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Seats

The Most (& Least) Comfortable Airlines for Flying Economy

The Most (& Least) Comfortable Airlines for Flying Economy
Taylor Rains

Flying is not what it used to be. What was once an enjoyable, coveted experience is now a stressful task that frequent flyers know all too well. As a resident of economy class, I have experienced it all – from hours of hard, narrow seats with no inflight entertainment (IFE) to airlines that actually put effort into providing adequate comfort. So, to help more fliers find the latter, I’ve compiled a list of the best and worst U.S. airline economy cabins on domestic flights.

A few things first. These are based on a few factors: The Seat, What’s On, and Extra Goodies. Also, we’re only covering standard economy. If you’d like to see a list of the most comfortable airlines for Main Cabin+, Economy Plus, or any other type of “premium” seat, let us know in the comments section.

 

 

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue is, in my opinion, the number one airline in the United States for comfort. It’s the full package, with spacious 32-34 inch pitch seats and free inflight amenities, including WiFi, on-demand video, and food and drinks.

The Seat: The Most Legroom of Any US Airline

As a short person barely exceeding five feet, I can be comfortable in seats down to 28 inches of pitch, but everyone knows that can be miserable for anyone over six feet. Fortunately for you tall folk, JetBlue has the most legroom on average of any other airline in the United States, offering a roomy 34 inches on most of its A320 aircraft, and 32 on the rest of its fleet. Considering United’s A320 seats only go up to 30 inches, I think you’ll be much more comfortable on JetBlue (and probably pay less!).

What’s On: Free WiFi & DIRECTV

JetBlue is unique in that it sits in limbo between a legacy carrier and a budget airline. Personally, I do not consider JetBlue as a low-cost carrier, not necessarily for the prices (because they really are not the most expensive option), but because of the inflight entertainment (IFE) across the fleet. Here’s what JetBlue offers:

  • DIRECTV channels available to stream. Movies on flights over 2 hours. The movie selection is always good, with both new and old options.
  • Fly-Fi: high-speed internet on every aircraft, fast enough for browsing, streaming videos, listening to music, whatever. Coverage expands across the continental United States on every aircraft, and down to Central and South America on the A320 and A321.
  • seatback screens, power outlets, and USB ports at every seat

Extra Goodies: Good Snacks, Sleep Kits, Friendly Service

The flight attendants: In my years of flying JetBlue, I’ve never had bad service from the flight attendants. They have always had a good attitude and have fun with the passengers over the intercom.

The snacks: the airline offers a wide selection of free snacks. Drink options include Dunkin Donuts coffee, hard seltzer (and cider), and other beverages that may make up for the fact that they only serve Pepsi on JetBlue flights.

The sleep kits: I have always had a small one, which includes earplugs and an eye mask, waiting for me at my seat on redeye flights.

Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines comes in second for most comfortable airlines. The carrier offers a wide selection of IFE, wide seats, and complimentary amenities inflight.

The Seats: Just as Wide

Delta’s seats don’t have as much legroom as JetBlue. There’s slightly less at 30-32 inches of pitch. But, they have the same 18 inches of width and full recline. Plus, there’s plenty of padding across the fleet, even on its narrow-body jets.

What’s On: The Good TV

Delta comes in behind JetBlue because it doesn’t have free WiFi. But it has a few other perks that puts it ahead of the rest of the pack:

  • Delta Studio offers full seasons (not just random episodes) of popular movies and TV shows. Plus they have HBO® & SHOWTIME®.
  • Seatback screens on all planes, minus the MD-80 series and Boeing 717s, so avoid them when booking if you can. If you can’t there’s Delta Studio access for smartphones and tablets.
  • Free WiFi for some: Delta charges everyone for WiFi with the exception of T-Mobile customers on the Magenta or Magenta Plus phone plan. Magenta provides one hour of free WiFi and unlimited texting, while Magenta Plus (which I highly recommend) gets unlimited WiFi and texting.
  • Outlets on most of its mainline fleet.

The Extras: Good Snacks

Delta offers free food and beverages on flights over 250 miles. While they don’t have as wide a selection as JetBlue offers, there’s still plenty to choose from (plus those Biscoff cookies everyone loves).

