The 19 different kinds of aircraft seating in 2014


Travelers are growing increasingly aware that the specific model of seat on their aircraft is more important to the passenger experience (#PaxEx on Twitter) than the airline, the aircraft type, or sometimes the ancillary buy-up product.

Over the last few years, the variety of aircraft seats on the market has grown exponentially. In fresh analysis of the trends, Runway Girl Network finds there exists at least 19 separate types of seats (supplied by various manufacturers), with four seats roughly corresponding to economy, five seats used as premium economy seating, and all of them used for premium cabin travel across various airlines, aircraft types and lengths of flight. Here’s a quick primer of what’s on offer.

Traditional economy 

• Same old, same old

• May have on-demand IFE, AC power & USB

• Newer versions come with tablet ledges, phone slots

Traditional Economy - Emirates

Traditional economy – Emirates

Bare bones slimline economy

• More knee-room at the same pitch allows 30” pitch to feel like 31”

• Enables sub-28” pitch on Spirit/Jetstar style LCCs (and fixed recline)

• Fewer seat monuments to poke into passengers; can feel wider

• Frequent lack of padding, short seat pans, less back support

• Instead of measuring traditional seat pitch, we should consider new “butt-to-knee” and “eyeball to seat-back” measurements

Bare Bones Slimline - Lufthansa

Bare bones slimline economy – Lufthansa

Full featured slimline economy

• Similar underpinnings to barebones version, but with more padding, usually at 31-32” pitch

• Often come with bells and whistles of newer traditional economy

• Cleverly constructed models don’t make passengers think “slimline”

• Updates like winged headrests give a premium look and feel

Full Featured Slimline Economy - Qatar

Full featured slimline economy – Qatar

Economy plus (extra legroom economy seats)

• Same economy seats as the rest of the plane, but with more legroom and sometimes more recline

• Usually pitched at 34-38”, generally 3-5 inches more than economy

• Sometimes alcohol, meals, full range of AVOD programs are included

Economy plus - United

Economy Plus – United


• Front cabin in almost every European airline’s continental services

• Occasional option for premium economy cabin

• Blocked middle seat in each row of three on a narrowbody

• Sometimes with fold-down tables in middle seats, 2-3” extra pitch

• Convertible seats, formerly seen on BA, on the way out

Eurobusiness - Lufthansa

Eurobusiness – Lufthansa


• Row of economy seats with legrests that rise to form a flat sofa as long as three economy seats

• Developed by Air New Zealand, purchased by a small number of Chinese airlines for long haul

• Usually require a couple extra inches of pitch

• Sometimes given out to high-status frequent flyers as a freebee

Air New Zealand 777-300ER economy skycouch

Air New Zealand 777-300ER Skycouch economy


• US domestic first, short-to-medium business outside US, EU

• International premium economy cabins on airlines outside US (such as on Lufthansa)

• Pitch ranges from 37”-40”, width from 18.5″-21”

• New hybrids (like CX regional business) cross-breed recliners, sleepers and angled lie-flat

• Recent updates cut pitch, but come with more bells and whistles

Recliner - Lufthansa

Recliner – Lufthansa

Cradle sleeper

• Aviation’s version of the La-Z-Boy chair

• Significant recline and larger leg-rest than recliners

• Business class before the angled lie-flat phase started in the late 1990s

• Few recent installs — superseded by angled lie-flat and full flat seats

Cradle seat

Cradle seats are going the way of the dodo. Photo: Andrew Currie

Angled lie-flat

• Flat surface but at a 170-150° sloped angle to the floor of the aircraft

• Pitched in business class around the 60-70” range

• Gets a “wedgie-bed” moniker thanks to the tendency for passengers to slip down the slope

• Introduced by Virgin Atlantic in 1999, new versions still installed today

• Generally disliked by passengers compared with fully flat seats

Angled Lie-Flat - Singapore Airlines

Angled lie-flat – Singapore Airlines

Fully flat

• Introduced for business class by British Airways in 2000, standard among non-premium airlines

• When offered without footrest, this is like angle flats, but pitched at 72”+ and parallel to the floor; passengers experience problems of “leg droop”

• When offered with footrest, the feet are supported by small footrest or ottoman to avoid “leg droop”

• Can be forwards-backwards: BA has yin-yang arrangement, pre-merger United alternates by rows

• Passengers dislike middle seats and the “midnight vault” by middle/window passengers over sleeping aisle neighbors

