How Big Is An Airplane Seat? [Tips For Travellers]

Flying is rarely the most comfortable of experiences and if you find yourself in a cramped seat it certainly won’t improve your trip. 

How Big Is An Airplane Seat? [Tips For Travellers]

So if you have ever wondered how big is an airplane seat, we have examined this for you. 

What Is The Width Of An Airplane Seat?

The average airplane seat in economy class is 17.2 inches with the typical pitch or legroom being 30-32 inches.

This does vary depending on the particular airline, type of aircraft and the row you are sitting in. 

Long haul flights may also have slightly wider seats in economy with the average being 18 inches, but this again depends on the individual airline. 

The definition of the width of an airplane seat is not always clear. Width can be taken as the space enclosed by both the armrests, which is the space that is available to sit in. 

Alternatively it can be the distance from the midpoint on one arm rest to the midpoint on the other. Or it can be measured as a third of the length of a row of three seats. 

Typically, the first method is used for determining the width of a plane seat

Have Airplane Seats Shrunk?

Seat sizes seem to have gotten smaller over the last thirty years. Unfortunately this has coincided with the average American getting bigger. 

Since the introduction of the Boeing 747 the weight of the average male in their 40s has increased by 10 percent. 

This may have more bearing on the dissatisfaction of passengers with plane seat size than the actual seat width itself.

When commercial airliners were introduced in the 1950s the seat width was 17 inches. So why is this considered small today?

It may be because people are larger with one in six Americans classed as obese.

But there is also the desire for more comfort and people wanting to protect their personal space on a flight. 

With the introduction of the first Airbus jets and Boeing’s 747 the average width of a long haul seat was 18 inches. This was widened to 18.5 in the 1990s. 

But airlines then began putting more seats in their planes and this had the effect of reducing the width of the seats yet again. More seats equals more fares and revenue. 

Which Airlines Have The Biggest Seats?

So who has the biggest seats these days? This will depend of course on which class you are booking your seat in. 

In economy class JetBlue has the widest seats. Most of their seats are 18.4 inches wide with some at 18 inches.

The pitch or legroom of these seats can be up to 41 inches but will typically average between 32-35 inches. 

Delta have the widest seats for premium economy at 18.5-19 inches wide but even their economy seats are 17.9-19 inches wide. 

American Airlines have similar premium economy sized seats as Delta at 18.5-19 inches wide. 

Spirit Airlines have seats known as Big Front which are 20 inches wide with a pitch of 36 inches. These are limited in capacity though and need early booking to secure one. 

Still in North America but outside of the US, Air Canada has the widest premium economy seats at 24 inches but with the most common seats at an impressive 20 inches. 

How Big Is An Airplane Seat? [Tips For Travellers]

What Carriers Have The Smallest Seats?

If you are planning a trip and don’t want to be folded up like origami then it is worth knowing which airlines have the smallest seats

Some of the narrowest seats on US airlines are found in United Airlines planes. Their seats are on average no wider than 17 inches.

For pitch, they average between 30-32 in economy but 34-37 in economy plus. 

Southwest Airlines have similarly narrow seats at 17-17.8 inches with an average pitch or legroom of 31-32 inches. 

Spirit Airlines regular economy seats have one of the industry’s lowest pitch at just 28 inches. The seats themselves are only 17.75 inches wide.

As they are a budget airline this should come as no surprise, but it still feels like a squeeze. 

Frontier is an ultra-low cost carrier and their seats are predictably small. They offer some seats at a pinching 16.5 inches wide, although others do go up to 19 inches.

The pitch on most Frontier economy seats is 28-30 inches. 

How Do I Know My Seat Will Be Big Enough?

If you are concerned about the size of your seat on your next flight there are a few ways you can check if it will be comfortable or not. 

You can visit the airline’s website and look at the seating plan for the aircraft you will be flying on.

Many of these sites will give you the width and the pitch of the various seat options. From there you can choose your seat. 

Alternatively you can use Seat Guru and put in the flight details. The app will then tell you which type of aircraft you are booked on and offers a list of the width and pitch of each seat type. 

What If I Don’t Fit?

If you don’t fit in your chosen airline’s seat then they may require you to purchase an additional seat.

Some carriers such as Delta may ask you to move or to wait for another flight where there may be additional seating. 

However the typical scenario will be that the airline requires you to purchase another seat. This may be at the airport or in advance. 

So how do you know if you will need to buy an extra seat? Well most airlines will require you to be able to fit comfortably in the seat with the armrests down.

If you can’t do this then another seat will be necessary. 

Each individual carrier will have their own policy for how they deal with a passenger that doesn’t fit in their allocated seat. 

Air Canada for example offers a larger passenger a free seat if their assigned seat is too small but only on production of a doctor’s letter. 

Southwest requires purchasing an adjacent seat if the passenger doesn’t think they will fit and stresses not waiting until they arrive at the airport. 

It’s best to check your chosen airline’s policy on this issue before getting to the airport. 

Do Airlines Have A Weight Limit For Passengers?

There is no weight limit that airlines apply to passengers. However, each airline has its own policy for how it deals with larger passengers. 

Although there is no direct charge for them, they may have to pay extra in other ways. 

Some will require larger customers to purchase an extra seat at the price determined by the airline. Or a passenger may have to wait for another flight where there is additional seating. 

Recent FAA guidance suggested that airlines may ask passengers their weight or ask them to step on a scale, but this may be applied randomly and passengers can refuse. 

Final Thoughts

We hope this look at how big airplane seats are has been of some help to you and prepared you for your next flight. We wish you a comfortable one!

Jodie Price
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