American Airlines to Remove Its Rear Galleys

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 9, 2006

It's the most vivid sign that hot meals on passenger flights may never return -- at least for those sitting in coach.

American Airlines parent AMR Corp. yesterday said it plans to remove the rear galleys from its MD-80 aircraft and replace them with four seats beginning in September. Delta Air Lines Inc. will add seats this summer and may kill galleys as well, setting the stage for other carriers to do likewise as they seek to add revenue and reduce fuel costs by lowering weight.

American said the move would be worth an additional $34 million a year. The airline said it has no plans to remove the galleys from the front of its planes, as those are used to prepare and heat meals for first-class passengers.

By adding more seats, American said it is possible that the seat pitch, or leg room, in the coach cabin could be affected. "At this point, we don't believe the average seat pitch will change appreciably," said American spokesman Tim Wagner.

American has 327 MD-80s, which make up nearly half its fleet. The planes are used on shorter domestic flights but not transcontinental routes.

American, which lost $861 million last year, has been reeling financially due to higher fuel prices and lower air fares, troubles that have plagued the entire airline industry. As many financially ailing airlines scramble to find ways to boost revenue, other airlines are expected to follow American's move.

Delta Air Lines, which is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, said it, too, is reviewing its aircraft seating layout and is considering removing galleys. "We're reviewing several opportunities to reconfigure our aircraft. That would include all possibilities," said Delta spokeswoman Gina Laughlin.

This summer, Delta -- the nation's No. 3 carrier -- plans to reduce the size of its crew rest areas on Boeing 767 jets used on European flights. Delta plans to use the space to add 12 seats in the middle of the aircraft between the business and coach cabins.

Removing galleys could lighten aircraft, said Calyon Securities Inc. analyst Ray Neidl. The heavier the plane, the more fuel the aircraft burns. "If they have no plans on going back to meal service, they should get rid of them," Neidl said.

A year ago, Northwest Airlines Corp. removed ovens from the galleys of several aircraft used on domestic flights to lessen the weight of the aircraft, said Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch. Ebenhoch said the airline -- which is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection -- has no plans to remove its galleys because they are used to store soft drinks, snacks and trash.

Most carriers, including American, have all but done away with serving hot meals to passengers, especially those in coach. American now offers boxed lunches and snacks. Last year, the airline began selling boxed snacks for about $3, but this month, the airline raised its price to $4 as a result of adding more name-brand snacks.

Now it seems hot meals are quickly becoming the latest entry in airline history books, joining in-flight phones, armrest ashtrays, free popular magazines and complimentary decks of playing cards.

And as carriers look for ways to add more passengers to their aircraft, extra leg room is becoming the latest perk to be challenged. In 2004, American began adding more seats to its coach cabin and thereby eliminated an extra two to three inches of legroom, which had been part of its "More Room Throughout Coach" campaign of 2000.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company