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28/05/2008 – Airline Passenger Legroom : We All Want It…Is There A Way To Get It?
One of the top five complaints I hear from flyers is legroom. Everyone wants legroom, but more legroom equals less space for rows of seats on planes; less rows of seats equals less seats to sell; less seats to sell equals less revenue; less revenue……. well you get the point.
The first thing you need to know is this, not all planes are comfortable. Not all planes have any spacious seats (many regional jets have no good seats), heck there are some airlines that have first class seats I can’t stand (US Airways A319 & A320 from the former America West fleet), but with some planning, some homework, some legwork, you can find yourself with a few more precious inches of legroom. Sometimes you may need to give up a movable armrest, or an armrest against the wall in a window seat, or in some cases you need to have a wall with no window, but legroom can make a long flight more tolerable.
What is the secret? Usually it is the emergency exit row. Some airlines reserve the emergency exit row for their premium passengers, ie: frequent flyers, but some don’t! On Southwest Airlines (WN) if you check-in online far enough in advance (24hrs ahead of time) for an “A” boarding pass you can try and get a jockey in the line to be among the first on and snag an emergency exit row.
Some airlines won’t assign the emergency exit row until the day or travel at the airport. You can call your airlines for this information. Before a recent flight, I found out that Air China (CA) does no advance seat selection, before flying 36hrs, within 70hrs, and I wanted the exit rows! Air China’s 13.5 hr flight (plus 45min in the seat before the door closes, so 14hrs 15min in the seat) from JFK to PEK is a 747-400. Most 747-400 exit rows have the window seat against the bulge in the door for the emergency raft. This seat provides endless legroom, and it is a great leg rest to lean back and sleep! Since check in is “democratic” on Air China based on the order you get to the counter, I was the 2nd in line when the counter opened at JFK and the first in HKG (my connecting flight to the PEK-JFK return leg)
I cheated with Air China and checked in at the Business Class counter as a Star Alliance ‘Star Gold‘ flyer, but the other five people I spoke to in the exit rows were all non-frequent flyers who just asked for the seats!
If you can find out your aircraft for your airline start looking up exit row seating. The second row of the exit row, on planes that have two rows next to each other, such as an Airbus A320 or A319, is almost always more comfortable (the front exit row often has no reclining seats). By asking for a specific seat row you, rather than asking for the exit row, I have at times been able to get my seats assigned by an airline when they should have technically been blocked until the day of the flight. It’s not as common as I’d like, but it works.
There are some websites that detail legroom on planes, seat pitch, seat width and seat layouts, the most popular site online is SeatGuru (www.seatguru.com), although in the past year or two the information has not always been so accurate (such as SeatGuru listing in-seat power on Asiana’s 747-400 fleet and I have yet to set foot on an Asiana 747-400 with any in-seat power), but it is the most detailed site out there at this time.
So, kick back, do some homework, and get ready to stretch your legs!
Below are a few photos of my recent legroom. The first photo is on a United Airline’s 777-200, in International First Class, between Tokyo (NRT) and Chicago (ORD); the second photo is my endless legroom on an Air China 747-400 in economy class between New York (JFK) and Beijing (PEK); the third photo is of me stretched out in economy class on an Air China 737-800 between Hong Kong (HKG) and Beijing (PEK).