The most important criteria when I'm booking a flight is not departure time or whether it's direct, but the availability of aisle seats.
As someone who grew up being asked whether I played basketball (no; I'm terrible, but thanks for checking), I need to angle my longer-than-average legs into that open space. And getting banged up by bathroom-seeking passersby and the drink cart, then meal cart, then drink cart again is still preferable to spending six hours with my knees jammed into the seat in front of me (and that's pre-recline).
But it turns out, I may have just been choosing the wrong airline. A recent Wall Street Journal article broke down nine major U.S. carriers by distance between seats, which includes legroom, hip room and headroom, and at the top of the list is every budget traveler's dream: JetBlue, which offers 32 inches of space from the back of your seat to the back of the seat in front of you.
How Much Space You'll Get in Coach, By Carrier
- JetBlue — 32 inches
- Virgin America — 32 inches
- Alaska — 31 inches
- Southwest — 31 inches
- American — 30 inches
- Delta — 30 inches
- United — 30 inches
- Frontier — 28 inches
- Spirit — 28 inches
While budget airlines Frontier and Spirit rounded out the bottom of the list, with just 28 inches of space (the industry minimum), don't kiss your dreams of a summer vacation goodbye just yet. You still stand a chance of getting a great deal without sacrificing comfort with carriers like JetBlue or Southwest, the latter of which is currently offering extra-low fares to celebrate its 46th birthday. And as for my next trip, I know which flight options I'll be checking out first.