Are Airline Seats Too Small? One Politician Says, Yes

A U.S. Congressman says it’s time for the government to get involved in regulating the size of airline seats though as USA Today reports, the odds that Rep. Steve Cohen’s idea will ever become law are on the slim side. UPDATE: Never mind, the amendment calling for minimum seat space requirement was voted down.

Nevertheless, are seats too small? Some food for thought.

Airline Seats – Comparison

There are two different measurements for airline seats:

  • Pitch – This is the important one: the space between the back of one seat and the back of the seat in front of it.
  • Width – Space for your posterior: how wide is the seat.

Keeping these measurements in mind, we went to SeatGuru to see how economy seats on randomly-selected aircraft stack up. Pitch and width figures in inches.

  • American 767: Pitch 31 width 17.2
  • Southwest 737: Pitch 31 width 17
  • Spirit A323: Pitch 28 width 17.75
  • Virgin America A319: Pitch 32 width 17.7

Looks like Virgin wins this round, at least comparing these particular planes but the measurements are fairly close. Notice that Spirit is best at squeezing travelers one behind another.

What Travelers Can Do

There are really only a few things you can do to mitigate smaller seats in economy and none is a completely satisfying alternative.

  • Pay for a bigger seat: We’ve seen some deals for under $15. Or select your seat early (if allowed) and try to get an aisle to stretch your legs out – but don’t block the drink cart!
  • Pay for a second seat: This is an extreme option, normally the province of people airlines euphemistically refer to as ‘customers of size’ but if you can afford it, you might want to try it.
  • Exercise: A number of airlines list exercises you can do that may make you feel better and United’s exercises include foot pumps and ankle circles.
  • Contact your congressional representative: Who knows, if enough people are concerned about this, more seating space may be forced on airlines. However, if that means fewer passengers per plane, it could raise ticket prices as well.

If you have any ideas, we (and your fellow passengers) would love to hear.


Updated: February 12, 2016