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We probably all know Ryanair as a fee-focused airline that sells you cheap tickets but then often looks for ways to nickel-and-dime you (i.e. through $96 boarding pass printing fees). That’s been true for most of the 30-plus year history of Europe’s largest low-fare airline, but over the last few years, Ryanair has been striving to be more customer friendly through its “Always Getting Better” program.
Most recently, it added a 60-day check-in window so you’ve got plenty of time to print your boarding pass and avoid the current €15 / £15 printing fee. The difference is so stark that The Points Guy himself has gone from calling Ryanair the “worst airline in the world” to raving about the reasons he loved his recent experience on it.
Still, we weren’t prepared for what we just learned. As part of Ryanair’s celebration for passing the 1-billion passenger mark, the airline announced that its forthcoming 110 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft will be fitted with Zodiac slimline seats with 31 inches of seat pitch.
31 inches between seats is the current de facto standard for economy, with low-cost airlines like Spirit Airlines bottoming out at 28 inches and top-notch international airlines like Japan Airlines offering 34 inches. And now slimline seats, featuring thinner backs, are allowing legacy US-based airlines to flirt with Spirit-like seat pitches. Which is where the surprise is: American Airlines will soon offer less legroom than Ryanair.
Like Ryanair, American is installing slimline seats on its 737 MAX, the first of which just rolled off the assembly line. However, AA isn’t planning on being generous with legroom on these aircraft. The biggest airline in the world by passengers carried originally announced it would install seats with 29 inches of pitch in some rows of coach, but backtracked after public outcry, promising 30 inches of pitch throughout economy. Even after making this concession, American Airlines will still have less legroom on its 737 MAX aircraft than low-cost Ryanair.
American isn’t the only legacy airline that will be beat by Ryanair’s new and relatively generous pitch. Ever fond of comparative, and aggressive, advertising calling out competitors by name, it says it will have “more legroom than British Airways and Lufthansa economy seats.” Ryanair’s 31 inches also beat low-cost rival Norwegian’s 29-30 inches of pitch. Across the Atlantic, Southwest’s 32 inches of pitch will provide the most legroom of the bunch.
But low-cost European travelers will have to wait for the new seats: Ryanair will begin receiving the first of its 110 Boeing 737 MAX orders in 2019. Right now, they have to make do with 30 inches, the standard throughout Ryanair’s vast fleet of hundreds of 737-800s.
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