Carry-On Joy: American Airlines Doubles Overhead Bin Space in Some Boeing 737 Jets

Mile High Airplane Makeover
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Ask most passengers what they think of air travel these days and you're likely to get a grimace.

Travelers are putting up with packed planes, uncomfortable seats and overhead bins stuffed fuller than a hot dog-eating contestant.

It's not just passengers shouting 'enough!' but, remarkably, so are some airlines. Many are deciding it's time to spend some money to spruce up their cabins; and not just in first class. Even the lowly coach passenger may notice some differences.

Video: American Airlines remake their 737s.
American Airlines remakes their Boeing 737's

Don't get too excited -- no one is bringing back free food or eliminating fees -- but airlines are putting some of their hard earned cash into refurbishing, redecorating and even rebuilding their cabins.

The most pervasive change: installing Wi-Fi -- to allow gadget-obsessed travelers the ability to surf the web and check e-mail while in flight. Delta now has Wi-Fi on 95 percent of its domestic fleet, more than 500 aircraft.

US Airways has outfitted all its Airbus A-321 aircraft, United offers it on many transcontinental flights and American's adding it to its Boeing 737s. Even low-cost carrier Southwest is jumping on the bandwagon; four planes wired so far, all of its fleet within two years. AirTran offers Wi-Fi on all its flights and Alaska Airlines will be there by the end of the year.

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Of course, this not only helps passengers but the airline, too. Expect to pay for Wi-Fi access.

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And how about those seats? Carriers are increasingly installing seats that lay down flat in first and business class. As for the back of the bus, US Airways is putting in leather seats in coach, United and Delta in some of their jets too.

American Airlines Jet Makeover

But for the ultimate in makeovers, look no further than American Airlines.

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The carrier is literally stripping the interiors of its older Boeing 737s -- 76 aircraft in all. They are ripping out old ceiling TV monitors, stripping seats, wires and bathrooms.

"We want to make sure all of the bells and whistles are provided," said Brian Trujillo, American's 737 project manager.

The planes average only eight years old but that's ancient compared to the new 737s American is purchasing. So the technical crew chief on the project, Sattar Hussein, says they're redoing the older aircraft, "really for customer comfort and trying to keep up with the new deliveries that we have, which are more up-to-date."

Imagine taking a house down to its studs and then starting over.

That's just about what American is doing with the aircraft. The massive project is underway at the company's giant maintenance hangar in Tulsa, Okla. Four aircraft at time, 351 maintenance technicians working 24-hours shifts, five days a week.

It takes 21 days to complete just one plane. Yes, three weeks for each jet.

American is just finishing the eighth one now and has 68 more to go.

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