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04/04/2008 - Airline Seat Inequality - Do Your Homework Then Roll The Dice
I am sure many of you never think about aircraft type or seat availability when choosing your flights. Even more of you are probably reading this and saying to yourself "all seats are the same," the truth is that they are not.
One of the first things many frequent flyers do when selecting flights, aside from choosing flights that work for their schedule, is choose their seats. Some log on to their airline web site, to check upgrade availability, look for exit row seats or favourite seats on certain aircraft, others (like me) log on to check aircraft type before even selecting their flight.
I won't say that I choose my flights based on aircraft type if I have a "hard-schedule" I have to keep, but I will say that I check my options when flights are close together or I have some schedule flexibility.
There are many places to check seat statistics, such as pitch (distance between the back of the seat in front of you and the back of your seat), width, in-seat power, etc. The best and most detailed source for this information is Seat Guru, www.seatuguru.com . Seat Guru is not perfect, it has some glaring mistakes (such as showing in-seat power on various Korean Air aircraft that I know from experience have no in-seat power), but it is the best resource for the basics.
There are many things that you cannot learn from stats regarding your seat selection. Much of my information comes from experience and detailed notes regarding favourite seats and speaking with other frequent flyers. If I am flying an airline I have not flown, or a configuration I am not familiar with, I ask those who frequent that airline for their opinions.
The first thing I look for when selecting my seats is in-seat power. This is important to me, in-seat power not only allows me to work, but it can also let me watch the movies of my choice on my laptop for a 13 hour flight over the Pacific (or a 3 hour flight down the U.S. East Coast since I have a short attention span). Generally when looking for in-seat power options I start with U.S. Airways and Delta. U.S. Airways has in-seat power on all their "US-East" Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft, as well as on all Airbus A321 and A330-300 (A333) aircraft. With Delta I can find in-seat power on all Boeing 737-800 (738) and 767-400 (764) aircraft, with a growing number of 757-200 (752) aircraft.
Now of course when looking for in-seat power you may not get what you expect. This morning I boarding a US Airways A319 (I'm writing this as I sit in seat 10A on US Flight 657 from PHL to SFO) and fully expected to be able to plug my laptop. I had my emPower adapter out and ready until I noticed the "AW" embroidered in all of the seats are realized I had boarded a US Airways "US-West" Airbus A319. The US-West aircraft are the aircraft taken over by US Airways from America West following their merge. The US-West aircraft not only lack in-seat power but they have less comfortable seats, a slightly less recline angle, narrower arm rests and overall are not what I expect when I board a US Airways trans-continental flight. The upside for me on this flight is the this aircraft has no seat 9A, which means that I have nearly 5 feet of legroom.
When flying long-haul Delta flights I have settled in for a 9 hour flight, planning my trip in detail for seat choice on a Boeing 764 with in-seat power only to discover I have boarded a 767-300 (763) with no in-seat power and seats that I personally don't find as comfortable. The 763 seats have a slight width difference,but overall I find the 764 seats more comfortable. Delta has multiple 757-200 configurations so I didn't even try and more with them, until a day or two before the flight when I can call the airline and find out exactly what the seat configuration (not as complex as you'd think, but it takes some note taking to find out what you like for your seats.....or ask some frequent flyers!)
For those of you planning flights on United Airlines they offer two economy classes, "economy" (E-)and "economy plus" (E+). The difference between E- and E+ is abut 2" in leg room, but on longer flights the price difference (which can be from around $30 to $200 depending on distance) can be worth it. if you gain any frequent flyer status on United Airlines you will be entitled to E+ seating on all United flights. 25,000 miles in a year is all it takes to get Premier Status (2P).