Southwest

Depending on the type of flyer you are, you may put Southwest at the top of this list as they are known for their fun inflight experience, but I can’t get over the dreaded C boarding zone or lack of charging ports. However, Southwest’s product is still comfortable and doesn’t make travel feel like such a chore.

The Seats: More Legroom, Less Choice

Southwest has nicely padded seats with a range of 31-33 inches of pitch, which is actually more legroom than Delta offers. The one thing I dislike is the inability to choose my seat ahead of time. The zone depends on check-in time, so the earlier you check-in, the better boarding priority you get. If I’m lucky, I’ll get in the B boarding zone, which pretty much guarantees a window or aisle, but a lot of the time I get stuck in C, which essentially stands for “center seat.”

Tip: When flying Southwest, I typically opt for buying the “Early Bird” add-on that will automatically check me in at the 24-hour mark, ensuring I have the best shot at a higher boarding priority.

What’s On: Um…

Unlike JetBlue and Delta, Southwest does not offer seatback IFE on any aircraft. Instead, it provides a large selection of free movies, TV shows, and live channels that can be accessed from a laptop, tablet, or smartphone (similar to the Delta Studio) via the aircraft’s WiFi. Although I like the IFE available, it can be choppy at times, and there have been multiple flights where the WiFi was completely down, and in turn, so was the IFE.

Southwest does not offer free WiFi (although it is still reasonably priced), but does have an option to enable free texting via WhatsApp and iMessage. This is relatively new as Southwest used to charge $2 for the service.

The Extras: Good Snacks, a Few Charging Ports

As with JetBlue and Delta, Southwest also offers free inflight snacks and beverages, and I like the variety of food options onboard, which include Oreos, crackers, pretzels, and chips. The one downside of Southwest is the lack of charging ports. The IFE can drain battery life fast, so remember to bring a portable charger to ensure you don’t have a dead phone upon landing.

 

Spirit and Frontier

Now, if we were talking preferred airline for overall cost and efficiency, then I would be praising Spirit and Frontier. Personally, I love the low prices and nonstop options from my home airport so much that the lack of comfort doesn’t even phase me, but that doesn’t change the popular opinion of both carrier’s inflight product.

The Seats: Flying Bricks

There is honestly not much difference between the two airlines’ seats – they are hard, 28-inch pitch bricks. The tray tables are small (unless you pay for a Big Front Seat or Stretch Seat), and the seats do not recline, which may or may not be a good thing depending on which side of the “should I recline my seat” debate you are on.

What’s On: Nothing

There is no form of IFE on either airline – none, nada, zip. Make sure you bring a good book or ensure your tablet is preloaded with games, movies, or TV shows before boarding; otherwise, you might be twiddling your thumbs the whole flight.

Although Frontier has yet to jump on the WiFi train, Spirit has pledged to fit every aircraft with high-speed WiFi by 2021. The average price will be $6.50 but will depend on route and demand. It may not be JetBlue’s free service, but $6.50 won’t put too a big dent in my pocket.

The Extras: They’re Pretty Funny?

Although neither airline offers complimentary food or beverage, the flight attendants sometimes help make these uncomfortable, low-cost flights bearable. You may have seen some videos come out of flight attendants turning the safety demos into comedy routines, and Spirit and Frontier have both made headlines. You may remember a Frontier flight attendant who began his safety demo by introducing the forward flight attendant as his wife and the aft one as his mistress, or a Spirit flight attendant who reminded passengers that Spirit charges for everything, and that you will be prompted to swipe your credit card to get the oxygen mask flowing.

This is not a tell-all list, and opinions may vary. Which U.S. airline do you prefer for comfort? Let us know in the comments!

View Comments (12)

12 Comments

  1. Superjeff

    February 20, 2020 at 5:01 am

    some of your comments are inaccurate. For example, airlines fly different airplanes. Some have wider seats than others, i.e., the Airbus 32x family which has a wider fuselage than most Boeings. As a result, for example, Delta’s A32x airplanes may have wider seats than their Boeing

  2. JimInOhio

    February 20, 2020 at 6:38 am

    Comparing seat width on narrow body aircraft is pointless. The width of a Y seat on a 737 flown by AA, DL, UA, SW, AS, etc. is the same. The same can be said for an A319/320/321 across all airlines. It’s the seat pitch that can vary.

