Seat happy: Which airline has the most comfortable economy seats?
The holidays are upon us, and for many that means taking to the ever-more-unfriendly skies – crowded airports, long lines, invasive x-rays, crying babies, surly flight attendants, winter weather, and cramped planes. The holiday flying experience is traumatizing for even the most hardened road warrior.
So what’s an elite-status-challenged (or first-class-overbooked) traveler to do when selecting the lesser of evils when it comes to holiday travel? Turn to Routehappy‘s guide to the most spacious economy airline seats available.
Here’s the highlights:
- Routehappy defines a “roomy” seat as one with 33″ pitch or more, or 32″ or more with a width of at least 17.5″, a standard seat as 31-32″ pitch and a tight seat as a seat with 28-30″ pitch.
- 86% of all available seats are standard-sized.
- Only 4% of available seats qualify as “roomy.”
- The only two airlines that offer “roomy” seats to every customer are jetBlue and Virgin America; the rest of the airlines either do not offer an economy upgrade with more leg-room or have their own product, such as United’s Economy Plus seating.
- “Tight” seats are the only kind of economy seats on Allegiant, Hawaiian and Spirit – so beware.
- 14% of Delta’s flights offer “tight” seats, while 8% of US Airway’s flights offer “roomy” seats.
- Long-haul flights – defined here as flights lasting over 4 hours – have a much higher percentage of “roomy” seats: 20%.
- Overall, the winners are JetBlue and Virgin America – they have the roomiest economy seats and are the best bet for tired tushes.
Tnooz asked Routehappy co-founder and VP of data Adam Gwosdof for some insight into the meaning of the findings – useful insight to anyone booking holiday flights this month!
Why are these findings important?
“Roomy seats” is the next best thing to flying in a premium cabin, and it’s only in 2012 that truly possibilities exist in the breadth of airline routes to make true “comfort” available within financial reach for a significant number of US flyers. Although paying a higher fare or attaining elite status is the fastest path to a Roomy seat, there are numerous ways to land one without breaking the bank.
What does this say about the airline’s priorities and are customers willing to pay?
Introduction of “roomy” seats is clearly at the top of the airline industry’s priority list.
Higher fares, occasioned by high fuel prices, and evolving/less-flyer-friendly corporate travel policies have caused fewer passengers to purchase premium cabin tickets thus more need for airlines to differentiate and de-commoditize economy travel. Until 2012, only United Airlines offered an Economy Plus “roomy seats” section on every flight worldwide. When United and Continental merged, the new carrier decided to expand Economy Plus to the entire unified fleet, rather than to retrench.
Now, Delta Air Lines offers an Economy Comfort roomy seats section on all flights, and American Airlines has begun a rollout of a similar offering. Roomy seats provide an incentive to elite fliers when an airline is unable to offer a true premium cabin upgrade, as well as an upsell opportunity to allow even infrequent flyers to pay an ancillary fee and move into this comfortable seating section.
The fact that the USA’s largest three legacy carriers, as well as a number of boutique and low cost carriers, all offer a “roomy seats” section definitely confirms that customers are willing to pay.
NB: Image from Shutterstock
Nick Vivion was a reporter (and later also global events lead) for Tnooz between August 2012 and July 2015. He was the launch co-founder of Booty's, a global street food restaurant in New Orleans and was recently AVP Operations, North America at Zomato.