/ Travel & Leisure

How much would you pay for extra legroom on flights?

Have you ever paid more to get extra legroom when flying economy? Did you think the comfort was worth the cost or just another way for the airline to get more money out of you?

I’m 6ft 6 tall and there are times when I’m glad of my height – but travelling on a plane isn’t one of them. Especially now the size of airline seats and the amount of legroom we get seems to be shrinking.

After years flying economy and being trapped into a contorted semi-foetal position for hours on end, I finally decided this year to bite the bullet and pay for exit row seats when I went on a ten-and-a-half hour flight to the US.

What a mistake that was. Yes, exit row seats give you extra legroom, but you pay through the nose for them.

It used to be you could turn up at the airport early and get them for free, but it looks like those days are on their way out. These days, it seems airlines like to flog them.

Extra legroom on flights

I flew to San Francisco with British Airways, which wanted more than £50 for an exit row seat. And the journey home was worse. Although we booked with BA, the flight was actually with American Airlines and it wanted more than £100 on top of the ticket price.

Does that seem excessive? But what can you do in that situation? I couldn’t afford to shell out for their upgrades to ‘premium’ economy.

I could’ve taken a chance on a standard seat and physically stopped the person in front reclining, but is that really a solution?

You might have heard of the businessman who used a product that clips onto your tray table and stops the seat in front from reclining. It’s legal, though it’s frowned on by some airlines and it’s no way to make yourself popular with your fellow passengers!

I’m not sure what the solution is. All I know is, I will think twice before booking such a long flight again.

Have you noticed shrinking seats and legroom? Did the seats in economy seem roomier in the past?

How much would you pay for extra legroom on flights?

Nothing at all (40%, 398 Votes)

£1 to £19 (32%, 320 Votes)

£20 to £49 (21%, 206 Votes)

£50 to £99 (4%, 43 Votes)

£100 or more (4%, 36 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,003

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Whenever I fly long haul, it’s in business or first, which is funded by Avios if it’s personal travel. However, even in business class on many airlines, you could have problems with a height of 6’6″ on a flat bed unless you get certain seats which don’t have another seat immediately at your feet.

Why do you say that the device to prevent another passenger’s seat from reclining is legal? I’m sure that deliberating interfering with another passenger’s seat, particularly on a long haul flight where that passenger needs to sleep, would fall foul of legislation in many countries, not least because you would be depriving a paying passenger of a component of a service for which they have paid. If you then prevent cabin crew from removing the device from another passenger’s seat, then it would certainly be unlawful.

Although I’d like to see passengers surcharged for the extra fuel and space they use (in the same way that oversized baggage is surcharged), tall people are never tall out of choice and should therefore be accommodated in suitable seats without any surcharge. There is no more justification in surcharging a tall passenger than a disabled passenger, although it would be hard to argue that being tall is a disability.

NFH, why do you assume that every overweight person is that way by choice? Some medical conditions cause obesity as do some medications.

Liz H – the additional weight does not come from the air that one breathes, but from food. This is in contrast to the additional height of tall people, which cannot be controlled by the amount of food consumed.

I would advocate an overall weight allowance for passenger + baggage, but this would unfairly discriminate against tall people who have additional weight not by choice.

Those on a continuous high dose of steroids can put on a lot of weight, I understand. In most cases they won’t be able to take much exercise. As Liz says, not everyone is obese out of choice.

We once paid for extra legroom mainly because what we really wanted was to avoid having to have the backs of the seats in front in our faces [having experienced an awful flight with a child allowed to jump about on the seat in front and the parents frequently rearranging everything]. What we hadn’t realised beforehand was that if you’re in the exit row there is nowhere to put personal bags which must be securely stowed during take-off and landing and which would normally go under the seat in front. By the time the cabin staff informed us of this [as part of instructing us on our responsisibility for operating the exit door in an emergency evacuation!] all the nearby overhead lockers were already full and my wife’s handbag and my flight bag were taken away to another part of the plane. In our view, unless you cannot travel without the extra legroom, it’s not worth paying extra for it. I must admit the excess charges seem to be extortionate and disproportionate to any additional cost to the airline

John, with reference to your final sentence, there is no “additional cost to the airline”. The airlines’ surcharges for exit rows are only an additional revenue source, not to cover any additional costs incurred. The same goes for charges for priority boarding and advance choice of seat. Surcharging where there is no additional cost involved is a particularly unfair commercial practice.

