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Best Airlines To Fly Coach Domestically

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Though most people would rather fly business or first class given the chance, it’s not always possible to snag a seat at the front of the plane. So we asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to give us a quick rundown and ranking of the economy seats you’ll likely be flying domestically these days including which are roomy, which are cramped, and what other amenities will affect your coach flying experience.

757-200_Pantallas_Tactiles_Delta
Sometimes you can’t escape coach, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer.

My friends joke all the time that I must have forgotten what it is like flying coach given that I have been able to use my miles to fly around the world (literally) in business and first class. What they don’t seem to realize is that I actually fly economy more than anything else – especially on short-haul domestic flights.

That does not mean I’m not interested in being comfortable on those flights, though. When deciding which routes to fly on which airlines, I always look at the aircraft operating them, the airline policies on things like checked bags, and what the entertainment and WiFi options are. So when my elite upgrades or award tickets and I’m stuck turning right, at least I know I’ll be as comfortable as possible.

With that in mind, I took a look at the current economy seating products on domestic short-haul routes with the help of this handy Seat Guru guide and Gogo’s participating airline information. Looking at metrics like average seat size and entertainment options, as well as the policies of each airline, I have created a quick ranking of the best products out there.

Keep in mind, many of the major airlines including American, Delta and United operate a huge range of aircraft, and even many of the same aircraft vary in age, so when booking it is always worth looking at the legend icons that describe a flight’s amenities. However, criteria like seat size and entertainment options are fairly easy to generalize here.

If you have elite status with a particular airline, pay full-fare economy, live in a hub city, or find that you mostly fly on a set of routes where flying a single carrier makes sense, the calculus will be different for you. But for a benchmark that does not take elite status or specific hubs into account, I hope that these are useful standard.

Have your own rankings? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

The Quick Rankings

Here they are – and no surprise, the airlines that concentrate most on their economy offerings and less on their business or first class cabins have come out on top, while some of the legacies could learn a thing or two about connectivity and entertainment options and little perks.

1. JetBlue: Among the most spacious seats, a variety of free snacks and drinks, and free high-speed WiFi.

2. Southwest: Decent seats, no hidden fees, ability to change/cancel reservations without penalty, free checked bags.

3. Virgin America: Innovative entertainment system and meal/beverage service.

4. Delta: New Studio streaming entertainment system and fleetwide WiFi.

5. Air Canada: Free entertainment, need we say more?

6. American: Upping their game with huge new aircraft orders.

7. Alaska: This is the little airline that could, with decent seats, WiFi and meal options.

8. Hawaiian: Their offerings are limited, but they make those Hawaii flights comfortable with larger-than-usual seats.

9. United: Time to get a handle on entertainment and WiFi, United!

10. US Airways: No in-flight entertainment. What’s the deal with that? Still, WiFi is widely available.

11. Frontier: Not too impressive a product and lots of hidden fees.

12. Spirit: Tiny seats and they still nickel-and-dime you for everything.

Domestic Economy Comparison Table

Seat Pitch Seat Width WiFi Availability Entertainment Meals/Beverage Checked Bag
Air Canada 29-32 17-18 On A319’s Free on-demand seatback For purchase $25
Alaska 32 17 On most 737’s For purchase For purchase $25
American 30-31 17.2-18 Rapidly expanding Good on new planes For purchase $25
Delta 30-31 17.2-18.25 All domestic flights New Studio streaming system For purchase $25
Frontier 30-31 17-18 No Seatback TV For purchase $20-$25
Hawaiian 31-32 18 No For purchase Some free $25
JetBlue 30-33 17.8-18.25 Free FlyFi on select flights Free live TV, movies for purchase Some free $0
Southwest 31-33 17-17.75 Widely available Free live TV, movies for purchase For purchase $0
Spirit 28 17.75 No None For purchase $21-$31
United 30-32 17-18.2 Spotty Varies widely, free live TV on new system For purchase $25
US Airways 31-32 17-18 Most planes None For purchase $25
Virgin America 32 17.7 All planes Free live TV, shows and movies for purchase For purchase $25

The Airlines

Here is the detailed information on each airline.

