The Wall Street Journal recently posted a brilliant article about the supposed ‘Shrinking’ Airline seat, where airlines have become savvy to squeezing in an extra seat per row to get extra revenue, whilst losing an inch per seat width in comfort. Interestingly the main airframes this applies to is the 777 (9 across comfortably, but now fitting 10) and the A380 (10 across comfortably on the lower deck, but able to stretch to 11), which are wide enough to be able to squeeze the passengers in tightest. The older A330 frame which hasn’t changed in width for a while comfortably can fit 8 abreast, although some airlines have been fitting in 9 abreast for sometime, mainly in the Asian market, where statistically passengers are slightly smaller. Europe and America continents suffering from some of the largest passengers.

So it can all be very confusing. Stick to our simple rules to avoid being squeezed.


Do your research.

Let’s say you are just about to book your seat, check the seat maps before you pay. Sometimes multiple aircraft operate the same route, even on the same airline (e.g. Virgin Atlantic offer a 747 and A340 on their Los Angeles route each day), so if it’s too tight, consider flying at a different time of day, or a different day, as the higher density aircraft will most likely fly peak days. (Thursday-Sunday) Tuesdays and Wednesdays less passengers fly, so airlines will sometimes place lower density aircraft on the routes.

1. A 777 should be 9 seats across to give you a reasonable seat.
2. An A330/A340 should be 8 seats across to give you a reasonable seat.
3. An A380 should be 10 seats across the lower deck.
4. A 787 should only be 8 seats across to give you a reasonable seat.

With this is mind, you should be able to give yourself the most available comfort.

5. Our Top 10 narrowest long haul seats, (the ones to avoid)*

1. Air Asia X’s A330 – 16.5″ seat width
2. LOT’s 787 –  16.9″ seat width
3. Air France’s 777 – 17″ seat width
4. Air Transat’s A330-200 – 17″ seat width (The A330-300 has wider seats)
5. China Southern’s 777 – 17″ seat width
6. Air Canada’s 777-300ER (the ones that have a row 26)  – 17″ seat width
7. Malaysia Airlines’ 777-200 – 17″ seat width – but especially nasty, as it’s 2 x 5 x 2 seating arrangement.
8. Air India’s 787 – 17″ seat width
9. American Airlines’ 777-300ER – 17″ seat width.
10. Thomson’s 787 – 17″seat width.

It should be noted this list isn’t exhaustive, there are other airlines that will also offer similar comfort, but interestingly, the worst contenders are the 787’s and the low cost long haul A330 from Air Asia.

5. Our Top 10 widest long haul seats, (the ones to aim for)*

1. Asiana’s A330-300 – 21″ seat width
2. Air China’s 747-400 – 21″ seat width
3. Aeroflot’s A330-300  –  20.6″ seat width
4. China Southern’s A330  – 20.1″ to 20.5″ seat width
5. Air Canada’s 767-300ER – 20″ to 21″ seat width
6. British Airways’ 767-300 – 20″ seat width (the older aircraft without the separate Club World cabin)
7. Air China’s 767  – 19.5″ seat width
8. Hainan Airlines’ A330-200 – 19″ seat width
9. Singapore Airlines’ 777 & A380 – 19″ seat width
10. Air France’s A380 – 19″ seat width.

Again it should be noted this list isn’t exhaustive, there are other airlines that will also offer similar comfort, but interestingly, the some of the worst contenders such as Air France, China Southern and Air Canada appear in both lists, meaning these airlines offer the greatest difference in levels of comfort dependant on the aircraft type.

6. It’s not just about narrow seats.


Airlines around the world are offering chances to gain extra space. When checking in there are countless airlines that will offer you extra legroom seats, bulkhead seats, economy extra seats (not to be confused with Premium Economy) and the opportunity to buy an extra seat for extra comfort. One such airline that has really gone the extra step is Air New Zealand, and whilst they have narrow economy seats on their 777 fleet, they offer the ‘SkyCouch’, whereby passengers can buy either a whole row, or an extra seat for a couple, and fold out an extra part of the seating to create a large lounger to relax or even sleep on for only a little extra cost.

7. Premium Economy is getting better.

Hong Kong Cathay Pacific

Airlines are shrinking their seats no doubt to up-sell their more premium products, such as Premium Economy, and for a little extra cost offer a lot more comfort, some of the best to mention are Air New Zealand, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and newly launched Cathay Pacific‘s Premium Economy. Most airlines offer the chance to upgrade at the airport, dependent on availability, at a reduced cost. As airlines are competing for premium travellers, the fight is on between long haul carriers to have the most superior product, which in turn means the passenger is the winner in all of this.

8. It’s not just about width, check out our best economy classes.


Admitted by airlines that the trick to the shrinking seat is offering distractions such as IFE and dining, we know it’s not just about a narrow seat. Our Top 10 Economy Classes for 2013 take into consideration the whole experience, from seat to entertainment, to food and service. With Oman Air for space and Air New Zealand coming top for their long haul economy classes. Hopefully with the above information you are now armed to make a better choice!

*information distilled and collated from http://www.seatguru.com
Posted by:Jonny Clark

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