Economy Class, Done Right!

WHEN IT COMES TO ECONOMY CLASS GRIPES, it’s legroom, or lack thereof, that most people whine about. There’s less and less of it, as airlines cram in extra rows, eager to squeeze out every last penny of revenue in the face of razor-thin profit margins.

Or maybe it just seems that way?

The spacing between rows is called “pitch” in the biz. Measured in inches, it’s the distance from one seat-back to the seat-back ahead of it. While it’s true that carriers have been tightening up the rear-most rows to accommodate those roomier (and more expensive) “Economy Plus” sections up front (and yes, passengers themselves have become larger) row spacing hasn’t really changed much. JetBlue’s 34-inch standard is the most generous among US majors, where the average is 31-32 inches. On Spirit Airlines’ Airbus A320s, it’s a very tight 28. Some other better than others, but those are roughly the same numbers you would have seen 20-30 years ago, varying slightly carrier to carrier.

Anyone who flew the old PeoplExpress remembers how pitiless and pitchless a cabin can be. Or Laker Airways, whose “SkyTrain” service ran between the US and London in the 1970s. Sir Freddie Laker, the airline’s flamboyant founder, configured his DC-10s with a bone-crunching 345 seats — about a hundred more (that’s ten full rows, at nine abreast each) than the typical DC-10 at the time.

If anything, the typical cabin is slightly roomier than it used to be. Legroom is roughly the same, while the cabin overall is wider and taller. The Airbus A380 has the same ten-across floor plan as the 747, but is wider by approximately a foot, while six-abreast aircraft such as the popular A320 have a few more inches of head and elbow room than the 707s and 727s of old. And airlines have been moving to “slimline” seats, with a thinner construction that in effect increases pitch by up to three inches per row.

For the record, airlines cannot simply wedge in as many seats as they want. There are restrictions based on the number of emergency exits (as well as the number flight attendants), and most carriers are fairly close to this limit as it stands. Sir Freddie got away with his 345 because the old DC-10 had eight full-sized exits. And there was no first or business class.

If ever you’ve wondered how it is that airlines can so easily tinker with pitch, check out the floor the next time you fly. You’ll notice the seats are on rails. The hardware is usually covered with plastic caps, but you can clearly see how a row can be slid forward or aft with a minimum of fuss.

Economy class seats appear to be cheap and flimsy, but in fact they have to meet all sorts of safety criteria, including pretty strong G-load limitations. The attachment points on those floor tracks are exceptionally strong.

If you ask me, what makes economy class uncomfortable is only partly to do with legroom. It’s more about the shapes of the seats themselves, and the terrible ergonomics of the surrounding space.

Each time I settle in to an economy chair, I silently wonder what malformed extraterrestrial it apparently was designed for. “Settle in” is such the wrong term; you don’t attempt to relax so much balance yourself in place. The pressure points are all wrong, your legs are unsupported, there’s no place for your arms, and lumbar support is nil. The tray tables, the armrests, the storage pockets — everything is the wrong shape and in the wrong position. It’s irritating, because things could be a lot more comfortable through modest improvements in basic design.

The most obvious way to make economy more pleasant would be to have fewer seats in the first place, but this a nonstarter unless you’re ready to pay substantially more for your ticket. Engineers are also faced with the challenge of designing a frame that is lightweight and extremely strong, able to withstand several times the force of gravity. Nevertheless, there’s no excuse for the poorly designed seats we’re accustomed to. Through the use of high-tech materials and a bit of imagination, a seat can be safe, lightweight, sturdy, and comfortable all at once. Indeed, ergonomically sculpted seats from innovative manufacturers like Recaro and Thompson Solutions have been on the market for years. If only more carriers would buy them.

In addition to a seat that actually conforms to the shape of a human body, below are six things that ought to be standard in any economy class:.

1. Wider, adjustable armrests.

2. Lumbar support. Existing seats have little or no lower back cushioning. There is only a vacant space into which your lower back sinks, dragging down and contorting the rest of you.

3. Inflight wi-fi and on-demand, in-seat video with a personal screen of at least nine inches. I’m lumping these together because they both capitalize on the strategy of distraction — and that’s what keeping passengers happy is all about. Browsing the Web or watching a movie are ideal time-killers. (Anybody remember the magazine libraries that used to be on planes?) And while five or ten dollars for wifi isn’t unreasonable, it should be free in first or business.

