Encounters of the Unpleasant Kind
We can't all enjoy
sleeper seats! Ignore information about seat pitch - it is
confusing and often unrelated to the actual perceived
comfort you'll experience on board.
1 of a 3 part series - click for Parts
Is there any way of knowing,
for sure, which airlines give you more room in coach class than
The short answer is 'no'. Your overall comfort depends
on many different factors.
two discusses where the best seats are on each
plane, and the third article in the
series discusses how to get the seats you want preassigned
The most common measure of
seat comfort and 'roominess' is the seat pitch. But this is a
flawed and limited measurement, and does not tell the full
'Pitch' refers to how many
inches between the start of one row of seats and the start of
the next row of seats. This can be as low as 29" in domestic
coach class, while, in some of the first class 'sleeper bed'
configurations, it can stretch out to 75" and more for seats
that convert into full length beds. Most domestic coach class
configurations have pitches between about 31"-33".
You might think that an
aircraft with a 32" pitch would be more comfortable and roomy
than an aircraft with a 31" pitch. Not necessarily so -
sometimes you'll find that the 31" seat actually gives you more
leg room than the 32" seat!
This is because part of the
linear space that each row of seats takes up is used by the seat
back. A seat with a very thick back will use up more of the
pitch, and push you closer to the seat in front of you, than a
seat with a thin back. It is quite possible that there can be
more than 1" difference in seat thickness between the modern
thin seats and earlier 'thick' seats, and so that modern plane
with the 31" pitch may have more effective leg room than the
older plane with a 32" pitch!
Maybe you're quite happy
with your leg room, but then two things happen to drastically
change your leg room experience.
First, you decide to lean
back in your seat, and recline it. This may have the side effect
of pushing your legs further forward, and closer to the seat in
front of you. Secondly, the person in front of you decides they
want to sit back also, and recline their seat right into your
laptop screen or meal or whatever, closing any remaining gap
between your knees and their seat.
The amount of seat recline,
and the location and nature of its hinge, can have a major
impact on the effective leg room available to you. There can be
a big difference between when seats are fully upright and when
If you've ever traveled in a
middle seat, or indeed, any time you've had a person alongside,
you'll agree that seats aren't as wide as they should be. Seat
width varies from as little as 17" up to 19" in coach class, and
those two extra inches (six inches in total between you and the
people on either side of you) can make a huge difference to how
tightly you have to hunch in on yourself. This is a measurement
that is a reliable indicator that doesn't have too many other
factors to consider (arm rest width may be a factor if you tend
to fill the seat yourself). Unlike seat pitch, with almost no
exceptions, a wider seat is appreciably better than a narrower
Other Comfort Factors
If you're reasonably tall
like me (I'm 6') then you'll probably find the foot rests that
can be occasionally found in some coach class seating to be a
total waste of time and space, and more of a bother, taking up
valuable space, than a helpful comfort aid.
But there is probably one
feature that you'll love on any seat, no matter what your size -
moveable 'ears' on the sides of the headrest that you can move
in or twist down to support your head while you're trying to
sleep. These can be a wonderful help and solution to the 'sore
neck' problem that otherwise may occur.
You Can Never Know
So, how to best determine
which is the 'best' and most comfortable plane before you
travel? You can try and be as scientific as you wish about these
issues, but it won't really help. While many airlines publish
seat width and pitch data; as you've read above, seat pitch can
be confusing and useless information. And even when they do
publish this information, it is usually quoted as a range of
values, because it can vary from one plane to the next, even for
the same plane model, depending on the version of seats in the
plane and various other factors.
A cynical person would say
it is almost like the airlines don't want you to know what to
The Best Airline
Now that American Airlines
have abandoned their 'More Room in Coach' program, the best
airline is possibly JetBlue. But note JetBlue only has
more spacious seating in the rear two thirds of its planes - the
seats behind the emergency exit row. So if you're wanting
the most space, be sure to request a seat aft of the emergency
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11 Jan 2002, last update
08 Jul 2017
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.