When searching for economy airfares, most typically focus on price and flight duration, followed by additional factors such as connection airport and arrival/departure times. If filtering your results left you with several choices, consider making your final selection based on comfort.
When analyzing comfort, consider the amenities, such as the availability of Wi-Fi, power outlets, and an infotainment system, but also consider the "hard product" the airline offers, in terms of the seat width and pitch (the distance between a point on your seat and the seat in front of you; which affects legroom). Plus, with all airlines, your experience will vary based on what type of plan you're flying on, and its seat configuration.
Here are basic comfort comparisons across four domestic airlines.
- Economy Seat Pitch: 30 – 32 inches
- Economy Seat Width: 16.5 – 19.3 inches
American (AA) currently offers a mix of airplanes with and without amenities. While many dislike regional jets for carry-on bag space, the Embraer 145 has a 1-2 configuration giving some passengers both an aisle and a window and sparing everyone from the middle seat.
However, you won't find a seatback screen or power outlet on the ERJ or CRJ aircrafts, but all Boeing aircraft should have power. AA's Airbus fleet is a mixed bag for seatback entertainment. However, your chances of finding screens on a Boeing plane are pretty good, for now. They all have it installed, except the Boeing 737-800s and Boeing 737 Max aircraft. That probability will decline, as more Max aircraft are on the way to AA. Deliveries are expected next year and in 2024.
- Economy Seat Pitch: 30 – 34 inches
- Economy Seat Width: 17.3 – 18.6 inches
Power will be available in economy class on these new planes. Differentiating them from a similar aircraft flown by AA, each seat will have "an oversized high-definition seatback screen.”
UNITED | UA
- Economy Seat Pitch: 30 – 31 inches
- Economy Seat Width: 16 – 20 inches
United Airlines (UA) has a mixed manufacturer fleet like AA and DL, so your seating experience can vary. UA is also undertaking a significant fleet replacement scheme. While the main goals are cost and emissions reduction, the new fleet simultaneously upgrades the passenger experience.
UA ordered Boeing Max 8 jets as well as Airbus 321neos. The new planes will feature power at every seat and seatback entertainment. Deliveries are already happening and are scheduled through at least 2024.
SOUTHWEST | WN
- Economy Seat Pitch: 31 – 32 inches
- Economy Seat Width: 15.5 – 17.8 inches
Southwest (WN) offers a more consistent experience because they operate an all-Boeing fleet. However, someone gets stuck in the middle seat on every flight. Another consequence is that there is no chance of a 2-2 seating configuration like on a CRJ or the 1-2 configuration on some Embraers.
One standard WN jet, flown by the three legacy carriers as well, is the Boeing 738. However, various factors affect your comfort, including the number of seats an airline chooses to put on its aircraft version. On the Boeing 738, this can range from just 96 economy seats (UA) all the way up to 132 (AA), not counting the other classes of service. The seat width on the Boeing 738 is similar among all carriers, but the pitch varies. AA and UA offer the lowest at 30 inches, while DL and WN provide two extra inches.