Ask just about anyone who remembers flying in the 1980s and they’ll probably swear economy seats were roomier then. Here’s a surprise. On widebody jets, seat pitch (legroom) has not changed much since the early days of twin-aisle aircraft.
In the 1980s, seat pitch in economy class aboard a Boeing 747 was typically 32 inches (81.3 centimetres). That’s just slightly above the mid-range of what you can expect from an economy class seat aboard a wide-body aircraft on an international flight today.
There’s an impression that flying is now more cramped. Seat backs are thinner than they once were. That means more seats in the same size cabin without shortening the seat pitch. Also, international flights into and out of Australia are currently experiencing high loadings – over 90 per cent full. The chance of scoring an empty seat beside you is close to zero. Three seats across so you can lie down in comfort? You must be kidding.
While legroom has not changed significantly, we have. In the 1995 National Nutrition Survey 63 per cent of Australia’s men and 47 per cent of women were reported to be either overweight or obese. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, that figure is now 75 per cent for men and 60 per cent for women.
On the bright side, inflight entertainment screens are bigger, and those floor-mounted boxes that were once part of the entertainment system, and which restricted legroom, have largely disappeared. USB ports and AC power are now common in economy, so power up, and tune into your favourite inflight distraction.
Qantas’ Airbus A380-800 superjumbo, used aboard its Sydney-London QF1 service, has a pitch of 78.7 centimetres and width of 44.5 centimetres. Qantas’ A330-200s and A330-300s all have the same seat pitch, 78.7 centimetres. The A330-200 aircraft used on many of the airline’s international routes has a seat width of 43.7 centimetres while passengers on Qantas’ A330-300, operating between Sydney and Honolulu, among other routes, get a seat width of just 43.2 centimetres.
Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which fly between Perth and London, and to New York via Auckland, two of the world’s longest routes, have a seat pitch of 81.3 centimetres and width of 43.7 centimetres.
All Singapore Airlines’ widebody jets have a seat pitch of at least 81.3 centimetres and a seat width of 44.5-48.3 centimetres. That upper figure is found on the airline’s A380, A330 and Boeing 777-300 aircraft. The newer A350s have a seat width of 45.7 centimetres while the airlines’ Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners have 44.5 centimetres between the armrests.
Delta Air Lines
On the Airbus A350-900 that Delta flies between Los Angeles and Australia, seat pitch is 78.7-81.3 centimetres, width is 45.7 centimetres.
Seat pitch on all ANA international flights is between 78.7 and 86.4 centimetres. The Boeing 787-9s in the airline’s fleet all come in at the top end of that seat pitch, although width is a slim 44 centimetres. These aircraft are used on ANA’s flights between Tokyo and Europe. Aboard the Boeing 777-300ER which ANA flies between New York and Tokyo economy flyers get just 43.2 centimetres of seat width, and that’s a long flight.
No economy class seat aboard an Emirates widebody aircraft has a pitch of less than 81.3 centimetres while some aboard the airline’s A380s and Boeing 777s get 86.4 centimetres. Width is in the range 43.2-45.7 centimetres.
All Qatar’s older Airbus aircraft, namely A380s, A330s and A340s, have a seat pitch of 81.3-83.8 centimetres, width of 44.5-45.7 centimetres. That seat pitch has shrunk slightly on the new aircraft in the fleet, with a seat pitch of 78.7 aboard the airline’s 787 Dreamliners, although some of its A350s offer 81.3 centimetres seat pitch. Some of the airline’s Boeing 777s also have a seat pitch of 83.8 centimetres. Best of all are the two-class Boeing 777-200LR aircraft with no Q suites in business class, where the seat pitch is at the top of the airline’s range and seat width is a generous 48 centimetres. However, this type is disappearing from the Qatar fleet, with just two aircraft remaining.
Regardless of which aircraft type they’re flying, passengers in Cathay Pacific’s widebody aircraft get a roomy 81.3 centimetres of seat pitch. Seat width is more variable, from 43.7 to 47 centimetres between the armrests. Configuration is 2-4-2 aboard Cathay’s Airbus A330s, 3-3-3 on the A350s and Boeing 777s except for the 777-300 ERs, where the configuration is 3-4-3.
Aboard the Boeing 787-9 aircraft United operates between Los Angeles and Australia seat pitch is 78.7-81.3 centimetres, width is 43.9 centimetres
JAL’s Boeing 787-8s that the airline uses for its flights between Melbourne and Tokyo’s Narita have a pitch of 83.8 centimetres and width of 45.7-48 centimetres. Sydney flyers en route to Tokyo Haneda get the 787-9 which has a seat pitch in economy of 83.8 centimetres and width of 48 centimetres. Those are among the roomiest economy class seats of any airline operating into Australia.
The budget carrier uses Boeing 787 Dreamliners for its international flights with a seat pitch of 76.2 centimetres and seat width of 43.2 centimetres. That makes it the tightest of any of the airline seats surveyed.
Which airlines offer the most room in economy?
In general, the Asian carriers plus Emirates and Qatar offer slightly greater seat pitch than Qantas, United and Delta. Japan Airlines stands out for its generous seat pitch and width, while low-cost Jetstar has one of the tightest seats. Aircraft type matters as well. Among the newer generation aircraft, Airbus A350 aircraft tend to have slightly greater pitch than those aboard Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
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