4. An adjustable headrest. Not the half-assed kind that allow your head to loll around, but one that fits snugly, holding your head in place and allowing you to sleep.

5. A tray table that extends to reach the body, so a passenger needn’t hunch over to eat or work. Ideally the tray should have a curved leading edge to better fit your torso. Said tray should be the sort that unfolds from the armrest, not from the seat in front. This solves the hunch-over problem and avoids the hazard of having your computer crushed when the person in front of you suddenly reclines, pinching your screen between the table and the upper cushion. “Assault recliners” is my name for those passengers who come hauling back all at once, leaving you but a split-second to save your laptop from this deadly nutcracker.

Photo by Author

Tray tables also need a raised edge to keep food and beverages from spilling into your lap during climb or in rough air. Some have recessed cup holders, but many are perfectly flat and smooth, so that your coffee comes skating backward whenever the plane is nose-high. A quarter-inch ridge would prevent this. One assumes that cabin designers are more or less familiar with the concept of gravity; there’s no reason for such a tweak not to be universal. It wouldn’t cost more than a few pennies per tray, if anything. And while we’re at it, give us more of those ring-style cup holders that fold from the seat-back. They’re common in the rest of the world, but I’ve never seen one on a US carrier. They help prevent spills and free up space on your tray.

6. Power ports. If a full AC outlet is asking too much, at least give us a USB connection. You see them on larger long-haul jets, but at some point every plane ought to have them.

If you’ve already encountered one or more of these goodies in your travels, chances are it was aboard one of the better European, Asian or Middle Eastern carriers.

It has reached a point where an economy class seat in a foreign market is often on a par with a first class seat in the U.S. domestic market. I can vouch for that. My recent experiences aboard Korean Air, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Turkish Airlines, Thai Airways, and LanPeru, all in economy, were as good or better than many first class segments I’ve flown within the United States. What made them so was a combination of things tangible and intangible; both physical comforts and onboard staff who were exceptionally attentive. We’ll get to the latter in a moment. The former included things like extra-wide personal video screens with a comfortable headset, retractable footrests, seat-back USB connections, contoured tray tables and amenities kits.

Cathay Pacific’s long-haul planes have shell-style economy seats that slide forward rather than tip backward, so that even when fully reclined they do not interfere with the person behind you. In Thai Airways’ economy, hot towels are handed out before takeoff. They’re not the cotton facecloth version like you’d get up front, but more of a heavy tissue, dispensed from a microwaveable box. It’s a nice touch, and one that couldn’t cost more than a few dollars per flight. And every airplane was immaculately clean, from the seat pockets to the lavatories.

None of those things, you’ll notice, is especially luxurious. Honestly, in light of how inexpensive fares are, together with the razor-thin margins our airlines are forced to work with, luxury is out of the question. And that’s all right. What the airlines haven’t quite figured out yet, is that satisfactory service doesn’t have to be elaborate. The average passenger doesn’t expect to be pampered. What he or she expects and deserves are convenience, respectful employees, and a modicum of comfort.

And something else they want: workers who are polite and professional. While it may sound hackneyed, it’s also patently true that passenger allegiance is ultimately earned or squandered not through material comforts, but through the attitude and dedication of your employees. I’ll never say that anybody else’s job in this mad business is an easy one, but if airline workers, as a group, cannot muster the necessary levels of commitment, then something is systemically wrong and needs to be fixed before any of the rest will matter. Extra legroom, on-demand video, and free drinks are much appreciated, it’s true. But they’re all for naught when you’re dying of thirst in the middle of an overnight flight, with trash on your table from a meal that was served three time zones ago, because the flight attendants have spent the last five hours reading magazines in the galleys and ignoring the passengers. Or when a gate agent takes your boarding pass without so much as making eye contact. What I remember most about those flights aboard Korean, Cathay, Emirates, and the others was the attentiveness of the onboard crew. For the full duration of the flight, flight attendants were constantly coming up and down the aisles, asking if passengers needed water, coffee, juice, or anything else.

It is worth mentioning that in an industry where the average is six weeks, Singapore Airlines flight attendants endure five months of schooling. That is considerably longer than pilot training at most carriers. I am not suggesting that Singapore’s model is reasonable target for a U.S. major—it’s not. For any U.S. airline, hoping to emulate the Singapores of the world would be at best quixotic and at worst financially ruinous. But the deeper point is that an airline’s most valuable service asset is the professionalism, grace, and courtesy and of its staff. End of story.

