How to lessen that squished-in feeling when you fly

Different airlines, same story.

Different airlines, same story.

The last time you looked for a flight to book, chances are — if you’re anything like the majority of the airlines’ customers — that you looked at only two things: price and schedule.

This is the norm in modern-day air travel. Airlines have long since stopped competing with one another on anything else — the comfort of the seats or the quality of the food, for example — because they know full well that such things rarely make someone pick one airline over another.

Thus, in a bid to cut the average cost-per-passenger of operating a flight, the airlines have progressively packed the seats in tighter over the years. In the Seventies, scheduled airlines typically spaced each row of Economy seating 34 inches apart. Today, 31-inch spacing is the standard, with some airlines even having drifted down to 30 inches between rows.

Airlines have also started installing narrower seats on some flights to fit more seats across the cabin. Air Canada, for example, has generated controversy by introducing high-density Boeing 777s to its fleet that pack 10 people into each row instead of the standard nine by giving everyone an inch and a half less elbow room.

Not all airlines and aircraft are the same, however. Thus, if being comfortable on a flight is important, it pays to check out websites like SeatGuru dedicated to helping people make educated choices about where to sit. But to simplify things, here are the types of aircraft to try to travel on if you want just a little more space, or to avoid if you hate that squished-in feeling:

Aircraft to try to get a seat on:

  • Air Canada’s CRJ-705s: These smaller regional jets are surprisingly generous in terms of legroom if not in elbow room, with rows spaced 34 inches apart and seats that are 17 inches wide. These are normally listed on web sites using the “CRA” moniker.


  • Air Canada’s Embraer 175s: The rows on these smaller 73-seat jets are still spaced 32 inches apart, and the 18-inch wide seats offer a little more elbow room than the CRJ-705s do.


  • Delta’s Embraer 170s and 175s: The 31 inches between rows might be nothing special these days, but these aircraft are a bit more generous than average in elbow room, with 18.25-inch wide seats.


  • If you’re traveling long-haul, aim for Air Canada’s lower-density Boeing 777s (32″ between rows, seats 18.5″ wide) or Air France’s A330-200s (32″ between rows, seats 18″ wide). A bonus of flying the A330 is that the majority worldwide are in 2-4-2 configuration, meaning that you’re never more than one seat away from the aisle.


Aircraft to avoid:

  • WestJet Encore’s Q400s: These new turboprops mainly fly on short-haul routes like Winnipeg-Regina, where comfort is perhaps less important. But with rows spaced as little as 30 inches apart and all seats being just 17 inches wide, the Q400s have some of the smallest passenger spaces outside of the deep-discount charter market.


  • Delta’s Boeing 737s and 757s, and United’s Airbus A319s and CRJ-700s: These aircraft are not commonly seen in Winnipeg,  but if you fly through their respective Twin Cities and Chicago hubs, there’s a reasonable chance you’ll end up on these high-density airplanes with not much more personal space than you’ll find on the Encore Q400s. Most of these aircraft offer as little as 30 inches between rows, and seats only 17.2 inches wide.


  • Air Canada Rouge — the entire airline: This airline-within-an-airline targeting price-sensitive vacationers debuted last year to horrific reviews, with one reviewer noting that the seats were packed in so tight that “my 9 year old son also had his knees touching the seat in front of him and a seat in the face as the other uncomfortable passenger tilted their seat back in hopes of finding some extra space.” Rouge’s Airbus A319s offer very little leg room (29″ between rows, seats 18″ wide), while the Boeing 767s offer a tiny bit more legroom (30″) but less elbow room (17.5″).

Or, you could pay extra on a growing number of airlines to sit in the roomier “preferred”, “economy comfort” or “plus” seats for an additional charge ranging from $16 to $125 each way on Air Canada, $9 to $180 per segment on Delta or $15 to $53 per segment on WestJet.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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