Cramped Conditions on Transatlantic Flight

November 13, 2015

in Seat Stories

I have been an American Airlines frequent flyer for many, many years. I don’t fly the airline nearly as much now that we have moved to Hilton Head Island, since connections from Savannah are generally not as good as they are for other airlines to the destinations we fly to.

Recently my wife and I took a cruise from Barcelona to Lisbon on Oceania Cruise lines which, as part of the package, booked us on AA for outbound flights from Savannah to Philadelphia to Barcelona. So we flew AA 0742 on 10/23/15. As soon as I knew our flights, I went online to select seats, and the only ones we could get were the two center seats of the middle section (seat configuration 2-4-2). As my wife really likes window seats for transatlantic flights, I attempted to change seats at the check-in desk in Philadelphia. We were then able to get the G and H (side aisle and window) seats in row 35, the last economy row aft in the airplane.

I sat in the aisle seat. I am 5’6.5” tall, 148 pounds. Even at my relatively small size, my seat was so narrow that it was impossible for me to keep my left elbow inside the seat rest, especially during sleep. Since AA continues to pack seats in the plane, even at the back where the width of the fuselage tapers (where I was sitting), the width of the aisle was only barely wide enough to let the service cart through. Seriously, it is beyond belief that they would just cram extra seats in the back and make people uncomfortable just to make a few extra dollars.

As a result, my left elbow was hit almost every time the service cart went by for the entire flight. So, while trying to sleep, I was bumped awake for every transit of the flight attendant and the cart. In addition, our flight attendant was stressed, terse, harried, and rude, from the very first interaction, indicating a lack of either appropriate personnel selection or inadequate training.

AA’s in-flight meal was at best mediocre, and its free alcohol selection abysmal – they offered only beer, or cardboard-boxed wine, far below the selections of other transatlantic airlines, even those that are US-based. When we flew Air France home from Lisbon through Paris to Atlanta, and then on to Savannah, our transatlantic flight featured large, leather, comfortable seats, excellent food, flight attendants, and choice of drinks, so I know an airline can make money and make passengers happy at the same time.

My wife and I paid $1100 for the privilege of enduring this awful, cramped, uncomfortable flight, the same price as for all the other economy cabin passengers flying further forward. I can only hope that they look at this letter seriously and improve their service, seating, and staff. If not, I hope that their current flight standard eventually generates enough negative feedback that passengers choose other carriers and they go out of business. That way their routes and traffic can be taken over by other more passenger-friendly airlines (which are virtually every other one that we have flown). Maybe the CEO or one of AA’s senior officers should fly AA 0742 in my seat to see what flying AA transatlantic is like.

I will NEVER fly AA again, even if I have to pay more money for my plane tickets so that I can have that choice. I have also told all my friends and relatives (via Facebook) to avoid AA, and the reasons why. I will insist that Oceania book my flights on future cruises on other airlines, and I hope that it will stop using AA as a bulk fare carrier. I have posted the substance of my comments on the TripAdvisor airline review page as well.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Smythee November 13, 2015 at 8:58 pm

Seriously? First world problems for you. I can see you need some therapy to strengthen your coping skills. "My free booze selection wasn't varied enough." "My free food wasn't up to my standards." "And then to top it all off, I didn't want to pay for first class, and I was treated like a regular coach passenger."


Beth November 14, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Sounds like a typical AA flight abroad to me as well. Which is why I try flying not a codeshare flight. 😉


Brad Zark November 25, 2015 at 5:52 am

It’s not really free, since it’s included in the price of the ticket. That aside, that’s why I use Seat Guru. Not ll seats are the same, and sometimes you need to compromise. Frankly, you’re lucky you were not charged out the ass for a seat assignment change at the last minute.

If you think service will be any better on United or Delta, you will be sorely disappointed.


RobertJ November 14, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Oh, tut-tut, m’ lord…….it’s SO humiliating to have to travel with the proletariat…..