Have a look at the photos below. The first shows economy class on a Korean Air 777. Look at the size of that video screen.  It’s touch-activated, or you can use the removable handset that you see just below it.  This handset also controls your reading light, cabin call, audio volume, etc. To the right of the handset is a USB port.  There’s an AC power port as well, below the armrest (not shown). To the left of the screen is a coat-hook.  The hook is also handy for hanging your headset.The fold-out cup holder is very helpful when you’re drinking a beverage and don’t need the whole tray in your lap.  And when you do, there’s a fold-out, double-hinged tray that’s adjustable forward and aft.  There are pillows and oversized blankets for all passengers.  The second picture shows the immaculate economy section on a Boeing 777 of Taiwan’s Eva Air.

Catering is another issue altogether. Outside the United States, hot meals remain common even on short flights. The following photos show economy class presentations on Sri Lankan Airlines,* Thai Airways, and the little-known Sky Airline (no “s” at the end) of Chile. None of these flights was more than three hours long.

Their shortcomings duly noted, I have to say service standards on US carriers are definitely getting better, having hit their nadir about ten years ago. We might never be on a par with the likes of Cathays and Singapores of the world, but things like WiFi, in-seat video, and decent buy-on-board meal options have become the standard.

One area still crying out for improvement, however, is that of cabin cleanliness. It’s tough for carriers to scrub things clean with minimal turnaround times, but there’s no excuse for the greasy armrests, dirty tray-tables and peanut-littered carpets that are unfortunately all too common.

Meanwhile, whether or not you’re comfortable back there in row 52, remember to get up and stretch at periodic intervals. With long-haul flying times now surpassing the gestation periods of many small mammals, there are growing concerns about an affliction known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, brought on by the immobilizing confines of an airplane seat. Also called “economy class syndrome,” it’s a condition where potentially lethal blood clots form in the legs and can spread through the body. Those with preexisting conditions (obesity, smoking) are at higher risk, but all passengers should avoid remaining sedentary for extended periods. Stand, stretch, take a walk up the aisle.

On Singapore Airlines’ 18-hour megahauls between the US and Singapore, passengers are encouraged to visit the plane’s inflight buffet lounge — a stand-up bar and socializing area laid out with snacks. More than just a perk, it entices people to move around at regular intervals. For those who wander in barefoot after sleeping, the buffet zone has a heated floor.

 

( * Looking at that Sri Lankan Airlines meal: It was all quite good, save for that silvery fish salad visible at lower left. Notice the inflight magazine, “Serendib.” This is from Sinhalese (and also Sanskrit), one of the languages of Sri Lanka language, and is where the word “serendipity” comes from.)

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40 Responses to “Economy Class, Done Right!”
  1. PK says:

    “For those who wander in barefoot after sleeping, the buffet zone has a heated floor.”

    I wear slip-ons when traveling by air and would never walk around a cabin, even an exceptionally clean one, barefoot or with socks. Men (usually) “miss” in the lavatory or water is spilled and when your feet are wet, yuck! Even clean airplanes are full of germs from all around the world.

  2. Martin says:

    In-flight entertainment can come with a huge tradeoff. I was recently on a Brussels Airlines A330, sitting in the window seat on a flight from Brussels to Kigali. The control box for the entertainment system took up half of the allotted legroom. This was a pretty long flight, and by the end, had hunting knives been allowed on board, I was in so much pain that I would have hacked off my own left leg.

    I spent much of the trip, in a remote area of Burundi, trying to change my return seat to an aisle. When the internet and power grid were working, the Brussels Airlines website was non-functional. Thankfully, I was able to email someone in Europe who was able to Skype the Brussels Airlines US number and get the seat for the return changed.

    My best hope for an economy class trip (99% of my flying experience) is usually that you forget everything about it the minute you step off the plane. That Brussels Airlines flight, though… my leg starts to ache just thinking about it.

    PS: Nominee for best inflight meal service: Jet Airways. A fairly short flight from Chennai to Delhi has a choice of excellent North Indian or excellent South Indian vegetarian. It’s the rare flight when you think, “Do we have to land already?”

