5 Hidden Comforts to Consider When Choosing an Airline

Life is unfair and so is air travel. Two passengers may pay the same price to fly the same route, but have completely different experiences. Because airlines have varying standards of service, your comfort depends a lot on which airline you choose. Before you purchase your next airfare, check to see whether the airline offers the little things that might make the flight more enjoyable for you. (See also: Tricks to Make Flying in Coach Almost Luxurious)

1. Seat Design

Airplane seats seem to shrink by the day. Passengers regularly fight over reclining seats and armrests. At the end of the journey, tall people limp off planes with bruised knees, while everyone else is just happy to be able to stretch again.

To get more personal space in Economy Class, stick with these airlines when you fly within the U.S:

  • Frontier Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • US Airways, and
  • WestJet.

For international flights, choose:

  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Air China
  • Air Namibia
  • Air New Zealand
  • Avianca
  • Ghana International Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Royal Jordania Airlines
  • Saudi Arabian, or
  • Thai Airways.

At the other end of the spectrum are airlines with extra small seats.

Domestic airlines with cramped seats include:

  • AirTran Airways
  • American Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines, and
  • United Airlines.

However, in the case of AirTran Airways, the prices may be cheap enough to excuse such tiny seats.

And because small seats are even more painful for long international flights, you may want to avoid flying Economy Class on these airlines altogether:

  • Air France
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • KLM
  • Lufthansa, and
  • Qantas Airways.

2. Entertainment

Experiencing the miracle of flight means staying still in the same seat for hours, staring at the back of the seat in front of you. This is why in-flight entertainment is crucial.

For domestic flights within the U.S., Virgin America provides the best in-flight entertainment, with free live TV and basic cable channels. If you're willing to pay more, you can gain access to movies and TV shows. If in-flight entertainment is important for you, you may want to avoid American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and US Airways.

If you're flying internationally and want first-class entertainment, you can't go wrong with Emirates. This airline has consistently won the prestigious Skytrax World Airline Awards for the World's Best In-flight Entertainment every year since 2005. Besides hundreds of channels of entertainment, Emirates also offers live updates from BBC News. You can also use the in-flight system to phone someone, send text messages, or send emails.

3. Food

Airplane food has been the butt of many jokes, but some airlines do try to offer decent food on board.

Delta Air Lines, for example, creates its dishes by collaborating with Michelle Bernstein, who is an award-winning chef, and Andrea Robinson, who is a Master Sommelier.

Thanks to similar efforts on the part of non-American airlines, you can get a taste of authentic international fares while flying. Some of the best airlines in terms of food are Air France, Turkish Airlines, Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates Airline, and Etihad Airways.

4. Wi-Fi and Power Outlets

Gone are the days when you could truly unplug during flights. Not all airlines offer Wi-Fi and in-seat power yet, but it's now possible to stay productive in the air.

According to a research by Routehappy, 38% of domestic flights now offer Wi-Fi on board. If this is something you want, choose Virgin America or AirTran next time you fly. Many of Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines planes are also equipped with Wi-Fi.

Only a small percentage of international flights offer Wi-Fi. You'll have better chances of getting Wi-Fi on board if you fly Lufthansa.

5. Customer Service

It's tough to rate airlines based on something as intangible as their quality of service, but Skytrax, a UK consultancy company, tries regardless. Skytrax gives airlines star ratings based on "the quality of their front-line product and staff service standards." Seven airlines have received its five-star rating: ANA All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, Hainan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Singapore Airlines.

Additional Resources

If you need more in depth information about the comfort and amenities of an upcoming flight, refer to these additional resources.


If you're a discerning passenger, Routehappy is the booking site for you. It gives every airfare a happiness score, which is determined by a slew of factors: seats, entertainment, Wi-Fi, power supply, food, airport amenities, and many more.


When this website shows you its search results, there is a smiley (or frowny) face for every airfare. Momondo rates every flight on a scale of 1 to 10 based on how long the flight will be and how cheap the airfare is.


Hipmunk sorts its search results by "Agony," taking into account the airfare price, flight time, and number of layovers.


This site is a treasure trove of information on plane seating. If you already know your flight, SeatGuru can help you find the best seat in the plane. It has also rolled out a feature to search and book flights. Its Guru Factor (or G-Factor) rates flights on a scale of one to five based on seat comfort and in-flight amenities.


At AirlineEquality you can find ratings and reviews on legroom and service. The website design needs a little updating, but it's run by Skytrax and has some useful information.

How do you fly comfortably? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture

As someone who flies over 100,000 miles a year, I find these types articles absolutely worthless. What is never mentioned or discussed are the limitations US flyers have with regard to flying. Jet Blue and Virgin America fly in limited markets. And should i somehow figure out how to snag a seat on Malaysia airlines for my next overseas flight so I can have a few extra inches of leg room. And oh that internet service on overseas flights will fade away at some point on any airline.
The fact is that most US passengers are on a plane for leisure and fly maybe 2-3 hours on most trips. If they are flying overseas they are looking for the cheapest way to get there. I fly regional and mainline and the one thing that flyers want is on time take off and arrival. it is only people who fly a lot or are travel bloggers who get into the minutia of United economy plus or Delta vs Lufthansa or Singapore.
Oh and by the way for all those fans of Southwest and Jet Blue no matter how many FFMs I have with your airline they can never take me over the pond in first class for a couple hundred dollars of taxes and fees. And since having a flat bed on those trips is the most important factor for rest and sleep, people in business and first just want quiet.