Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights?
Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Seat Width - How Much Hip Room is Enough?
When it comes to long haul flights, seat width in economy class can make all the difference in comfort. With flights lasting 10+ hours, you want to have enough room to stretch out without bumping elbows with your seatmates. So how much width is really needed?
According to seasoned travelers, 17-18 inches is the sweet spot for economy seat width on long haul flights. This gives ample hip and shoulder room without feeling crammed in. Many travelers report that anything less than 17 inches starts to feel very tight and restrictive over the course of a long flight.
When considering seat width, also pay attention to the type of aircraft. Older planes tend to have narrower seats while newer aircraft are designed with extra width in mind. For example, Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliners have some of the widest economy seats out there.
If you need more room, look into booking economy plus/premium economy seats which have widths of 18-19 inches. You can often find deals on these seats for just a small upgrade fee. It's worth it for the extra 2-3 inches of precious hip space on an 11 hour flight from LA to Hong Kong.
What else is in this post?
- Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Seat Width - How Much Hip Room is Enough?
- Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Seat Recline - To Lean or Not to Lean
- Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - In-Flight Entertainment - Screens or Your Own Devices?
- Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Legroom - Stretching Your Legs Without Paying for Premium
- Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Food and Beverage - Complimentary or Buy on Board?
- Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Amenities - Power Outlets and Other Perks to Seek Out
- Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Loyalty Benefits - What Frequent Flyer Programs Provide
- Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Budget Airlines vs Legacy Carriers - Who Treats Economy Better?
Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Seat Recline - To Lean or Not to Lean
The debate over economy seat recline is one of the most contentious issues in air travel. On one side are those who say reclining is their right and allows them a bit more comfort on long flights. On the other side are those who argue reclining intrudes on the limited personal space of the person seated behind. So who's right in the battle of seat recline?
For many air travelers, the ability to recline their seat is a small but welcome relief on long haul flights. The seat back angle in most economy seats is fairly upright, so gaining a few extra degrees of tilt can take pressure off the lower back and allow you to relax a bit more. Even just an inch or two of recline can help increase overall comfort levels over the many hours spent in the air.
However, for the person seated directly behind a reclined seat, their personal space drops dramatically once that seat back falls into their knees. Most economy seats these days have a pitch of around 31", so when the seat reclines it can feel suffocating. The reclined seat also makes it very difficult to access items stored under the seat in front or to get in and out of the row comfortably.
Many frequent flyers report they avoid reclining out of courtesy to fellow passengers, though some say airlines have created the problem by cramming too many rows into cabins. Others choose the "recline revenge" method where they rapidly recline their own seat in response to the seat in front of them reclining first.
The best advice seems to be recline slowly and only if necessary for comfort, while also being tolerant of others who recline into your own space. Opting for bulkhead or exit rows can eliminate the issue altogether by providing no seat in front to recline back. Checking SeatGuru for specific recline details on your aircraft model is also recommended so you know what to expect.
Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - In-Flight Entertainment - Screens or Your Own Devices?
In the era of Netflix and on-demand everything, in-flight entertainment has become a make or break amenity for many travelers. But should airlines invest in seatback screens or rely on passengers to use their own devices? Frequent flyers weigh in.
Legacy carriers like Delta and British Airways have fully embraced seatback entertainment screens, installing them on nearly all long haul aircraft. For aviation geeks, flipping through movie and TV options on the screen can be part of the nostalgic inflight experience. The selection is often more robust than what you may have downloaded to your iPad, with up to 500 options on a plane like the Airbus A350. Families also appreciate the convenience of screens to occupy restless kids. However, others argue adding seatback systems significantly increases an airline's weight and maintenance costs — and ticket prices. These flyers prefer to travel with their own content devices, avoiding oddly-placed screens that may inhibit their ability to sleep on overnight flights.
Most budget airlines have skipped in-flight entertainment systems entirely, leaving travelers to fend for themselves. While this allows for cheaper ticket costs in exchange for BYO-entertainment, it does present challenges on longer flights. The lack of power outlets on airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet can cause devices to die mid-flight. Though if you come prepared with a backup battery pack and content downloaded to your tablet, you can enjoy an ad-free, personalized inflight experience.
