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What’s the Story on Legroom?

If you want as much seat space as you can get when flying economy, you don’t want a legacy airline like Delta or American. JetBlue and Southwest (once considered low-fare upstarts) actually provide more legroom for travelers on most flights.

Although American has canceled plans to shrink legroom to as little as 29 inches between seats on some of their aircraft, the carrier still comes up short in letting coach passengers stretch their legs. American’s decision may indicate that airlines are beginning to get the message that making customers uncomfortable is bad for business. Even so, economy-class legroom on American and Delta and United has become standardized at no more than 31 inches, as carriers have steadily added more rows of seating to boost revenues.

By contrast, passengers flying on those airlines could expect up to 34 inches of space between seats a couple of decades ago. Today, only JetBlue aircraft provide all passengers 34 inches of legroom at no extra charge. United and American (budget carrier Frontier) charge a premium for special rows of seating with 34 or more inches.

Virgin America also beats the legacy carriers in terms of legroom in economy class, with 32 inches between rows of seats. Alaska and Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, have at least 31-32 inches of legroom on planes, which generally tops the space afforded by American, Delta, and United.

Worst of all for legroom are ultra-low-fare carriers Spirit and Frontier. Passengers get as little as 28 inches of legroom when flying with these airlines, known for cheap airfare with minimal amenities and loads of fees.