domestic airlines legroom comfort Virgin America

Virgin America has some of the best-equipped cabins in the biz. Photo: Courtesy of Virgin America

If you read Jon Coen’s recent piece on shrinking airline seats and found yourself feeling defeated – along with an unexpected surge of adoration for New York Senator Chuck Schumer – you weren't alone.

Whether you’re a long-legged traveler or just someone who dislikes having her knees flush against an upright tray table for hours on end, we've got your back. We analyzed SeatGuru‘s chart of economy seating features among short-haul aircraft (those that fly routes up to six hours long). Sorting by seat pitch and the distance between two rows of seats (which SeatGuru says is the best indicator of legroom).

Turns out some airlines respect your need for space more than others. Here are a few of them:


domestic airlines legroom comfort JetBlue

JetBlue says it has the most legroom in coach. Photo: Courtesy of JetBlue

JetBlue has been voted J.D. Power and Associates’ top low-cost airline in North America for customer satisfaction for the past 11 years — and you don’t get that kind of props without some comfortable seating. JetBlue's Embraer E-190s, Airbus A320s and A321s have the greatest seat pitches of any of the domestic carriers’ planes. With an upcharge, the airline’s Even More Space seats afford you up to 38 inches of legroom. Every JetBlue seat comes with a personal screen, a minimum of 36 DIRECTV channels and Terra Chips. Wi-Fi is also available throughout most flights.

Virgin America

The seats on Virgin America‘s Airbus fleet boast about the same pitch as JetBlue’s, though they’re a hair narrower. Virgin America’s Red entertainment system offers passengers in-flight TV and movies, Wi-Fi and chocolate chip cookies — but it all comes at additional cost. Charging your laptop via the in-seat power outlets is free. Upgrade to Main Cabin Select for six extra inches of legroom and free snacks.


Frontier‘s planes are built by — you guessed it — Airbus. Their seat pitches are generally slightly smaller than the two airlines above, but interestingly, their seats are a bit wider. Last year, Frontier made its dreaded middle seats one inch wider, thanks to redesigned interiors and more efficient use of space. The airline’s new seats are “pre-reclined,” which means that the person in front of you won’t be snoring in your face. Of course, you also don’t have the option of being that guy. Upgrade to Stretch seating for an added five to seven inches of legroom.


In accordance with Southwest‘s notoriously socialist seating policies, pretty much all of its seats are the same size. The airline’s Boeing 737 series aircraft consistently give passengers about a 32-inch pitch. Southwest has recently redesigned its interior to boost flyer comfort and personal space. The new seats have better lumbar support and fixed-wing headrests. Southwest also endows its passengers with peanuts, pretzels and soft drinks.


Alright, so these are clearly three separate airlines, but we’ve lumped them together because seat pitch is comparable on United, American and Delta — as are the upgrade options. A few extra dollars gets you a few added inches of legroom. Honestly, their seats tend to be pretty average — neither super luxurious, nor uncomfortably cramped.

The tricky thing with these major carriers is that they all employ a huge variety of aircraft, so your legroom will really depend on which route you fly, which particular plane gets you to your destination and even where you sit on that plane. With a 37-inch pitch, United’s Boeing 737-800 V3 has considerably roomier Economy Plus seating than most of the other planes, but be warned: Customers have decried the standard economy seats as claustrophobic.

If legroom is a concern for you (and really, isn’t that all of us?) remember that not all seats are created equal, and knowledge is power: A little research pre-flight goes a long way toward comfort while you’re in the air.

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