American to make more room for some economy seats

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — American Airlines will create a roomier section of economy class for elite frequent fliers and customers who buy full-fare coach tickets.

The airline said Thursday that the first planes with Main Cabin Extra, as it calls the feature, will be new Boeing 737-800s this fall. American plans to retrofit “the vast majority” of its fleet in the next 18 months.

American said the seats will have four to six inches more leg room than a standard economy seat, and they’ll come with priority boarding.

United Airlines offers similar seating, called Economy Plus, and is expanding it to its Continental planes. Delta Air Lines sells Economy Comfort on long international flights and announced plans in October to convert the entire fleet.

American said elite members of its AAdvantage frequent-flier program — those with at least 50,000 miles — and customers who buy full-fare economy tickets can get the roomier seats at no extra cost, if they’re available. Frequent fliers with 25,000 miles will get that perk until the end of 2013. American said it will hold back “a significant portion” of the seats for elite customers until check-in.

Other passengers, including AAdvantage members below 25,000 miles, will have to pay $8 to $108 extra per flight segment — each takeoff and landing — with prices based on flight length.

That pricing strategy is similar to United’s Economy Plus, which is free for elite frequent-flier members but costs extra for regular travelers, and Delta’s Economy Comfort, which costs most travelers $19 to $99 extra each way to upgrade from standard economy.

American tried offering a few more inches of leg room in economy as a selling point around 2000, but it scrapped the idea a few years later.