Cheap Flight Hacks for More Legroom

PHOTO: Hayati Kayhan / Shutterstock

You don’t always have to fly business or first class to accommodate your legroom needs.

Flying through the air in a pressurized metal tube isn’t always the most comfortable activity, but it can be particularly uncomfortable if you are a tall person. Do you have trouble finding a good way to pretzel your legs on even short haul flights? Here are a few cheap ways to find a little bit more comfort while traveling on an airplane.

Pay Attention to Seat Pitch

Not all airlines are created equal, especially when it comes to seat pitch. Seat pitch is measured by the distance from the back of your seat to the back of the seat in front of you. Generally, seat pitch varies between an inhuman 28” to a much more comfortable 34” in economy class.

Seat pitch information is usually available during the booking process, but if you’ve already booked, you can find out what seat pitch is available on your seat using Seat Guru. Note that JetBlue offers 34” of seat pitch on all economy seats in the Airbus A320, and all ANA seats offer 34” of seat pitch. It pays to do your research beforehand so that you don’t end up in an unnecessarily cramped seat.

Fly Premium Economy

While it is an upgrade, Premium Economy is usually relatively affordable—but pay attention to what you’re getting for your money. Norwegian has the best Premium class bump-up with two checked bags, meals, and 46” of seat pitch included, but the price jump reads more like a business or first class upgrade because Premium is the equivalent of Norwegian’s business class.

If you’re flying Delta, look out for Premium Economy on A350 and B777 aircraft because those seats come with extra legroom and even a footrest. With JetBlue, you have the option to book any class but then select an Even More Legroom seat, giving you 38” of legroom. These seats are located in the front and Emergency Exit rows of the JetBlue fleet, but the price upgrades are generally not as hefty as those with Norwegian. Be vigilant about checking whether or not it’s worth it to class up, or just to pay extra for a more comfortable seat.

Sit in the Emergency Exit Row

Speaking of Emergency Exit Rows, this is probably one of the cheapest ways to upgrade your experience and snag some extra legroom. Booking Emergency Exit seats will generally cost extra (unless you have status or you get really lucky), and that varies by airline.

These seats also sell pretty fast, so it’s best if you can plan as far in advance as possible to try and grab one for yourself. Remember that you may not be able to recline in an Emergency Exit seat and you might not be able to stow any luggage under or around your seat, so be sure to plan ahead for that as well. The airline crew will be happy to assist you with luggage storage when you board. If there aren’t any Emergency Exit seats left and you’re on an aircraft with baby bassinet seats that haven’t been claimed, you might be able to select that for the same (or similar) amount of legroom.

Sit on the Aisle

If classing up or selecting a more expensive seat isn’t in the cards for you, many airlines offer a subsection of their seats that you can select free of charge. Those seats are usually in the middle or back of the plane, depending on the seating chart, and you can usually find an aisle seat for free or cheap.

With an aisle seat, you’ll be able to stretch out your legs when necessary, and you’ll also have the opportunity to get up and walk around the cabin. Just be careful if you want to take a nap; the cabin crew still needs to go up and down the aisle with food and drink carts and they won’t be able to do that without running into your feet if you’re not aware enough to move for them.

Gamble and Book in the Back

This one is perhaps only for the most budget travelers who are okay with gambling, but one strategy is to book a seat in the very back of the plane. Unless you are on an incredibly popular route with a high likelihood of being booked (or overbooked), you might be able to get away with holding the entire row for yourself. Though you may end up with just an empty middle seat and another person in your row.

If you’re really up for a gamble, you can try to book a middle seat in the back and hope that no one else is in your row at all! If there are other seats available, there’s a good chance no one will want to nab a seat next to an occupied middle seat. So you have a good chance of scoring at least one empty seat next to you.