Sign up with your email address to be the first to know about new products, VIP offers, blog features & more.

Flying Tall: How To Deal with Long Legs and Airplanes

A

irplane 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.

 

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.

 

37 Responses
  • Steen Hansen
    June 11, 2014

    Well I mostly used trains at trips around Europe until september 2012 when I would like to go to London and drive in England for the first time – a Whole other story but quite easy actually.
    After much consideration and reconsideration I decided to book a Flight with Norwegian – no problems at all except the 60 DKK I have to pay for seat chosing – later changed to 90 DKK.

    Since then I have always chosen Norwegian whenever I want to go somewhere – taken the train on destinations where there are no Norwegian flights avaiable.

    In july I wanted to go to London Again but Norwegian was sold out, so I booked at Easyjet instead – paying around 500 DKK ekstra due to their strict luggage regulations and Again seatreservation.

    I’m flying 5 to 10 times a year and had always got a seat in the first row – ALL IT TAKES IS AN EARLY BOOKING.

    • Rued
      June 12, 2014

      So you are going with the first strategy – to just book in advance and reserve the seats with the most space. That is probably the best solution to the problem, and whenever this isn’t possible, you can always try to ask to be reseated and hope for the best 🙂

      Thank you for your comment

  • Steen Hansen
    June 13, 2014

    Actually I had experinced that people being allowed to reseat in the first row WITHOUT paying the fee in a halfempty airplane.

    If you are two person’s flying in one of these airplanes with 3 seats left and 3 seats right, and are somewhat selfish (maybe we should be considering how we are treated as tall persons) you could consider reserve the two outside seats – example 1a and 1c. The seat in the middle are then often unsold and you got an emty seat in the middle to use for bags etc.

  • Frank Booth
    February 15, 2015

    This article totally strikes a nerve with me, especially the part about the use of exit seating for preferred customers. I’m 6 foot 7, 245 lbs and I have been on too many flights where I’ve seen old ladies and diminutive men sitting in exit aisle seats simply because they paid a little extra or are frequent flyers. I flew back from Denver last week and was thrilled (insert eye roll here) to be given a middle seat one row behind the exit aisle. As I took my seat I noticed that of the twelve exit aisle seats, 9 were occupied by women all well over the age of fifty. One was occupied by an elderly gentleman, one by a diminutive nerd that looked like he would have trouble bench pressing his laptop. The 12th occupant was a younger gentleman that looked fit enough. I put my faith in him and painfully leaned forward to tell him so as the stewardess issued instructions on what to do in case of emergency should this band of geriatrics that the airline had entrusted with the safety of the remaining passengers be pressed into service.
    As we taxied the guy sitting next to me grabbed a stewardess and as he jabbed a thumb in my direction and said, “This guy should be in an exit seat.” The stewardess looked at my folded up legs and said she would ask…..which she did. One of the little old ladies UNCROSSED HER LEGS to turn and look at me….(after we landed she needed help getting her carry-on out of overhead storage yet she was entrusted with moving a 50 pound airplane door) No takers. The stewardess kindly and loudly apologized that no one was willing to give up their seat and the two guys gave me a few good laughs poking fun at the occupants of the exit seats as we readied for take off…..”Can I fetch you an ottoman, ma’am?”
    Is some of my frustration sour grapes? You bet! But some of it is, I believe, a legitimate safety concern. A few passengers around me stated that rather than asking the occupants of the exit seats if THEY think they can handle the responsibilities that accompany sitting in those seats, airline personnel should ask the other 170 passengers if THEY trust those folks with doing the job. The people on this flight had their doubts.

  • Martin
    January 12, 2016

    Hello,
    please remove the false information about exit row seats not reclining (and the seats behind exit rows thus being a second best option), i.e. Strategy #2. This is simply not true.
    The seats just in front of an exit row usually don’t recline in order not to intrude into the exit row. If there are two exit rows one behind the other, the first row does not recline. But that’s not because of being an exit row, but because of being in front of an exit row!

    • Rued
      March 7, 2016

      Thanks for the comment – I’ve added a comment to #2 about this not applying to all airplanes.

  • Rand Iserman
    April 17, 2016

    Airlines can be very immune to accommodating tall people, as I have experienced over the years. I am 6′-8″ and have had to sit on the armrest because there was no room for my upper legs. The flight attendants did not want to disturb any of the ‘normal passengers’ (inferring that someone as abnormal as me should never get on her flight again). That was a BA flight, where they told everyone that there would be no cabin luggage available, and only approved luggage could be checked, leaving me to buy luggage in Heathrow just before the flight. On another flight, I was banned from the exit row and put in the window seat in the back of the plane because the lady in front of me objected to my knees being in her back when she fully reclined the seat. This was in Colombia, in a domestic flight to a small city.

