Each airline has a mixed fleet of old and new planes and different configurations and products even within the same aircraft type. That said, you can easily find out your aircraft model and its layout before booking, including exact size specs about first-, business-, and economy-class seats, onboard entertainment, and power outlets. In theory, you can set your expectations for your in-flight experience and make sure you get those amenities that are advertised. Here’s how.
Download an airplane seat app
There are plenty of apps to choose from when it comes to analyzing airline seats, but old-school Seat Guru is our favorite—consider it your foundation for setting in-flight expectations and getting the best seat. The app maintains a full catalogue of airline seating charts for various aircrafts, with detailed plane layouts. You can search by airline, aircraft, or even a specific flight number to get the full details of your plane for your intended date of travel. Seat Guru details a color-coded seat map, where, much like a traffic light system, red means avoid, yellow means caution, and green means book it. You’ll also get details about seat size (width and pitch), the presence/absence of in-seat entertainment, power outlets, and tips specific to your airplane.
Know your aircraft model
Even in Emirates first class, I would never run into Jennifer Aniston coming out of the shower on my flight from Boston to Dubai. Why? Because this amenity is exclusive to select Emirates Airbus 380s, which are used on routes between Dubai and New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco and NOT on their Boeing 777-200s that fly between Dubai and Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Newark, Orlando, or Seattle. Point being: Before forking out big bucks for a premium-class seat in anticipation of experiencing a specific amenity, check the airlines’ websites to see which aircraft they are using for which routes. They will explicitly state which aircraft models and routes feature glossy products like onboard shower, onboard bar, and private suites.
Size up your seat
There are two key words to understanding the actual size of an airplane seat: width and pitch (both measured in inches). Width, as you’d imagine, is how wide the seat is. For airplane seats, this is measured as the distance between armrests. Pitch is the distance indicating legroom—basically how much space is between your seat and the seat in front of you. The standard pitch of an Airbus A320 in economy class on JetBlue, for instance, is 34 inches while on United it’s only 30 inches. Both offer a width between 17 and 18 inches. Learning the pitch and width of seats beforehand can help you choose between airlines and aircrafts for specific routes.
Understand that business- and first-class seats vary greatly
In general, there are four types of business- or first-class seats: suites (private enclaves with larger, flatbed seats), flatbed seats (which lie completely horizontal), lie-flat seats (which offer 180 degrees of incline but at an upward angle), and recliner seats. You’ll want at least a lie-flat seat for a long-haul flight. While the terminology can get confusing—what one airline considers business, the other considers first—the truth lies in the pitch and width. For long distances, don’t settle for a pitch less than 60 inches and a width less than 20 inches.
Decide if an enhanced economy seat is really worth it
The enhanced economy–class seat—guised under terms like “main cabin extra,” “economy comfort,” “economy plus,” and “premium economy”—is typically a standard economy seat with a few extra inches of pitch (usually around 3 inches more) and possibly in a preferred location of the aircraft. Look up the specs on Seat Guru before paying extra for these alternative economy seats to see if it’s truly worth the price (or if another aircraft offers the same pitch as their standard economy seating on your desired route).