How Bad Is It In An American Airlines Torture Tube?


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American Airlines are squeezing thousands of smaller, more cramped seats onto their planes across their fleet to try and make more money out of passengers like you and me.

The “torture tube” description is actually the words of frequent flier and blogger Gary from View From The Wing, and he is right. The seat maps alone showcase how little space you will have on your next American Airlines flight, if you are flying on an updated Boeing 737-800 aircraft or a Boeing 737 MAX.

How Bad Is It

In our scroller above, see picture 1 for the existing American Airlines Boeing 737-800s (these are green on the picture). These show 160 seats. When US Airways management took over at American, these planes had only 150 seats. The new management then increased seat numbers to 160. Now they are increasing this seat number again to 172 with super thin seats and just 30 inches between the seats in economy.

They have also removed in-flight entertainment screens, which gives them cheaper, lighter seats that use less fuel due to the weight, teeny tiny toilets and they have added larger overhead bins. This a good thing, although with more seats and more passengers travelling with hand luggage only, to save money, there is still not enough bin space.

The second picture (red and blue one) shows an American Airlines new reconfigured plane with 172 seats. As you can see. There are a lot of seats squeezed into the same place which isn’t ideal for any traveller but particularly for larger passengers. It is therefore worth going out of your way to avoid these planes.

Another point which is often forgotten about these new plane designs is not just the size of the toilets but also the number of toilets on these planes when there are more passengers. Only 2 bathrooms for this many economy seats will mean long bathroom queues.

What Is The Experience Like?

The new seat pitch is just 30 inches, compared to the standard for the airline which is 31 inches. The seats themselves are slimline with less padding. This means that the airline can take back legroom out of the space which was previously taken up by the old seat padding.

Television screens have also been removed as they are heavy, so have a cost in using up fuel. American has also limited how the seats recline to 2 inches (from 4).

The Good Bits

The gate-to-gate high-speed Wi-Fi on these American planes is very good, in concept at least, although there have been numerous reports about this Wi-Fi not always working properly. There are also plenty of power sockets and the interior is bright with decent oversized overhead bins.

The Bad Bits

There is not enough room for a normal sized person to place their laptop on the tray and type comfortably. When compared to Southwest, with similarly densified cabins, American loses on this aspect. On Southwest, you can type and use a laptop in the space provided. On American, you can type, but only at an uncomfortable angle.

The toilet is also tiny, and I mean tiny, so small that a larger person could get jammed in. You will most likely get splashback when you wash your hands. If you are a male passenger, you may also get other sorts of splashback….

Gary from View From The Wing has and described the experience in his full review: “the seats themselves are no worse than American’s current coach product. The power and overhead bin situation is an improvement”….”First class is a modest downgrade with less legroom and the ‘new US Airways seats’ that have less recline. Avoid row 6.”


The new 30 inch pitch slimline seat is not really any worse than the existing US Airways Coach. It IS worse than the older American Airlines Coach. Bottom line, if you have the choice between the American Boeing 737 MAX experience and Southwest, chose to fly Southwest, JetBlue or even Alaska (this preference is currently specifically related to the Boeing 737 MAX plane).

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