(“Your Highness, the peasants are REVOLTING..!!!! [answer] Yes, aren’t they, though….”)

Fly Air France everywhere, and pay through your ass for it ….just stay away from me.


David November 17, 2015 at 10:53 am

Sorry Robert, go fly A.A. soon, and you'll understand his gripe. Yeah, the booze complaint is a little whiney (no pun intended) but almost ALL major domestic carriers, are nothing but aluminum cattle cars. I find SWA and Jet Blue has the best seat configuration, unfortunately, the don't fly to London.


James November 17, 2015 at 3:11 pm

I would note that on seatguru. the seats the passenger flew, assuming it is an A332, are marked in red as "bad seats" for limited recline and proximity to the lavatory/galley.

As for me, I prefer Virgin America, and they also don't fly to London. Virgin Atlantic does, and I find it a decent flight.


dntulsa November 17, 2015 at 9:22 pm

You asked to be moved.

They moved you.

Got any cheese with that whine?


Chris November 19, 2015 at 6:28 am

Getting the last row in the aircraft next to the lavatories is going to mean you are more cramped, can't recline and likely will be interrupted since the galleys are located in the rear. As for complaining that you didn't get all the free booze you wanted…what do you expect, it's economy !

This story sounds more like a passenger who only flies business or first having to "rough it" it the slums of economy class. I bet they didn't even offer you champagne when you boarded.


Jennifer R. Povey November 19, 2015 at 5:36 pm

That's one of those…tough…situations. I personally would take middle of the middle over back row by the loos, but…not by much.

Here's something to consider, though.

Airlines tend to put people who are being booked by an agency in the worst seats. When possible, book your ticket directly with the airline. (Most especially, do not book through aggregators). I bet you got seat-screwed because you were an agency passenger.


Aaron November 19, 2015 at 8:57 pm

Come on, dude. You picked those seats. You did have a choice. Middle seats aren't bad. Bring a book.


creeper November 27, 2015 at 11:54 pm

Fight from Hell? More like flight from Wahhhhh.


@Col_Reb_Sez December 2, 2015 at 1:59 am

$1,100 is not particularly expensive for a T-A flight. More importantly, it is usually possible to pay an extra fee and get premium seats. This poster refused to pay the fee and got lousy seats, as he should have. It was quite possible for him to lean in towards his wife, but he refused, instead insisting on thrusting his elbow out into the aisle where it would be in everyone's way. Well, of course it was hit. Each and every person on the plane is supposed to contain themselves within their own seating area!

The meal was lousy and the free alcohol wasn't top quality. Again, the taxes on the flight were probably around $600, so he really paid $500 for a round-trip flight to Europe. It's really hard to give everyone a super-large seat and fine champagne and a five-star meal plus pay the pilot, the flight attendants, and the gas on $500.

I suspect this person has never taken an international flight, or at least not in the last 20 years.


patsytp January 26, 2016 at 2:54 am

$1100 for an international flight?? Try flying from Perth, Australia, where the world's economy thinks that they can add a few hundred $$$ onto the most rubbish seats, just because of where we are. Sounds like you thought your "cruise" started way before you boarded that God forsaken ship. Seats get booked up, well in advance nowadays due to that formidable invention of the world wide web; as do seat allocations. "Cardboard wine"? Too funny… you must be on the only international flight- long haul- that doesn't have spirits on board for free. Put there to shut the moaners up…. 😉


Traveler1 January 30, 2016 at 7:14 pm

$1,100 is "cheapish" but not THAT cheap. I believe the passenger has a right to complain. We should stop making excuses for airlines and justifying their greediness. If they don't believe the business is lucrative enough perhaps they should shut it down and invest elsewhere. Cramped seats for transatlantic flights is the worst, for everyone, and if they're going to do that the VERY LEAST they could do is offer something nice to compensate…proper alcohol, greater service, etc etc


Andrew Beagle January 8, 2017 at 1:45 pm

AA will never go out of business and you will more than likely fly AA again. Shame on you Mr Stingy


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