To Recline or Not Recline – Spirit Airlines and Seat Comfort

By | April 22, 2010
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Image by 小宗宗 via Flickr

How often have you been on a plane with limited room already, only to discover that the space you’ve finally gotten halfway comfortable in is now even smaller because the person in front of you has opted to recline into your space? There is always something like the Knee Defender, a device to block the passenger in front of you from reclining, but that seems rather confrontational.

As a courtesy, we’ve often reclined our seat as little as possible unless the person in front of us reclines theirs. So, perhaps we weren’t as uncomfortable with the idea when it was revealed that Spirit Airlines was installing “pre-reclined” seats. Using the term pre-reclined to describe a seat that does not move is like calling a door you’ve removed from its hinges pre-opened.

Many people like being able to recline their seats…as made obvious by the fact they do so. Spirit’s A320s feature 174 “deluxe leather seats”…those are the ones that don’t recline, and 4 “big front seats”. JetBlue, by comparison, only installs 150 seats on the same model aircraft. Of course, JetBlue has more pitch, the distance between seats(aka legroom), than Spirit. Spirit offers 28 inches. The industry averages 31-32 inches.

Allegiant Airlines already has the seats that don’t recline, but their pitch is 30 inches. Their spokesman claims that passengers enjoy the difference. Airline Reporter put together a nice list of some airlines and their seat pitches. Ryanair, for example, whom we often criticize and is widely known as being willing to find any new way to reduce costs, offers non-reclining seats, but they have a 30 inch pitch. Way to race them to the bottom, Spirit.

Ultimately, people don’t seem to price airline tickets based on legroom, or carry-on charges…only fare.  Spirit is installing the new seats because they are lighter, and with fewer working parts, cheaper to maintain. So, no reclining seats, smallest seat pitch in the industry, charge for carry-on, etc…All in the name of lower prices. But on every itinerary we checked, they seem to be higher. However, Spirit reported ticket sales were up 50 percent the week of the announcement. Why do people fly them? Someone tell us?