View Full Version : Seat pitch 34" minimum reasonable says Judge!

Cyclic Hotline
17th Apr 2002, 00:58
Judge says air passengers must be given more legroom
By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent (The Times)

A JUDGE called yesterday for extra legroom for passengers on long-haul flights after condemning the space provided by most airlines as inadequate.

Judge Gareth Edwards, QC, said that airline seats should occupy a space of at least 34in. He upheld a compensation award made to a company director who had suffered “intolerable” discomfort on a flight from Canada when confined to a 29in space.

Every British airline provides less than 34in in economy class. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offer 31in and bmi british midland 32in. American Airlines and Air New Zealand offer a minimum of 34in.

Judge Edwards, sitting at Chester County Court, accepted that the court did not have the power to set guidelines, but said: “There are, it is common knowledge, airlines who to my mind charge quite competitive rates and never go below a seat pitch of 34in no matter what length of flight is involved. I would have thought the minimum pitch for a long-haul flight would be 34in.

“It seems to me that the objective should be sufficient to provide for people in the normal range of adult height.”

The “pitch” is the distance from the back rest of a seat to the back of the seat in front.

Brian Horan, who feared he had contracted deep-vein thrombosis, won £500 for discomfort suffered on the eight-hour journey between Manchester and Calgary after successfully suing JMC, the holiday company. JMC was Mr Horan’s tour operator, but he flew on an Airtours plane.

The travel company appealed, but Judge Edwards upheld the original finding.

He agreed that JMC had breached its contract and failed to supply travel “to a reasonable standard” as part of the two-week £4,100 skiing package.

After yesterday’s hearing, Mr Horan, 57, of Macclesfield, Cheshire, who is almost 6ft, said that the ruling was a victory for every holidaymaker and airline passenger.

“I have not done this just for me. But it is nice to know that the next time I go long-haul I should get more legroom. We have got to stop the corporate sector driving us into conditions which they claim we want. It was stated in court that I was the only one who complained, but, in fact, I was the only one to do anything about it. The British do not really complain.

“The judge has now given us a reasonable standard of leg- room. He suggested 34in which is 5in more than I had. That might not sound a lot, but believe me, in terms of leg- room size really does matter.”

Alan Saggarson, the lawyer representing JMC, said that he would be seeking leave to appeal against the judgment.

British Airways said the minimum seat pitch was a matter for the industry regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority.

“We would have to take out seats. It’s a balance between the number of seats you have and the comfort of all the passengers,” a BA spokesman said. The CAA said that it was concerned only with safety, not comfort, and so would not be acting on the judge’s recommendation. It is considering raising the 26in minimum by at least 2in after research showed that passengers in such narrow seats could be trapped in a burning plane.

A senior aviation industry figure said: “We can give all passengers 34in, but they would have to be prepared to pay for it.”

17th Apr 2002, 01:10
I notice the 2" increase would STILL leave the pitch an inch under the pitch that this pax had. N.B. i am surprised that the defence did not point out that he could pay extra for Airtours Premier Gold seats which give a better seat - or was this not available if you booked through JMC?

17th Apr 2002, 02:40
We use 34" AND we're still the cheapest way to get to Brisbane or Perth from Heathrow...

RBA - Giving the World Asia's Best

Through difficulties to the cinema

17th Apr 2002, 03:20
For those of you who like the little extra room and at a good price, well there is an airline offering not less than 36" in economy world wide (except OZ), more in some cases - KAC. The only things you have to accept - NO smoking, NO booze & HIGH security.

Have a nice day

17th Apr 2002, 03:24
Since I am 6 feet, 7 inches tall the American Airlines seat pitch of 34 inches is a real difference for me. AA calls it MRTC, "More Room Throughout Coach". All of their original planes have this pitch installed now. Can't say for the TWA aircraft, they may still be on the old pitch. -dAAvid

17th Apr 2002, 06:24
I don't normally have to travel in the passenger seats on HM's dear old VC10s - but I did the other day on a 6 hour trip. The pitch is 34" and it was extremely comfortable compared to the reasonable 31" I'm used to on short European low-cost flights (buzz BAe 146). The VC10K4 even has 36" pitch for its 36 passnegers which is truly spacious.

The thought of 29" pitch all the way from Canada is truly horrific. As for 26".............

If there was any other way than by air, people will start to look at it if they're forced to endure hours of hanging around, being subjected to intrusive 'security checks', then squeezed into a cramped seat for several hours. I'd sooner drive 2 hours to the Eurotunnel, then a quick 20 minutes or so to Calais and off down the autoroute than drive to a London airport, pay a fortune to park, be prodded, poked and given the 3rd degree by the sicherheitsdienst before hanging around for the flight, then crammed in to an inadequate seat.

