Reflections on Flying Around the World in Coach (Sponsored Post)

Airbus has been focusing a lot lately on the issue of seat width and is even pushing for an 18 inch minimum width standard for full-service long-haul. As part of their efforts, they came to Cranky to get a real world example. We sent Nate (who you might remember from his Emirates series) around the world in coach courtesy of Airbus in order to try out various seat widths. Airbus has sponsored three posts talking about his trip. This is the third. The first half of the trip report ran Tuesday while the second half ran yesterday.

Disclosure: This journey was sponsored by Airbus, but the views and content are the author’s own.

This trip was quite the learning experience. For starters, I realized I don’t really spill over that bad compared to people who are “larger” – thankfully my waistline isn’t horrible and I fit in every seat without an extension, however each airline was different. Comfort depends on a wide range of actors such as seat quality and aisle width – I had a significantly better experience on the 747 than I did the 777. But the most comfortable flights were definitely those with 18″ wide seats.

There’s a lot of talk of 10-abreast seating, accompanied by the razzle-dazzle of inflight entertainment and food so you won’t even notice that your thighs are numb. I’m sorry – but as someone that just flew around the world on multiple aircraft types, I did notice and I promise you that I will avoid flying in a 10-abreast Boeing 777.

777-200LR Panorama

I make a decent living, but not enough to afford $8,000 roundtrip in a premium cabin. I am starting to feel like I must advocate for those of us that are not 5’8″ and 150 pounds – anyone larger will be highly uncomfortable and will not only blame the airline but also the aircraft manufacturer. I was glad to not be the only one complaining about the 787, and I heard a few grumbles on my flight to Tokyo.

But it was still disappointing that airline configurations are being designed and implemented by CPAs and NOT real humans. I say this with confidence because anyone who isn’t on the petite side would notice how uncomfortable the cabin is with that extra seat. People are flying longer lengths as nonstop flights become the norm. Even in Japan, the airlines used very cramped seating for shorter domestic flights and then had much more comfortable & roomier cabins for the longer flights.

I noticed that on the 787 and 777 flights, more customers were up walking around than on my A330 and 747 flights, which both scored much higher in my seat comfort matrix. While the 747 had the same size seat as the 777, it had more room between seats and much wider aisles. Those 2 things do make a difference, as some of us American have wide shoulders and often sizeable waistlines. I guess this is why Europe, Asia, and the Middle East are known for amazing soccer matches and not American football. What works in one region of the world may not work on long-haul international and I hope, no pray, that airlines take this into consideration.

There are plenty of stories talking about seat width and seat comfort – but as an elite frequent flyer and an airline geek with hundreds of thousands of miles logged – I think I’m the only travel writer who has recently flown on multiple aircraft types in one single trip. I can tell you in confidence that seat width and comfort IS noticeable. I felt different after my flights than those with more space. When I landed in Honolulu, I expected to return home on the Big Island and sleep for days – instead I was rested to the point I went to my office in Kona and worked until 5pm and went to bed at 10pm. Landing in Tokyo after the cramped flight from Dubai had me sleeping until noon the next day. I was a walking zombie in London during my 6 hour layover.

There is more to travel than paying the lowest fare… travelers MUST do their research and put a better value on comfort. If you can fly on a plane with slightly wider seats/aisles/legroom, that is worth time and money. Check SeatGuru, FlyerTalk, TripAdvisor, and other message boards for comments on seats… while your wallet may hurt a bit, your bum certainly won’t once you arrive.

The first half of Nate’s trip report from Honolulu to Dubai via LA, Boston, Toronto, and London was posted Tuesday. The second half from Dubai to Tokyo and back to Honolulu ran yesterday.

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