Air Canada's in-flight entertainment is top-notch.
Air Canada’s in-flight entertainment is top-notch.

Air Canada

Seat Pitch: 29-32 inches
Seat Width: 17-18 inches
Entertainment: Free on-demand TV and movies on A319, A320, A321 and most Embraers. Varies on others.
WiFi: On A319’s, coming to A320, A321 and E-190.
Checked bags: CAD$25 each for first and second bags on Canadian flights, $25 for first bag and $35 for second on flights to/from the US.
Food/Beverage:
Best aircraft to fly: A319 or E-190
Standout quality: Free entertainment

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

Alaska

Seat Pitch: Almost all 32 inches
Seat Width: 17 inches
Entertainment: Handheld tablets with movies/TV/games for $8-$10 per flight. The airline is also adding streaming content via Gogo to its 737’s.
WiFi: Available for purchase over land on all the airline’s B737-400 (except 4), 700, 800 and 900 aircraft
Checked bags: $25 each for first and second checked bags.
Food/Beverage: Free non-alcoholic beverages, snacks/meals available for purchase onboard.
Best aircraft to fly: 737-900
Standout quality: Seat size on newer planes.

Inside the American Airlines A321.
American’s new coach seats – like these aboard the A321 transcontinental aircraft are a dramatic improvement on its older models.

American

Seat Pitch: 30-31 inches
Seat Width: 17.2-18
Entertainment: Seatback On-Demand on A319, A321, some 737’s. Overhead on others. None on Embraers and Bombardiers.
WiFi: Available for purchase on A321, A320, A319, B737-800, MD80, E190, E170 some 757’s
Checked bags: $25 for first checked bag, $35 for second.
Food/Beverage: Free non-alcoholic beverage. Snacks and meals available for purchase.
Best aircraft to fly: A321, A319 new B737-800’s.
Standout quality: New connectivity and entertainment on newer planes.

One of Delta's major selling points? Fleetwide WiFi.
One of Delta’s major selling points? Fleetwide WiFi.

Delta

Seat Pitch: 30-31 inches
Seat Width: 17.2-18.25 inches
Entertainment: Varies widely. Seatback On-Demand on 737’s, 767’s. Overhead on 757’s. None on Bombardiers, Embraers and MD’s. Delta has introduced it’s “Studio” system of free on-demand streaming entertainment for passengers to play on personal devices. It will also install seatback monitors on over 140 domestic aircraft and has plans to install it on 56 757-200’s, 43 737-800’s and 57 A319’s by the ned of 2016.
WiFi: Available for pay on almost every single domestic flight.
Checked bags: $25 for first bag, $35 for second.
Food/Beverage: Small complimentary snack like nuts or pretzels and non-alcoholic beverages. Flights longer than 900 miles snacks/meals available for purchase.
Best aircraft to fly: Embraers, MD’s and 767-300.
Standout quality: Availbility of WiFi and free streaming entertainment via Delta Studio.

The animals on the tail of Frontier planes are a big hit with kids.
Better pay for those checked bags ahead of time on Frontier!

Frontier

Seat Pitch: 30-31
Seat Width: 17-18
Entertainment: Seatback TV on A319, A320. None on other aircraft.
WiFi: No.
Checked bags: $20 for first bag at online check-in, $25 at airport. $30 for second bag.
Food/Beverage: Drinks (including non-alcoholic beverages) available for purchase starting at $2. Snacks from $3.
Best aircraft to fly: A319 or A320.
Standout feature: Newer aircraft.

hawaiian-airlines-osaka
Hawaiian gets high marks for decent-size seats and meal service on longer flights.

Hawaiian Airlines

Seat Pitch: 31-32 inches
Seat Width: 18 inches
Entertainment: Seatback On-Demand on A330’s, overhead on 767’s, none on 717’s, movies for $7.99 each on A330’s. Tablets for rent from $15-$17 on 767’s.
WiFi: No.
Checked bags: $25 first bag, $35 second bag.
Food/Beverage: Meal service and complimentary non-alcoholic drinks on flights to/from North America.
Best aircraft to fly: A330.
Standout feature: Spacious seats on A330’s.