  • Jerry
    April 21, 2016

    Hey,

    Being 6’6 and 318lb I definitely have some flying woes, including the walk down the isle to my seat and people make eye-contact with me as if to plead “please not by me!”. I have to admit flying is always frustrating, and I think that the wee-folk don’t understand the plight of us giants.

    I have found that if I ask for an upgrade before the flight (depending on airline) that I can usually pay 40-50 dollars and actually sit in first class if any are available, this is an amazing experience.

    Speaking of coping and using every cm you can steal, dress light! Wear thin clothes, even in the winter it’s worth it! I actually have clothing I travel in specifically so I can easily get through security speedily, and also so that I can stow my carry on and have the most legroom that I can. Also, sit by someone small who wont be as bothered by how much room your frame takes up.

  • harjot
    June 8, 2016

    hi there, i am 6,7 and 14 years old and we are going on a trip in December half way around the world and back. Business class costs 14,082 for me, my brother, and my dad, but first class costs 24,876. We are buying first class seats but i would like to you before we do that do first class seats help or are they just as uncomfortable as business class seats. If they are better then we will go with first class but if no then we will not. Please let me know so we can know and buy the tickets accordingly.
    Thanks!

    • Rued
      June 17, 2016

      Tall people would prefer the better options – pay a bit extra and get a nicer seat with more leg room and all. It depends on whether you can fit into a normal seat or not. If you can, the difference isn’t that big and I would go for the cheaper option.

  • Jens
    June 24, 2016

    Hi,

    There is many tricks as written here on this blog.

    To consideration:

    1. when the aeroplane is in international airspace the captain can hand you over to any authorities.
    2. when at destination your civil rights are protected and the captain has no longer control over your faith.

    My trick:
    I fake a bad stomach due to anxiety created by my legs being squashed and the pain is making an acute diarrhea which forces me to occupy the toilet for the duration of the flight. Diarrhea is not a serious enough cause for an emergency landing so you can bring your books and snack into the toilet and enjoy not only a leg room but your private cabin legally. The captain might be pissed off at your use of a perfectly legal right but who cares. Nevertheless there is always three bathrooms in a plane so nobody should really suffer.

    The captain has his instruments available, be creative with yours 🙂

    The toilet also has a sink that you can wash your hands and the staff will regularly pass you water andimodium that you if you want can flush down the fantastic seat your but rest on.

    Use your creativity 🙂

  • Joe Atwater
    September 10, 2016

    Let’s face it, the world is prejudice to tall people. I’m 6’4″ and quite familiar with being extremely uncomfortable on planes. I have a solution but doubt very much the airlines would agree. Why not have a sign by each bulkhead and emergency row seat just like they do with amusement park rides. “You have to be this tall (over 6 feet) to occupy these seats”. This at least would help some of us tall people. I always scowl at people who sit in the emergency row who are under 5 feet. Give us a break shorty!

    • Rued
      September 16, 2016

      That’s a great idea – how can we make it happen? 🙂 maybe pitch an airplane company and hear what their reaction is. It totally makes sense 🙂

    • Mike Connolly
      July 20, 2017

      An excellent idea. However if the airlines think they can grab an extra few bob from us and its not politically correct enough to warrant special attention for tall folks on plane the situation will continue to deteriorate. I was on a Fly Dubai flight these week and it has to be the smallest space to try and squeeze your legs into. Cabin supervisor was a tall guy and would allow me to move to free seats which had more room…Oh you’ll have to pay for those. In reality its too late Dude,

    • Barb L
      July 23, 2017

      Love This idea!! Here’s an idea start making a couple rows for taller passengers- geesh!

    • Amanda
      August 12, 2017

      I under 6 feet but my butt to thigh length is 23 1/2 inches. Incorporate the thickness of seat in pitch it’s cutting it close and if person in front me reclines high chance of a knee in there back. Not so worried on trip to my destination because it’s early morning flight however am worried about ppl wanting to sleep on return flight it is late night flight.

  • MarkN
    October 23, 2016

    I’m 6’3″(191m) and after reading the stories on this page I now consider myself lucky. Funny how every disability is catered for but putting a tall person in a sardine can is considered okay. I suppose it takes someone tall getting an injury to make them do something.

