Excited girl on plane


How to pick the best seat in economy

Published September 26th, 2014

If you’re flying at the pointy end of the plane in first class or business class, this blog is not for you. This is for the peeps in economy, who want to know how to get a little extra wiggle room, stretch out their legs, win the war of the armrests and just basically get a little personal space on their long-haul flight. Amiright?



Not all economy seats are created equally – different airlines and planes have different amenities and seating arrangements – so we’ve done the legwork with our airline guide to find you the comfiest seat, the most legroom and the most Zen spots on all the major carriers that fly from Australia. With insider knowledge from former flight attendants and advice from frequent flyers, here’s how to pick the best seat in economy, every time. You’re welcome.


The most leg room

First up, you need to know about seat pitch. This is the gap between your seat and the one in front and size does matter. The seat pitch can vary from 74 centimetres (29 inches) to 89 centimetres (35 inches), depending on the plane and who you’re flying with. For the most room in economy, go for Air New Zealand, Asiana, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Emirates, Thai Airways, South African Airways, Singapore Airlines and Etihad, which all offer a seat pitch of 86 centimetres on select aircraft, or Air France–KLM, United and Delta with almost 90 centimetres to stretch out in.



The seats up the front aren’t just for passengers who want to deplane in a hurry – they also have an extra 2.5 centimetres of leg room. Everyone is pretty clued in about the extra leg room on offer in the exit rows where the emergency exit doors are located, but if there is more than one exit row on your flight, opt for the last exit row so your seat will also recline. Most airlines will charge for the privilege of sitting in an exit row, but if it’s an option it’s definitely worth it. Virgin Atlantic’s extra legroom seats offer 7.5 centimetres more space, while with Jetstar, the exit seating on A320 aircraft bumps up the leg room by 20 centimetres and up to 38 centimetres onboard its A330 planes.


The biggest seat

For those who would prefer more wiggle room over leg room, some carriers offer a more generous seat than your standard-issue economy chair.  Air Canada and South African Airways offer  47 centimetre-wide seats on some of their jets, while, Air China and Asiana are best in cabin with seats offering a roomy 49.5 to 53 centimetres on selected aircraft. Which brings us to...


The most recline

There’s major debate over the interwebs at the moment about reclining plane seats with passengers fighting over seat-slamming etiquette (including the use of an implement known as a Knee Defender to stop the people in front from reclining their seat) and forcing three flights in the US to make unscheduled landings in the past month alone. While airplane seats are meant to recline, common courtesy should mean keeping your seat upright during meals at least.


Anyway, for the economy seats that best mimic a lie-flat bed, Thai Airways International economy seats have a 122-degree recline and a footrest, Korean Air has 121-degree reclining seats with back support, and Etihad’s Coral economy has spacious ergonomically designed seats with cradle recline, lumbar support and adjustable headrest plus larger cushions – ooh, cushy!


The quietest place to sit

To enjoy the silence, you can ask to be seated away from infants on your flight and if there’s room, you’ll usually be accommodated. Another option is to nab a seat at the front of the plane away from the noise generated by the wing engines. And get some noise-cancelling headphones. Sure, they’re pricey but frequent flyers swear by them to block the ambient white noise on planes and other loud interruptions (people talking, kids screaming, yada yada).


Anything we missed? What are your tips for getting the best seat in economy on an international flight?