By Mark Chesnut
In recent years, nearly every major U.S. airline has introduced some form of “premium economy” seating—that hybrid class of service that’s in the front of the economy cabin. You’ll often get more leg room and priority boarding when traveling in these seats. But not all premium economy service is equal—and not every airline even offers it on every plane. Here’s a comparison of who offers what.
American Airlines: This year, AA began installing what it calls Main Cabin Extra seats at the front of some economy cabins. The seats provide four to six inches of added leg room as well as priority boarding privileges. The additional fee ranges from $8 to $118 per segment, depending on the length of the flight. Elite-level members of American’s AAdvantage program—as well as passengers buying full-fare economy tickets—can still access existing Preferred Seats in other parts of the main cabin for free.
Delta Air Lines: Delta’s Economy Comfort offers three to four inches of extra leg room as well as priority boarding on domestic U.S. flights. On long-haul international service, Economy Comfort may include seats with up to 50 percent more recline, plus free HBO and Showtime and free beer, wine and other spirits.
Frontier Airlines: This Denver-based airline offers the evocatively named STRETCH Seating, with five to seven inches of extra legroom as well as Zone 1 boarding. The rows just behind these seats are dubbed SELECT Seating and have the same seat pitch as standard seating but Zone 2 boarding.
JetBlue: Based in New York City, JetBlue features an “Even More Space” seating option, which has at least 38 inches of leg room, priority boarding privileges and—for a limited time—faster security screening in some cities.
United Airlines: The nation’s largest carrier provides Economy Plus seating on all of its 737-500, 757-200 and 777-200 aircraft, with ongoing work to bring the service to all other planes in its mainline fleet. MileagePlus members with Premier Platinum status or higher get free advance confirmation for themselves and one companion.
US Airways: ChoiceSeats on US Airways offer no additional leg room compared to main cabin seats, but they’re closer to the front of the plane and provide Zone 2 boarding.
Virgin America: This San Francisco-based airline offers two upgrade choices besides First Class: Main Cabin Select, which includes free food and drink, one free checked bag and seats with 38-inch pitch (compared with 32 inches in its standard seating). Main Cabin Express includes priority boarding and seating near the front of the Main Cabin.
Mark Chesnut is a travel editor, writer and publisher of LatinFlyer.com, which focuses on travel to Latin America. He’s average height, but still appreciates extra leg room.