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Looking for legroom in economy class? The best airlines to fly

September 16, 2013
Photo credit: Routehappy
Photo credit: Routehappy

Legroom in economy class (Photo credit: Routehappy)

Before you book you next flight, check out Routehappy.com for insider info on seat width and legroom in economy class.

Many over-50 travelers don’t want to be scrunched up in tight airline seats for long hauls. While these value-conscious travelers may be reluctant to splurge on first-class cabin seats (about three times the cost of an economy seat), they do covet elbow and legroom.

They want to feel comfortable while flying for a number of reasons. They worry about the increased risk of DVT when they can’t stretch their legs or they simply want enough space to extend their legs to nap, or to be able to work comfortably on a laptop.

Overcoming shrinkage

No, it’s not middle-aged spread (or middle-aged spread alone). Airline seat sizes in economy cabins have been getting smaller.

To increase profits, airlines have been shrinking seat sizes and reducing legroom in economy class to stuff more seats onto each plane. But not all seat sizes are the same and they vary on different carriers. If you understand your options, you’ll be a happier flyer.

In a new report, Size Matters: Finding the Best Seats in the Sky, Routehappy.com* compared seat sizes on both domestic and international carriers. This report provides valuable insights that can help travelers find roomier seats:

Fundamental background info on airline seat size 

Seat pitch refers to the space between one point on a seat and the same point on the seat in front of it. The folks at Routehappy.com have categorized seats in terms of their roominess:

  • A Roomier seat has a pitch of 32-35 inches; enough room to open a laptop even when the person in front of you reclines;
  • A Standard economy seat has a 31-inch pitch.
  • A Tight economy seat (the ones you dread sitting in) has a pitch less than 30 inches.

Takeaway findings from the Size Matters report:

Here are some of the most useful findings from the report to help you find roomier economy-class seats on your next domestic flight (although this post only focuses on domestic flights, the full report covers both domestic and international seating, and details the availability of flatbed seating as well):

  • You don’t always have to pay extra for extra room; 23 percent of domestic flights have Roomer seats in economy cabins at no additional cost.
  • You’re more likely to find Roomier seats on Southwest, Alaska, JetBlue, US Airways and Virgin America airlines, in that order).
  • Every seat on Virgin American and JetBlue is Roomier, in fact, with a pitch of at least 32” (with wider seats, too).
  • You can find some Roomier seats on economy flights flown by Southwest, US Airways, Hawaiian, or United but you need to choose your flight and seat wisely.
  • Some 40 percent of domestic flights offer Extra Legroom in economy cabins that can either be purchased or paid for with loyalty points. This seating is often coupled with additional perks (such as early boarding, priority baggage handling, etc.).
  • Delta has the most Extra Legroom economy seats, followed closely by United.
  • Southwest, US Airways, Alaska, AirTran and Hawaiian do not offer an Extra Legroom option.
  • JetBlue, Frontier, Spirit and Virgin America offer Extra Legroom economy seats on every single flight.
  • Even though its standard seats on A320s are equal in size to Extra Legroom seats on other carriers, JetBlue offers an Extra Legroom option (called Even More Space) on all of its flights. (On a recent four-hour flight I took from New York to Albuquerque, the cost for these very spacious seats was an additional $40 for each flight segment).

The bottom line

If more legroom in economy class is a priority when traveling on domestic flights, all other things being equal, it makes sense to choose carriers that offer roomier seats.

“Without paying any more, flyers who choose their flights wisely can find Roomier seats in Regular Economy,” says John Walton, Director of Data for Routehappy. Alternatively, purchasing an Extra Legroom economy seat can be a relatively cost-effective way to get more space and fly more comfortably, he says.


*About Routehappy: Routehappy is a start-up search site that provides travelers with information on Happiness Scores so they can find roomier seats, entertainment upgrades, and more. You can view the entire Size Matters report on their website. 

  • Reply
    Sheryl
    September 16, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Thank you for this! I am so tired of paying SO much extra for extra legroom for my (very long) legs. Perhaps next time, I’ll be able to find a “normal” seat that doesn’t make me curl up like a pretzel.

  • Reply
    Jennifer Wagner
    September 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Good to know. I almost always fly JetBlue of Virgin if I can anyway. JetBlue definitely is the most comfortable.

  • Reply
    Kay Lynn
    September 17, 2013 at 9:14 am

    I fly 6-10 times a year and am choosing Southwest more often for the space and free luggage.

    Unfortunately, JetBlue and Virgin America don’t have many options from San Diego.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 17, 2013 at 10:51 pm

      I haven’t flown Southwest for many years but people rave about the airline!
      Best, Irene

  • Reply
    Mike
    September 18, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Good post, Irene! I don’t need first class (though that would be nice if I could afford it) but I would definitely want the extra room for longer flights. And especially overseas. Thank you for the information and I learned more new stuff again 🙂

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