Frequent flyers joke that legroom on airlines only seems to get smaller and smaller. But there’s always been an assumption that some minimal amount of legroom must be required for humans to fit into the seats they’re selling.
I flew from Split, in Croatia, to Barcelona on a new Spanish airline called Vueling recently, and learned to my cost that an airline can indeed make a seat’s “pitch” — the distance between each row of seats that gives passengers their legroom — shorter than the thigh bones of the humans sitting in them.
Here’s the proof:
What this photo does not adequately convey is that my knees are solidly jammed against the seat back in front of me. There was, literally, no legroom. I could barely sit down. For part of the flight I sat with my knees diagonally invading the spaces of the passengers on either side of me.
I wasn’t the only one. There was a lot of laughing and eye rolling among all the passengers when we boarded and discovered how difficult it was going to be to slide into the space allotted.
At the end of the 2 hour flight, my knees looked like this:
Vueling’s short haul seat pitch is just 30 inches according to Business Traveller. That’s on the short side, but it’s still more (allegedly) than the notorious Ryanair, whose seats offer only 29 inches between each one.
The bruises came not simply because of the lack of space, however. They also came from this array of jagged nuts, bolts and screws in the seat back in front of me:
That turned out to be my bad luck — the seat was missing a part; all the other seats had a plastic cover on those fastenings.
I should point out that I’m 6’3″, (1.950 meters to the Spanish) and therefore I tend to suffer when there is a lack of legroom. But 6’3″ isn’t unusual in the human race. The average American male is 5’9″ or more (1.763 m).
Spanish males are even taller: 5’10” (1.78 m) on average — so Vueling is even worse for them than it is for us.
Which made the next leg of my journey on Vueling — from to Barcelona to Menorca — even more puzzling. On that flight, I had plenty of room:
Perhaps I just had an unfortunate seat assignment, like when you sit down on a bus and realise that your seat is above the wheel well and there’s nowhere to put your feet. But a little research shows that Vueling is newly infamous for squashing its passengers into improbably small spaces.
On Yelp, “Elite ’13” writes:
If you have the overwhelming longing to experience life as a sardine then Vueling Airlines is for you! I saw a 130 pound guy who was 5 foot 6 have to contort his body and literally fall into a seat because they are so compact. I mean they really squeeze you in there. We were shoulder to shoulder and even folks with short legs had theirs pressed against the seat in front of them.
On Flyertalk, Flying Finn says:
Yes, the seat pitch on Vueling is quite abysmal. The same can be said for many other carriers as well. But unless you are very obese or tall you should survive the less than two hour flight, just get an aisle seat if you can’t get an exit row and stretch your legs down the aisle.
And on AirlineInequality, Tony Quinn says:
Plane was old, legroom was poor compared to easyjet.
“Poor compared to EasyJet.” Wow. EasyJet is the airline that led the no-frills flying craze in Europe; it’s well known for skimping and charging for everything it can.
We left a message with Vueling; we’ll update this post if we hear back.
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