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A Little More Leg Room, Please

John Deiner

Flown a budget airline in Europe lately and felt envious of the amount of space sardines have in a can? There may be changes afoot. According to a report in the London Daily Mail, budget airlines are being called on to give their jam-packed patrons extra leg room.

Hear hear.

According to the report, "The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee called yesterday for the minimum distance between seats to be increased from 26 inches to 28.2 inches. The change would allow passengers to adopt the brace position properly in an emergency and increase their comfort, the committee's report says. Airlines affected by this increase would include easyjet, Monarch, bmibaby, First Choice Airways, My Travel, Thomas Cook and Thomsonfly, some of whose seats have pitches between 26 inches and 27 inches."

Earlier this year, colleague Carol Sottili took a flight on Monarch from London Gatwick to Alicante, Spain, and then on Easyjet from Alicante to London Stansted. She said she would fly Easyjet again -- leg room was adequate and the seats fairly comfy -- but would never again jam herself onto a Monarch flight. Leg room was tight, but the angle of the seat was unbearable. "I felt like I was pitching forward the entire flight," she said. "And when I tried to move my seat back, the person in back of me kept jabbing my seat. Looking around, I noticed that I was the only one on the entire flight who had tried to recline her seat. I must have broken some sort of unwritten rule on discount European airlines -- no moving the seat back!"

I was on Easyjet myself last year, and while it wasn't horrible, I'm always rooting for extra legroom (I'm 6 foot 1). Are you listening, Southwest?

The newspaper report does suggest a downside to providing extra space for passengers: According to the British Air Transport Association's Roger Wiltshire, "If a new regulation reduces the number of seats on an aircraft there would be unavoidable knock-on effects, increasing the cost of travel and greenhouse gas emissions."

Tough decisions, for sure, but I'd be willing to pay extra for just a little more space. I can do without pretzels and Pepsi on a flight, but my knees can't do without a little breathing room.

What do you think? What airlines are particularly bad when it comes to leg room? And what do you do to ease the distress?

By John Deiner |  December 14, 2007; 9:45 AM ET  | Category:  John Deiner
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"I'd be willing to pay extra for just a little more space."

It's amazing how many people say this, and then when they do have the chance, most of them still go with the lowest fare. United's economy plus is exhibit A. On any given flight, very few if any of the people in EP actually paid extra for it. They are either frequent fliers who got free upgrades, or the people who checked in late and got it free because regular economy was full. People say they are willing to pay a few bucks more for more legroom, until it's time to pony up the money.

Granted I'm not tall, but I find the legroom on most economy sections to be tolerable as long as the person in front of me doesn't recline their seat. That's when it becomes a problem. My suggestion is keep the seat pitch the same but make the seats so they don't recline.

Posted by: Dennis | December 14, 2007 11:30 AM

Good point, Dennis. I guess it depends on what the extra payment is; $20 or $30, fine. But you're right: If it's hundreds more, I stay squished.

And I never recline unless I absolutely have to -- so I agree with your solution.

Posted by: John Deiner | December 14, 2007 11:38 AM

I've tried to buy Economy Plus seats, only to have them all booked by frequent/business fliers. I simply can't afford first class, so I have to be squished...or just sit in the aisle where I can stand up and stretch my legs without annoying people in my row. (I'm 6 feet tall with joint disease - this is a serious issue for me.)

My husband and I are hoarding credit card miles, so we can take a long-awaited trip to New Zealand first class without breaking the bank. Because there's no way we're spending that long in a plain in economy seating...

Posted by: Chasmosaur | December 14, 2007 12:34 PM

I flew on Blue 1 a few times this summer... 2/3 were fine flights. The last one was horribly cramped.

Posted by: Blue1 | December 14, 2007 1:51 PM

I always pay for United Economy Plus (unless only middle seats are left -- I'd rather keep my aisle seat in Coach), but resent that I have to. Southwest gives at least as much legroom as you pay for in United EP. I'm short, and still consider United Coach inhuman -- I can't imagine how tall people can take it.

Posted by: jane | December 14, 2007 5:50 PM

I want to recline a bit on long flight, so I paid to be a member of United Economy Plus program.

Posted by: I_recline | December 15, 2007 9:20 AM

My experience recently has only been with Delta, AirTran and Frontier. In the past I always checked my luggage. Recently, since I was changing airlines in Atlanta, I only did carry-on. Which ment that my backpack was shoved under the seat in front of me, from PHL to ATL. NEVER again. I will suffer and wait in baggage claim if I have to, but I do not want to put anything where my legs could stretch at least a little bit. (by the end of the flight I was ready to go "postal") I usually abide by the rule of traveling with one ticket on any given day, but I just couldn't resist the AirTran deal to Atlanta, and while I was going to be in GA for most of the week, I really wanted to go to Denver for 2 nights, and I needed to add to my Skymiles acct. Travel and learn!

Posted by: rja112 | December 17, 2007 2:15 AM

I'm 6'3" and try to avoid coach but after paying over $2K for a run to Amsterdam on NWA with an uncomfortable Business Class experience (lousy seat), and a flight from Salt Lake City to Denver with my seatmate poking his elbow into my ribs on Delta, I'm rethinking my position.

It would often be reasonable to just buy two adjoining coach seats and sit crosswise. That way I could crunch down so the top of the damn seat is higher than my shoulders too!

Posted by: doughco | December 19, 2007 3:03 PM

I used to love United but since they have taken away legroom from Economy and put it in Economy Plus, I only fly them when absolutely necessary. On one trip to Europe, the woman in front of me put her seat back so I could not put my feet flat on the floor. I had to stretch out my legs and I could barely get out of my seat. At the end of the trip I was in terrible pain and could hardly walk. I never put my seat back because it's not fair to the person behind me.
I fly Southwest whenever I can because they provide more legroom.

Posted by: anne | December 19, 2007 5:16 PM

A few years ago, the lack of room in airliner seats was a big deal to me. I would try to book United EconomyPlus (but often found it all booked up already). Space in conventional coach is just too tight for anyone but children. And anyone who reclines his seat back in front of me is at risk of garrotting--think about THAT next time before you push that button and ease the seat back.

Now, however, the space issue is only one of many for me. The long delays through security and other TSA-imposed miseries, long waits at the gate, on the tarmac, for an open arrival gate and for my checked luggage--these all mean flying's no fun anymore. I hate it and do what I can to avoid it. I would -- and do -- pay more for a better experience, but those options are few. The most options are for the flier who wants only a low price and cares about nothing else.

Worst airline? Anybody that flies those infernal little CRJ regional jets (like United and CanadaAir). You haven't really suffered until you've flown in one of those.

Posted by: John | December 20, 2007 5:22 PM

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