British Airways Plc

Fully flat seat at British Airways

Offset fully flat

• Principally offered as B/E Diamond product

• Groups of fully flat beds point slightly away from aircraft centreline

• Feet tuck into footrest cubby, to one side of the head of the passenger in front

• Enables bed length far above pitch: United 787s pitched at 60” with bed length of 78” in 2-2-2 layout

• New standard for US narrowbody business class on transcon and international flights on American, Delta, United

• Does not solve “midnight vault” problem

Offset Full Flat - United

Offset full flat – United

Staggered fully flat

• Principally offered as Thompson Vantage or Vantage XL product

• Feet tuck into footrest cubby that is a small table for the passenger in front

• Laid out 1-2-1/2-2-1 on A330/340, 2-2-2/1-2-1 on 777, 2-1-2/1-2-1 on 777

• Only 1-2-1/1-2-1 layout on 767 gives aisle access for every passenger: usually around 80% aisle access

• Alternates in “divorced” pattern in centre sections on widebodies, with space between seats

• Creates “window-window” and “aisle-window” confusion for passengers booked in window seats where only four seat letters are used

• Solves “midnight vault” problem for most or all passengers, depending on layout (2-2-1/1-2-1 alternating vs 1-2-1)

• Can feel constricted, especially at “throne” single seat footrest cubbies

• Versions without movable armrests limit sleeping positions

• JetBlue Mint implementation allows for suites in “throne” single seats

Staggered fully flat - Delta

Staggered fully flat – Delta

Staggered aisle access

• Principally offered as Sogerma Solstys and Thompson Vantage/Vantage XL products

• Fully flat, but all seats are not created equal: 767 implementation uses standard Vantage

• Same basic concept but superior in personal space to staggered without aisle access

• Alternates in “married/divorce” pattern in centre sections on widebodies, with alternate rows sitting next to and apart from each other

• Can be forwards-backwards, starting with Etihad A380/787 business class

Staggered aisle access - Alitalia

Staggered fully flat with aisle access – Alitalia

Herringbone aisle access

• First aisle access seats, invented by Virgin Atlantic in 2003, also seen on airlines including NZ, CX, DL, AC

• Point towards aisle, leading some passengers to dislike them for looking out the window

• Seats either recline (CX, DL, AC) or flip over (VS, NZ) to meet footrest for bed mode

• Flip-over style enables differing support structures on seating and sleeping sides

• High walls of Cathay product led to “coffin class” nickname

Reverse herringbone aisle access

• Principally offered as Zodiac (formerly Sicma) Cirrus and B/E Super Diamond products

• Face away from the aisle towards window or middle of aircraft

• Seats recline to meet footrest for bed mode, often with additional sections rising to increase bed space

• Introduced by US Airways, refined and popularized by Cathay Pacific

• Wide variety of customisations by airlines lead to product differences across carriers even with the same base product

• Widely considered the best current business class offering

Reverse Herringbone - Cathay Pacific

Reverse Herringbone – Cathay Pacific

Sofa-seat aisle access

• Emerging style of seating, an evolution of existing products

• 1-2-1 seating in widebody business class without use of standard staggering or herringbone layouts

• Initial moves by Singapore Airlines, with recent patent filing from British Airways/Priestmangoode

• Passenger sits/relaxes largely in direction of travel, sleeps offset to one side

Sofa-seat - Singapore Airlines

Sofa-seat – Singapore Airlines

First class aisle access

• Longer, wider, plusher international first class seats than business class equivalents

• Fully flat beds and aisle access for all passengers

• Usually in reverse herringbone or arranged in direction of travel, in a 1-2-1 widebody configuration

• Decreasing among western carriers with the decline of international first class

DLH 747-8I LN1443 RC022

Lufthansa 747-8 First Class

Super First Class suites

• Large, private rooms with doors that close

• Seats facing the direction of travel in a 1-2-1 widebody configuration

• All the modern amenities of the best first class aisle access seats

Suite - SQ

Singapore Airlines suite

Seat + bed suites

• Separate first class recliner/cradle seat or sofa, plus fully flat bed

• Sometimes ensconced away with suite doors

• Bed may be perpendicular to direction of travel, enabling single-aisle widebody first class

• Emerging product war among Gulf carriers (see Etihad Residence)

• Unique use of the “forehead” space upstairs on Airbus A380

Seat + Bed - Etihad

Seat + Bed, such as Etihad’s Residence

Expect further development of this analysis — and please feel free to give your thoughts to the author, John Walton, via Twitter (@thatjohn) or email ( — only on RGN.