Air travel is definitely losing it's passenger appeal and that's not just due to 11 Sep!

17th Apr 2002, 07:05
Why not give all passengers a choice on all flights?
Take out some of the seats, offer more legroom only and charge a little more.
I think many people would pay say an extra £50 for 5 inches on a shorthaul flight, do you?
Also keep the cramped seats down the back and see what happens.
Vary the split according to demand.
Too simple for the average airline management?

Anti Skid On
17th Apr 2002, 07:26
Hang on a minute - the guy, as a company director, should be a fairly astute guy. He books to go to Canada on a charter airline. You pays your money, you get what you pay for! I wouldn't expect to roll up to a Fiat garage, hand over £15K and drive away in a Testarossa - however, if the said Fiat's performance fails to meet that of the latter can I sue? Think not. The company director entered a contract to have his hols, and judging by this case, arrived home safely. End of story - can I sue Qantas cause the food on their internal flights is poor - think not!

17th Apr 2002, 07:46
To give the guy some credit he did pay over four thousand quid for his holiday, which isnt exactly the same as 150 quid for a trip to florida. The market has dictated that the airlines must put a certain number of seats in ana aircraft in order to make it worthwhile, but now we are seeing some differentiation from airlines like AA, which may lead the market in the other direction. The only problem is that there is always going to be a player in the market that will move in the opposite drection in order to gain market share. Regulation might help ni the long run but IMO in the short term this would have negative effects on an already suffering industry.

(I visit Whistler a few times a year and always go for the cheapest flight available, which has led to some pretty uncomfortable trips, but I would never consider suing the airline though, litigation does seem to be the wimps way out as well as a way for people to screw relatively innocent companies/people out fo money e.g. McDonalds coffee being too hot etc.)

(I seem to have contradicted myself there. Oh well.)

17th Apr 2002, 08:04
Okay, given the experts on this forum, how much extra would it cost to have extra legroom on, say, a 767 on a route UK to Florida?
If we had to provide 34 inch seat pitch measured from a point on one seat to the same point on the next seat, how many seats would that lose and what effect on the average price to the consumer?
The industry gurus say that the market won't pay the cost. Do they mean that or do they mean that an uninformed public just look for the cheapest price?

17th Apr 2002, 08:49
At the time you book your ticket the Airline should give you a comittment on seat pitch. This is part of the product you are purchasing. Since they don't, they leave themselves open to a judge passing an opinion on what is implied in the purchase of that ticket. Airlines so often treat passengers in a secretive and shoddy fashion that they deserve everything they get.

17th Apr 2002, 09:37

Apparently it cost AA some $70m to carry out their recent Economy upgrade, but this included some capital costs for seat enhancements. This resulted in a reduction of about 7,200 seats, or 6.4% of their economy section. 58% of economy seats now have a pitch of 34" or more, and 98% of economy seats were increased to above 32".

I suppose if they were running at a load factor of 80%, then they could theoretically absorb this reduction with no loss of revenue.

Certainly having travelled AA to LAX last summer; BA to IAH last autumn; and Virgin to LAS this spring, AA were significantly more comfortable(I'm 6'2"). In comparing the cost of the AA ticket, they were cheaper than either BA or Virgin to LAX, so they don't appear to have increased their costs.

neil armstrong
17th Apr 2002, 10:26
Being 6'6'' myself ,i only travel AA these days.
Hopefuly some more airlines will follow there example.


17th Apr 2002, 11:21

Taking out seats doesn't increase your costs - it just reduces your potential revenue/profit (or in AA's case, increases their loss).
If you're consistently operating under capacity on all sectors, it's not an issue.
However, working on an 80% loadfactor, you can assume that a whole bunch of flights are operating at full capacity (and that you're refusing demand at some stage during the inventory process). Which also means that you've probably also cut out the lowest tariffs on that flight, so to be able to work out the financial impact on a carrier, you need to identify the lowest fare offered ON THAT FLIGHT, determine the size of that virtual booking class and multiply it by the number of seats you've taken out of the market. If your capacity reduction is greater than the capacity of the booking class, multiply the difference with fare in the next higher class and so on.
Big chunks of dosh involved here.

17th Apr 2002, 11:27
Quite right RevMan2, what I meant to say was "...they don't appear to have increased their prices."