  3. Misha says:

    Great points. One thing not mentioned – the height of the armrests. I am a reasonably proportional 6′/180lb middle-aged man, quite average, but I notice that the armrests for me are a little too low to be comfortable. As a result, I slouch, compressing the torso in order to rest my elbows. Several hours of that posture really compound the discomfort.

  4. Ann Harbeson says:

    Agree, agree, agree. Except for the bit about tray tables in the armrests. It works in “higher” classes because the seats are wider, but in economy they take up too much width and are too solid. The space under a flip down arm rest is essential for sharing seat space with folks even a little wider than sveldt. And for those same folks, sitting between two fixed table arm rests is not comfortable even when possible. Arm rests that flip up also better accommodate people too short to use the fixed ones comfortably. A seatback tray table that slides toward the body is a better solution (and I really like that fold down cup holder on under side of the tray table idea.)

  5. Mike Friedman says:

    The sad thing about all of this is it wouldn’t take much in the way of expense to do some focus groups and hire interior designers who think about this sort of thing.

    Good design isn’t complex (as the Korean Air seatback shows) but thoughtful design can make an enormous difference in passenger comfort and happiness.

  6. flymike says:

    The Korean Air 777 seat looks great but I doubt it would hold up for more than a week of flying the typical American passenger.

  7. James says:

    I usually fly business or first, but was recently on SAS in economy (EVE-OSL is all coach.) SAS was just like a US airline; everything has a cost, the seats are small and packed, etc.

    My real complaint with coach seats is not the legroom, but the shoulder width. 17-inches is not enough; I am very broad shouldered (23 inches.) But more to the point, the average adult male is 19-20 inches from the outside of a shoulder to the other shoulder. Women ate 17-18 inches. Three adult males are squeezing 60 inches of shoulder into 51 inches of space. Throw in someone above average, and it is really cramped.

  8. Ken says:

    While I agree that the pitch has not changed much in recent years, I do vividly remember flying Western Airlines in the early 80′s; their marketing theme was “three feet for your two feet”. Elongated billboards near SLC and LAX had a business passenger in recline mode with their legs extending beyond the edge of the structure. And, champagne for everyone on board. As their commercials said: it truly was “the only way to fly”.

  9. Steve Cross says:

    The thing that really bugs me about a short “pinch” is when a passenger cannot get into the seats in a standing-up position. When you have to go in sideways and with a bend at the knees and hips to conform to the seat back in front of you, you do know how sardines feel.

  10. Msconduct says:

    In economy long haul, especially overnight, is miserable no matter what the airline or the amenities. Air New Zealand have a new take on it, though – the Skycouch. It’s cheating a bit as you have to pay for three seats for two people, but it allows you to lie down in relative comfort without paying $8,000 for a business class ticket. (It’s a tight squeeze for two people – hence its local nickname “cuddle class”.)

  11. Unfortunately, hot meals on short (1.5-3h) flights are also a thing of a past in Europe, also on flag carriers. Sometimes “free” food is so little that I’d prefer to pay for something better.

  12. I was going to mention that same thing Daniel Sparing has said – hot meals seem to have disappeared in Europe too. I recently took a 2.5 hour flight and the only food/drink offered on either leg of the journey was from the refreshment cart, and had to be purchased at inflated prices.

  13. Bruce says:

    @Ann Harbeson,

    I completely agree. I am … umm … cuddly. And I hate it when tables fold out of the armrest. I’d much rather have the option, if there’s no-one next to me, or if family members are next to me, to spread under a conventional armrest a bit. But I would of course always be careful not to impinge on the space of the person next to me if it’s not someone I’m related or married to.

    The other thing is that I have two young kids. On a long-haul, or even medium-haul, flight, it’s good if they can lie down – two of them next to each other, with their heads on my lap, can easily fit across their two allocated seats. And for that, you need to be able to fold the armrests away.

    And that brings me to another thing. On most economy-class seats, if you fold the armrests up, they still sit a couple of inches proud of the seat back. So even if you’ve got three seats to yourself (it’s happened to me a couple of times recently on SQ), you can’t spread out properly. Armrests that either fold all the way up behind the seatback, or that fold down beneath the seat squab level, would be a vast improvement.

    And Patrick, you’re right about power points. On SQ and KE recently, it’s been lovely not to have “range anxiety” on my smartphone.