For airlines deciding which strategy is best, the choice often comes down to their target demographic and typical route lengths. Short haul carriers may not need seatback screens, while they're almost essential for comfortable 12+ hour flights. Observed passenger habits can also influence these decisions. According to a 2019 survey, 42% of flyers preferred to watch content on their mobile devices even when seatback screens were available. As younger generations accustomed to mobile tech take to the skies, the era of seatback screens may be fading. Though for now, having options to suit both groups of travelers is key.
Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Legroom - Stretching Your Legs Without Paying for Premium
When you're sitting in a cramped economy seat for 10+ hours, every inch of legroom counts. The standard legroom, known as seat pitch, in most economy cabins is around 31”. For taller travelers, this can mean knees jammed against the seat in front and barely any room to stretch out. Avid flyers report that anything under 30” quickly becomes unbearable on long flights as your legs and joints literally ache for more space.
- Aim for an aisle seat. While you'll have interrupted access, sitting on the aisle gives you room to shift and angle your body more freely. You can stick your legs out a bit into the aisle way when you need a break from the knee-to-seat crunching. Just be courteous of the drink carts and other passengers navigating the aisles.
- Book seats in the emergency exit row. Airlines including United, Delta and American offer economy seats with extra legroom in the exit rows. The catch is you have to be willing and able to assist with the emergency exit if needed. If approved by airline staff, these seats have around 5” more legroom on average - a huge difference for long legs!
- Take advantage of seat selection fees. Most airlines now let you pay a fee ($10-$150 usually) to select seats with additional legroom. Fees vary by route and demand, so be flexible in which seats you’ll accept. Even a few inches make a difference. You can offset the cost by skipping seat selection for shorter connecting flights.
- Use a third-party booking site. Sites like SeatGuru and TripAdvisor allow you to search for specific planes with the most legroom in economy. You may find airlines or aircraft you wouldn't have considered otherwise. Just book directly on the airline's website after researching.
- Book late night or red-eye flights. These odd hour flights tend to be less full, so you can spread out more. Gate agents are also more likely to move you to seats with extra legroom if available at boarding time.
Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Food and Beverage - Complimentary or Buy on Board?
When booking a long haul flight, food and beverages can be a dealbreaker for many economy passengers. Airlines have taken two approaches - serving complimentary meals to all passengers, or offering buy-on-board menus. This leaves travelers weighing cost vs convenience. Which method do globetrotters prefer?
Legacy carriers like Lufthansa, British Airways and Qantas have held onto complimentary meals for all, even in economy. This provides consistency and inclusivity while meeting passenger expectations of being "fed" on longer journeys. Travelers appreciate having a meal already paid for and served at appropriate times without needing cash or cards handy. New parents also point out that getting food onboard for babies is easier when it's included.
Yet complimentary meals have declined in quality and size over the years as cost cutting measures. Many airlines now seem to compete for who can make economy meals the most unappetizing. Finicky eaters complain of getting stuck with rubbery omelets, soggy sandwiches, and salty microwaved pastas. For those who don't eat airplane food anyway, it feels like throwing money away.
Meanwhile, carriers like AirAsia, Norwegian and JetBlue have transitioned to buy-on-board programs. This provides passengers more options and control. Travelers can choose exactly what they want to eat and when. Health conscious flyers like having wholesome fresh salads and bowls available. There's less waste since you only pay for what you'll actually consume. Service is also faster with food brought on request.
Downsides to buy-on-board include potentially long wait times if many passengers order at once. It also leads to constant food cart traffic in aisles as travelers purchase snacks and drinks throughout the flight. Those not prepared to pay extra can end up going hungry on ultra long haul routes. Some families note it's an inconvenient expense trying to buy even small snacks for multiple kids.
Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Amenities - Power Outlets and Other Perks to Seek Out
In the digital age, access to power onboard long flights has become a necessity. With 10+ hours in the air and no way to recharge, your phone and laptop dying mid-journey is a serious inconvenience. That's why frequent flyers agree in-seat power outlets have become essential amenities, with USB ports and WiFi nice bonuses when available.
Experienced travelers plan ahead by bringing battery packs and portable chargers as backup. But there's no replacement for being able to plug directly into a power port at your seat. Newer aircraft like the Boeing Dreamliner tend to have in-seat outlets at every seat in economy. Retrofitted planes can be hit or miss depending on the airline's investments. Check SeatGuru for your aircraft model - some have power ports only in certain sections (premium economy or exit rows). If outlets are scarce, be sure to request those seats in advance.
