Each year, airlines look for new ways to capitalise on a competitive travel market. The most obvious way to do this is by fitting more passengers onto planes. While some airlines may seek an edge by marketing a more comfortable economy class with extra legroom and increased seat pitch, others are going the opposite route and putting the squeeze on economy seating by further reducing seat pitch.
Seat pitch is the distance from one seat to the same space on the seat in front, so seats with less pitch have less knee and legroom.
The standard, economy-class seat pitch in Australian passenger planes ranges between 71cm and 79cm. Those numbers are skewed by Qantas and Virgin, which both average about 78cm.
American Airlines plans to reduce its seat pitch to 74cm across its entire fleet. Prior to this announcement, most US airlines had a seat pitch between 76cm and 78cm.
In what is probably bad news for passengers hoping for comfort over value when booking economy airfare, it looks as if the reduction of seat pitch may become a trend across all airlines.
“Seat pitch has come down,” said United Airlines President Scott Kirby. “But seat pitch has come down because that’s what customers voted with their wallets that they wanted. I know everyone would tell you, ‘I would like more seat pitch’. But the history in the airline industry is every time airlines put more seat pitch on, customers choose the lowest price.
“If you take a row of seats off an airplane – you take four per cent of the seats off the airplane – it costs the same amount to fly the airplane as it did before. You’re burning the same amount of fuel. You pay the pilots the same. Maintenance is the same. So you have to charge four per cent more to make that break even. Customers have to be willing to pay more if they want more seat pitch. And the evidence is that they aren’t willing to.”
Australian airlines have fairly generous legroom, with the option of paying extra money at the time of booking or using points to upgrade legroom.
According to finder.com, the top five airlines for economy legroom in Australia are:
4. Virgin Australia
What do you think of the legroom in Australian planes? Are you happy to sacrifice comfort for lower-cost flights?