  3. edgewood49

    February 20, 2020 at 9:37 am

    I am surprised you don’t have Alaska Airlines listed as well. Their seats ( all leather) pitch and comfort are excellent as well as in flight services, charging ports access to movies etc. Frankly above Delta’s offerings. I take it you really don’t fly AS otherwise you would have listed them.

    “JiminOhio” as well as SuperJeff are correct had you made a disclaimer which you didn’t instead of broad brushing this post than ok.

    final thought what is/was your basis of this tabulation and it’s supporting data?

  4. IBJoel

    February 20, 2020 at 12:21 pm

    Honestly, as long as I have an aisle seat and some kind of in-flight entertainment, I’m pretty much good in economy. Even the aisle seat is just so I don’t have to bother anyone to get up and use the lav. On my last flight, it wasn’t so bad even in the window seat, since it was clear enough to see a ton of landmarks (Mount Shasta, Crater Lake) down the West Coast. Although I am average height and have an athletic build, so I understand that taller and/or heavier passengers could get more uncomfortable.

  5. diver858

    February 20, 2020 at 2:56 pm

    How about of premium economy, available on most full service US narrow body domestic flights, free for most elites, small upgrade for the rest. Most offer free drinks, better snacks, early boarding, dedicated overhead space.

  6. Taylor Rains

    February 20, 2020 at 5:28 pm

    Hi edgewood49, I’m happy to answer your questions! Each aircraft is a tad different and you’re right, I should have included a disclaimer to check seatguru as there are variations between each airline’s narrow body jets – although they’re all pretty similar in width. As far as Alaska, I have flown them once or twice and in personal experience (which is the basis of the article) they fared the same as United or American to me. Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest have always stood out. That’s why I asked FTers to put their favorites in the comments as their personal experience can add on to the content in my article. I’ve flown each of the five airlines mentioned in the article dozens of times, so that was the basis for the data.

  7. OZFLYER86

    February 20, 2020 at 8:14 pm

    please stop using seat pitch as a measure of leg room, as it’s not.

    Airlines can reduce seat pitch, but maintain legroom, but switching from old seats with thick seat backs, to new slimline seats, with thin seat backs, that can still be comfortable.

    That extra row of seats as a result, can be the difference between a profit & a loss.

  8. OZFLYER86

    February 20, 2020 at 8:17 pm

    Fiji Airways only have 2 class business & economy, but you can bid with $$$ not points or miles, on any economy fare to upgrade to business & business is awesome on their new A350s which fly direct LAX to SYD daily (via fabulous Fiji). Rather than fly direct have a stop in Fiji for a few days. It’s the most stress free place on earth.

  9. UAPremierExec

    February 21, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    Taylor, JetBlue is densifying their Airbus fleet. 34″ is becoming more and more rare as they are going to 32″ throughout. And also sad you didn’t highlight Alaska, which started the free movies movement :) And all seats have powerports (except E175), NOT just USB ports.

    Also, very few of Delta’s seats are 18″ wide. Surprised you didn’t give Delta props for not going to 10 abreast in their 777s, unlike United, American, Air Canada, and others.

  10. StAugustine

    February 22, 2020 at 5:09 am

    Due to a flight cancellation my wife and I ended up in C-29 and C-30 on Southwest. Only 2 people boarding behind us. We didn’t have large carryons so no problem there. She got a middle seat, but in the exit row, so things kind of balanced out. I went to the back of the plane and, in the next to the last row, found a couple sitting in middle/aisle, so I got a window seat. It kind of magically worked out OK. We didn’t get to sit together, but after 45 years of marriage, we are OK with sitting apart for 2 1/2 hours.

  11. Taylor Rains

    February 23, 2020 at 10:01 pm

    UAPremierExec, thanks for your input! Also, I didn’t highlight Delta’s 777 because I was just focusing on domestic flights, which are for the most part narrow body jets. Also based on the comments, Alaska should be added to the list, I just haven’t flown them as frequently. Thanks for adding your experience on them for the readers!

  12. Dhamal

    March 1, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    this list is Bogus, united has the worst economy.. worn-out cushions to no room for leg room..

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