How lovely it would be to fly first class, but a quick flight search can quickly convince most of us to buy an economy ticket and pray for an upgrade.
A first-class ticket from Los Angeles International Airport to Sydney, Australia, would cost about $14,000 but a coach seat comes in at $1,300, a recent search on Kayak showed.
If I have to fly coach, I wondered, which airlines offer the most comfort?
As frequent fliers and travel experts will tell you, it’s all about the plane and the pitch, the distance from the back of the seat in front of you to the same spot on your seat.
The aircraft model matters
Several experts recommend the Boeing 787, known as the Dreamliner, and the Airbus A350.
Most commercial aircraft are pressurized to 8,000 feet — the equivalent of breathing air a mile and a half up — but these craft are pressurized to 6,000 feet.
“Lower pressure means easier breathing, especially for older travelers or those with respiratory issues, but really for everyone,” George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog, said in an email.
The air on these planes also contains more moisture.
“More humidity adds to comfort as well, Hobica said. It’s especially helpful for skin, which will feel less parched.
Brian Karimzad, an analyst at MileCards, a site for finding the best mileage reward cards, likes the A350 for its seat width.
Although the 787 was designed to have eight seats across in economy, many airlines have added a ninth seat “which makes it one of the tightest layouts in the sky,” he said.
On Singapore Airlines, for instance, an A350 economy seat is 18 inches wide, but on Qantas' 787, an economy seat is 17.2 inches wide.
Japan Airlines has only eight seats across coach on its 787, so seat width ranges from 17.5 to 18.9 inches. Cheers to wiggle room.
Pitch affects legroom — and more
Airlines typically measure legroom based on seat pitch.
Airlines claim new slimmer seats with thinner cushions can create more legroom, and indeed, they may, but there may be less space between the back of the seat in front of you and your face.
“Fliers need to think about ‘face pitch,’ because the seatback of the passenger in front of you is now sometimes closer to your face,” Karimzad said.
“You have more legroom but less face space, which can be claustrophobic.”
Here are the airlines that frequent fliers think have the most comfortable economy class.
Karimzad recommends Delta for having “the most consistently good economy seats for international flights, because its 777s are nine seats across, not 10.”
Delta's economy seat on its 777-200ER is 18.5 inches wide and has a 31- to 32-inch seat pitch. (Delta Comfort Plus seats are the same width but have a 35-inch seat pitch.)
Karimzad also likes Delta’s 767 for its 2-3-2 layout. Delta's 767 seats have a 31- to 32-inch seat pitch but are only 17.9 inches wide.
John DiScala, founder of the travel website JohnnyJet, likes JetBlue, citing more legroom.
With an average seat width of 17.8 inches and a basic seat pitch of 34 inches, JetBlue’s economy class has, if not room to spare at least room to move your legs.
Hobica’s choice is Air New Zealand’s Skycouch. It’s not, strictly speaking, an economy seat because it’s three seats together that turn into what Hobica called “a wide bed,” and you must pay for all three seats.
“Honestly, if there are two people traveling together and they snuggle well, these beds are almost more comfortable than business class on some airlines,” Hobica said. “Two people can buy three seats and sleep soundly.”
Shane Dallas, a.k.a. the Travel Camel, recommends Emirates’ economy cabin.
The airline’s economy class seats on its A380 are 18 inches wide and have a 33-inch seat pitch.
Sometimes, comfort is also psychic.
“I particularly love the [in-flight entertainment], the best in the skies,” Dallas said, “and the service from a multinational cabin crew.”