    • Rued
      November 9, 2016

      I couldn’t agree more – it’s like being tall is ‘so amazing’ that the problems that come with it is considered less important. I wouldn’t call it a disability, but it something for airlines to consider when choosing the ones to be seated in the exit rows and aisle seats.
      Thanks for commenting 🙂

      • steve
        May 3, 2017

        Airlines are blatantly discriminating against tall people.
        Why aren’t we more angry and militant about this?
        We tall people are exactly as ‘god’ made us – it isn’t a personal choice to be tall.
        Just the same as being
        It would never be tolerated if airlines imposed inferior physical conditions or hardships on passengers because they were born white/oriental/black/brown, etc, a male/female, gay/straight, etc, physically disabled/deaf, etc,
        In fact, in civilised countries, it would be against the law.
        Not only is it a dignity and equality issue, it’s also a safety issue.
        So why don’t we do something about it? Do you know if there is any organisation advocating on behalf of us to airlines?

  • Carl H.
    November 13, 2016

    I finally took a flight at the young age of 36. I’m 6’4″ and I flew cross country from Philly to Seattle, WA on Frontier. I paid extra to sit in the ‘extended legroom’ seats in the front of the plane. Definitely well worth the money! The friend that I visited out there flies alot and telling me how its plenty of room in the normal seats. She’s 5’6″. She also looked at me crazy when I told her I upgraded to those seats when I bought my tickets. Please, please, please if you can get the extra money together for one of those additional leg room seats if you can at any way afford it or select them. (I know if you book short notice you might not have the choice) It’s well worth it! It pushed the price of my tickets up $150-$200 and I grimaced and complained about it but after being on the play for the first leg (Philly to Denver) it was already worth it. It would have been less I could have gotten a non-stop flight but it couldn’t be helped. From what I have seen the seat upgrade will run you an average of $25-$45 extra per leg of your flight. (Frontier, from my experience, has a package called ‘The Works’ that allows you to pick any seat for no additional cost. It added to the ticket but choosing the seat al a carte would have cost more.)

    • Rued
      November 15, 2016

      That’s just awesome – a bit sad that we have to pay extra but very cool that the option is there 🙂 I try to book well in advance in order to be able to choose exit rows without any extra cost. Was it exit row seats you paid for ?

      • Smarter than you?
        June 5, 2017

        wow, I’m 6’4 and fly often. You people are insane for forking that out. Esp on such a little flight like that, 200$, amazing what people spend money on. Me, I suck it up, book early and choose an aisle, travel light, drink a lot of water so I’m constantly using the lab as well as drinking water, politely ask if I can switch if seated poorly, or take budget airlines, hope they don’t fill up and move around. My last trip was NYC FLL DEN, and one leg there was no one on flight, had a row to myself.

  • Theresa Voigt
    December 5, 2016

    Well, I’ve had it up to ying- yang with the airlines. My husband is 6’8″ tall, most of it in his legs. Flying is tortuous even when we spend extra money for more leg room.

    As far as I’m concerned, the airlines, all of them, have forced us to be uncomfortable unless you buy first lass tickets and that, to me, is discriminatory. What to do.

    I’m ready to fight the airlines, launch a class action suit on behalf of other very tall people but don’t know where to get started.

    There has to be a solution. I’m 5’9″ and avoid taking Air Canada Rouge flights because I find the seat space so uncomfortable. It really is outrageous that the airlines can get away with this.

    • steve
      May 3, 2017

      Hi Theresa
      I would be keen to join with a class action. Where are you based? Canada? I’m in Australia, but by nature this a worldwide problem.
      I think at the very least airlines should be obliged to disclose how much leg room you will have, when you purchase a ticket.
      In what other industry are you expected to pay for something without knowing what you are buying?
      So not only is a human rights and safety issue, it’s a consumer issue.
      We’re only asking for a level playing field – not special treatment.
      I don’t exactly know what are class action is (don’t think we have them in Australia), but I’m assuming it’s where a group of people get together for a legal case.
      Anyone else interested in joining this?

      • Glenn
        May 22, 2017

        Hi Steve, 6’6″ and just flew today from Hobart to Brisbane with a Melbourne stopover. I was at Hobart airport early to make sure I could get an exit row all the way and I did but when I was boarding my connecting flight I was bumped for a Virgin flight staff member who was no more than 5’4″. I’m in my 50’s and don’t bend as easily anymore so now in a lot of pain from one leg in the aisle constantly tripping other passengers and knocked by the food trolleys. I’m an ex-sportsman (rower) and I’m sure many sporting clubs would support a legal push by tall people to get the leg room needed and why should we pay for it, we are not handicapped. I have three sons 2x 6’5″ and one 6’8″ and we cannot sit together on a plane, we have all played competitive state or national sport and weigh 110kg to 120kg and all have wide shoulders but we are all fit and healthy (me a fair bit less now). I don’t want first class or business class, just a comfort level the same as every other passenger without having to prop up the airlines profit margins for being tall, fit and healthy. I am wanting to take this further as I travel extensively but today was ridiculous with absolutely no sympathy or help when I questioned why?

