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Which airlines are best and worst for legroom?


Ryanair's 737-800's have a seat pitch of 30 inches.

Ryanair's 737-800's have a seat pitch of 30 inches.

How seat pitches compare in different economy classes.

How seat pitches compare in different economy classes.


Ryanair's 737-800's have a seat pitch of 30 inches.

As Ryanair announces plans to fit more passengers in its planes, Natalie Paris looks at the best and worst airlines for legroom and ask whether fliers are feeling the squeeze...

Ryanair last year agreed a $22bn deal for up to 200 new Boeing planes, each of which - thanks to slimmer seats and reduced galley space - will be able to accommodate more travellers.

The budget carrier announced that it will fly its new Boeing 737 MAX 200s with a total of 197 seats – eight more than the 189 seats possible in the 737-800 planes currently being used.

Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's CEO, said the extra seats would generate around €1 million of additional revenue per plane per year and that, with the new planes, he hopes to start a new price war in Europe, “which, like all the old price wars, Ryanair will win.”

Yet this latest move to increase passenger numbers in economy came in a month when rows about legroom caused three planes to be diverted.

Will Ryanair passengers have less room?

Ryanair claims legroom space will actually be increased, thanks to the svelte seats and smaller galleys on the 737 max 200s. While not revealing the exact dimensions, or a configuration plan for the new plane, it has said the pitch (i.e. depth - the key indicator for legroom) will be at least 30 inches on average.

Here's a table comparing economy class legroom on several airlines:


How seat pitches compare in different economy classes.

How seat pitches compare in different economy classes.

How seat pitches compare in different economy classes.

Note: [Pól Ó Conghaile adds] Seat pitch can vary according to which aircraft and seat configuration is being used - Ryanair's current 737-800 (cited in the table above) offers 30 inches, for example, while Aer Lingus's Airbus 320s offer 31-32 inches. In several cases, economy class passengers can also pay a fee for more legroom.

Airbus, however, Boeing’s rival manufacturer, said the MAX 200 configuration would mean removing three of eight galley trolleys - used for serving drinks and meals - to make way for more seats. This, it said, would leave only five trolleys for the 197 passengers.

"Even low-cost carriers need more than that if they are serious about on-board sales and ancillary revenues," Mary Anne Greczyn, an Airbus spokeswoman, told Reuters.

Mr O’Leary has been looking for ten years to find the extra seats he wanted on a single-aisle plane. Boeing developed the 737 MAX 200, which will also reduce fuel consumption and noise emissions, for the fast growing low-cost sector.

A spokesman said: “While the heart of the single-aisle market will remain at 160 seats, the 737 MAX 200 will provide carriers like Ryanair with up to 11 more seats of potential revenue and up to 5 per cent lower operating costs than the 737 MAX 8, driving economic growth and increasing access to air travel.”

The sale of the higher-density aircraft is the latest example of airlines trying to squeeze as many passengers as is feasible into its economy class cabins.

The number of economy seats in Boeing 777s, one of the world’s biggest selling models, has crept up. Originally, the normal seating arrangement was nine seats per row. In 2010, just 15 per cent of the 74 777s delivered to airlines could seat 10 abreast.

In 2012, that leapt to 69 per cent.

Following the unveiling of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, 90 per cent of airlines have opted to include nine seats across each row, rather than a more comfortable eight.

In April, Airbus unveiled designs which offered airlines a new 11-abreast seating configuration on board its A380 “superjumbos” which would add an extra 35 to 40 economy class seats.

On long-haul flights where seats recline, there has been a recent spate of air rage incidents in economy class.

Rows between passengers over leg room forced three pilots to divert planes in the last month and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said its members reported a “clear, general upward trend in instances of unruly and disruptive behaviour on board aircraft” around the world last year.

The amount of legroom economy passengers enjoy varies between planes.

Seats in Ryanair’s current 737-800s have a pitch of 30 inches, comparing favourably to EasyJet’s seats (on its Airbus A319 and A320) which have 29 inches and Monarch's, which are between 28 and 29 ins.