USB ports are a plus, allowing you to charge devices without hunting for adapters. But don't count on using them to power larger electronics like laptops. They provide less wattage than regular AC outlets. Having both options is ideal for device flexibility.
Inflight WiFi is considered another coveted amenity, especially for business travelers needing to stay productive. International WiFi access can cost $20 or more, but may be worth it if you must get work done during long stretches with no cell service. For entertainment, downloading content ahead of time is wise since WiFi speeds at 35,000 feet are notoriously slow and spotty. Don't expect to stream Netflix movies - you'll eat up your paid data allowance fast with buffering.
Other little perks travelers love include individual air vents for temperature regulation and foot rests on bulkheads. Being able to control airflow on a stuffy 12 hour journey prevents that feverish, dehydrated feeling. Having a foot rest to elevate your legs reduces swelling and cramps when seated for excessively long periods.
Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Loyalty Benefits - What Frequent Flyer Programs Provide
Frequent flyer loyalty programs were once the holy grail of air travel, offering devoted travelers access to upgrades, lounge entry, and premium rewards. But in the era of dynamic pricing and stripped down amenities, what value do these programs really retain? Just ask the road warriors who manage to still reap serious perks from airline status.
Avid travelers explain that elite tiers in airline loyalty programs come with tangible benefits worth striving for. Hitting thresholds like 25,000 miles or 30 segments annually grants entry to silver and gold status levels, opening new doors in the sky. Experts advise choosing one global alliance and airline to concentrate most flights with. This accelerates your progress up the ranks faster.
One major reward of loyalty program status is increased chances for complimentary upgrades, especially on domestic routes. Complimentary upgrades used to be standard for all frequent fliers. Now they are reserved primarily for upper elite levels, making it feel like winning the jackpot when your status grants you that first class seat. Upgrades on international routes are more limited, but still possible with high status and using miles to bid or confirm an upgrade in advance.
Access to preferred seating is another worthwhile perk. Elite flyers can reserve exit row and extra legroom seats that provide added comfort on long journeys. Complimentary preferred seating is guaranteed on most airlines for those reaching mid-tier status and higher. This saves loyal travelers hundreds of dollars yearly compared to others paying seat selection fees.
Entree into airport lounges is an exciting milestone many business travelers set their sights on. Escaping noisy gates for relaxing lounges with free food, drinks and WiFi is a productivity game changer. Lounge access usually starts at mid-tier elite levels, depending on the airline loyalty program's policies. Qualifying for guest passes to bring travel companions into lounges is another coveted benefit.
While restrictive award availability makes using miles challenging lately, loyal elites often get priority access to any award seats available. No more competing with general members in the scramble for that dream destination. Airlines also waive high ticket-change fees for elite flyers, eliminating some of the risk booking flights in advance.
Cattle Class Clash: Which Airline Really Has the Best Economy Seats for Long-Haul Flights? - Budget Airlines vs Legacy Carriers - Who Treats Economy Better?
When it comes to economy class, the battle between budget airlines and legacy carriers over who provides a better experience is fierce. Both claim to offer the most amenities, comforts and conveniences to travelers on a budget. But frequent flyers have strong opinions on which type truly delivers.
Those who fly legacy airlines like British Airways and Lufthansa point to the inclusive perks offered, such as free checked bags, onboard meals and seatback entertainment. These carriers provide a more classic flight experience, though some say the quality and service has declined over the years as routes become more crowded. Yet loyalists argue you still get more bang for your buck compared to barebones basic economy fares on low-cost competitors.
However, budget airline devotees dismiss the ‘frills’ legacy carriers boast about, seeing most as unnecessary or low quality anyway. They maintain that newer airlines like RyanAir and AirAsia offer the affordability travelers actually want. Lower fares allow customers to select only the amenities they value, rather than subsidizing extras they don’t use. Ultra low cost carriers provide point-to-point transport from A to B - all you really need.
Defenders of legacy airlines counter that the true price difference after adding fees for bags, seats, food and drinks ends up negligible. Budget brands intentionally make base fares attractive then nickel-and-dime you at every turn. They also cite the generous loyalty programs and elite perks only legacy carriers provide.
Yet budget brand loyalists describe elements like elite upgrades and airport lounges as unnecessary VIP treatment. They see legacy carriers as stuck in a dated service model that feels more like a private club than public transportation. In the end, choosing between legacy and budget depends on your priorities.