Flying is the quickest way to travel, but sometimes it’s not the most hassle-free. With long TSA lines, annoying baggage fees and some very disturbing incidents, many would say there’s nothing friendly about the “friendly skies” these days.
Part of the problem is that in an effort to increase their profit margins, many carriers are trying to cram more and more passengers onto their planes — and there’s little worse than being on a packed flight and feeling like the person in front of you is in your lap.
Here’s how much legroom you’ll have on your favorite airline
Just this week, a legal challenge filed by FlyersRights, an air travelers’ advocacy group, over the safety of reduced seat sizes was rebuffed by the Federal Aviation Administration. In its letter, the FAA said: “While your petition asserts that seat width and pitch, in conjunction with passenger size, raise a safety concern, the FAA has no evidence that there is an immediate safety issue necessitating rulemaking at this time.”
Still, many carriers lure passengers by touting the amount of legroom they offer. One marketing ploy is to package it with what they call “Preferred Seating,” which in many cases is simply where people “prefer” to be seated on the plane. Nonetheless, passengers are forking over extra money to sit there.
What determines an airline seat’s size?
Airlines have standardized the way they refer to airplane seating. The main dimensions are width and pitch. How wide your plane seats are has shrunk from 35 inches in the 1970s to about 31 inches today, according to Fortune magazine.
But “seat pitch,” aaaah, that’s the real useful measurement. It translates into how much legroom you have. On a plane, the pitch basically is the distance from a designated point on one seat to that same point on the seat in front of it.
For most first-class seating arrangements, airlines give you about 38 inches, but things tend to go downhill as you move backward into the main cabin. If you are the type of person who wants to choose your airline based on how comfortable you’ll be at 30,000 feet, here’s what kind of legroom your favorite carriers offer:
Airline legroom: Here’s how roomy your favorite carriers are
Most Delta planes offer a seat pitch of 31 to 32 inches, the airline says. For more space, the Atlanta-based carrier offers Delta Comfort Plus which features up to four inches of extra legroom. Comfort Plus prices vary, but The Points Guy paid $39 for such a seat on a one-stop flight from Newark to Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Flying coach, American gives you 30 inches of legroom on most of its flights. They do offer another option though. “Sit back and relax with more room to stretch out at the front of the Main Cabin,” the airline says. Main Cabin Extra seating start at $20.
Southwest’s Boeing 737 fleet has seat pitches between 31 and 33 inches, according to Seatguru.com. Seat widths average 17 inches. If you find that you’re uncomfortable in those seats, the airline’s “Customers of Size” policy mandates that you purchase another seat.
The ultra-low fares airline with flights at rock bottom prices touts “Stretch” seating in its cabin. Like most airlines, Frontier’s fleet includes Airbus A320 series jets, which offer between 30 and 32 inches of space. Stretch seats can cost anywhere between $15 to $50, depending on the flight.
In a departure from the Airbus industry standard, JetBlue’s fleet includes the Brazilian-built Embraer 190 (E190), which offers customers the roomiest interior of any narrow-body aircraft. JetBlue’s seat width is 18.25 inches, nearly 2 inches more than some Airbus configurations. The airline’s seat pitch is 32-plus inches, according to its website.
JetBlue also promises up to 38 inches of legroom on its Even More seats, which are available on all their flights. The cost of JetBlue’s Even More seats varies by flight. A SmartTravel.com writer paid $65 for an Even More seat from Boston to San Francisco. Ouch!
United’s Economy seats have a pitch of 31 inches, the airline says on its website. United does, however, offer Economy Plus, which lets you stretch out more to relax and “sit near the front of the cabin so you can exit the plane easier.” Like the other airlines, Economy Plus will set you back a certain amount of dollars depending on your flight.
Spirit’s Airbus A320 fleet offers legroom to the tune of 28 to 31 inches. They try to make up for it by giving you a better-than-average seat width of 17.75.
Spirit’s Big Front Seats, which, as they indicate, are located near the plane’s front, have a 36-inch pitch. According to Frommers.com, “On a flight between Atlanta and Dallas, they cost $20 per leg. On a trip from Chicago to Las Vegas, they cost $65.”
If you’re up for some South of the Border travel, the airline with the most legroom is Interjet, a low-cost Mexican airline. The airline boasts 34 inches of seat pitch on its 150-seat Airbus fleet, the carrier says on its website.
The reason it can offer so much space to passengers is that it forgoes about 30 seats on its planes, the company says. With flights throughout Mexico, the airline also serves several U.S. cities, including Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Finally, the good news
In April 2018, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would mandate that the FAA set minimum size standards for airline seats.
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