17th Apr 2002, 12:16
But they should do if they've got a product that lets them differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack....! (Don't want to spoil the party, but - hey - let's not forget what we're in business for!) :)

17th Apr 2002, 12:16
As another UK charter airline, our plan is to operate 28" pitch short haul and 30" long haul. In addition we offer 35" and a wider seat in premium at an addition cost (c£185 for a return trip to the Caribbean)

I was however lead to believe the AIH flight in question had been planned on a L/H config aircraft but due to operational reasons (presumably a tech aircraft) the aircraft which actually flew the route was in s/h config.

In line with other UK charters, our average load factor throughout the year is c92%+ therefore the majority of flights go 100% full.

The last time I saw numbers, the estimated cost of removing a seat was c£1m per year in revenue per seat.

I notice someone further up the post was suggesting varying the room according to demand, I assume they do not think you can shuffle the seats back and forward on a formal turn around to take account of a change in demand on a particular sector? Our line engineers would be most pleased at that one and our turn arounds would increase substantially. Remember we get well in excess of 5000 hours per year out of each of our l/h aircraft

17th Apr 2002, 12:38
I think that 'premium' economy is the way to go in the future. I fly quite regularly to BEY with BMed and although economy is adquate in their A320's, I'd much rather go club, or something 'in between'.

Sadly, for a full fare paying pax the economy fare LHR-BEY on the BA website was around £300. The business fare was more like £3000!

I drive an expensive car which I can justify, because I pull more women in it than in a B-reg Fiat Panda. I have a nice house which costs a few quid but is worth it because I like speding time there.

But £3000 versus £300 for a five and a half flight isn't justifiable for a few inches more legroom, a TV monitor and nicer food.

I wish it was!!

Ranger One
17th Apr 2002, 16:38
Reverserunlocked makes a good point... I've heard the following in conversations with pax on several occasions:

'I paid (say) $450 for this NYC-LHR return and I get a poxy 31" seat. Why doesn't some smart company offer 62" in economy? Double the pitch, halve the number of seats, double the fare - I'd pay $900 for that. I don't want first/business service, food, baggage allowance - I just want enough pitch to fully recline the seat!'

I've heard this often enough to make me wonder if a smart operator couldn't design a seat and layout to make it work.


17th Apr 2002, 17:10
The problem with charter flights is that the customer does not consider the flight at the time of booking ,but the hotel they are staying in for their 2 week break , Given that most tour operators use the same hotels if JMC were to take seats out of their A330s to increase leg room this would have to be added to the package price . All the customer would notice is that JMC charge £50.00 more for the same hotel for the same two weeks than say Cosmos and book with cosmos . JMC does have a + cabin on their A330s which gives 34 ins of legroom at a cost of £150 rtn to all destinations hardly expensive !
As a point of interest JMC has a total of 354 seats on their A330s
compared with 362 seats on My Travel ( which is odd given that My Travel have put their toilets down stairs ) and 372 seats on monarch ( whose toilets are at cabin level ) :)

17th Apr 2002, 19:09
ranger one, reverserunlocked,

>>'I paid (say) $450 for this NYC-LHR return and I get a poxy 31" seat. Why doesn't some smart company offer 62" in economy? Double the pitch, halve the number of seats, double the fare - I'd pay $900 for that. I don't want first/business service, food, baggage allowance - I just want enough pitch to fully recline the seat!' "

Just looking at fares for JFK-LHR return - there could be some businessman who paid not $900, but $1,200 for the privilege of sitting in that very same 31"seat/class as the guy who paid $450 (actually $427..)! The not-so-fat-cat's only problem is that he wanted to return in two days whereas $450 punter is staying in London for 2 weeks.

After the dot-com excesses - this is why a lot of business travel is being either postponed, consolidated into longer trips or avoided totally- a last minute US East-West Coast fare for a mid-week trip is around $2,200 - in coach! :(

17th Apr 2002, 19:47
I was in SFO on business and was told to return to NYC for 2 days to help close a deal. The cost was to be $2300. I used our route deal with VS and flew SFO-LHR-JFK-LHR-SFO to prove a point. The whole fare in Premium Economy for SFO sections and Eco for Eco was $2000.

The US public are robbed, but that is cos of the unions. Dont belive me - Wingwalkers - you dont get them in LHR

18th Apr 2002, 01:01
Let's hope more operators go the way of Airtours and start offering 'premium' seating but at more realistic prices.

On a short hop you can put up with your knees being in your face. You don't mind having to shell out for drinks and snacks because you know that when you get to Amserdam, Nice or Rome or wherever you can spend the cash you saved on the ticket on pot or hookers, or in overpriced trattoria with rude staff where you get no change.

But six hours or more is a long time to have ar%se ache and I'd gladly pay another few hundred quid to get a bit more space.

As I said before, travelling to Beirut I had two fare options; £300 (knees in face) or £3000 (too much space)...

