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Transcontinental Comparison: Economy Seats

by on March 10, 2014 · 14 comments

in Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United, US Airways, Virgin America

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Recent mileage program devaluations and restrictions on elite status upgrades like those on Delta will make it harder than ever to sit in the front of the plane, so it’s worth your while to know what each airline offers in economy.

Several airlines offer economy sections with more legroom and recline (and even priority boarding privileges in some cases), such as American Airlines’ Main Cabin Extra, Delta’s Economy Comfort, JetBlue’s Even More Space, United’s Economy Plus and Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select. Our post, Top 10 Ways to Get a Better Economy Seat, explores a variety of ways to score these upgrades or just preferred economy seats, which include asking nicely (because that never hurts), getting someone with elite status to call on your behalf, and setting up an Expert Flyer seat alert. However, just in case you do get stuck in the way, way back, here’s what you can expect.

The Statistics

We’ve evaluated economy seats on the most common planes used  for transcontinental flights by the major carriers operating transcontinental routes, rounding up the following criteria:

Plane model
Configuration of the cabin (e.g., 3 x 3)
Seat pitch and width (e.g., 32″/17″)
Seat recline
Economy upgrade options
Entertainment options
WiFi availability
Power options
Food service

Here’s what we found out. There are a lot of numbers here, and there are ranges of seat pitch/width, etc., even on the same aircraft as airlines revamp old products or incorporate fleets from mergers, so if you have any notes to add please feel free to share in the comments.

ALASKA AIRLINES
Roundtrip transcontinental service is offered between DCA and BOS to LAX/PDX/SEA, SEA-PHL, and SEA-EWR among other itineraries.

Alaska Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 737-900
3 x 3
32″/17″
Portable media players can be reserved online for $10; these have 7″ touch-screens, 18 hours of battery life and built-in WiFi
WiFi available from $4.95
Power at some seats on some planes  - but by the end of 2014, there will be USB ports/power outlets at all seats. Meals and snacks available for purchase.

Alaska Airlines' economy seats on their new 737-900s

Alaska Airlines’ economy seats on their new 737-900s

AMERICAN AIRLINES
Take a look at our post, Transcontinental Series: American, for a complete picture of America’s transcontinental on-board experience. Note that the new A321 for the LAX-JFK round-trip was just introduced in January and it just launched on the SFO-JFK route as well. American recently devalued their economy Choice Fares options; Choice Fares bundle benefits like priority boarding and free checked bags with perks like bonus mileage and waived ticket change fees.

On all American Airlines transcontinental flights, there is no complimentary meal service in Economy, but sandwiches and snacks are available for purchase. WiFi is also available for purchase on all of these flights, from $4.95.

Main Cabin Extra seating (MCE), which provides 4 to 6 inches of extra legroom and priority boarding privileges, is available on some flights (see listings below) and cost between $9-$200, depending on flight time. The following have have complimentary access to MCE seating: Dividend Miles Preferred members, AAdvantage Platinum and Executive Platinum members, equivalent Oneworld members, and customers who purchase a full-fare seat. Through March 17, AAdvantage Gold Members also have complimentary access to these seats; from March 18 on, AAdvantage Gold members, oneworld Ruby members and Dividend Miles Silver Preferred members can either purchase MCE seating at 50% off or access it on a complimentary basis, pending availability, within 24 hours of departure.

Economy seats on America's new A321

Economy seats on America’s new A321

American A321
(JFK-LAX)
3 x 3
31-32″/18″ E
35-37″/18″ MCE
MCE in the first 6 rows of Economy
Seat-back TV with 8.9″ HD-capable touch screen and complimentary movies and TV on demand
AC/USB at every seat

Economy seat-backs on America's new A321s

Economy seat-backs on America’s new A321

American Boeing 737-800 [738]
(JFK-LAX, MIA-LAX, BOS-LAX)
3 x 3
31″/17.2″
35-37″/17.2″ MCE
MCE in the first 8 rows of Economy
20″ LCD overhead monitors
AC power at every seat

Economy headrest on America's 738

Economy headrest on America’s 738

American Boeing 757-200 [752]
(MIA-LAX, BOS-LAX)
3 x 3
31-32″/17.2″
35-37″/17.2″ MCE
MCE in the first 9 rows of Economy; bulkhead row is a 2 x 2
20″ LCD overhead monitors
No in-flight power

American Boeing 767-200 [762]
(JFK-LAX)
2 x 3 x 2
31-32″/17.8″
No MCE seating
Overhead monitors
DC power at some seats

American Boeing 767-300 [763]
(JFK-SFO)
2 x 3 x 2
31″/17.2″
35-37″/17.2″ MCE
MCE in the first 3 rows of Economy
Overhead LCD monitors
DC power at all MCE seats

American's 777-200 really crams them in at 2 x 5 x 2.

