Which Aircraft Offers More Spacious Economy Seats?

Apr 17, 2016

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TPG reader Chris sent me a message on Facebook to ask about airline seating:

“Which has more room in economy: the Airbus A380 or the Boeing 777-300ER?”

As airlines have worked to improve profit margins over the years, the average space allotted to each seat has steadily declined. New and more compact designs (like reconfigurable bench seating and rear-facing seats) are helping carriers maximize capacity at the expense of comfort, leaving passengers (and their elected representatives) to scrap for every inch.

It helps to know what to expect before you fly, so you can select a seat that suits your needs (or at least prepare yourself for a tight ride). To that end, it’s good to be familiar with the idiosyncracies of different aircraft. However, seat configurations vary not only from one model to another, but also on the same model operated by different airlines.

For example, consider the Boeing 777-300ER (also known as the 77W). American Airlines operates the 77W with 220 seats in economy in a 3-4-3 configuration, giving each seat 17 inches of width and 31 inches of pitch. Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific operates two different versions of the 77W, both of which use a more spacious 3-3-3 configuration in economy, offering 18.5 inches of width and 32 inches of pitch.

The story is the same aboard the A380. Lufthansa operates two versions of the A380-800, with economy seats that offer 18.2 inches of width and 31 inches of pitch. On the other hand, Korean Air’s configuration has seats that are slightly narrower at 18 inches wide, but offer substantially more legroom with a pitch of 33-34 inches. That extra space can make a big difference on a long-haul flight.

Korean Air offers more legroom in economy than Lufthansa aboard the A380.

If you’re looking for help choosing a seat, check out SeatGuru. This site offers detailed layouts of just about every aircraft operated by major airlines, including seat information like pitch, width and amenities. SeatGuru also identifies potential problems like limited recline or storage space, and offers reports from other flyers that can give you some additional insight. It’s free to use, but note that the information provided isn’t 100% accurate, especially on newer aircraft; you might want to cross-check with the airline if you have a lot riding on your seat selection.

Of course, the best laid plans often go awry, so it also helps to have a strategy for dealing with unexpected circumstances like a broken seat or a last-minute equipment change. As airlines continue to pack more and more passengers into economy cabins, knowing where to sit (and where not to sit) on a given aircraft can make your flight experience much more enjoyable.

For more on your best options in economy and premium economy, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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