The Different Types of Airplane Seats On International Flights

Perhaps the one area we’re all interested in when we get on an airplane is the type and size of the seat we’ll be sitting on, because let’s face it, there are all types of plane seats available, but not all of them are the same. Each airplane has its own type of seats, and knowing which airline offers which type of seat can make your next flight a lot more pleasant. 

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The size and overall comfort of the airline seat you choose can make a big difference regardless of how long your flight is.

Even though all seats are made for comfort, it is still good to know the difference between the seat types so that you can specifically request the kind you want. 

Seats on airplanes usually correspond to the price of the ticket and the type of passenger they are meant to accommodate.

First-class plane seats are naturally going to be bigger and wider than standard seats because people are paying more for the service.

Therefore, the seats themselves are not as important as the class of service you choose, even though the two always go together.

While many airlines have two-seat combinations, others have three-seat combinations, while still others have two seats on one side of the aisle and three seats on the other side.

The higher the class of seating, the larger and more comfortable the seat usually is, which is always something to keep in mind when you’re reserving seats for your next flight.

types of airplane seats

1. Economy Class Seats

Economy class interior of Boeing 737 MAX 8
Economy class interior of Boeing 737 MAX 8

Economy class seats, also called coach or standard seats, are the basic types of airline seats that most people think of when they think about getting on a plane.

On most international flights, they tend to be in three-seat configurations so that more people can fit on the airplane. More often than not, economy seats are the least expensive seats you can purchase for the flight.

On planes such as the Boeing 747-400, economy seats usually number three seats on each of the window sides of the plane and four seats in the middle section.

This allows both for more comfort and for more passengers on the flight. Typically, economy seats are 17 to 18 inches wide and have legroom – known as the pitch – of 31 to 32 inches. 

Instead of this 3-4-3 layout, many smaller airplanes have a 2-3-2 layout, but these smaller airplanes don’t always fly internationally.

In addition to the Boeing 747, the Airbus 380 also has a 3-4-3 layout, and some airplanes also have an upstairs and downstairs section and, therefore, can carry even more passengers on their international flights.

KLM 787-9 Economy class
KLM 787-9 Economy class

There are also planes such as the Boeing 777, which often contain a 2-5-2 configuration, allowing even more passengers on each of their flights.

If you find out ahead of time which type of airplane you’ll be flying in, which is easy to do, you can prepare yourself for the types of economy seats available so that you can know what to expect once you get on the airplane.

One thing to consider when choosing economy class is that there are now different types of seats available in economy class.

For instance, many airlines are now offering an “economy plus” type of seating, usually called Economy XL or Economy Comfort, which provides the same services as you get in economy class, but the seats offer a little more legroom and comfort.

Naturally the Economy Comfort or XL seats will be a little more expensive, but they will be worth it once you realize how enjoyable the features are.

2. Premium Economy Class Seats

Air France aviation Premium economy class B777-300ER
Air France aviation Premium economy class B777-300ER

As you might have already guessed, premium economy class offers a few more perks than regular economy class, and it costs a little more as well.

However, the costs aren’t nearly as high as business class or first class, and the extra perks make the slightly higher fees well worth it.

Some of the perks usually included in premium economy class seats are a dedicated lounge in the airport, wider seats with greater pitch and larger television screens.

There are more conveniences when it comes to food and drink, which can include everything from a wider selection of food to complimentary drinks.

Cathay Pacific A350-900 Premium Economy
Cathay Pacific A350-900 Premium Economy

The plane seats themselves are also a little nicer, and they can have up to six inches more legroom and are even a little wider as well.

In other words, if you choose premium economy class, you’ll get nicer seats and a little more service when it comes to food and drink, which is no small thing when you’re on a flight of any length.

When it comes to comfort, price, and amenities, the premium economy class seats are somewhere between economy and business class seats, and they were first offered in 1991 by EVA Air.

Nowadays, different airlines call their premium economy class seats something different, so if these are the seats you want when booking your flight, it’s best to ask the representative to make sure you’re getting what you want.

Philippine Airlines premium economy A330-300
Philippine Airlines premium economy A330-300

Some of the amenities offered by various airlines in their premium economy class seats include earplugs, socks, toothbrushes, and sleep masks, among others.

You may also receive more frequent flyer points, hot towel service, a dedicated cabin crew, and even at-seat telephones, so when you consider the prices of these seats and the amenities they offer, you’ll see that they are definitely worth the extra money you pay for them.

3. Business Class Seats

Cathay Pacific - A330-300 - Business Class
Cathay Pacific – A330-300 – Business Class

Like you’d expect, business class seats are somewhere between premium economy class and first-class seats, and they always offer bigger and more comfortable seats.

More often than not, business class seats are usually 21 inches wide and have legroom that is 57 inches.

This means that they have three to four inches more width and twice the amount of legroom as economy class seats. With some airlines, the seats are even bigger.

Qantas Business Class Seat - Boeing 737-800
Qantas Business Class Seat – Boeing 737-800 – Photo by TravellingOtter

Part of the reason business class seats are so nice is because they were designed for business travelers who likely need that extra room to work on reports, spend time on their computers, or talk to someone on the phone.

Business people need the extra room and appreciate the amenities, which include things such as drinks kept in real glasses, meals serviced with real knives and forks, and free food and drinks.

With some airlines, business class plane seats come with chauffeured pickup and drop-off service, airport lounges where you can fill up with free food and drink before you get on the plane, and full onboard bars that include every type of drink you can imagine.

With business class, most airlines pull out all the stops and treat you like royalty, so it is easy for you to feel a little spoiled when this is what you choose.

Emirates business class bar on the A380
Emirates business class bar on the A380

With more room to work and relax in, it is likely you’ll never go back to flying economy class once you discover the many benefits of business class.

Although not quite as luxurious as first-class seating, business class is definitely something to consider, especially if you have a long flight scheduled, because it makes all flights go much quicker.

4. First-Class Seats

A380 First Class Apartment Etihad Airways
A380 First Class Apartment Etihad Airways

Of course, the ultimate in luxury comes with first-class seating, and most people are familiar with the seating because you have to walk right past them as you’re getting on the plane.

First-class seats are in the very front of the plane, and they are typically one to two inches wider than the seats in business class and have legroom that is 10 to 30 inches bigger.

One of the many advantages of choosing first-class seating on an airplane is that there is a much smaller attendant-to-passenger ratio.

In some cases, you even get your own personal flight attendant, and they offer everything from real dishes and glasses to slippers and top-notch food to any kind of cocktail you want. 

Thai Airways First Class Cabin
Thai Airways First Class Cabin

Indeed, many airlines offer not just first-class plane seats, but seats that look more like suites, enabling you to stretch out and relax, or even take a nap if that’s what you wish to do.

There is also usually a separate lavatory just for the first-class passengers, and often more than one.

The trend these days is to make first-class seats bigger and to offer even more when it comes to amenities, making the experience truly one of a kind.

Sometimes, not only do the first-class seats offer bigger seating, but also chairs and even beds.

Airlines seem to be competing with one another to make sure their first-class passengers are treated as well as they can, and this is the only way to travel for many passengers.

People flying in first-class seating are definitely spoiled, especially with all of the new amenities that seem to keep popping up.

Emirates Boeing 777-200LR First Class Suite
Emirates Boeing 777-200LR First Class Suite

Of course, there is a downside to flying first-class, and that is the price of the tickets. First-class seats can cost five times as much as business class seats, making them unaffordable for many people.

Despite the many benefits, most people find that flying first-class on a regular basis just isn’t affordable for them, but for those who consider price insignificant, flying first-class is the way to go.


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