Bloomberg News

AMR Chases Bigger Peers With Coach Seats That Add Legroom

March 01, 2012

AMR Corp. (AMR)’s American Airlines (AMR1) will add coach seats with extra legroom and priority boarding, joining bigger competitors that already offer more space in their economy cabins.

New Boeing Co. (BA) 737-800 narrow-body jets to be delivered this year will have the new seats, while current planes will be upgraded over time, the Fort Worth, Texas-based company said today in a statement. The seats will cost an extra $8 to $108 each way depending on the length of the flight.

American, which filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 29, has said a key part of its restructuring is to attract more high-value corporate travelers, including some who more often find themselves sitting in coach. Larger rivals United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL) and Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) have already added extra- legroom seats to boost revenue and keep frequent fliers happy.

“It is strictly that they are trying to match their competition,” Jeff Straebler, an independent aviation analyst, said in an interview. “Planes are full, upgrades are tougher to come by and elite flyers don’t want to be in the back of a completely full plane.”

American’s move reverses a 2004 decision to yank out extra- legroom seats added four years earlier to differentiate the carrier as having more spacious coach-class cabins. The airline has said it plans to gain an additional $1 billion in annual revenue from its restructuring.

“You can’t even begin to get any revenue enhancement if you don’t have the ability to compete,” said Ray Neidl, a Maxim Group LLC analyst in New York.

New Airbus SAS A321s and A319s and Boeing 777-300s and 787s all will arrive with the added-room seats, which American named Main Cabin Extra. They will have as much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) more legroom than standard coach seats, the airline said.

The seats, at the front of the coach cabin, will be free for top-level fliers in American’s loyalty program and customers who buy a full-fare economy ticket. Lower-tier frequent fliers can book them for free through Dec. 31, 2013, the carrier said.

American will continue to sell preferred coach seats, which generally are those next to an aisle or window.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mary Jane Credeur in Atlanta at mcredeur@bloomberg.net; Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at maryc.s@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net


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