This Component Counts Towards Airplane Seat Comfort Also — But Few People Seem to Discuss It

Seat pitch, leg room, angle of recline and the width of seats found aboard airplanes are discussed ad nauseum in much of the media: how passengers are crammed like sardines so that airlines can enjoy more revenue by fitting additional people into the fixed space of an aircraft.

This Component Counts Towards Airplane Seat Comfort Also — But Few People Seem to Discuss It

Other than executives who work for an airline, finding people who will defend the comfort of a seat in the economy class cabin might very well be next to impossible — and while the aforementioned factors certainly do contribute to mitigating the comfort of a seat, one component is also arguably just as important…

…which is the reduction of the padding of the seat itself, as shown by the following three examples — although no measurements were taken.

Delta Air Lines Reykjavik

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

This is a seat aboard a Boeing 757-200(G) airplane operated by Delta Air Lines when I traveled from New York to Reykjavik. Note how thick is the padding on this seat. I would not exactly call it a bastion — see what I did there? — of luxury; but it was reasonably comfortable.

United Airlines

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

The seat to which I was assigned aboard an airplane operated by United Airlines — of which I was a passenger back in 2016 for the first time in years — was located next to the window; and it appeared to be made out of leather. It also had an adjustable headrest.

I thought that the seat was somewhat reasonably comfortable — especially as the legroom was acceptably ample for me — but notice that this seat has less padding than the one of Delta Air Lines.

Vueling Airlines

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Traveling from Reykjavik to Barcelona was rather uncomfortable when I was a passenger for the first time aboard an Airbus A320 airplane operated by Vueling Airlines. Although the seat pitch of 29 inches and the seat width of 17.7 inches did not help matters — especially in terms of leg room — the lack of cushioning on what is essentially a seat with a flat back and not much in terms of support is what contributed most to the discomfort.

These seats were a half step — if that — above a park bench made out of wooden slats. No one should have to sit 4.5 hours in these seats, which were among the most uncomfortable seats in which I have ever sat aboard any airplane.

Seoul to Shanghai China Eastern Airlines seats

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

If seats in the economy class cabin aboard airplanes could be similar to the ones which used to be aboard airplanes operated by China Eastern Airlines in terms of padding and support — I sat in the one shown in the photograph above for 15 consecutive hours back in 2014 — that would go a long way towards returning comfort to passengers…

Etihad Airways economy class seats

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…or even like these seats aboard an airplane operated by Etihad Airways, in which I sat in 2015.


Seat width never meant all that much to me because I have never required a wide seat — although I do prefer the extra room whenever possible — but leg room and ample cushioning are paramount towards overall comfort, in my opinion…

…and yet, I do not see nearly as many articles written pertaining to the lack of cushioning of seats aboard some airplanes. After all, less cushioning means thinner seats — which means more seats can be crammed into an airplane and therefore more paying passengers means more revenue for the airline.

Fortunately, part of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 — which is being implemented by the Federal Aviation Administration of the Department of Transportation of the United States — includes tests as to whether the evacuations of airplanes can be conducted safely in the unlikely event of an emergency, as legislators are reportedly concerned that seat configurations are too tight for passengers…

…especially as the obesity rate in the United States increased from 30.5 percent of the adult population in 1999-2000 to 39.8 percent in 2015-2016 — and affecting approximately 93.3 million of adults in the United States — according to data and statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In this article — which I wrote on Tuesday, April 14, 2015 — I asked which would you rather have on your flight: a wider seat or more seat pitch

…but now I am asking which is most important to you in terms of seat comfort aboard an airplane: a wider seat, seat pitch, leg room, or ample cushioning — and why?

Please post your thoughts in the Comments section below. Thank you.

All photographs ©2015, ©2016 and ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

6 thoughts on “This Component Counts Towards Airplane Seat Comfort Also — But Few People Seem to Discuss It”

  1. Luke Vader says:

    Legroom is pretty obvious to any passenger. Flew cross-country, connecting flights on United a few weeks ago and my knees were maybe 4″ from the seatback in front of me. I’m only 5’10”, so if it was cramped for me, I can imagine how unpleasant it is for anyone over 6′.

    The seat pics you show above bring up an idea that maybe others can weigh in on. Instead of sitting back against ever-thinning cushions, why can’t seat manufacturers use hammock-like webbing that automatically conforms to and supports your body shape? The ‘webbing’ could be maybe thick sheets of nylon-lycra or something along those lines. It would certainly be lighter (in weight) than cushioning and probably more comfortable. The main drawback I can see is that stretchable webbing could get worn or torn more easily, requiring more frequent replacement.

  2. Ed says:

    Ugh, I flew Vueling from Stockholm to Barcelona and it was a disaster for my back! I think part of the problem is the “pre-reclined” seat they use like Spirit, in addition to the lack of any support, padding, etc.. I like to sit straight up when I’m awake.

  3. Chris Schenk says:

    The slimline seats may fit the airlines’ bottom line very well, but sure don’t fit mine. I bring a Purple (brand) cushion on long flights now. No longer do I have a painful seat, so to speak!

    There is something seriously wrong in an industry that applauds the many deaths of passenger comfort – each by a thousand cuts. Seating, catering, aircraft cleaning, drink and snack variety… there have been too many knives out for too long.

    Choosing a higher class may not solve the cushioning issue, nor the other ones. Flight in Premium Economy on Air Canada was remarkable for wider seats with better pitch, but hard as a marble sculpture, just like economy. Oh, and breakfast was yoghurt off a tray, and mushy muffins off another tray.

    Business Class is the way out, you say? I found Lufthansa biz seats on widebody transatlantic flights terribly firm. The angle of the seat pairs truly did enable footsie. Oh, and meal portions had been cut.

    Seat engineering has gone wrong. The logic of a competitive market suggests that solutions that attract passengers might actually appear again

  4. Christian says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Brian. I think the simplest solution is to require any executive or board member of any airline to fly the worst seats on any flight. I’m 6’5″ and weigh more than I’d like by a good bit, but if they can live with it, so can I.

    1. Christian says:

      Oh, families too of course.

  5. David Simon says:

    My pet peeve is the head cushion…if it pushes against the back of my head and neck I get a stiff neck and a headache. Lots of newer cars have the same effect. Pleather seat covers irritate me too, they don’t breathe and I get sweaty on some flights. I’d love to see perforated leather or pleather covers, or even some sort of cloth (although I suspect that would be a cleaning issue).

    The little pillow Delta gives first class passengers gets used as a lumbar pillow for me, it’s the only way I can avoid having my legs go numb.

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