Many travelers think coach class seating is the same among all airlines. That certainly isn't the case, which many frequent travelers can attest. A few extra inches of legroom go a long way in economy class, and it turns out there are some noticeable differences between some airlines’ least expensive seats.
Here's a ranking of 10 airlines’ coach class seats based on various factors, including leg room, fees, amenities and airline quality ratings. If you plan on flying coach on your next trip, here are the best and worst airlines.
Frontier is one of two American airlines that squeezes passengers on planes with a seat pitch of 28 inches, according to a Wall Street Journal report, which cited some of its data from SeatGuru. This makes it one of the worst airlines in terms of legroom offered. But, here's how you can upgrade on Frontier for a better experience.
It also ranked last on the list of American airlines studied in the 2017 Airline Quality Rating Report, behind the carriers featured here as well as SkyWest and ExpressJet, which ranked seventh and 10th, respectively. The report, compiled by professors from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Wichita State University, found Frontier lagging well behind peers in customer satisfaction, baggage handling and on-time arrivals.
Frontier fulfills its mission as a low-cost airline with an average domestic flight price of $144, according to data it shares with Hopper, a travel app. But the carrier charges add-on fees for perks, including beverages, snacks and carry-on luggage.
Like Frontier, Spirit has the skinniest rows of any American airline, with a seat pitch of 28 inches. Spirit also ranked 11th out of 12 American airlines studied in the 2017 Airline Quality Rating Report, which evaluates carriers based on on-time arrivals, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled baggage and customer complaints.
On the other hand, Spirit takes the title for lowest domestic flight price with an average of $136, according to Hopper. The airline, which offers no-frills “Bare Fares,” adds on fees for everything from onboard snacks and beverages to carry-on bags. A “Bare Fare” covers one personal item, but carry-on costs vary by trip and when bags are booked. So before you book your flight, make sure you choose the airline with the lowest overall fees.
Seat pitch starts at 30 inches in economy class on some jets in United’s fleet and rises to 31 inches in the economy cabin of some of its other jets. Passengers might want to stow their smartphone or tablet within easy reach. It does allow passengers to bring a personal item and one standard carry-on bag for no extra fee, and checked bag charges start at $25.
United has an average domestic flight price of $264, according to Hopper. This was the lowest average domestic fare among the country’s three “legacy airlines,” and the competing carriers’ overall amenities, fees and coach class seats themselves are fairly comparable. But more-limited video options, quality rankings, a rash of bad press and other customer satisfaction issues helped put United behind American and Delta in the American Customer Satisfaction Index report.
United ranked eighth on the Airline Quality Rating report and last among full-fare legacy carriers — those that were around before the federal government deregulated the airline industry in the late 1970s — in the American Customer Satisfaction Index Travel Report.
Seat pitch starts at 30 inches in economy class on the narrow-body jets in this carrier’s fleet, and built-in video options depend on the jet. On wide-body jets, pitch starts at 31 inches in economy class, and all planes offer either overhead televisions or on-demand TV. If you want to upgrade on American Airlines, here's how much it might cost you.
American allows passengers to bring a personal item and one standard carry-on bag for no extra fee. Domestic checked bag charges start at $25 for coach class customers.
American had an average domestic flight price of $273, according to data it shares with Hopper — making it less than the average for Delta, which tied with American for fourth place in the American Customer Satisfaction Index Travel Report. But American fell well below its Atlanta-based rival on the Airline Quality Rating report. It ranked ninth out of 12, earning especially low marks for customer satisfaction and baggage service.
Seat pitch starts at 30 inches in economy class on the narrow-body jets in this carrier’s fleet, and built-in video options vary depending on the plane, according to SeatGuru. On wide-body jets, pitch starts at 31 inches in economy class, and coach seats offer on-demand TV.
The airline allows passengers to bring a personal item and one standard carry-on bag fee free. Domestic checked-bag charges start at $25 for economy class ticket holders. However, you can save money on baggage fees by using these tips.
Delta had an average domestic flight price of $340, according to data it shares with Hopper, but more passengers who pay for seats on the airline use them without a hitch when compared with many other carriers. Having the second-fewest involuntary denied boardings among airlines on the list help propel it to second in the Airline Quality Rating report.
Of the airlines ranked in the Airline Quality Rating report, Hawaiian had the fewest involuntary denied boardings and also ranked at the top for on-time arrivals, although it came in fifth overall because of the way ratings are calculated. It also ranks high for having one of the best airline credit cards.
