When a plane like the A321 is made, it has a certain number of windows on the side of the plane, and it is rather telling to see how the seating configuration of the airline itself lines up with this structural design of the plane as a whole. No one who flies would be surprised to recognize that many airlines are seeking to profit off of greater fuel efficiency which has led them to prefer to make more flights with smaller planes than fewer flights with larger planes that might allow people more space. It is not a new thing for passengers on planes to feel as if they are flying in steerage, and that is certainly the experience that one has in flying American Airlines.
I may perhaps be thought of as being a bit hard on American Airlines in my flying over the course of years. In the past, for example, I compared American Airlines negatively to Suriname Airlines when it came to the comfort and to the food options of their planes. This was after flying a redeye plane from Phoenix, Arizona to Miami, Florida, in which I was not once offered anything to eat or drink over the course of the entire flight, not even a lukewarm to cool cup of water. In this particular journey, I cannot claim any such thing, because as I write this the cabin crew is coming up the aisles asking people what they want to drink, thus fulfilling the implicit promise of their inflight literature which promises a nice mixture of sodas, fruit juices, bottled water, and the like. It is not my intention to pick on American Airlines as opposed to other airlines, although it must be admitted that with the consolidation of the American airspace into fewer and fewer companies that American is one of only a few options to fly, and their specific hub and spoke approach will be commented about again.
Rather than simply bashing on an airline trying to make money in a difficult climate, it is worthwhile to ponder what the other options would be. It is clear from the ambitious scheduling of flights, the pushing of upgrades (from $20/hr wifi in flight to charging for bags flying to pushing their credit cards every time you fly and so on and so forth, to say nothing of the pushing of first class upgrades), and the general steerage feeling of the planes that one is on with limited legroom, that American Airlines is trying its best to make money. How does it compare with other airlines, though. All airlines struggle with the same post-covid climate of federal mask mandates, the need to fill seats, which leads to overbooking of seats and people being stuck on standby until the last minute, but some airlines manage the task better than others.
So rather than comparing a domestic airline with an international flight (with usually higher standards for customer service), let us compare this flight with the Southwest Airlines flights that I took over the past few days in a combination of 737-800s and one 737-700. Southwest’s planes were by no means luxurious, and were spartan in their offerings of drinks and snacks, but even with a giant backpack filling the area under the seat in front of me there was at least a decent amount of legroom being offered there. If the flights were ambitious in terms of their scheduling, with about 50 minutes or so scheduled for layovers in Denver both ways, the planes left on time, even with crew changes. If the planes were full, at least the process by which people chose seats for themselves was orderly and surprisingly rapid in many cases, with people making choices and even being able to switch seats to sit with loved ones. The boarding and deplaning process on the American Airlines flights seemed far more chaotic with the large amount of boarding groups and even occasional unfriendliness from the cabin crew about people switching seats.
This is not to say that there were not some enjoyable aspects to flying American. My mother happens to be an AAdvantage Member, and so there were perks like a free upgrade to first class on our return flight (more on that later), free bags for each of us, and generally attentive care while we were within the airport at least. The bag of pretzels offered on the Portland to Dallas route was at least equal to the snack pack offered by Southwest. The difference is in the little things. Southwest offers to its ordinary customers what American offers to its premier customers–free bags and legroom. American’s efforts to cut costs by having ambitious turnaround schedules fail because of the inefficiencies of deplaning, cleaning, and bringing in new travelers, all of which leads to increased delays throughout the process, and its seating configuration leads to less comfort for its ordinary travelers. Perhaps it may be argued that in a travel climate such as the current one that some compromises need to be made to allow airlines to fly profitably, but it is always worth asking whether the compromises were the right ones, especially when one finds oneself in a plane full of passengers who are so used to not being served meals in flight that they regularly bring their own. If one can say nothing else, at least twenty-first century steerage passengers try to make the best of it.