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We often get asked which airline is the most comfortable to fly in economy class for an infrequent international traveler. For international coach travel here is what we value (weighted by percentage):
- Coach pitch – the distance between your seat and the seat in front of you – 30%
- Coach width – the distance between armrest to armrest – 30%
- Inflight entertainment – individual screens? On Demand? – 10%
- Internet – does the airline have WiFi and is the speed and fee reasonable? – 10%
- Catering – is the food edible? – 5%
- Ease of transit at respective hub airports – 15%
Here are our favorite airlines by destination:
To East and Southeast Asia:
- Japan Airlines
- All seats have at least 33″ pitch. To put that in perspective, some US based airline sell 33″ pitch as Economy Plus, Main Cabin Extra or Comfort+. That is Japan Airlines’ default seat pitch!
- Japan Airlines has a humane seat configuration.
- For their Boeing 777 international configured planes, they use a 3 x 3 x 3 or 2 x 4 or 3 (or 9 across) seating. In contrast, majority of the world is going to a 10 across.
- For their Boeing 787 international configured planes, they use a 2 x 4 x 2 seating. In contrast, the majority of the world is going to a 9 across seating
- All Japan Airlines planes have WiFi — they charge $18 for 24 hour of usage. So you can fly from New York to Tokyo, connect to Singapore same day and only pay $18 to be connected the entire way. It works mostly okay over the Pacific and you get decent speed — though, expect an outage for a few hours over / near the North Pole.
- Transiting in either Tokyo – Narita (NRT) or Tokyo – Haneda (HND) is a breeze. We rarely encounter long security lines and they use normal x-ray machines versus body scanners.
- The food onboard is edible
- The inflight entertainment system is okay; content could be better.
While the TFD team is mostly American elite status holders because of Cathay Pacific’s premium class product, their coach service (though miles ahead of American based carriers) is declining. They are going to a configuration of 10 across seating on their 777 fleet this year.
- Delta Air Lines
- Delta has the most consistent product to Europe.
- They have humane plane configurations:
- All their Boeing 777s are 9 across seating
- Their Airbus 330s are 8 across seating
- Their Airbus 350s are 9 across seating (about the same width as the 777)
- Their Boeing 767s have 7 across seating
- Their seat pitch is on par with all airlines that fly to Europe at 31″
- All their planes have WiFi and the fees are reasonable. In addition, if you don’t want to pay for WiFi, you can use messaging apps like iMessage and WhatsApp for free for the entire flight. They use Gogo for their WiFi service.
- They have decent hubs to transit in the US – Detroit for example, is very pleasant to transit through. JFK – our home airport, not so much, but then again, you shouldn’t transit through New York unless you absolutely need to.
- The inflight entertainment is good
- The food? Well, we don’t usually eat it on European bound flights because 99% of the flights to Europe are overnight so we tend to just sleep instead.
- The downside: Delta will have Basic Economy fares to Europe for travel this upcoming April. So you will probably pay a premium to have a regular economy fare. Delta International Basic Economy fares do not included advanced seat assignment or checked luggage.
We think European carriers are overrated — low cost carriers, such as WOW, Norwegian, etc — pack them in.
- Best legroom from the United States at 32″ – 34″ inches
- Free WiFi for portions over the United States
- There is inflight entertainment
- And snacks
- Also, none of the Basic Economy non-sense.
What are your favorites?
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