  14. Lisa in Toronto says:

    I don’t really want wifi on a plane – my office may expect me to be available for a Skype conference or to answer their email right now. My book, knitting and music/podcasts will suit me very well. Sometimes I even write postcards on planes …
    I did not realize until recently that USB and power ports are not usual.
    I recently flew Air France and Air Mauritius. Both were absolutely fine, although without USB or power outlets. Both offered touch-screen TVs in the seat backs. Air France offered decent hot mini baguettes and champagne in economy – this was a trans-atlantic flight not a short European jaunt. Air Mauritius staff were so friendly! One flight attendant was concerned because i hadn’t eaten much of my meal – she commented that my tray was heavy when she collected it. Both airlines came up with decent vegetarian options whether based on Western pasta or South Asian rice. They had drinks available in the galley all night. Both provided eye shades and Air Mauritius also offered socks and toothbrushes. Air Mauritius offered local jam (papaya-vanilla) and fruit juices, as well as French cheeses. I should also note that both airlines had lots of staff – Air Canada generally does not have enough staff in economy on long-haul flights.
    I remain amazed at the Emirates A380 on-flight cleaning crew even in economy. I have not see that anywhere else – perhaps it exists on other carriers using A380s.

  15. Tom Hill says:

    My wife and I have lived in Asia for eight years. After four years of flying Cathay, we decided to save some money and fly Vietnam Air/American back to the U.S. for the summer and American/ANA back in the fall. The Vietnam Air and ANA flights were fine. Clean, new equipment and very sweet staff. The American flights were in dirty, old equipment; the FAs went out of their way to remind us that they were “here to insure your safety, but will help you if we can, if you ask, maybe.” Never again will we fly across the ocean in an American carrier.

  16. Jaime says:

    I have the unfortunate experience of traveling American airlines 757′s to South America, usually Bolivia, a couple of times per year. These are 5-6 hr flights on cramped dirty planes (don’t even think about using the bathrooms after hr #3), no IFE, surly flight attendants, etc. I would kill for a reasonable alternative but American currently has a lock on Bolivia with Aerosur closing shop, and every other option requires 3-4 legs and crazy total trip times. All this and only $1,200 round trip…I could cry looking at those photo’s…

  17. Carlos Bonilla says:

    I’ve always thought that one simple accommodation would make the inflight experience saner. Why don’t airlines provide lids for their beverages? It would minimize spills and give you a better chance of arriving at your destination with clean clothes.

  18. Jim Houghton says:

    There has to be a reason for the lack — no, the total absence — of lumbar support in airline seats. Most modern cars have adjustable LS, I mean it’s just too well-known an issue for hundreds of thousands of seats to be manufactured with less than no support. There has to be some economic benefit to the airline of shaping the seats as they do, but I’m damned if I can figure it out.

    • Planes, trains, and automob... says:

      “There has to be a reason for the lack — no, the total absence — of lumbar support in airline seats.”

      Comes down to weight issues and the cost of fuel.

      Five extra pounds of padding per seat times 200-300 seats per plane, means a lot of extra permanent weight that must be carried around on every flight segment, and will add to the cost of transport and make every ticket price higher.

      As long as travlers are more convened about ticket price above all other concerns, we’ll see less padding in seats, less free food, less free drinks, more after-purchase add-on fees, that help to reduce unnecessary extra weight and/or help capture extra revenue.

      Economy Plus seating with the extra padding, power ports, etc would be a great product for the airlines.

      All things being equal, travelers would like the extras, but wouldn’t want to pay for them. Many travelers will still pick the lowest price, no matter the available extras. So it is imperative to offer low economy fares, than offer the enhancements at point of purchase or after purchase as extras.

      That’s why the airlines are nickel and diming us to death. We insist on it.

      • Planes, trains, and automob... says:

        > “ergonomic seats”

        The key is availability of ergonomic seats that cost no more than normal airline seats (or about the same) and that weight the same as traditional airplane seats (or preferably that weigh even less) and still meet the safety regulations.

        Just the existence of heavy, expensive ergo seats is like they don’t even exist.

        An ergo seat that is lighter and cheaper, would be a killer product. It would be potentially quite profitable. Not only for the maker of the seats, but also for airlines that install the seats as a product differentiator from other airlines. “Every seat feels first class, even in economy.” Would almost make up for traveling in sardine can class, where passengers are packed in as tightly as possible.

