Transport Airlines

How to Outsmart the Airlines and Beat the Shrinking Airplane Seat

Nov 01, 2013 10:00 am

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The homework required to find a better seat is enough to make you want to stay at home.

— Jason Clampet

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Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy.

Air France’s premium economy.

Seat back entertainment in Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy section.

British Airways’ premium economy.

Air New Zealand’s Skycouch economy offering.

The Wall Street Journal recently posted a brilliant article about the supposed ‘Shrinking’ airline seat, where airlines have become savvy about squeezing in an extra seat per row to get extra revenue, whilst losing an inch per seat width in comfort.

Interestingly the main airframes this applies to are the 777 (nine across comfortably, but now fitting 10) and the A380 (ten across comfortably on the lower deck, but able to stretch to 11), which are wide enough to be able to squeeze the passengers in tightest. The older A330 frame hasn’t changed in width for a while can comfortably fit eight abreast, although some airlines have been fitting in nine abreast for sometime, mainly in the Asian market, where statistically passengers are slightly smaller. Europe and North America suffer from some of the largest passengers in the air.

So it can all be very confusing. Stick to these simple rules to avoid being squeezed:

Do Your Research

Let’s say you are just about to book your seat. Check the seat maps before you pay. Sometimes multiple aircraft operate the same route, even on the same airline (e.g. Virgin Atlantic offer a 747 and A340 on their Los Angeles route each day), so if it’s too tight, consider flying at a different time of day, or a different day, as the higher density aircraft will most likely fly peak days.

Basic advice:

  • A 777 should be nine seats across to give you a reasonable seat.
  • An A330/A340 should be eight seats across to give you a reasonable seat.
  • An A380 should be ten seats across the lower deck.
  • A 787 should only be eight seats across to give you a reasonable seat.

With this is mind, you should be able to give yourself the most available comfort.

Top 10 Narrowest Long-Haul Seats

Airline Plane Type Seat size
Air Asia X A330 16.5″ seat width
LAN 787 16.8″ seat width
LOT 787 16.9″ seat width
Air France 777 17″ seat width
Air Transat A330-200 17″ seat width (The A330-300 has wider seats)
China Southern 777 17″ seat width
Air Canada 777-300ER 17″ seat width (on the ones with row 26)
Malaysia Airlines 777-200 17″ seat width
Air India 787 17″ seat width
American Airlines 777-300ER 17″ seat width

It should be noted this list isn’t exhaustive, there are other airlines that will also offer similar comfort, but interestingly, the worst contenders are the 787′s and the low cost long haul A330 from Air Asia.

Top 10 Widest Long-Haul Seats

Airline Plane Type Seat size
Asiana A330-300 21″ seat width
Air China 747-400 21″ seat width
Aeroflot A330-300 20.6″ seat width
China Southern A330 20.1″ to 20.5″ seat width
Air Canada 767-300ER 20″ to 21″ seat width
British Airways 767-300 20″ seat width (older aircraft without Club World cabin)
Air China 767 19.5″ seat width
Hainan Airlines A330-200 19″ seat width
Singapore Airlines 777 & A380 19″ seat width
Air France A380 19″ seat width

Again it should be noted this list isn’t exhaustive, there are other airlines that will also offer similar comfort, but interestingly, the some of the worst contenders such as Air France, China Southern, and Air Canada appear in both lists, meaning these airlines offer the greatest difference in levels of comfort dependent on the aircraft type.

Not Just About Narrow Seats

Airlines around the world are offering chances to gain extra space. When checking in there are countless airlines that will offer you extra legroom seats, bulkhead seats, economy extra seats (not to be confused with Premium Economy) and the opportunity to buy an extra seat for extra comfort. One such airline that has really gone the extra step is Air New Zealand, and whilst they have narrow economy seats on their 777 fleet, they offer the ‘SkyCouch’, whereby passengers can buy either a whole row, or an extra seat for a couple, and fold out an extra part of the seating to create a large lounger to relax or even sleep on for only a little extra cost.

Premium Economy Is Getting Better

Airlines are shrinking their seats no doubt to up-sell their more premium products, such as Premium Economy, and for a little extra cost offer a lot more comfort, some of the best to mention are Air New ZealandBritish AirwaysVirgin Atlantic and newly launched Cathay Pacific‘s Premium Economy. Most airlines offer the chance to upgrade at the airport, dependent on availability, at a reduced cost. As airlines are competing for premium travellers, the fight is on between long haul carriers to have the most superior product, which in turn means the passenger is the winner in all of this.

When airlines shrink seats, they often offer distractions such as better in-flight entertainment and dining. DesignAir’s Top 10 Economy Classes for 2013 take into consideration the whole experience, from seat to entertainment, to food and service. With Oman Air for space and Air New Zealand coming top for their long-haul economy classes.

designairsml3This story originally appeared on TheDesignAir, a Skift content partner.

Additional links from TheDesignAir:

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