Understanding Seat Pitch. Size Matters, Again.

It would serve the interest of every passenger to pick seats and planes based on seat pitch.

Exec-cover_June_2013-webSeat pitch is what determines if your flight will be comfortable, or not. Savvy travellers check the seat pitch of airlines before selecting a seat, or for that matter selecting an airline.

Seat pitch is the distance from the backrest of your seat (say, the point your head rests on) to the back of the seat in front of you.

Seat pitch is what determines how much legroom you have on the flight. It differs airline to airline (and indeed, airplane to airplane) depending on how many rows the airline decides to squeeze into an aircraft. Obviously, low-cost airlines will try and maximise the number of passengers they can carry on a flight (by adding rows). Airlines that position themselves as “comfortable” or “luxury” would provide more space between rows and therefore, more legroom. In fact, several airlines have been known to use their seat pitch as a selling point in their advertisements.

Some travellers are hip to finding out about seat pitch. But it would serve the interest of every passenger—especially the frequent flyer—to pick seats and planes based on seat pitch. This becomes critical when the flight is an hour or more and a traveller needs to use a laptop. Several flights in India are longer, say, Bangalore to Kolkata, or Chennai to Delhi, both of which take over two hours. (Mumbai to Dubai takes about the same time.)

What’s good seat pitch?

According to smartertravel.com, “The norm these days for most airlines is a 31-32-inch pitch — which is really tight, not only for legs but also for reading and trying to work on a laptop.”

For long-haul flights on full-service airlines, it is as following:

Jet Airways

Economy: 32 inches, Business: 49 inches and First: 90 inches.

Air India

Economy: 31-34 inches, Business: 47-76 inches (depending on aircraft), First: 70-80 inches.

But India is the domain of low-cost airlines and most travellers in the country, including cost-conscious business travellers, must squeeze themselves into rows, which often bring to mind unfortunate comparisons with sardines in cans.

According to seatguru.com (one of the airplane information websites most referred to) SpiceJet offers seat pitch of 32 inches on the 737-800 and 737-900ER. The website lists Indigo Airlines offers a tighter seat pitch of 30 inches on the Airbus A320. In comparison, Air Asia, which is starting its operations in India, offers 29.5 inches on the Airbus A320.

But in the United States, low-cost carrier JetBlue offers as much as 34 inches on their Airbus A320s and they offer an option called “Even More Space” Class which boasts a whopping 38 inches.

There are other factors that come into play to meddle with seat pitch and therefore, legroom. For instance, a thicker seat eats into seat pitch and this means less legroom. You’ll usually find these aboard older aircrafts. Airlines now are starting to use specially designed slim-line seats that move the seatback pocket up to eye level and have a different support structure.

Seat pitch is also affected by other things your seat might do, like reclining; sometimes, all the way to becoming flat bed. Also, because you may tuck your feet into the space under the seat in front of you, you’ll want to check out the bed length in addition to Seat Pitch, when the seat is in its sleeping position. As any geometry student could tell you, the length of the bed when sloped at an angle can be greater than the pitch of the seat horizontally.

Pitch is even more important when you are seated in the pointy end of the plane. The more space there is in front of you, the easier it is for window passengers to nip out over a sleeping aisle passenger.

In recognition of the importance of legroom, several airlines have taken to charging extra with additional seat pitch, such as the bulkhead or an emergency exit row. One low-cost Indian airline has created a sort of “business class” section, which is basically two rows with a tad more legroom. (They throw in a snack.)

Talking to frequent flyers we found surprisingly few knew anything about seat pitch, or even bothered to check their seats with websites like seatguru.com and their ilk.

Hritesh Jain, an advertising executive, had no idea what seat pitch is – “Is it like an online bid for the best seats in the plane?”

Some, however, were hip to the concept.

Aditi Devi – market research professional, a frequent traveller, was articulate about seat pitch. She said, “Seat pitch is high on my priority when I have no time constraints that force me to fly a particular airline. Earlier the legroom didn’t matter too much because most planes had standardised seating… a factory setting. But now with this whole trend of no-frills airlines, it seems the seats are getting more and more cramped. On long haul flights, if I’m not flying business class then I literally sit like a hawk online waiting for the web-check in to open. I hate it when the person in front on me is pretty much sitting in my lap because of the reduced space. I feel equally guilty when I want to nap but the person behind is trying to eat.”

“If an airline has significantly more space then I’d certainly pick that one over another.  Even if there’s a cost difference,” she added.

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