  19. Curt Sampson says:

    One thing I noticed when looking at an Air New Zealand advert. was that they let you order drinks and the like via the touchscreen in front of you.

    I’d not thought of this before, but it seems like a complete no-brainer to have everywhere possible. Clearly this would reduce staff workload, thus leading to better service. (Though I’m guessing not to a reduction in staff, since I would guess that many airlines are already operating a the minimum number of FAs that safety regulations require.)

    It’s not as if the technology isn’t there: Japanese restaurants have been using at-table touch screen ordering systems for years, and even U.S. restaurants have had such systems available for staff for at least a couple of decades now.

  20. Anil Pillai says:

    One airline missing in this article is Qatar Airways – current #1 2 years in a row if I remember right. They are very good, very clean and roomy.

    I usually choose between Emirates and Qatar for my flights to India – and they both have been excellent, although I could feel Emirates slipping over the past few years. Almost like they grew too big too fast.

    Great article, Patrick!

  21. Dick Waitt says:

    One item I didn’t see discussed is what I would call “horizontal pitch”, the distance side to side between seats in the same row.

    I can’t imagine being situated between two plus-sized individuals for a long flight; it’s bad enough in a movie theater where you may be able to move to a different seat, but on a long, full flight moving to a different seat would be next to impossible. It’s got to be difficult for those plus-sizers as well.

    I realize this is primarily dictated by the physical cabin dimensions as well as minimum aisle widths, but I can imagine the discomfort for all concerned.

    Give me the days of removable arm rests and not-full flights, when you could remove one or two rests and lie down on a red-eye flight. I have had that experience, but it’s been a long time…

  22. Jon Margerum-Leys says:

    One thing that would be handy for the video screens is an off switch that worked. Yesterday I flew on Delta and was subjected to a barrage of ads inches from my face, with no way of turning the screen off. I understand that an override would be needed for safety messages, but I shouldn’t be forced to watch an actor portraying Abraham Lincoln shilling automobiles.

    Jon

  23. Diana Hale Wilson says:

    Patrick I love most of your inputs here; common sense – nay common decency – certainly would go a long way with domestic carrier’s plane design. Your comment about arising, stretching, and strolling hit home in particular for me (two herniated lumbar discs). I’ve flown VA more than others recently, and although their planes are newer & cleaner, and with superior technology too – their in-flight staff seemingly are expert sadists. My simply wanting to STAND for a few minutes, fore or aft (galley adjacent), has invariably brought on inappropriate, excessively threatening language: “you can’t be here; it’s against FAA laws; we can have you arrested”, etc. Has the time come where I must produce a doctor’s note when I fly, explaining that being forced to remain in your awful chairs for anything >3 hours puts me in emergency room-worthy straights?!

  24. Mark Richards says:

    Pitch is an acronym used in electronics and refers to “pins per inch”. A connector or socket may have 10 pitch, or 0.1″ spacing. Give the prevalence of SI units, pitch is sometimes most horribly combined into the inept phrase, “2 mm pitch”.

    So for seats per inch, maybe sinch is more like it. And if seats per millimeter, sperm will do quite nicely.

  25. Economy can be a real problem, Ryan air in the UK is especially bad. Not to mention the food which is barely edible!

    Looks like they and other could take not of this standard of Economy.

  26. Roger says:

    I’m 6’4″ (1m94) and look forward to the day when the headrests are anywhere near my head. They are usually a neck rest. I also have broad shoulders which I can’t do anything about, and so contort myself against the window when possible. Being able to order stuff via the IFE system would be great.

    Another problem with the tray tables is they are really low. They might be ok for shorter folk, but for me there is a considerable distance between the table and my mouth.

    I fly on SQ when possible, who seem to be the least worst. I’d be prepared to pay for premium economy which they won’t do. The Cathay slide forward seats are a no go because I have legs and knees and back – something they don’t take into account. Emirates (and other carriers) doing 10 abreast in the 777 is also an exercise in being squashed.

  27. Els says:

    Footrests in economy would make quite a difference for me, but what makes travel most uncomfortable for me are reclining seats. I never recline my seat at all, because I know how unpleasant it makes things for people sitting behind me, but I’m usually crushed by those in front of me. Shell-type seats are ideal, but I’m still more comfortable in non-reclining configurations than in the currently most common ones.