That is true NFH. I was thinking there would be some administrative cost as for the pre-selection of any seats [so that couples can be sure of sitting together, for example] but in reality it would be practically impossible to measure any costs directly attributable to that and, as you say, it is a piece of pure commercial exploitation. In fact it probably saves costs because it takes some of the pressure off the check-in desk if people select their seats in advance.

Manu says:
4 May 2015

I fly frequently from Europe to the UK and have recently noticed that BA have reduced the seat pitch with their new revamped interior on their shorthaul flights. It used to be good with a few cm to spare and now I have my knees in the back of the person in front. It’s much worse with Easyjet though. I’m just waiting for the standing up seats, which recline at an angle of around 30 degrees – then the Airlines can add another 40% more people ! Its all about profits despite what anyone may say !

I believe that the legal minimum seat pitch is 28″. This should be increased to 30″ to stop airlines from profiteering at the unreasonable expense of passengers’ discomfort. If this means that fares go up, then so be it. We should not tolerate a system where some fares are kept low by causing unreasonable discomfort to a minority of passengers.

I wish you luck with that, but others have tried and failed. If a company can make more money they often do.

With the budget short haul airlines, the seats do not recline and are not heavily padded.
The result seems to be more room generally -in front and to the sides.
I find the hard shell type seats with minimal cushioning perfectly comfortable for the time involved.

John says:
4 May 2015

Some years back, probably more than I realise, I watched a program on television where a design company were tasked with designing a new airline seat. They found that the padding did little for seat comfort and the final design was something not dissimilar to an ergonomic mesh office chair. Iirc the airline didn’t like it as they felt passengers wouldn’t feel the seats were ‘premium’ enough if you could see through them! Of course while this would have resulted in more legroom the airlines would probably by now have crowded the seats to get an extra row of passengers in and we’d be back to square one.

I feel sorry for battery chickens. They don’t have the opportunity of extra legroom. 🙁

Carole says:
4 May 2015

It’s not just the airlines trying to cram more and more into the space. The last time we travelled by ferry from Dover to Calais, the lanes we parked in on the car decks were so narrow that it was nigh on impossible to open the car doors far enough to get out!!

I suffer with my knees from numerous injuries in the past and have had countless surgeries, as a result long flights in economy can be pretty painful. I had a 10 hour flight from London to LA last year, when I informed the airline (United) about my knees they happily upgraded me to economy ‘plus’ for free – which was much more comfortable and great service.

At the opposite end of the spectrum I also had to endure a 13 hour standard economy flight from Hong Kong to Heathrow (BA) last year. The person in front of me adjusted their seat with some force every ten minutes for the entire flight, at one stage it even knocked a drink off my table. I had to physically hold it forward multiple times to stop them doing it. (a significant language barrier prevented any polite requests!)

There just isn’t enough room in economy to recline your seat – I don’t do it myself out of respect for the unfortunate people behind me.

As for the price, when booking last year I bizarrely found a number of seats in the ‘premium economy sectors’ were actually cheaper than standard – so it’s always worth checking that before you book.

Stephen Wiltsher says:
5 May 2015

I booked extra leg room sets with easyjet, but they changed the aircraft at the last min. This meant that people who booked and paid for the extra legroom didnt get them, but that random passengers who didnt book them did. Easyjet are ignoring my demand for compensation (not so much as a refund). Total rip off. Pick another airline next time.

Send them a letter before action: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/action/letter-before-small-claims-court-claim

Don’t settle for just a refund of the surcharge for the extra legroom but demand a refund of the whole flight segment. You could legitimately argue that without the extra legroom, you would not have booked with Easyjet but instead booked with a flag carrier like British Airways etc.

Terry B says:
7 May 2015

I flew to and from Orlando from Manchester with Virgin Atlantic recently, flying economy. They were still using Boeing 747’s. Going out, I sat in a normal seat with 31″ seat pitch which was OK(and I’m a big chap) until the person in from reclined their seat. As it was a daytime flight, I couldn’t see the need to lie back at all but some people insist on doing it. However, I survivied.

The return journey however was different. I was flying with a companion and the only way we could be seated together was to pay $60 extra each (around £36) to sit in the extra legroom seats. This increased the pitch by around 3″ and it was well worth it as it was a night flight and the row in front reclined their seats as soon as the evening meal was over. What bugged me is that the people in front didn’t look behind before dropping their seats back – we could still have been eating for all they knew.

