Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

New Seats May Give Air Travelers Bit More Elbow (and Knee) Room

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

New Seats May Give Air Travelers Bit More Elbow (and Knee) Room

Article excerpt

Wherever you're sitting as you read this column is probably more comfortable than the average airline seat. That's not likely to change soon, but on several carriers there are improvements afoot.

Legroom is a difficult amenity to define and measure, but most major airlines have settled on "seat pitch" as a measure of space. Seat pitch is the space between your upright seat back and the upright seat back one row ahead. The figure on major U.S. carriers for coach seats is typically 31 to 33 inches -- roughly equivalent to what you'd find in the back seat of a Volkswagen bug, perhaps even less comfortable if the traveler in front of you decides to recline.

These close quarters are part of the formula that allows airlines to keep leisure fares where they are, but the sheer discomfort of sitting in coach continues to provoke widespread cries of anguish, especially among taller travelers.

Citing such "customer input," United Airlines on Aug. 5 created a new subclass of service: Economy Plus. In about 450 of its jets, the carrier is tearing out one row of coach seats and reconfiguring the first six to 11rows (depending on the plane) with seat pitches of 35 to 36 inches instead of United's coach average of 31.

Who gets these seats? United's best customers and biggest spenders, of course. Advance assignment to Economy Plus will go on a first-come, first-served basis to travelers with premier status (25,000 miles in one calendar year on United or its partner carriers in the Star Alliance) and to travelers who buy full-fare economy tickets. (Anybody who buys these non-sale, full-fare coach tickets when they can avoid it deserves either a lot of airline attention or therapy: On United flights between Los Angeles and New York, restricted coach fares begin around $380, but full fares in coach can cost a whopping $1,003. …

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