How does flying 3,000 miles with only 30 inches of legroom sound? Unfortunately, this measurement of "pitch"—the industry word for how much space you have between your seat and the one in front—is all too common. As airlines feel the pressure to offer lower fares, they're putting the pinch on personal space. Generous legroom on a flight is almost a pipe dream, but we've found a few airlines for which it's still a reality.
Condé Nast Traveler's rankings are not universally inclusive; only major, recognizable airlines were taken into account in our survey. Because airlines are constantly updating their cabins and fleets, the figures listed below are subject to change.
In the United States
The airlines in the U.S. with the most legroom in economy are:
- JetBlue: 33-34 inches
- Alaska Airlines: 32 inches
- Southwest: 32 inches
- Hawaiian Airlines: 31-32 inches
- American/United/Delta: 31 inches
Alaska Airlines can thank its purchase of Virgin America for its spot near the top. The addition of Virgin’s mood-lit fleet of 32-inch-legroom Airbus A320s to Alaska’s 31-to-32-inch range pushes the average up, but still won’t beat JetBlue. Meanwhile, the Big Three U.S. airlines—American, Delta, and United—all average 31 inches of legroom. At the bottom, with seriously squashed legs, are pasengers on Allegiant (30 inches), Frontier (28 inches), and Spirit (28 inches, with no recline).
This year has brought more Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to the skies over North America and, with them, denser cabins and less economy legroom. American Airlines, United, and Air Canada all now fly 737 MAXs with between 30-31 inches of legroom, below the average for the rest of their fleets. Southwest is so far the only U.S. 737 MAX operator to keep 32-inch legroom on its newest planes.
Around the World
Comparing data from searching popular routes and long-haul aircraft on Routehappy and SeatGuru, and cross-referencing with the airline's own sites, we're happy to find that some international airlines go above and beyond the typical average of 31-32 inches. These have the most legroom for long-haul flights:
- Aeromexico and Interjet: 34 inches
- Japan Airlines and Turkish Airlines: 33-34 inches
- South African Airways: 33.5 inches
- ANA and EVA Airways: 32-34 inches
- Asiana and Air China: 32-33 inches
Worthy of a mention are the Middle East’s Big Three of Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways, whose tooth-and-nail competition with each other (and against other major international airlines) means relatively generous 32-inch legroom prevails. Icelandair’s Boeing 757s also ply their North Atlantic routes with 32-inch legroom in economy.
Unfortunately, one airline drops off the “best legroom” list this year after taking delivery of new aircraft: Air Tahiti Nui is beginning to replace its aging fleet of Airbus A340s, all with generous 33 inches of legroom in economy, in favor of brand new Boeing 787-9s. It may have that “new airplane smell” and an improved business class cabin, but economy seat legroom on the 787-9 is sliced to 31 inches. The airline will eventually fly a total of four 787-9s on routes between Tahiti and Los Angeles, as well as to Paris, Tokyo, and Auckland.
As for the least legroom, several airlines stand out for squeezing passengers in space that's below the 31-to-32-inch standard: Aeroflot, Austrian Airlines, Cebu Pacific, easyJet, Ryanair, and Royal Air Maroc, all at a measly 30 inches.
While deals as low as $99 for a transatlantic flight from ultra-low-cost carriers like Wow Air and Norwegian Air may tempt, remember that it’s truly a you-get-what-you-pay-for situation. These airlines rank lowest for legroom, with the cheapest seats sardine-packing passengers in between 29 to 31 inches of seat pitch. Looking for a little more space? You’ll have to pay up; “ultra-low-cost” means everything comes at an extra price, and seats with a few more inches charge fees that vary with the flight’s duration and aircraft type.
This article was originally published in 2015. It has been updated with new information.