Size DOES matter

As I anticipate the end of the final leg of my current business trip, I am reminded of a fact I have either chosen to ignore or have accepted as one of those aspects of travel over which I have no control: on-board legroom. It DOES vary fairly widely from airline to airline.

Boarding my flight out, I was sitting (fairly) comfortably in Seat 8C aboard an American Airlines 737 when a fellow passenger arrived and wedged himself into 8A. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “I’ve been flying Jet Blue and Virgin a lot and had forgotten how tight American’s seats were.”

Honestly, I’ve been in worse.

According to, my seat’s “pitch” – the space from the front of my seat to the front of the seat in front of me -- was 31”. For me, that translates to barely enough legroom. At a bit over six feet tall, a 31” pitch is about the minimum I can tolerate. Less than that, and I have no wiggle room at all.

Both Virgin and Jet Blue fly Airbus aircraft as opposed to the Boeing bird I was riding, but seats are seats and legroom is legroom.

Virgin’s A320s boast standard seat pitch of 32” and up to 36” for “select” seats. Jet Blue is even better, with 34” as standard and an option to upgrade to 38” of legroom. That’s seven inches more space than I have at this very moment. With 3-1/2 hours of flight behind me, it’d really be nice to be able to stretch my legs right about now.

Unlike United, which offers extra legroom in its Economy Plus section, American’s "preferred" seats are no different than others with regard to space (except, of course, those in the exit rows). They may be better positioned on the aircraft, but they’re no bigger.

Unfortunately, pitch doesn't provide the consistent indication of legroom that it once did. Some airlines are installing seats which themselves are thinner than older seats, leaving a bit more room for passengers' legs, but it still provides a pretty good idea of how much space you'll have.

Another critical factor is seat width. I recently took a flight on a Delta Airbus A319 in a seat that was about 17 inches wide (17.2 inches per SeatGuru), which for me was tight but workable. My connecting flight was on a Embraer Regional Jet but, despite the smaller plane, my seat was actually larger: 18 inches (18.2 inches per SeatGurt). I was surprised -- shocked, really -- to experience how much more comfortable the extra inch made my ride.

Accordingly, legroom and seat width have become something else I consider, in addition to schedules, connections, and fare, when I make my reservations. Thankfully, we have resources like SeatGuru at our disposal. Now, if only we business travelers could place a dollar value on arriving at our destinations less fatigued from being crammed in like sardines. Perhaps then our companies would be willing to spend a couple of extra dollars to put us on those airlines that offer extra room.

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