We looked at a few criteria when comparing the best economy class airlines- legroom,seat width, entertainment, cabin luggage allowance and customer feedback.
British Airways gives the least leg room, with a consistent 31 inches (just under 79 cm) in their economy seats flying from Australia. Delta, Thai and Virgin all have some planes with this length, but each offers roomier alternatives. To be assured of more space, fly Cathay as they have a uniform 32 inches (around 81cm).
Thai Airways offers the most room to stretch out, with 34 inches (86cm) on its Boeing 747-400s.
For wider seats, your best choice is Cathay Pacific. Like Delta and Virgin Australia, it offers seats 19 inches wide (47cm) on its Airbus A330-300 (333) models, but with a minimum offering of 18.2 inches (46cm) it trumps its competitors at the lower end.
Virgin also happens to have the smallest economy seats departing Australia, with its Embraer ERJ-190 (E90) – often used for shorter legs of a journey – just 17 inches (44cm) wide.
British Airways offer seats at the tighter end of the scale (17.5 inches) and Thai Airways give a little more room at 17.7 – 18 inches.
No matter who you fly with, you’ll have a wide range of entertainment options on board. Each airline provides hundreds of TV shows and films to watch, with the back-of-seat screens also holding music, games and trivia to enjoy. British Airways boasts a monthly changing schedule, Delta offers 18 channels of live satellite TV and Thai Airways provides small toys for younger children to play with.
As shown in our last cabin luggage comparison, 7 kg plus one small item (such as a hand bag) is the standard offering, and Cathay, Thai and Virgin Australia all keep in line with this.
Delta and British Airways are more generous. Both have size restrictions (56 x 35 x 23cm the smaller of the two) but their weight limits are much higher. BA lets you take on 23kg, so long as you can lift this into the overhead locker yourself. Delta has no weight restrictions at all on most of its routes. Exceptions are if you’re travelling to Singapore (7 kg), South Korea or China (both 10 kg) .
Sometimes stats and figures don’t tell the whole story which is why SKYTRAX conducts an annual Customer Satisfaction Survey. One of the key areas of this survey is related to best economy seats and of the five airlines compared here, only one — Cathay Pacific — was in the top ten. Top of the list was Japan Airlines.