So two of us in business would have cost 6 grand, for which I could have bought a quarter of a terraced house in Liverpool, or a brand new Peruda Nippa motor car, a Bang and Olufsen stereo or one hell of a pub crawl...for two tickets to a city not even two thousand miles away.


18th Apr 2002, 12:46
I have just been to BA's website to look at their fares for a week in New York(JFK) commencing 1/6. I looked at three fares. Cheapest Economy(WT) was £451.5 per ticket, inclusive. Fully flexible Economy(WT) was £873.5. Then surprise, surprise, World Traveller Plus came in at £748.5, in the upgraded cabin! What's going on?

To create the WT+ cabin in the 747-400, they appear to have removed about 72 economy seats, and replaced them with 36 WT+ seats. Using the ticket prices above, they seem to be losing at least £5.5 revenue on a full house. Am I missing something?


It should be possible to get a Business Class return on BMed non-stop, for just over £2k, no restrictions.

How flexible can you be? With some of the other European carriers - KL, LH and AF, you should be able to get a Club
Class fare for about £1k with one-stop and some restrictions, but would it be "full" club configuration on this route?

19th Apr 2002, 07:26
Gareth Edwards obviously felt we all need 34" - because he has thighs like hams from his previous career as a world-class rugby player!

My legs have just about recovered from an Air2K flight 10 days ago from INN, when seat pitch must have been c. 29". It all boils down to - you get what you pay for.

The answer has to be better dislosure. If you ask a tour operator (particulalrly a non-integrated one) they are unlikely to be able to tell you the seat pitch you will be suffering. Scheduled operators should have the information in their timetables. Then it all becomes Caveat Emptor .

19th Apr 2002, 08:14
Here are a few sites which have seat pitch information. Unfortunately some of the data differs between sites for the same carrier. You will have to make a judgement as to which you believe!


19th Apr 2002, 09:32
All the time joe public thinks it reasonable to expect a cheaper fare to fly from Birmingham to Spain than to get a train to London, or to park their car at the airport for a couple of days, they will get what they deserve.

19th Apr 2002, 16:27
The problem with premium seats on charter flight out of the UK is that Gordon Brown deems them to be a business class equivalent and slaps a higher tax on them.

I think the figures are an extra £30 tax on a ticket sold at a £40 premium for flights within Europe.

So much about caring about the health of the nation. Gordon is only interested in extracting money from your wallet.

20th Apr 2002, 17:59
In the interest of European social justice, why not mandate a selection of seat pitches for different body sizes. Really fat guys need the wide seats, while the skinny short ones get the 26" seat pitch. After all, it's not fair that if you're fat or tall that you should be more uncomfortable than a short skinny guy, nor should you pay more. "To each according to his needs" May 1st is coming up! Get out those red flags and words to International.

20th Apr 2002, 19:48
Sorry that I have said this before but...

Of course you get what you pay for, but some of the numbers don't seem to add up.

If the tightest Economy pitch is 28" and the best 34", the difference is about 20% - ergo a 20% fare hike should leave revenue neutral.

In reality the punter is left with the option of paying 2 or 3 times more to get a bit of space.

22nd Apr 2002, 16:05
Flew LHR-YYZ for a week's skiing in January. Total cost was about GBP600, including:
return Y-class flights on AC
6 nights half-board at Banff Springs
car transfers from YYC airport to Banff

OK, mid-Jan it was fcukin' brass monkeys, but the snow was amazing (70cm fell during the week) and AC is fighting with CX for the best cattle-class I've ever experienced (and I'm a gold FF).

So... if this chap has paid over four grand, my reckoning says he's entitled to more than 29 inches. There's little more discouraging than fronting up to your seat, strapping in and having your knees touch the other seat before you even push back. You get what you pay for, sure, but less than 30 inches is a bit rich.

22nd Apr 2002, 16:20
No matter how much they might whinge, airlines should be b£oody well forced to provide a minimum of 34" pitch on flights of more than 2 hours. For less than that it should be no less than 31". End of argument. Period.

Come to think of it, I can think of other things for which a minimum measurement of 34" would be appropriate. 34B preferably.....

22nd Apr 2002, 21:16

agreed, especially with your second point - my wife told her mother yesterday that I thought she should be tattoed "Front" and "Back" (We've been married over 31 years). I suggested it should be in braille so I don't have to put the light on:D

On your first point, until that ideal state is reached, I don't mind paying extra for more space in long haul, if I can afford it. A few years ago we went skiing at Lake Louise in Canada and paid (I think) an extra £150 each for club class seats with economy class service on the leg from Manchester to Toronto and back. Well worth the extra, the food and the service were excellent.