If you’ve ever sat with your knees wedged up against the seatback in front of you, you might be wondering which North American carrier is the airline with the most legroom. And the answer depends entirely on an aircraft measurement called “seat pitch.”
Seat pitch, the distance from any point on an airline seat to the corresponding point of the seat in the following row, is the most reliable measure of total front-to-rear seat space—and therefore, legroom. These days, the average economy seat pitch is 30 to 31 inches on the “Big Four” U.S. airlines: American, Delta, Southwest, and United. Passengers get about 28 to 30 inches on low-fare lines, and 32 to 33 inches on just a few carriers. Seat pitch on transatlantic airlines is usually about the same, with the average for transpacific lines being on the higher side.
But talking about averages ignores the fact that each big airline operates dozens of different types of planes, often without one standardized seat pitch across its fleet. Newer planes may have different-pitch seats than older ones, and pitch can change when planes are refurbished. Given those uncertainties, we can identify only a few lines on which you can rely on an above-average pitch for any and all flights—and there’s one clear winner for the title of the airline with the most legroom in North America.
Data on seat pitch for a specific aircraft and route can easily be obtained from SmarterTravel’s sister site SeatGuru, an inflight seat-map search engine. To find the airlines with the most legroom, I concentrated on the big, main airlines; mainly because regional jets and turboprops typically have less legroom. (Where SeatGuru lists a range, such as 31-32 inches, the lower value is posted.)
The North American Airline with the Most Legroom
With 34 inches of seat pitch across all its planes, Interjet is the unexpected North American airline with the most legroom. The Mexico-based, low-fare carrier flies from a handful of U.S. and Canadian cities to destinations throughout Mexico, plus a few each in Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru. Interjet operates mainly the widely popular Airbus A320s and 321s (it appears to be phasing out its few Sukhoi SU9 Superjets). Interjet knows it stand apart as the airline with the most legroom, too; and claims to forgo about 30 seats on each flight to give its passengers the extra space.
Runners-Up for Airline with the Most Legroom
JetBlue is a strong runner-up, with 32 to 33 inches on all its planes. The entire JetBlue fleet was once the airline with the most legroom, at 34 inches or better—but in recent years JetBlue has been adding more main cabin seats and decreasing legroom. Currently, the best JetBlue planes are the 321s in JetBlue Mint, at 33 inches. We may one day see the airline’s legroom shrink to 31 inches of pitch, but it’s not quite there yet. JetBlue’s affordable Even More Space option, however, remains some of the best legroom in the sky, at a pitch of 37 to 39 inches—several more than any other line’s stretch option.
Southwest and Alaska are the current third-place contenders; they’re the only lines with no mainline planes having a pitch below 31 inches. Alaska is at 31 inches throughout its fleet; Southwest offers 31 inches on its 737-700s and 32-33 inches on newer 737 models.
Other Airlines with Above-Average Legroom
Porter Airlines also offers 32 inches of pitch on all its Bombardier Q-400 turboprop planes, and aims for a higher-end niche service on its regional flights in Canada and the Eastern United States. But, turboprop planes are generally considered louder and less-desirable to fly on than the ubiquitous jets.
Among the other big airlines in North America, lots of planes still have 31 inches—but 30 is becoming the new normal. American’s planes have a mix of 31 and 30 inches, with 30 inches in the newer and refurbished planes. Delta’s and United’s planes are mostly at 30 inches on narrow-body and 31 inches on wide body models. Air Canada is still mainly at 31 inches, but switching to 30 on the newer models. Hawaiian is at 30 inches on narrow-body aircraft and 31 inches on its 330s. The low-fare lines range from 30 inches on Allegiant to as low as 28 inches on Frontier and Spirit, and 29 on Sun Country.
Best Long-Haul Airlines for Legroom
Most long-haul carriers that are based elsewhere but operate routes through North America have standardized on 31 or 32 inches for their wide-body intercontinental planes. But on a few airlines you have some chance at 33 inches or better. Unfortunately, where airlines show “some” versions of an airplane type, it’s not easy to determine which variant the airline might use on any given flight. Here are some examples of airlines where you might encounter more legroom:
- Air France: 33 inches on 777-300ER.
- Air India: 33 inches on 787-8 and 34 inches on 777-200.
- ANA: 33 inches on some 777-300 and 34 inches on some 787-9.
- Asiana: 33 inches on 380, 747, and 777.
- Emirates: 33 inches on some 777-200 and 777-300.
- EVA: 33 inches on some 777-300,
- JAL: 33 inches on some 787s, 34 inches on one 777-300 variant.
- Korean: Mostly 33 inches.
- Philippine: 33 inches on 350 and 747.
- Singapore: 34 inches on some 777 models.
- Thai: 34 inches on one 777-200.
Foreign airlines that have standardized at 32 inches on all or most intercontinental planes include Air France, Avianca, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, China Eastern, Emirates, Finnair, Icelandair, LATAM, LOT Polish, Saudia, Swiss, TAP, Virgin Australia, and XiamenAir.
Foreign lines that have standardized at 31 inches on all or most intercontinental planes include Aer Lingus, Aeromexico, Aerolineas, Air China, Air New Zealand, Air Tahiti Nui, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Edelweiss, Etihad, EVA, Fiji, Hainan, Lufthansa, Norwegian, SAS, Saudia, Turkish, and Virgin Atlantic.
The international legroom losers, with planes mostly at 30-inch pitch, include Aeroflot, Avianca, Condor, and Royal Air Maroc.
For more information on legroom by airline or other seat dimensions, SeatGuru covers most in North America and most important lines worldwide, listing 182 individual airlines. If you can’t find your specific query there, SeatExpert, and SeatMaestro, list a few obscure airlines that SeatGuru does not.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.