American’s 777-200 really crams them in at 2 x 5 x 2.

American Boeing 777-200 [777]
(MIA-LAX)
2 x 5 x 2
31-32″/18-18.5″
No MCE seating
Seat-back TV with with 6.1″ HD-capable touch screen and complimentary movies and TV on demand
DC power at some seats

DELTA
Check out our post, Transcontinental Series: Delta, for a complete picture of Delta’s transcontinental on-board experience. Be sure to familiarize yourself with how Delta’s recent devaluations may affect your next booking on Delta – and know that I’m personally dumping my Medallion membership in SkyMiles.

In addition to Economy seating, Delta offers an Economy Comfort class (EC), featuring seats with up to 4 extra inches of legroom, Zone 1 boarding, and for routes between JFK and SFO or LAX, 50% more recline and complimentary alcoholic beverages. Complimentary access to Economy Comfort seating is offered to: Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion members (and up to eight companions), as well as Y, B and M fare customers.  Silver Medallion members may request complimentary access at check-in, and are otherwise offered a 50% discount. Full-fare customers may purchase these seats, pending availability, anytime between booking and check-in; fees range between $9 to upwards of $200 per flight.

Delta Boeing 767-300 [76Z]
(JFK-LAX)
2 x 3 x 2
31-32″/17.9″
35″/17.9″ EC
EC is in the bulkhead and first 5 rows
Seat-back TV with Delta on Demand; featured movies cost $6 apiece
AC power in rows 17-26
WiFi available from $12
Meals and snacks for purchase

Delta Boeing 757-200 [757]
(JFK-LAX, MIA-LAX)
3 x 3
31-33″/17.2″
34-35″/17.2″ EC
EC in the first 4 rows of Economy
Overhead monitors
AC power in rows 17-26
WiFi available from $12
Complimentary snack may be offered, but there are also meals and snacks for purchase

Main cabin of Delta's 757

Main cabin of Delta’s 757

Delta Boeing 737-800 [73H]
(EWR-SEA)
3 x 3
31-32″/17.2″
34″/17.2″ EC
EC in the first 3 rows of Economy
Seat-back TV with Delta on Demand; featured movies cost $6 apiece
AC power at every seat
WiFi available from $12
Complimentary snack may be offered, but there are also meals and snacks for purchase

Economy seats on Delta's 73H

Economy seats on Delta’s 73H

JETBLUE
Check out our post, Transcontinental Series: JetBlue, for a complete picture of JetBlue’s transcontinental on-board experience, which won USAToday’s reader poll for Best Economy Flight Experience.

Transcontinental flights on JetBlue feature seat-back TVs with 6.8″ LCD screens, DirecTV and XM Satellite Radio, as well as movies for $5 apiece. Until June 2014, high-bandwith WiFi costs $9 and basic WiFi is free; prices for basic WiFi thereafter have not yet been announced. Snacks are complimentary, but additional snacks and meal boxes are available for purchase.

Even More Space seats (EMS) are Economy seats with 38″ of legroom and priority boarding, either at the front of the plane or in exit rows. For all JetBlue customers, EMS seats cost between $10 and $99 per flight.

JetBlue A320
3 x 3
34″/17.8″
38″/17.8″ EMS
EMS in the first 5 rows and exit rows of Economy
AC power available on select flights at Even More Space seats

By the second quarter of 2014, LAX-JFK and SFO-JFK will use:

Economy on jetBlue's A321

Economy on JetBlue’s A321

JetBlue A321
3 x 3
33″/18″
37-41″/18″ EMS
EMS in the first 4 rows and exit rows of Economy
110V power/USB ports at every seat
WiFi available (see above)

UNITED AIRLINES
Check out our Transcontinental Series: United  for a complete picture of United’s on-board experience. Note that last year United started reconfiguring entire Boeing 757 p.s. fleet, which serves their JFK-LAX/SFO routes.

On United’s A319 and A320, snacks and meals are available for purchase, and WiFi will be available by the end of 2014. On United’s transcontinental 757 p.s. flights, a complimentary hot sandwich or cold breakfast is served, as well as a snack.