  28. miskidomleka says:

    I recently flew United 757s from US to Europe and back.

    Flying there, I think all Patrick’s items were missing. On the way back however, the interior was newer with pretty big personal touchscreens and a pretty big selection of movies, TV shows, and music.

    But they took away the “from the flight deck” audio channel… Very disappointing.

  29. NB says:

    Regularly flying UA in Economy Plus, I still feel cramped and, when I’m on an older one of their planes, it all seems rather sad but fairly comfortable, whereas the newer ones have bone hard seats and are very uncomfortable. But the other day I did a return trip on BA and had what appeared to be a very new plane one way and a very old plane on the way back. I recognise that the age of the fleet will vary hugely across all airlines, but what struck me most was the attitude of the FAs. I’m so used to United that I hardly notice the communist-era customer service training any more. But on BA they were polite and helpful and even smiled. Now, that’s what can make or break an economy class flight!

    Incidentally, I have enjoyed the seats on LX, which I gather LH also use, whereby the magazine rack is placed higher, thus increasing legroom. There did appear to be some lumbar support in these also and it was generally quite a clever arrangement. I understand that United will be placing some of these in their aircraft, but with harder cushions…..

  30. Sili says:

    One area still crying out for improvement, however, is that of cabin cleanliness. It’s tough for carriers to scrub things clean with minimal turnaround times, but there’s no excuse for the greasy armrests, dirty tray-tables and peanut-littered carpets that are unfortunately all too common.

    Perhaps if the average flyer wasn’t such a disgusting pig, it would be easier for staff to clean. I don’t recall the last time I wasn’t embarrassed by seeing what state my countrymen think it’s acceptable to leave the cabin in. Frankly they deserve everything they (don’t) get.

    • Rod says:

      OK, here’s a question, a conundrum I face on practically every flight: what to do with that piece of refuse you wish to get rid of (used kleenex, piece of gum, whatever). Unless you’re willing to cram your own pockets with this kind of stuff, there’s no alternative to dropping it on the floor. (Is there?)

      What with shorty-short turn-around times these days so the airlines can squeeze every last dime of profit out of their aircraft and what with airlines like Easyjet dispensing with the need for cleaners by making their own hard-working crews fix the cabin during those short turn-arounds, it hardly seems fair to dump stuff on the floor. I don’t want to even think about the kind of mess they doubtless encounter at times.

      There’s got to be a better way.

  31. Alan says:

    I have always wondered — how do the cockpit seats compare to the cabin seats? I have only sat in GA cockpits and you don’t have a lot of clearance. After all you do have to reach all the controls on the panel, walls, and overhead. What makes an airliner cockpit seat usable for 12 hour flights?

  32. Elaine St. John-Lagenaur says:

    Several years ago we returned home to Mexico on Volaris. They fed us! WOW! It was a simple fruit and cheese plate, fresh, tasty, satisfying and (at least at that time) free. I’d rather eat something like this than have to buy some outrageously over-priced stale-tasting crud they’ll offer on a U.S. carrier. I also love the Volaris FA’s retro-styled plum-purple uniforms…very classy!

  33. Heidi Kohne says:

    Two things:

    Jon, the video systems I’ve used can be shut off, but you have to really look for it. Usually, press the brightness-down button until it actually shuts off and your brain will thank you for it!

    I’ve been on a couple of United flights recently that have AC outlets between the seats in economy! According to their airplane specs (found online), they seem to be upgrading their entire fleet to have wi-fi & AC power for the entire cabin.

    Now, if only the entertainment systems had music! (United’s system with DirecTV doesn’t)

  34. Sandra says:

    Was curious about something…any ideas how the screen/monitor is attached to the seat for Korean Air?

    I’m trying to think of a way I could somehow “hang” my ipad mini over it in the event that I wanted to watch my own stuff rather than what’s available. Would rather have it at the same height so that I’m comfortable.

  35. Christophe says:

    Why not make 2 or 3 classes of pitches, according to the height of a person. Then assign seats accordingly. I am 5ft9 and was recently sitting next to an Asian guy who was merely 5ft6. While he was dancing with his legs, letting them move around freely, I was stuck with knees again front row.
    I mean, this is 2014, I’m sure there is a way to have a few rows for the smaller, and a few for the taller.

  36. They usually have three classes of seat pitches. They’re called business, economy, and economy plus.

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