The Best and Worst Coach Seats on U.S. Airlines – By Scott McCartney Updated June 14, 2017 4:59 p.m. ET

The space between seats on planes has never been tighter, though some carriers are resisting taking more legroom away

No, you aren’t imagining it. Economy airline seats keep getting smaller as airlines push for an expansion of higher-fare seating. Here’s a look at how coach seating is evolving. Illustration: Heather Seidel/The Wall Street Journal

Engineers would say technically sardines are still packed tighter. But the difference between a can of oily fish and a coach cabin of sweaty airline passengers is getting smaller.

There’s growing variation in legroom, hip room and headroom as airlines find more ways to cram seats into planes. Travelers had best pay attention: The bad seats aren’t always where you might think.

Some airlines are down to 28 inches of space from the back of your seat to the seat back in front of you in their basic coach rows, down from the once-standard 32 inches of what’s called seat pitch. That’s a difference felt right in the kneecap. Airlines considered full-service have shrunk down to 30 inches and American Airlines, which 15 years ago gave each row of coach seats 34 inches of space, considered going to rows with as few as 29 inches.

They backed off Tuesday. Still, the new planes, the same size as 737-800s but called 737 Max 8, will have 172 seats, with two more rows of seats squeezed in compared with their existing 737-800s. Space will shrink to 30 inches from 31. American first flew that plane with 150 seats, then upped it to 160 in 2015.


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