Legroom and Airline Seats: Do We Need New Measurements?

When the talk turns to airline seats and comfort, you hear a lot about seat pitch, but what does that mean and is it an accurate measurement? Let’s find out.

Listen as air travel expert Rick Seaney offers good advice on snagging better seats.

What is a Seat Pitch?

According to SeatGuru, which specializes in this sort of thing, here is what you need to know:

Seat pitch: the distance from any point on one seat to the exact same point on the seat in front or behind it.

The site goes on to say while it is not an exact equivalent of leg room, it provides a pretty good idea of  how much seat room you can expect, and “the more seat pitch, the better.”

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Best and Worst Airline Seat Pitches

We took a look at SeatGuru’s chart for short-haul economy flights from around the world and determined the average seat pitch seem to be either 30″ or 31″ range; a 32″ pitch is somewhat less common. Can an inch or two make a real difference? Frequent flyers say, absolutely.

Some airlines stand head and shoulders above (and below) the herd. Here are some coach class winners and losers:

  • Biggest Seats in Coach: WestJet (Canadian low cost carrier); 34″ seat pitch in coach
  • Biggest Seats in Economy Plus: United’s Airbus A320-Vers 1; 36″ seat pitch on economy plus, and 31″ seat pitch for the rest of coach class
  • Smallest Seats in Coach: Spirit’s five A320 aircraft with non-reclining seats, 28″ of seat pitch

Lufthansa’s New Skinny Seats

German-based carrier Lufthansa recently introduced new so-called skinny seats that may change the way roominess is measured. The seats, which will eventually make their way onto the carrier’s global fleet, can now be found on certain European flights, and according to the Wall Street Journal, they are a hit with travelers.

Instead of thick foam padding, the “skinny seats” are made of a thin mesh material not unlike many office desk chairs and the bulky seat pocket has moved to the top of the seat. Those who have tried them say while the seats may look uncomfortable (and they have a traditional seat pitch of just 30″), they offer plenty of knee room, and that’s what counts. The founder of SeatGuru, who flew in a skinny seat recently, is now said to be considering a new kind of seat size measurement.

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New Seats: Good for Airlines and Passengers?

Some passengers claim that in addition to the extra room, the mesh seating offers extra comfort because it provides more back support.

Lufthansa likes the seats because it has allowed them to put more on a plane and increase revenue. As the WSJ reported, the airline added another two rows of seats to its A320 aircraft, which works out to a total of 174 seats instead of 162.

Question for readers: Have you tried the new skinny seats? We would like to hear your review.


Published: October 13, 2011