By Catey Hill, MarketWatch
Sit back and relax — if you can.
Delta Airlines /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL +0.49% is testing seats that don’t recline as much on some of its planes. While seats on its Airbus /zigman2/quotes/204455808/composite AIR -2.57% A320 jets in the main cabin and the comfort plus section used to recline 4 inches, they will now recline 2 inches, a Delta spokeswoman said. The airline is even switching it up in first-class on these jets: shrinking the recline from 5.4 inches to 3.5 inches.
Delta spokeswoman Savannah Huddleston told MarketWatch that the airline is “adjusting the recline throughout to protect customers’ personal space.” She added that “seat count and pitch will remain the same — we are not adding additional seats or reducing space between rows.” (Pitch refers to the space between seats. ) A320s typically fly short-to-medium routes of roughly one to two hours and are frequented by business travelers, which “makes the A320 an ideal candidate for this test,” Huddleston said.
Making this common mistake when you book airfare can cost you $90
You may see more of this, experts say, because passengers are fed up with other flyers reclining into their personal space: 41% think it’s rude to do so, one survey found . “This is going to become a trend I believe. The customer experience has become a vocal point for U.S. based airlines,” said Matt Guidice, founder of flight deal site Matt’s Flights. Gabe Saglie, an anchor and producer at travel deals site Travelzoo , added that the less-intrusive recliners could become a reality for other airlines, at least on shorter flight routes. “I think most passengers will appreciate knowing the tiny bit of space they have to themselves during a short flight won’t be infringed upon.” He noted that some overseas carries have already implemented these changes on short flights.
Still, some passengers are annoyed
by the move. And not everyone thinks this will stick: “I think this experiment will fail, especially in the first class cabin and comfort seats. Why would Delta reduce the incline on those seats? Isn’t that the main point of paying for first class, more knee room?,” asked George Hobica, the founder of airfare deals site AirfareWatchdog.com.
Whatever happens, plenty of people are annoyed by the myriad ways that many airlines are making flying more uncomfortable, from shrinking the amount of legroom, to making seats less padded with skinnier armrests, to creating seats that don’t recline at all. But here are eight secrets to scoring a (more) comfortable airline seat:
Choose an airline that has more legroom. Every inch counts: Though you’re not likely to get a ton of extra legroom without paying extra, some airlines do tend to give an extra inch or two in economy. JetBlue /zigman2/quotes/207639051/composite JBLU +1.47% is on the more generous side (about 32 inches on average), says George Hobica, the founder of AirfareWatchdog.com — and the airline recently announced that its A320 planes were getting wider seats . Meanwhile, Spirit and Frontier are less generous (about 28 to 29 inches), says Hobica .
Of course, legroom can vary even on the same airline, so do your homework. “Choose travel sites that make it easy to see seat pitch information. Many sites in the last few years have added information about seat pitch (and other amenities) directly in search results or when a consumer clicks on ‘details,’ like Google /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG +1.20% Flights, Hipmunk, and Onriva,” said Seth Anagnostis, the global sales head of travel tech company ATPCO .
Christine Sarkis, a senior editor at SmarterTravel, recommends SeatGuru.com to look up how much legroom specific jets on specific airlines have, as well as things like seats that don’t recline or a misaligned window. And Anagnostis noted that CheapAir.com “lays out different options side-by-side so you can see what a better experience costs without having to do a fresh search.”
Try this seat selection trick. Just because an airplane seat map doesn't show desirable seats at the time you book, doesn't mean your preferred seats are taken, says Saglie of Travelzoo . “When you book, especially when you book early, an airline will release a select group of seats — the ones they're trying to fill first, which often means a lot of available middle seats,” he explains. “This is also a way to encourage flyers to pay more on the spot for an aisle or upgraded seat.”
Saglie says that this is why flyers should check back in often: “As your flight date approaches, the airline is likely to release/open up more seats for online selection,” he said. “Check three days before, 24 hours before, when you arrive at the counter and even when you arrive at the gate (since a no-show aisle seat passenger may mean it goes to you, instead).” If new seats are available, you can sometimes — but not always — switch at no cost, though if it’s a better seat or one closer to the front you may have to pay a bit, he said.
Be patient. If that seat selection trick didn’t work, you may luck out at the last minute, Saglie says. “Listen for upgrades being handed out at the boarding gate. Right before boarding is when elite flyers on the upgrade list may finally be given the first class seat they’ve been waiting for. That frees up their seat in the main cabin which, because of their elite status, is likely not a middle seat, and that may be a chance for you to nab that seat instead,” he says.
Factor in these points. “ Consider the seat in the context of the cabin layout — for example, if a seat pitch is below average, that actually might be easier to handle on a smaller jet with a 2-2 layout and no middle seats than an aircraft with a 3-3 layout,” says Anagnostis.
Be loyal. It can pay to consistently fly with one airline or one alliance of airlines (like Star Alliance or One World, which have multiple airlines as members), says Travelzoo's Saglie . “These days, flyers with status get dibs on the best seats, and at no cost: This applies to something like United’s /zigman2/quotes/205037281/composite UAL +0.53% Economy Plus seats, with 6 inches of extra legroom, or preferred seats, like bulkhead, emergency row and aisle seats.” He adds that “loyal flyers also get to select these seats at time of bookings usually, versus hoping for the best at the gate.”
Beware of non-reclining seats. It’s not just legroom that matters — at least for people who don’t want to sit upright for the entire flight. A number of seats on Spirit /zigman2/quotes/205782179/composite SAVE +1.73% and Allegiant Travel /zigman2/quotes/208507686/composite ALGT +0.22% don’t recline, and other airlines may have rows with similar issues. Sites like SeatGuru.com can help travelers figure this out before they pick a seat.
Check-in ASAP. “Check in exactly 24 hours before your flight,” says Travelzoo's Saglie . “As soon as that check-in window opens, new available seats are often displayed.”
Pay for it. Sometimes throwing money at the problem is worth it, especially for a tall passenger on a long haul flight. But “even a one-hour flight isn’t one hour,” says Hobica, when you consider the runway taxiing and “deplaning.” So it may be worth it to pay, even on a short flight, especially because you can sometimes get extra legroom for as little as $10.
Delta shares have been up 15.6% this year compared to a 13.9% increase the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.31% and a 17.6% increase the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.12%