On flights these days, you can expect the legroom, especially in economy class, to be pretty minimal. But of course things used to be better…

A nice write-up from The Telegraph—”Have plane seats really shrunk – and which is the worst airline on Earth for legroom?” examines the industry-wide cut in legroom and seat width over the past 30-40 years. Here’s how the pitch (the distance between the back of your seat and the back of the seat in front of you) on eight major airlines has changed, on average (factoring in short-haul and long-haul flights), over the past 30 years:

  • American: 31″-33″ (then) → 30″-33″ (2018)
  • Delta: 31″-33″ (then) → 30″-33″ (2018)
  • United: 32″-36″ (then) → 30″-32″ (2018)
  • Southwest: 31″-35″ (then) → 31″-33″ (2018)
  • British Airways (short-haul): 30″-32″ (then) → 29″-34″ (2018)
  • British Airways (long-haul): 31″-34″ (then) → 31″ (2018)
  • Lufthansa (short-haul): 34″ (then) → 30″-32″ (2018)
  • Qantas (long-haul): 34″ (then) → 31″-32″ (2018)
  • Virgin (long-haul): 34″ (then) → 29″-31″ (2018)

It also takes a look at what the major airlines today (including many more than those listed above) are offering on short-haul and long-haul flights—and which are best and worst. It’s a thorough list. In the U.S., Frontier and Spirit expectedly graded at the lower end.

As to how and when things changed, The Telegraph notes that in the 60s and 70s, flyers were much more comfortable. A seat on a plane back then came with ample space to the front and sides. But as written in the story, “This started to change in the Eighties. In 1981, the New York Times reported that manufacturers were, for the first time, starting to cut seat pitch in economy from the ‘industry standard’ of between 34 and 35 inches to just 32. A McDonnell Douglas executive tried to justify the changes. ‘With newer, less bulky seats, you might get as much legroom with the 32 inches pitch as you would with the 34 inches,” he claimed. So began the ongoing trend for increasing profits by squeezing in as many passengers as physically possible.”

Check out the full story, with the airline-by-airline pitch numbers, here.




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