5 years ago

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

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Nick Vivion

About the Writer :: Nick Vivion

Nick is the Editorial Director for Tnooz. Prior to this role, Nick has multi-hyphenated his way through a variety of passions: restaurateur, photographer, filmmaker, corporate communicator, Lyft driver, Airbnb host, journalist, and event organizer.



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  1. Brian Koyama

    Roomy seats on Hawaiian Airlines were almost as spread out as first class. But the seat itself was so hard on the rear end and back support was just as similar to the old non-ergonomic seat backs.

  2. Pradeep Alreja

    I’m planning a trip to Houston in September to Houston from Mumbai India. I’m overweight n need to have comfortable seats. Can anyone suggest the airline with good pitch n width.

  3. Mary

    We are booking an international flight and was wondering if the seats are better space on Air France or KLM than Delta.

  4. Andy Ryan

    Agree with Keson: would be great for them to expand their study to a range of global airlines, especially to then be able to see where US-based carriers fare in comparison to their international peers. People always complain about the service being poor on the former, and it would be interesting to see if this might also be correlated with passengers’ physical comfort.

    Interesting also that in the study of US-based carriers it’s the 2 fully low-cost ones that offer most comfort: who said low prices necessarily had to mean an inferior product??

    • Nick Vivion

      Nick Vivion

      Yes, that kinda takes the air out from under airlines that claim they can’t offer more comfort and still be competitive. Clearly customers are asking for more at a better price – a tough proposition, but I also think that customers will pay more for a superior product. Give me better seats, more space, increased comfort, attentive service, and I will gladly pay a premium!

      • Robert Albert

        Hi Nick, we think many people think like that! (And by the way, often you don’t have to pay any extra for the better product. Frequent flyers know this but have to do a lot of legwork to figure it all out. We’re making that easy for flyers.

    • Robert Albert

      Hi Andy. Good point. We’re planning on sharing more analysis on our data including outside the US in the near future. And yeah, we think the term “LCC” is not so relevant anymore…maybe it should be No-Frills, Boutique and Big Box or something like that.

  5. Titus

    Great article, Nick!

  6. Keson Lim

    Great stuff!

    Would love to see the same analysis for flights originating from South East Asia, specifically Singapore… 😛

    • Nick Vivion

      Nick Vivion

      Great idea! Who’s got that data?

      • Robert Albert

        We do! We cover flights worldwide – and have prioritized airlines and aircraft in the English speaking world and “traveler-centric” destinations (like Southeast Asia) so our coverage is pretty good already in SE Asia. Check our Happiness Scores for SQ, TG, JetStar, Air Asia etc. Please let us know any comments or feedback too.

  7. Kurt Varner

    The opening paragraph makes me want to crawl into a hole for the Holidays. I’ll be keeping JetBlue and Virgin in mind for next time.

    • Nick Vivion

      Nick Vivion

      This is my first time hosting the holidays for my family – very grown up, and also happy to not have to travel! However, perhaps a week’s worth of family to clean up after might make me pine for the relative roominess of steerage!

    • Robert Albert

      You just need to know where to look. The other guys have good options too. (But B6 and VX usually do a very good job so you probably won’t go wrong with your approach.)


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