In addition to Economy, United offers an Economy Plus (EP) seats. These are standard Economy seats with 5 inches of additional legroom. Last year, United re-introduced annual subscriptions to Economy Plus seating starting at $499; otherwise, access is available on a per-flight basis. Complimentary access to Economy Plus is available to: Premier Platinum members and higher (for themselves and up to eight companions) and Premier Gold members (for themselves and one companion). Upon check-in, Premier Silver members and one companion will also be offered complimentary access to Economy Plus (pending availability). Other MileagePlus members (only those with a MileagePlus account number) may purchase these seats anytime between booking and check-in for fees that vary between $9 and $215 .

United A319
(LAX-EWR)
3 x 3
31″/18″ with a 4″ recline
35″/18″ with a 5″ recline EP
EP in the first 7 rows of Economy; first exit row is a 2 x 2
Overhead monitors with LCD screens
No in-flight power

United A320
(LAX-JFK, LAX-EWR, SFO-EWR)
3 x 3
31″/18″ with a 4″ recline
36″/18″ with a 5″ recline EP
EP in the first 6 rows of Economy
Overhead monitors with LCD screens

The main cabin of United's A320

The main cabin of United’s A320

United Boeing 737-800
(LAX-EWR, SFO-EWR)
3 x 3
31″/17.2″ with a 3″ recline
37″/17.3″ with a 5″ recline EP
EP in the first 8 rows of Economy
Overhead monitors are being phased out
85% of these planes now have seat-back TVs with DirecTV for $7.99
AC power ports shared between seats

United Boeing 737-900
(LAX-EWR, SFO-EWR)
3 x 3
31″/17.3″ with a 3″ recline
35″/17.3″ with a 5″ recline EP
EP in the first 9 rows of Economy; first row is a half-row beside the lavatory
Seat-back TVs with DIRECTTV for $7.99
AC power ports shared between seats

New Economy seats on United's 737 planes

New Economy seats on United’s 737 planes

United Boeing 757-200 PS
(LAX-JFK, LAX-EWR, SFO-JFK)
3 x 3
31″/17″ with a 5″ recline
31″/17″ with a 5″ recline EP
EP in rows 21-27
(All C,D and E seats in Economy have reduced underseat legroom and storage)
Seat-back TVs with 9″ screen featuring complimentary on-demand entertainment
USB and standard 110v power outlets accessible from every seat
WiFi available for a fee

United Boeing 757-300
(LAX-JFK, LAX-EWR, SFO-JFK)
3 x 3
31″/17.2″ with a 5″ recline
35″/17.2″ with a 3″ recline EP
EP in the first 7 rows of Economy; first row is a half-row beside the lavatory and galley
Seat-back TVs with DIRECTTV for $7.99
AC power ports shared between rows 7-21 and 33

Economy seats on a United 757-200

Economy seating on a United 757-200

US AIRWAYS
On March 31, 2014, US Airways will officially join Oneworld; if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to book Star Alliance award travel with your Dividend Miles.

Be aware that US Airways has discontinued in-flight entertainment on all but its Hawaii and international flights, but WiFi is available on all of its transcontinental flights, starting from $4.95. On their new A319s, A320s and A321s, there is no in-flight power; on older versions of these planes, however, there are two AC ports for every three seats in coach. On all these flights, meals and snacks are available for purchase.

Choice seats, which have the same legroom as US Airways’ coach seats, are set toward the front of the plane and allow priority boarding, serving and disembarking. Those with Dividend Miles Preferred status and above have complimentary access to Preferred seats like those on aisles and windows, while all other customers may purchase them either at the time of booking, during check-in, or any time in-between for fees that range from $5 to $99 per flight.

US Airways A319
(JFK-LAX)
3 x 3
31″/18″

US Airways A320
(JFK-PHX, LAX-CLT, SEA-CLT)
3 x 3
31″/18″

US Airways A321
(JFK-LAX, LAX-PHL, EWR-PHX)
3 x 3 (rows 9 and 22 are 2 x 2 exit rows)
32″/18″

US Airways Economy Class seats

US Airways typically has leather seats with 31 inches of pitch in economy (photo by airreview.com)

VIRGIN AMERICA
Check out Transcontinental Series: Virgin America for a complete picture of VA’s on-board experience. On Virgin America transcontinental flights, each economy seat has a 9″ seat-back screen with Red, the airline’s in-flight entertainment system with both free and pay-per-view choices. Free entertainment includes games, 3,000 MP3s and Google Maps, while TV shows start at $2 apiece and 25 different movies are available for $8 apiece.

There are two AC ports for every three seats, and USB and ethernet ports at every seat. Food for purchase and WiFi (starting at $4.95) are available on all flights.