  • John Wallace
    January 9, 2017

    I’m 6′ 4″ and 300 Lbs. and I Fly from Ohio to the Philippines every year. I always wear compression socks and try to get up every hour or so to walk. of course there always seems to be turbulence when I have to use the restroom but I usually get to walk or stand throughout the flight. The biggest issue I seem to have is eating, the table folds out right to my stomach and makes it very difficult to hold the meal and eat. bottom line, I always seem to get thru it and still have a good time.

  • abby
    April 23, 2017

    poor 6’7″ hubby is on a tall man’s flight from hell as i write this…
    20 hours in a british airways economy seat…..as i said, the flight from hell….

  • Tom J.
    May 16, 2017

    I’m 6’6″ 300lbs and always try to get the extra length seat. I’ll pay a little extra but what helps me is I have a wife that’s 5’5″ and about 125lbs. She takes the window and I’ll sit in the middle and raise the armrest. I kind of have a seat and a half.

  • Kallai
    May 27, 2017

    I can’t really relate to this because I am 4’11, but my boyfriend is 6’5 and deals with this. I find that airlines should have seats that can accommodate to tall people and short people.

  • Robert
    July 2, 2017

    Recently, when flying long haul with Asiana I found that, from my economy window seat there was sufficient space between the seat in front and the aircraft wall next to it to extend my left leg right out down the gulley, leaving space to find a more comfortable position with my right one. It also meant the left leg was unaffected when the seat in front was reclined. I should also say that, overall, Asiana was pretty comfortable to travel with, even on the thirteen hour slog back to Heathrow.

    • Rued
      July 2, 2017

      Sounds like an alternative but good solution 🙂 we gotta be creative in optimizing the way we Tall sit in the limited space we’re given 🙂

  • alberto
    August 8, 2017

    Well… as a 6,6ft high (200cms) and traveling often in long haul flights I defenitely need to book flight companies that allow me to pre-book seats, even if I have to pay more for that and discarding some better flights options (better stopovers and times).
    I just can’t cope with long haul flights with me legs squeezed.

    I always dreamed about an internationa tall people flight association that could make some lobbying near the flight companies to get priority on getting emergency exit seats, but until now, there’s nothing available.

  • Mary
    September 11, 2017

    I have much sympathy for tall people flying on airplanes. My best friend’s (35 year old) son is 6’7″ so I always think of him when I see a tall person flying on a plane.
    Just a little advice from the short person that you’re flying next to:
    Ask permission to put your leg in their “area” before you do so. Be polite. (Humor works great with me.)
    I just flew cross country. I gave up my aisle seat to the tall guy. (I get an aisle seat because of a ridiculously small bladder.) He seemed to assume that it was my duty to switch with him. (Don’t do that.) Then he proceeded to manspread. He actually had his right foot/leg in the area where my feet and backpack were. And he promptly fell asleep for the duration of the flight. (So I gave up my seat and my freedom to pee and got not a word in return.)
    Yes, airplanes suck, but don’t take it out on me!

  • Thijs
    September 30, 2017

    Hi, at 6.6 ft ( 2,0 m) I’ve had my share of nightmare flights. What I really cannot stand is that it’s hard to find and get any sympathy for my problem. Whenever I see tiny people sitting in exit row seats I feel the urge to walk up to them and ask them directly if they want to switch. Thinking this will lead to an all out legroom war, I usually say nothing. Another thing is people reclining their seats on short flights. Hello, wake up, can’t you see you’re using up my last couple of cm.s ? Usually I’ll push back or press my knees into their seat to make them understand that reclining is not a good idea. And always that ‘We hope you had a good flight’ message at the end.

  • Eric
    November 1, 2017

    Airlines are being forced to accommodate obese people even though in many cases their obesity is the result of overeating (a personal choice). The also accommodate people with all sorts of disabilities. So I suggest tall people try having their Dr fill out the same form used by disabled and obese people and requesting special seating. If enough of us started doing this, perhaps airlines would start to wake up to the fact that you can not put a 3 foot leg into a 2 foot space.

  • […] 3 and I hope he’ll grow as tall as me. I have found that given the few downsides (among them airline seats) most effects of being tall are in fact upsidesand despite popular belief, it is not about […]

  • […] planes with too little leg room, the low shower heads are probably among the most frequent #tallpeopleproblems on Instagram.Being […]

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.