If you’re a relatively tall person like I am, at 5 feet 8 inches, legroom matters on an airplane. I’ve been on planes before where my knees are literally right against the person’s seat in front of me. If they decide to suddenly put their seat back, well, let me just say it’s not pleasant and for that reason, I almost never put my own seat back unless there’s a small child sitting directly behind me. Airplane courtesy aside, I know some people like to know what they’re getting into before they fly, especially if it’s going to be a long flight.
Of course when you’re comparing airlines, you should compare apples to apples. It’s not a fair comparison to look at economy seats with one airline and business or first class seats for another airline. Let’s focus here on economy class seats in the Main Cabin. The numbers shown refer to seat pitch, which is the distance from the back of your plane seat to the seat in front of you. To make things simpler, I’m going to refer to seat pitch and legroom interchangeably here.
Most legroom in economy class:
- JetBlue: 33-34 inches.
- Alaska Airlines: 32 inches.
- Southwest: 32 inches.
- Hawaiian Airlines: 31-32 inches.
- American/United/Delta: 31 inches.
JetBlue is an economy airline that shines compared to other economy airlines, with the most legroom of any US airline being just one of their many perks. If you are able to pay more, JetBlue offers passengers the ability to upgrade to “Even More Space” seating. In addition to providing an extra 6 inches in seat pitch, JetBlue’s “Even More Space” provides passengers with early boarding privileges, early access to overhead bins, and a fast track through security (only available in select cities). “Even more Space” pricing varies by route length. These seats can be purchased from JetBlue directly at the time of booking or at check-in. Pricing will be dependent on duration of flight.
Alaska and Southwest Airlines offer similar legroom on their airplanes. If you can manage to snag an exit row or bulkhead seat, you will be rewarded with even more legroom on a Southwest flight. However, since Southwest does not have pre-assigned seating and no upgrade options, unless you’re in the front of the line for the first boarding group, there’s no chance you’ll get those seats. You can choose bulkhead and exit row seats with Alaska Airlines, however, and upgrades are available, for a fee.
Hawaiian Airlines seats usually have 31-32 inches of legroom, but on the smaller Boeing 717s mostly used for inter-island service, travelers will get 30 inches of legroom. On the flip side, for longer flights coming from the mainland US, you can purchase “Extra Comfort” seats. These extra-cost seats are available on Hawaiian’s Airbus A330 and A321 flights and offer a seat pitch of 36-inches.
American Airlines seats tend to vary widely because they currently operate many different airplanes. In general though, most seats have 31-32 inches of legroom, with the majority closer to 31 inches. You can purchase a “Main Cabin Extra Fare,” which will give you 2-3 more inches of legroom, depending on the aircraft you’re flying.
United Airlines seats are pretty standard with 31 inches of legroom, with a couple of exceptions on some Airbuses and 737 aircrafts that have 30 inches and the 787-8 Dreamliner that offers 32 inches of legroom. For their “Economy Plus” option, you’ll be rewarded with an extra 3-4 inches of legroom.
Delta Airlines is similar to American in that the have a wide array of aircraft, with varying legroom. The average legroom is 30-32 inches, with 31 inches the most common. For your extra money with Delta Comfort+ seats, you get an extra couple of inches of legroom. If you’re able to pay for “Delta Premium Select” seats, you’ll get a comfy 38 inches of legroom in return.
Least legroom in economy class:
- Allegiant Air: 30 inches.
- Spirit: 28 inches.
- Frontier: 28-31 inches.
Not surprisingly, Allegiant, Spirit, and Frontier are all budget carriers, and all offer their passengers the least legroom. As with the other airlines, however, you can purchase extra legroom with Allegiant’s Legroom+ and get an extra 4 inches. Legroom+ seats are in the first-row bulkhead section of the plane and exit rows over the wing. Another thing to note, none of the seats on Allegiant recline, which means no opportunity to bang the knees of the person sitting behind you. Also, Allegiant’s seat backs slope downward at an angle, so the seat in front of you isn’t even with your knees, shins, and feet. I recently flew with Allegiant Air and didn’t feel cramped at all.
It seems appropriate that the much-hated Spirit Airlines offers the least legroom of all airlines. You do have the opportunity to pay extra for “Big Front Seats” with a whopping 36 inches of legroom in the front of the plane. However, when you add up the cost of those seats in addition to the many, many other things you have to pay for with Spirit, you may see any savings you thought you’d have by flying with Spirit dwindle away.
Budget carrier Frontier seats do have a bit of a range in what you get, depending on the aircraft, but only a few of the older aircraft have the 31-inch pitch, and those are being phased out. Frontier’s newer aircraft have on average 28-29 inches of legroom. You can purchase “Stretch” seats which will get you a nice 36 inches of legroom and if you choose row 13 over the wing, you’ll be rewarded with a lucky 38 inches (something to remember if you’re flying with Frontier).
A bit all over the place in economy class:
Sun Country: 29-33 inches.
Minneapolis-based Sun Country is increasing the number of seats on its 737-800 aircraft, which will shrink the seat pitch to 29-30 inches, more aligned to its fellow budget airlines mentioned just above. Some of the aircraft will still have a 33-inch pitch, but they will also come with an additional fee. Depending on your route, it’s possible to have 31-32 inches of legroom but it seems inevitable that those aircraft will also eventually be retrofitted to the smaller seat pitch.
Do you even pay attention to seat pitch/legroom on airplanes or is it even an issue with you because you’re not tall enough for it to matter? Do you always choose an aisle seat and that’s good enough for you or do you prefer the bulkhead seats? Did you know about Frontier Airline’s mysterious extra pitch in row 13?