If you have the option of choosing your flights I find the seats on United's narrow body Airbus aircraft considerably more comfortable than those on United's narrow body Boeing aircraft. You'd think that the economy seats would all be the same, but they are not. Going by the numbers, the stats, the seats look pretty much the same, but fly from Washington's Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Seattle Tacoma's Sea-Tac International Airport (SEA) for six hours and you'll feel the difference
Looking for comfort from North America to Europe? The choices used to be limited in North America. All the options were pretty much narrow uncomfortable seats for 7-to-11 hours flights. Excluding flying business class, first class, or business-only flights, you were stuck in narrow seats with hours of mind numbing boredom ahead of you. Recently Air Canada launched it's 777-200/777-300 (772/77W) on trans-atlantic routes (and some trans-pacific routes). What makes the Air Canada 777 so great? In-seat power in all seats, in all classes of service! 7 hours over the Atlantic? 13 hours over the Pacific? In-seat power! What does this mean for you? Well if you're cramped into a seat like a sardine-in-a-can you might as be able to get your work done, watch your movies, play your Sony PSP until your fingers fall off, charge your camera batteries or if you're flying with kids keep them entertained with a portable DVD players. If you plan on flying Air Canada (and I really like Air Canada, even with my flights originating in the US) look for flights with the 777 on the route The seats on the 777 are more comfortable than those on AC's Boeing 767-300 (773) and Airbus A340-300 (A343) aircraft. The 767 seats are thin on padding and uncomfortable in short flights, much less trans-oceanic flights. The A340 seats, while more comfortable than the 767 seats, don't match up to the 777 seats at all for overall comfort
Another option from North America to Europe is US Airways which has in-seat power in all seats, in all classes on their A330 service to Europe. The A330 also has great audio-video on demand (AVOD) in all classes of service. The combination of in-seat power and AVOD on the US A330 has kept me sane on back-to-back trans-atlantic flghts to London Gatwick (LGW) from Philadelphia (PHL) and Charlotte (CLT). With US's introduction of service to London Heathrow (LHR) there are more possibilities to fly to and from "preferred airport" with some creature comforts. In addition to the in-seat power and AVOD the US A330 also have seats that are considerably better than anything else in US Airway's aircraft inventory. If I am booking a flight and see a US Airways using a Boeing 767-200 (762) on the route, I avoid it looking for the A330 or another airline. If I see aUS Airways Boeing 757-200 (752) on on the trans-atlantic route I look for another airline flying a wide-body aircraft.
One important thing I look for in my aircraft on trans-atlantic (TATL) routes is wide-body aircraft. A wide-body aircraft is one with two-aisles, while a narrow-body aircraft only has one aisle. Flying long haul flights on a narrow body aircraft can be claustrophobic, it can be constraining, it can be extremely uncomfortable. You guaranteed to be in a 3-3 configuration aircraft with a narrow body aircraft. With some wide-body aircraft you can be in a 2-4-2 configuration. A 2-4-2 configuration (primarily on a 330, 340, 767) means you have a window or an aisle seat if you select your seats in time (no one likes a middle seat). Two aisles means you have room to get up and walk, I have done laps on countless flights to avoid boredom and stretch out. On one flight from Hong Kong to Paris an Air France flight attendant had fun laughing at my six laps around the Boeing 777-200 (772) cabin in the middle of the night.
Northwest Airlines offers a non-stop flight from one of my local airports, Hartford/Springfield's Bradley International Airport, to Europe, via Amsterdam. This would be an ideal departure airport from my home, it's only an hour's drive which I often make for many domestic flights, however the flight is flown on a narrow body Boeing 757-200-5600 (752-5600). While the interior is reconfigured for international travel, with more leg room, in flight entertainment , and other minor changes I still choose to fly out on other airlines (even flying Northwest at times from other airports) to spend my long hours of sitting still on a more comfortable wide-body aircraft.
So what does this all mean? It means you have options. It means you can do your homework (or even drop me an e-mail as many of you have) to find out what flights and seats offer the most comfort on your trips. Even within airline fleets, their "sub-fleets" may offer better options to keep your comfortable or to keep you sane...........but in the end you roll the dice and if your comfortable Air Canada 777 becomes a 762 for mechanical reasons, sit back, enjoy the ride and remember that The Point Of The Journey Is Not To Arrive.
Below is a photo of me sleeping this morning on US Airways Flight 657, in my empty row of Airbus A319 seats.
Happy Flying!--Click Image To Enlarge--