American Airlines chairman and CEO Doug Parker defended seat and lavatory sizes on the carrier’s new fleet of Boeing 737 MAX airliners during an opening presentation Sept. 24 at the Airline Passenger Experience (APEX) Expo in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Dallas/Fort Worth-based carrier was criticized last year for its plan to install seats with 29 in. of pitch on the 100 new Boeing 787-8s it started receiving last September. The reaction caused the airline to change course and install economy seats with 30-in. seat pitch, still less than the 31-in. seat pitch on its 737-800s.

Commonly called leg room, airline seat pitch is the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat directly in front of it.

In a one-on-one conversation with Parker, APEX CEO Joe Leader observed that American has “gotten all this attention about how it’s a step back, because people look at the one-inch less of pinch. We had a team take the [Rockwell Collins] Meridian seat and actually look at it against your old seats—there’s one inch of added room up top at eye level, and then it’s net neutral at the bottom because you have less obstruction at your knees and you have more space in the back. Why do you think you’re getting this bad rap? Your seats are actually wider as well.”

Parker, who recently flew on the 737-8 for the first time, acknowledged that American could have done a better job describing the new seat dimensions. But he also believes the concept of seat pitch is not well understood by passengers.

“That 30-in. pitch, having done it myself, is much more comfortable than our existing 31-in. pitch on an MD-80. It feels like a much better product,” he related. “I think the whole definition of pitch needs to be better understood. The fact is that a seat is an inch [narrower] and more comfortable ... The traditional measure of simply pitch, and comparing pitch to aircraft that have very different seats, doesn’t really give the customer what they need to know about the amount of space they have.”

Leader also brought up smaller lavatory dimensions, saying, “American has been treated like you personally designed these bathrooms.”

Parker responded: “In this case, Boeing did a nice job of designing a bathroom that is a couple inches narrower than the one we’ve had in the past. Real estate inside the cabin is incredibly valuable. Our customers care greatly about that, so if we can give them two more inches inside the cabin by having our bathrooms two inches narrower—as Delta has done, as Southwest has done—I think that’s a good thing. We haven’t had complaints about it—we’ve had some [negative] press about it.”

Speaking with reporters afterward, Parker said the airline is confident that a provision of pending FAA reauthorization legislation that would require the agency to study whether there should be a minimum distance between seating rows will find that current seat dimensions are safe.

“We’re always somewhat reluctant to see the government get involved in customer-type issues,” he said. “But this is a safety issue for our customers—one that we’re certain is not an issue at American today and any sort of study will bear that out.”

Bill Carey, bill.carey@aviationweek.com