Airplane seats. The word that will make most of us talk endlessly about the impossible positions we have to get into in order to fit inside modern day aircrafts – it is a surefire conversation starter among tall people worldwide.
It is equally safe to say that most of us do not have the financial ability or the milage to book every flight we get on, right up at the front of the plane to enjoy the comforts of business class – let alone first class – this article is for those of us who are forced into the sardine-can like conditions we find towards the back of the plane when your boarding card has ‘economy class’ stamped on it.
As most of you probably already know, the conditions on economy seem to accomodate people less than 160 cm tall. This article will provide a few strategies to deal with this as a tall person.
Airline seat legroom is defined by ‘seat pitch’ which can be used to compare the available legroom on different airlines – seat pitch is the total distance between the backs of the seats. in this chart you can compare airline seat pitches.
The best-in-class major airlines on long hauls include: United (36″), American Airlines (36″), EL AL (36″), Delta/Air Canada (36″) and KLM (35″) at the bottom of the list we find: Austrian (30″), Air Berlin (30″), Aeroflot (31″) , Turkish Airways (32″) and British airways (32,5″).
It is worth noting that there can be great variations within each airline depending on what type of aircraft you will be flying, so the above numbers are based on averages for each airline. However, when manufactures deliver an airplane to the airline it comes as an empty shell.
It is up to each airline to fit the seats into the plane – thus also deciding on the legroom to be available. The above list thus serves as a guideline to ‘tall-friendlier’ airlines. Though I would argue that no airline as of yet comes across as being systematically tall-friendly.
Lets move on to strategies for dealing with legroom when flying.
Strategy #1 – Pick your seat – Front row and emergency exits
First of all, try to get a seat either at the emergency exits or right up in the front row seats, this is a no-brainer, but you should always, always, always try to get these seats, as a seat in this category will make your trip a world apart from being cramped into the standard seats.
However, those seats usually seem to be occupied by people so short that they can barely touch the floor with their feet or people so old I have doubts that they can actually operate the emergency doors if needed (no age discrimination here, Im just saying that this is perhaps the only place in our society where older people will be just as well off with a regular seat – and might actually give up an emergency exit seat for a younger – taller – person – unless you’re tall and elderly of course 🙂 ).
The truth is that these seats are often reserved for frequent fliers or employees of the airline enjoying the benefits of flying within the ‘family’. If you are a frequent flier and enjoy some sort of status on your preferred airline – being preferred for emergency exits and front seats might be THE greatest advantage you’ll have – Even better than priority luggage and access to lounges.
My recommendation is – not hesitate to utilize this benefit – flash your gold membership (I know I would) and I will salute you tall people on the front row/emergency exits on my way towards the back of the plane.
Many airlines allow online check in – if you set your an alarm on your phone for the earliest online check-in you might just beat the crowds. If you did not get your seat online – ask at the check-in counters when arriving at the airport – i have had my seat changed this way a few times.
Some airlines will have you pay for the option of reserving a seat – this can be money well spent, although I’ll leave the decision up to you.
If you didn’t get the seat before boarding the plane you can always ask a flight attendant when seated if it is possible to move. There is no harm in asking and it might just work it has worked for me a few times.
See if you can get a hold of the tallest of the attendants – (s)he might just understand your problem better. I have even witnessed people being kindly asked if they are willing to move in favor of a tall person.
Strategy #2 – Get right behind the exits
The next best thing if you can’t get front row or the emergency exits will be the row just behind the emergency exit row, this is because the seats on the emergency row for safety reasons do not recline. This leaves you with little, but uninterrupted legroom.[space]
This may not apply to every airplane, but it is something to consider aiming for, if you have the chance to choose.
Tip for #1 and #2
If you do your research in advance you might have a slightly better shot at the emergency exits. Go to seatguru.com and find out what row you need to be in to get the seat you need. When approaching the check-in desk you give the nice lady your best smile and say: ”Anything available in row 14 or 15?” – instead of just asking for an ”emergency exit seat”.
We do not have data to back it, but my own experience is that the success rate seems slightly higher. And just for the record – the old trick of dressing nicely (a clean polo, long pants and closed shoes will do – no need to break out the suit and tie) and behaving politely might also help you towards obtaining these sought-after seats in economy class.
Strategy #3 – Coping
If #1 and #2 fails (which they often do). you need to rethink your strategy and exercise damage control. In a normal airplane seat the avarage space between the edge of your seat and the back of the seat in front of you is roughly 25 cm (which is about the span of my hand from little finger to my thumb when I stretch out my hand) – ‘seat pitch’ is a different measurement as described above.
With this little space at my disposal, every millmeter counts, so I’ll usually remove my shoes to get those extra 2 cm that removing my soles will give me. I then selfishly splay my legs – to steal as much legroom from my neighbour as possible – including putting my knee in the aisle on my other side – usually resulting in numerous bruises from meal carts.
I make sure to put my feet as far under the seat in front of me (just before badly bruising my shinbone on the strangely razer-sharp egdes at the bottom of the seat in front of me).
Sitting in this position – You’ll litterally be pinned down if the person in front of you reclines the seat, but it is the only way I have found so far to cope with the seatplans in modern aircraft. Or you can purchase a pair of Knee Defenders, so the person in front fo you simply cannot recline the seat.
Note: If you find yourself on a long haul using strategy #3 (coping) – then you must be aware of the ‘economy class syndrome‘ (blood clogs in your legs – due to not moving around much). Especially if pinned down by the traveler in front of you. Try to get up and walk around once every hour or so.
UPDATE: This article may be useful for you booking exit rows and plane seats with extra leg room. It’s about the best time to book flights based on 917 million airfares. Have a good read.
Flying can be hell for tall people, but hopefully these tips make it a little more bearable.
Please leave us a comment if you have a fantastic travel hack for flying tall.