Have you noticed your personal space is shrinking on flights? You’re not imagining things. The space between your seat and the seat in front of you is getting smaller (or maybe a little bigger), depending on your airline. Over time the average seat pitch — the distance between the back of the seat in front of you and the front of your seat back (i.e. your personal space) — has shortened. Only two decades ago the pitch could be anywhere from 34 to 35 inches. Today the legroom is closer to 30 or 31 inches, depending on the airline.
If you don’t want to pay extra for “economy plus” or “premium economy” upgrades in the major airlines, here are the carriers’ current pitch sizes.
- JetBlue (32″ – 33″): Their Airbus A321 planes have 33 inches of pitch in economy, so those are used primarily for transcontinental flights. Their Airbus A320s have 32 inches in economy class, thanks to a recent retrofit of their entire fleet.
- Alaska Airlines (31″ – 32″): Alaska has a fleet of Airbuses with 32 inches of legroom and a fleet of pre-Virgin America merger Boeing 737s with 31 to 32 inches.
- Southwest Airlines (31″ – 32″): Most Southwest planes are Boeing 737-700s with 31 inches of pitch; some of their 737-MAXs and 737-800s have 32 inches.
- United Airlines (31″ – 32″): Only their Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners offer up to 32 inches. The rest of their fleet clocks in around 31 inches.
- Hawaiian Airlines (30″ – 32″): Hawaiian’s Boeing 717s, which they fly between islands, have 30″ of legroom, but the rest of their fleet — Airbus A330s, A321s, and Boeing 767s — have 31 – 32″.
- American Airlines (30″ – 32″): American’s Boeing 757s (for international travel) offer 31 to 32 inches of seat pitch while their Airbus A319s and Boeing 737 MAXs (domestic travel) have 30 inches.
- Delta (30″ – 32″): Expect anywhere from 30 to 32 inches of seat pitch, although most have 31 inches available. The least amount of space is found on the Airbus A319s, A320s, A321s, and the Boeing 757s with only 30 inches of legroom.
While this may feel small, all is not lost. You can upgrade to the airline’s Economy Plus/Premium Economy (or whatever your favorite airline calls it) and get up to 40 inches of legroom. If you’re a taller traveler, this can be totally worth it. If you’re shorter, you probably won’t notice the difference.
Of course, you’re looking at a cost between $20 – $200, depending on the airline and the destination. Just remember, wherever you’re headed, seat pitch is important and needs to be a consideration in your flight plans. Don’t just get the cheapest ticket you can find, because it will very likely be one of the most uncomfortable. Spend a few extra dollars so you can at least tolerate the ride without hurting yourself or putting yourself through four hours of torture.
Photo credit: Matthew Hurst (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)