Economy on jetBlue's A321.
Economy on jetBlue’s A321.

 

JetBlue

Seat Pitch: 30-33 inches
Seat Width: 17.8-18.25 inches
Entertainment: On-demand seatback TV’s on all flights.
WiFi: Free broadband Fly-Fi on 72 A320’s, 10 A321’s. Find daily schedule here.
Checked bags: First bag free, $50 second bag.
Food/Beverage: Complimentary chips, cookies and crackers as well as non-alcoholic beverages. Snack boxes and meals available for purchase for $4-12.
Best aircraft to fly: A320 for the free Fly-Fi.
Standout feature: Free Fly-Fi, comparatively spacious seats.

Southwest boasts some of the roomiest seats.
Southwest boasts some of the roomiest seats.

Southwest

Seat Pitch: 31-33 inches.
Seat Width: 17-17.75 inches
Entertainment: Free live TV from Dish on your own device, $5 per movie.
WiFi: Row44 satellite WiFi available on 430 planes. All-day access for $8 per device.
Checked bags: Two free checked bags.
Food/Beverage: Complimentary peanuts or pretzels and non-alcoholic beverages.
Best aircraft to fly: 737-300.
Standout feature: Free checked bags.

Spirit will charge you for everything from carry-on bags to water.
Spirit will charge you for everything from carry-on bags to water.

Spirit

Seat Pitch: 28 inches.
Seat Width: 17.75 inches
Entertainment:
WiFi: No
Checked bags: $21 for first bag during booking, $31 for second. $31/$41 at airport. $26-$36 for carry on bags.
Food/Beverage: For pay starting at $1-15
Best aircraft to fly: Factors are same.
Standout feature: Ancillary fees – in a bad way!

The main cabin of United's A320.
The main cabin of United’s A320.

United

Seat Pitch: 30-32 inches.
Seat Width: 17-18.2 inches.
Entertainment: Varies widely. Overhead TV’s on many A319 and A320’s and some 757-200 and 757-300’s and 737-800’s. On-Demand seatback entertainment on some 737-800’s and 757-200’s. None on Bombardiers and Embraers. Live TV, On-Demand and/or looped options available for $5.99-$7.99 depending on length of flight.
WiFi: Varies greatly, but check updates here. Available on all A319 and A320’s, some 757’s and 737=800’s.
Checked bags: $25 first bag, $35 second bag.
Food/Beverage: Free small snack like pretzels and complimentary non-alcoholic beverage. Snacks/meals available for purchase.
Best aircraft to fly: 757-200 p.s. because of premium entertainment and WiFi access.
Standout feature: None.

Want to eat on US Airways? Prepare to pay.
Want to eat on US Airways? Prepare to pay.

US Airways

Seat Pitch: 31-32 inches.
Seat Width: 17-18 inches.
Entertainment: No entertainment on domestic flights.
WiFi: WiFi available on almost whole domestic fleet including A321, A320, A318, B737-800, MD80, E-190, E170.
Checked bags: $25 first bag, $25 second bag.
Food/Beverage: Free non-alcoholic beverages and small snack. Meals and snacks available for purchase.
Best aircraft to fly: A320 or A321 for largest seats.
Standout feature: Wide availability of WiFi.

If you frequently enjoy the mood lighting onboard Virgin America, one of these cards absolutely should be in your wallet.
Virgin America gets high marks for its cool cabins and great entertainment system.

Virgin America

Seat Pitch: 32 inches.
Seat Width: 17.7 inches.
Entertainment: Seatback On-Demand RED system with live TV for free and premium TV and movies for purchase.
WiFi: Yes on all flights.
Checked bags: $25 each for first and second checked bag.
Food/Beverage: On-demand ordering. Complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. Snacks and meals available for purchase.
Best aircraft to fly: There are only two – the A319 and A320 with no differences.
Standout feature: Great entertainment system, on-demand ordering keeps aisles free.

What’s your favorite airline when it comes to flying coach domestically? Feel free to share below.

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