comfort. However, this aircraft seems to be particularly profitable for American Airlines, as it offers more seats than their current internationally-configured 757-200s. With this many seats (almost as many as ULCCs), its inevitable that passengers are going to get really uncomfortable on this aircraft, and I highly suggest avoiding it whenever it can. Obviously, it's highly unlikely that airlines will ever sympathize with passengers in this regard. As American's CEO Doug Parker famously said, "We'll never lose money again," referring to the addition of 10 or more seats onto the airline's Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A321 aircraft.
Have you flown on American's terrible (but brand-new) 737 MAX 8 aircraft yet?