Know Your Airline Seats
When choosing between airlines for any given flight, there are a number of factors to consider. If comfort is important to you – and it certainly should be – then you should certainly compare the type of seat available on each carrier flying that route. Seatguru's airline seat comparison charts detail the options available on each airline and in each class of service.
Standard and Slimline Seats
Coach or Economy class cabins typically feature one of two types of seats: Standard and Slimline.
Most travelers will be familiar with the standard economy-class seats. These may include adjustable headrests, movable arm rests and the ability to recline the seat a couple of degrees. Depending on the carrier and aircraft, you may also have a power outlet and seatback in-flight entertainment.
At first glance, slimline economy-class seats may not look any different from standard coach-class seats. In reality, these seats have significantly less padding and can have a shorter seat pans. The end result is a mixed bag for economy class fliers. Because the seats aren't as thick, you may feel as if you have more space between your seat and the seat in front of you. But many fliers complain that a lack of padding makes slimline seats much less comfortable. Otherwise, these seats may offer the same feature as standard economy-class seats, including movable armrests, recline, power outlets and seatback in-flight entertainment.
In the United States, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines are among the carriers that have installed slimline coach-class seats.
Shell-style seats are increasingly popular in premium economy cabins on non-US airlines. As the name implies, this is typically a coach-style seat placed into a hard shell. When you recline these seats, the base of the seat moves forward while the back reclines within the shell, which remains immobile. (If you're having trouble envisioning that, imagine a teenager who's slouched down in a chair.) The advantage of shell seats is that the passenger in front of you won't infringe upon your space when reclining. The disadvantage is that many people – particularly those who are taller – may find the reclined position to be uncomfortable.
Air France and JAL are just two of the carriers that have installed shell seats in their premium economy cabins. Other amenities, such as power outlets and in-flight entertainment systems, will depend on the cabin of service and specific airline.
The recliner seat (sometimes known as a cradle seat) features both a greater recline than an economy-class seat as well as a footrest that can be elevated. It's similar to your family room La-Z-Boy, though you'll never get yourself close to a horizontal position. Recliner seats can be found in domestic first class cabins on US airlines as well as premium economy cabins, short-haul business and short-haul first class on some non-US airlines.
Because recliner seats may be found in premium economy class, business class and first class cabins, other seat features and amenities – such as the width of the seat, and availability of power outlets and in-flight entertainment – will depend on the airline and the class of service.
Angled-flat Seats and Flat-bed Seats
What's the first thing you think of when you hear about a flat airline seat? If you're like most people, you probably envision stretching out and sleeping comfortably on a long flight. And that's accurate – to an extent. Here's the catch: Angled-flat seats (also known as a lie-flat seat) allows passengers to recline to a flat or almost flat position. However, once the seat is flattened out, you're not fully horizontal and parallel to the ground. Instead, your head will be higher than your feet. That's fine for many people (particularly those who sleep on their backs), but many fliers find themselves sliding down in the seat when trying to sleep on these seats.
A flat-bed seat, in contrast, converts to a bed that is completely parallel to the cabin floor – no slipping or sliding when you're trying to sleep.
The downside of both angled-flat and flat-bed seats comes in the configuration of the seats themselves. In some cabins, passengers in window seats may find themselves having to vault over their sleeping seatmate in order to stand up. Other cabins are configured with seats that alternately face the front of the cabin and the back of the cabin, resulting in passengers who aren't traveling together having to face each other for the duration of the flight.
Angled-flat and flat-bed seats can be found in business and first class cabins on a number of airlines and routes. As with all business and first class seats, you'll find that they are wider than economy class seats and have more padding. The seats will often features a number of amenities, including an in-flight entertainment system, personal reading light and power outlets.
Open Suite and Closed Suite Seats
Want to travel in style? Then you're looking for more than a seat – you're looking for a suite. Found in the first class cabins of several of the world's top-rated airlines, suites typically offer an extra-wide seat that converts into something close to a twin-sized bed. Suites may offer an additional seat so your travel companion can sit and chat with you or you can eat together. Personal closets and large in-flight entertainment screens are also common.
An open suite offers some privacy, usually in the form of half-walls that rise three to five feet in height. When a pair of suites are located adjacent to one another in the center of the cabin, there may be a movable wall that can be raised if the passengers are traveling separately or lowered if they are traveling together. A closed suite, in contrast, will have higher walls that go to the ceiling or are high enough to make it difficult for anyone to look over the wall. The suite will also have a door that can be shut or left open, depending on the passenger's preference.