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How to choose the best airplane seats

Updated on May 30, 2011

Get out your measuring tape!


Rebook Your Seat

If you’re stuck in a tiny seat, or a middle seat at the time of booking, there’s always another opportunity to change your seat assignment when checking in at the airport. Review the seating chart while using a kiosk, and there may be a seat in the bulkhead or emergency exit row that you can be reassigned to.

Top Ten Most Comfortable Economy Airline Seats

Pitch Minimum
Width Minimum 
Virgin America 
Singapore Airlines 
Cathay Pacific
British Airways
Japan Airlines
United Airlines
Virgin Atlantic

The incredible shrinking airplane seat

If you’re planning on making a trip by air anytime soon, think about getting a measuring tape out to make sure you’ll fit before booking your flight.

Then choose your seat wisely.

Airline seats are measured in terms of pitch, or the distance from where your backside sits to the identical area of the seat in front of it. Since seats have been getting smaller, in order to economize, airliners have settled in at an average 31 inches, but some new seats on Spirit allow just 28 inches.

For my husband, a guy who stands at 6’ 3”, his measurement from backside to the end of his knees is 26 inches. Unless the seat in front of him is less than 2” thick, then I suspect he won’t fit.

By American standards, I’m average size to small. My measurement is about 20” but seats often feel cramped for me as well.

Regional jets, according to Matt Daimler of, typically run aircraft with 29 or 30 inch seat pitch. “When you get to 33 to 36 is where you definitely feel a difference – being able to cross your legs, putting the headphone in the seatback pocket in front of you,” he says.

Daimler keeps a chart on his website that helps travelers check out the aircraft’s seat sizes before booking. This might be an important element for someone who is large, or traveling on a long distance.

Blood Clots?

For frequent flyers, or those traveling for long distances, the seat size could be vitally important. Inability to move, or lack of movement can result in a dangerous blood clot, otherwise known as Deep Vein Thrombosis. NBC reporter David Bloom died in 2003 from a blood clot which developed while traveling, cramped in an Army vehicle in Iraq.

If you’re stuck in one position for a long time, be mindful of these symptoms:

  • Leg swelling
  • Leg pain
  • Chest pain (which could indicate a blood clot has gone to a lung)
  • Shortness of breath

Simple leg exercises are reportedly helpful in keeping blood flowing to your extremities while traveling. Take some time to try these:

  • Circles: Rotate your feet in circles, moving your feet up and down
  • Taps: Tap down, tap up, stretching your toes up and down

Try these movements in sets of 20 every half hour if you’re stuck in your seat to keep blood clots from forming.

If you think you’re developing any of the blood clot symptoms above, experts say you should notify the flight attendant.

My preference is not to let it get to that point by choosing better seats, and moving my legs as much as possible.

Meantime, Daimler says airlines will start charging for bigger, roomier seat. JetBlue is noted as having an average seat pitch of 34. “They fly the A320, which Spirit also flies but the Spirit version has 178 seats and the JetBlue has 150,” he says. “That’s the exact same plane.

If you're willing to part with a few more bucks, ask about costs for an upgrade, or use your frequent flier miles for an upgrade on longer trips.


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    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      7 years ago from Orange County, CA

      The seat exercises are quite useful.

    • RTalloni profile image


      7 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks much for important and helpful info. Voted up.

    • drdspervez profile image


      7 years ago from Pakistan

      It's a nice hub and I rated you up. :)


    • myi4u profile image


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Nice explanation! Airbus planes seem to have bigger seats than Boeing. For my last few trips, especially the one where the flight time was 15 hours, I was with Airbus plane and the seat was quite comfortable with a great flight entertainment system. Best of all the price was the same if I were to book the flight with other airlines using Boeing.

      More and more airlines are ordering planes from Airbus rather than Boeing. Apparently, Boeing has told airlines to give them a chance while the reveal their revamped Boeing 737 in the next couple of weeks.

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hello Gracie, very useful hub, my husband is over 6ft tall and can be a nightmare if we have booked small pitch space!


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