Seat pitch starts at 30 inches in economy class on the narrow-body jets in Hawaiian’s fleet and 31 inches in the economy cabin of its wide-body jets, according to SeatGuru, which is part of TripAdvisor. Although video options vary, only one of its plane types offers no video access at all in coach class, also according to SeatGuru.
Hawaiian had an average domestic flight price of $506, according to Hopper. But it’s no surprise average fares are higher considering some of its domestic routes stretch all the way to New York City.
The airline also offers standard services and a few unexpected perks. For example, it allows a free carry-on and personal item and charges $25 for a passenger’s first checked bag while offering a bonus some of its competitors don’t: complimentary in-flight meals.
Southwest doesn’t share fare information with Hopper, but the airline is well-known for seasonal sales and passenger perks you should take advantage of. Those perks include no fees for first and second checked bags — including golf bags and skis — as well as a the standard fee-free carry on and personal item.
The airline only offers a single class, and its seats — ranging from 31 to 33 inches in seat pitch — put it slightly ahead of the curve when compared to its legacy airline rivals.
Such amenities and the airline’s quirky corporate character help make it a customer favorite and frequently help it rank as one of the best airlines for customer service. The low-fare carrier came in sixth overall in the Airline Quality Rating report, although it earned top rank in customer satisfaction as measured by the volume of customer complaints in 12 key areas. It also fared well in the American Customer Satisfaction Index Travel Report, coming in second behind JetBlue.
As with the two airlines leading this list, seat pitch starts at 31 inches for Alaska’s economy class seats, although they are slightly slimmer — starting at 17 inches — than the airlines with the widest seats. Alaska also offers a complimentary snack, non-alcoholic beverage and a free streaming entertainment service. If you want more perks, you can always snag an upgrade on the airline.
Passengers might want to pack a smartphone or tablet in their carry-on bag, though. Built-in screens aren’t offered in the economy cabin, and only the airline’s longer flights offer tablets for rent to coach class passengers. Checked-bag charges for most domestic flights start at $25 and a personal item and standard carry-on can be brought on board at no cost.
Alaska Airlines took the top spot on the 2017 Airline Quality Rating rankings, thanks to its strong showing for on-time arrivals, customer service and baggage service. Its average domestic flight price was $299, according to data it shares with Hopper.
2. Virgin America
Just like the airline that leads this list, Virgin America’s fleet offers a minimum seat pitch of 32 inches. But that measurement can extend up to 38 inches on some aircraft, with all planes offering a seat width of 17.7 inches, according to SeatGuru. If you want an even more luxurious and comfortable experience on Virgin, however, use these insider tips to score a first-class ticket upgrade.
Travelers can also count on amenities that include on-demand TV. Virgin also offers WiFi access and snacks for a fee. Checked-bag charges for non-refundable economy class tickets are $25 per bag, and there is no cost to bring on board a carry-on and personal item.
Virgin took third place in the Airline Quality Rating rankings, coming in first for baggage handling and a solid third for fewest involuntary denied boardings. And, with an average domestic flight price of $264, according to data it shares with Hopper, Virgin might offer lower fares than some more-established American air carriers.
Coach class travelers definitely won’t feel like second-class citizens on JetBlue flights, where the minimum seat pitch starts at 32 inches and can extend to 41 inches, depending on which plane passengers board. Seat width ranges from a generous 17.8 inches to 18.25 inches, depending on the plane.
Passengers can also expect access to on-demand TV and free WiFi, as well as some complimentary snacks and soft drinks, helping propel JetBlue’s economy class to the status of having the best coach seats. Passengers can bring a personal item and standard carry-on bag, fee free. The airline offers fare options that include checked bags, while economy class fees for bags checked on the day of the flight start at $25.
JetBlue came in fourth in the Airline Quality Rating report, but it took the top spot in the American Customer Satisfaction Index Travel Report. And its average domestic flight price of $205 puts its fares in the same ballpark as some low-cost competitors that have lower customer satisfaction scores and much slimmer seats.
Data on airlines’ seat widths and pitch — the total length of the row for both the seat and the passenger, when measured from a spot on one seat to the same spot on the seat in front of it — was taken from SeatGuru, a TripAdvisor company that provides information on planes and flights, and The Wall Street Journal report on the "The Best and Worst Coach Seats." Round-trip domestic fare figures provided by the airline travel app Hopper represent the average prices for trip dates happening for the three-month period between mid-October 2017 and mid-January 2018.