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In Search of More Legroom

SmarterTravel

Things in the United States are generally bigger than in the rest of the world. Cars are bigger, meal portions larger; in general, everything is supersized. Except when it comes to airplane legroom.

Anyone who has recently flown in economy on a U.S.-based airline is painfully aware of the lack of space between one seat and the next — both next to you as well as in front of you. At just 5′ 2″ I often feel cramped and squished into my seat. Putting my bag underneath the seat in front of me makes it even worse, robbing me of what little room I have to stretch my legs.

This lack of space is pervasive on U.S.-based airlines. So when CN Traveler published an article called “Which Airline Has the Most Legroom? A Complete Guide” my attention was piqued. Could I discover which of the major airlines I use have the most legroom? Even if it meant driving the extra hour to JFK airport rather than Newark, I’d do it for an extra inch of space!

Reading the article brought good and bad news.

The bad news: Unless I’m prepared to move to Canada, I’m just going to have to get used to less legroom. Air Canada offers the largest pitch (the distance from the headrest of one seat to the headrest behind it) range of all the airlines, coming in at 29 to35 inches. JetBlue is actually better; even though the maximum amount of legroom you’ll find on a JetBlue plane is slightly smaller (34 inches), the minimum amount of legroom is 32 inches. Unfortunately, JetBlue only flies to a small percentage of the destinations I typically fly to.

The good news is that United (my Newark-based airline) and Delta rank third in terms of seat pitch. Both provide anywhere from 31 to 33 inches of legroom. American and US Airways planes provide slightly less at 31 to 32 inches of legroom.

The disparity was apparent to me even in “upgraded” seats on two recent flights: one a transpacific flight to Tokyo in a United Economy Plus seat and the second a transatlantic flight to the U.K. in an American Airlines Cabin Extra seat. I don’t have the actual measurements, but I can assure you the difference was clearly felt.

Air Canada and JetBlue also can provide the most seat width, though some Air Canada planes actually offer the narrowest seats, as well. Seats on United, Delta, American and US Airways are all the same width, but are also beat out by AirTran, Hawaiian and Allegiant.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, predictably, Spirit Airlines is the stingiest when it comes to legroom. But more surprising, Southwest planes are narrowest.

For now, I can only hope United keeps its seats the way they are. That way, I know I’m close to getting the most legroom available in the U.S. (with Delta), even if it’s only an extra inch. And when the opportunity arises, JetBlue here I come.

How important is legroom to you? Would you drive to an airport further away if it meant getting a bigger seat?

— written by Dori Saltzman

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