I’ll be flying to Florida again soon and will be requesting the extra legroom seats BOTH ways. I’d never pay for an enhanced economy seat as that’s way too expensive for what they provide. After all, the legroom increases to 38″, the seat width by a few inches and the food is slightly better – all for about double the price of an economy ticket! No thank you!

I agree with you that premium economy is the worst value for money. You pay a much higher price and still don’t get a flat bed. I’ve only used it once, and that was on a daytime flight to Moscow when business class was full. It’s nothing special, but nice for a longish short-haul flight.

I hope you will post the outcome here. It will probably do no harm to mention your plight is in a thread on Which? Conversations! Also the deatil of when and what flight number might help some fellow traveller find this thread and give more power to the people .?!!!

I contributed to a few threads on a defective Honeywell thermostat. Defective in the sense the LCD panel was dying after around 5 years. I think the research and posting helped me in escalating my once refused claim up the discretionary power ladder.

On a general note I avoid travelling by air because I find it demeaning, dehumanising and claustrophobic. Other than that I mislike being taken for a chump prepared to put up with anything in order to travel. : )

I totally agree, and dislike public transport in general, but air travel is the worst.

My passport has expired. People think I’m mad spending more on holidays in the UK than going abroad but I know what I enjoy. Feeling very sick during an internal flight in a little plane was probably the worst experience, but having to drive or take a train after a flight is not enjoyable.

Will says:
8 May 2015

No you shouldn’t have to pay. It should be ‘early bird gets the worm’. Except disabled people of course, they should always get priority legroom.

I hate travelling by air anyway. Crying babies drive me crazy, and you always end up seated next to someone with a cold. On a particular flight a few years back an woman in the seat behind me kept putting her naked leg and foot up on my arm rest until we smacked it hard. She stopped after that.

This is piffle!
The legroom is static in Cattle Class. When the person in front reclines their seat your legroom space and length available under the seat in front alters not one atom. The rows of both sets of seats remain firmly attached to the floor and the it is only the back rest that moves in the sense that it’s angle is altered from near horizontal to what ever the maximum recline angle may be, or to the choice of any lesser angle, the passenger desires at that time.
While this may be inconvenient for tray use and may feel more claustrophobic. Your legroom remains exactly the same. Airline seats in economy class are not able to move in any direction for very obvious reasons. They are all firmly attached the floor of the aircraft. The legroom does not and cannot change.
The area from the arm rests and one’s tray is shortened. If you cared to measure it, the further up the back of the reclined seat in front of you, the more your space decreases.
In order to re-gain the tray space and the space above, you have to recline your seat too. Simples!
The space below where one’s legs are cannot change, without the seats being physically removed or ripped from their floor mounts.
It is really is disappointing when a SUB-Editor is involved in writing such inaccurate piffle!!
Further more if you were to use the device you mentioned – claiming leg room – I would ask the crew to remove it.
Do not misunderstand me. I think the legroom on all aircraft and all airlines in economy class is now a complete and utter disgrace. Jetstar or what ever the budget Aussie airline is called is a fine example. 5 hours and 25 mins from Brisbane to Perth was the worst flight of my entire life!! Squashed in and upright. Not even a magazine to read. Free glass of water after about 3 hours. Horrible.
But I will not condone this sort of deliberately dishonest piffle by Mr Paul Ryan.
Quoting his height as some how making him a bona fide and yet hard done by expert on aircraft seats, and claiming that reclining an aircraft seat somehow turns it into a mobile unit, capable of shortening and effectively stealing the legroom of the passenger unlucky enough to be behind this magic seat. No!
He appears to be hoping to persuade people to stump up money for extra legroom?
Why would someone want to do that?
And why should his height have given him Carte Blanche to the emergency rows every time he flew in the past anyway? All passengers should be able to enjoy that space too. I got that row once. I think it was row 16 on a VC 10 – definitely most enjoyable flight I have ever had in economy.
First come, first served, as someone has already alluded to. ( The early bird gets the worm..)

Aircraft seats in Cattle Class are not mobile units capable of moving closer or further away from the rows in front, behind or to the side of them!!!!!

More to the point is, where is, any research by WHICH on being charged for seat allocation. Is it all open and above board? Does the invitation to select your seat include the added charge up front? I know for a fact that in 2013/14 it certainly wasn’t on Expedia.

Hi does anyone know my sister needs extra leg room after a leg op as she can not bend her leg enough so an isle seat would be good they are trying to charge us for this is that right

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