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 2019 Airline Quality Rating Report. 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, but the carrier charges add-on fees for perks, including beverages, snacks and carry-on luggage.
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 fell to the close to the bottom of the list on the Airline Quality Rating report. It ranked eighth out of nine airlines, earning especially low marks for customer satisfaction and baggage service.
Like Frontier, Spirit has the skinniest rows of any American airline, with a seat pitch of 28 inches. Spirit ranked seventh out of nine American airlines studied in the 2019 Airline Quality Rating Report, which evaluates carriers based on on-time arrivals, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled baggage and customer complaints.
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 $30.
United offers limited video options, sub-par quality rankings, a rash of bad press and other customer satisfaction issues helped put United behind Hawaiian and Delta in the American Customer Satisfaction Index report. United ranked sixth on the Airline Quality Rating report.
Of the airlines ranked in the Airline Quality Rating report, Hawaiian had the second least 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 as the best airline foe on-time arrivals.
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.
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.
Alaska’s economy class has seat pitch starts at 31 inches, 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 $30 and a personal item and standard carry-on can be brought on board at no cost.
Alaska Airlines took fourth place in the 2019 Airline Quality Rating rankings, thanks to its strong showing for on-time arrivals, and customer satisfaction.
Perks of flying with Southwest include no fees for first and second checked bags — including golf bags and skis — as well as a standard 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 third 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.
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 $30.
JetBlue came in second in the Airline Quality Rating report, while also ranking second in baggage service, and fewest denied boardings.
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.
Delta has the fewest denied boardings, ranked second for on-time arrivals, and third for baggage service and customer service — making Delta airlines the best-performing airline in 2019.
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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.”
About the Author
Charlene Oldham specializes in education, workplace issues, consumer finance, health and wellness and business personalities. A former business news staff writer for the Dallas Morning News and whose varied resume includes a stint with Teach For America, Charlene has written freelance works that have appeared in publications including the Orlando Sentinel, SUCCESS, Organic Gardening and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.