Main Cabin Select seats (MCS) offer up to 6 inches of extra legroom, complimentary food and drinks, free entertainment, dedicated luggage space, and priority boarding/bag-checking privileges. These seats may be purchased within 24 hours of departure, and cost approximately $150 extra for each leg of your transcontinental flight.

Virgin also offers Main Cabin Express seats close to the front of the main cabin cabin, and which offer priority boarding. Red Elevate members have complimentary access to them upon check-in, while Silver and Gold Elevate members have complimentary access to them upon booking. For all other customers, it costs $30.

Virgin America A319
(LAX-PHL)
3 x 3
32″/17″
38″/19.7″ MCS
MCS in rows 3 and 8

Main Cabin Select.

Main Cabin Select.

Virgin America A320
(LAX-JFK, LAX-EWR, LAX-IAD, LAX-BOS, LAX-MCO, LAX-FLL)
3 x 3
32″/17.7″
38″/19.7″ MCS
MCS in rows 3 and 10

Virgin America's Economy seating comes with seat-back screens and mood lighting

Virgin America’s Economy seating comes with seat-back screens and mood lighting

There are some great tools you can use to preview your Economy seats, like Seat Guru and Routehappy. I was able to sit down with the founders of Routehappy at the Chicago Seminars, where they went over the resources travelers can find on their site. The site rates flights according to several criteria including aircraft type, seats, entertainment, electric plugs, WiFi and on-time performance. The user-generated, more subjective criteria include crew service, food quality, the lounge experience and more. All are combined into the overall rating, though readers can search by the criteria they most care about.

And remember: before you book your next transcontinental flight, check out Top 10 Ways to Get a Better Economy Seat!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • tminus5

    US Airways typically has 31″-wide leather seats in economy (photo by airreview.com)

    Yeah right!

  • tminus5

    “AAdvantage Executive and Executive Platinum members” should be Plat and EP.

  • Andrew L

    Thanks for the post. You can add that Delta has really nice wraps free for Econ Comfort pax.

  • PHLF

    USAirways elites don’t have complimentary access to Choice seats. There are four “types” of economy (all of which are the same, with the exception of some exit row seats, but vary as to location on aircraft): (1) regular coach; (2) choice seats – which are as described in article just not free to elites; (3) preferred seats – which are located near choice seats, and include the bulk heads, but are only available to preferreds; and (4) exit rows – which typically have more leg room but beware as some of the double-exit rows do not have more leg room in the rear row.

  • William

    Just flew SAN/IAD on UA 320 version 3 with the new slim rotten new seats and no AV at all. I guess to cram 12 extra seats into the plane they have to forgo passenger comforts.

  • Jesse L.

    On Virgin America, you’re confusing Main Cabin Select and Main Cabin Express. Main Cabin Express seats are $30 extra and are towards the front of the cabin and have priority security/boarding, but are regular Main Cabin seats in terms of pitch and amenities.

    Main Cabin Select has more pitch, free food, entertainment, etc., and starts at $150 more than Main Cabin.

    Main Cabin Express is complimentary for Elevate Silver/Gold upon booking and for Red upon check-in. Anyone can purchase “discounted” Main Cabin Select upon checking in, but Elevate Silver/Gold can be upgraded to MCS for free if there’s space available.

  • thepointsguy

    Typo – meant pitch, thanks for catching.

  • thepointsguy

    Thanks for catching.

  • thepointsguy

    Thanks for catching that, we clarified.

  • joeypore

    AA just started flying it’s new 737s as well. Not sure what routes they’ll be on, but I just flew on one from BNA > LAX, and it was pretty nice. The seats look exactly like the ones on the airbus a319 / a321 in Y, and the first seats are similar to the a319. Seatback monitors in every seat, and power outlets, mood lighting, etc. Perhaps these will be rolled out soon on the 737 flights you mentioned above?

  • Andrew Hobbs

    This article is screaming for a table to compare seat dimensions and seating layouts

  • Turnip Truck

    You’ve missed out the very best economy transcon, the Cathay Pacific flight from JFK to YVR. Complimentary food and drinks and access to the massive CX in-flight entertainment system.

  • Seth

    Thanks TPG for this comment and others. I appreciate you reading your bloggers’ comments – not all blogger do that.

  • Louie

    Actually, for DL transcontinental flights (JFK-LAX, JFK-SEA, JFK-SFO), on demand movies are free in EC. In addition, passengers in EC receive complimentary meals and wine/beer. The meals are various wraps from Luvo Inc.

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