Can You Guess Which Airline Has the Comfiest Seats?

JetBlue's Mint first-class cabin service offers luxurious seating. Credit: JetBlue.

Flying isn't the comfy experience it used to be. But do some carriers make the experience more comfortable than others?


To find out, Airfarewatchdog.com asked over 1,700 fliers to rate airlines by their seating arrangements. JetBlue was their top pick, followed by Alaska Air Group  and then resurgent regional Hawaiian Holdings . Here's the full breakdown with relevant financial data added for context:

Airline
Share of Survey
Operating Margin
1-Year Revenue Growth
1-Year Earnings Growth

JetBlue

21%

6.2%

10%

266.7%

Alaska

17%

12.1%

7.9%

79.9%

Hawaiian

14%

3.6%

8%

120.5%

Frontier

13%

N/A

N/A

N/A

Allegiant

8%

9.6%

9.5%

14.2%

Southwest

6%

6%

5.5%

188.6%

AirTran

6%

N/A

N/A

N/A

Delta

5%

27.8%

6.5%

522.5%

United Continental

53%

1.8%

3.3%

Not material

Spirit

3%

11.4%

25.2%

68.1%

American

2%

3.5%

(5.3%)

26.3%

US Airways

2%

2.7%

6.1%

(38.5%)

Sources: Airfarewatchdog.com, S&P Capital IQ.

JetBlue's victory won't be much of  a surprise to those who have watched the industry for a while. The discounter has taken particular steps to appeal to upscale customers, including making room in aircraft cabins across its fleet.

"Even with recent reductions in seat pitch, JetBlue still offers a minimum of 33 inches between seat rows ('seat pitch' in airline parlance). Most of Alaska Airlines' 737 planes have a 32-inch seat pitch, which helps explain why it came in second in our survey results -- although that may change as Alaska adds 'slim-line seating' to its newest planes," Airfarewatchdog founder and President George Hobica said in a statement.

What the table above makes clear is that you can have a profitable, growing airline and still offer some amenities that customers want. In JetBlue's case, management has chosen extra room over some in-flight freebies. Want a meal? You can pay $6 for a box of assorted snacks. In the mood for a movie? That'll be $5, or you can pay $5.99 for premium DIRECTV access.

Expect fliers to pay up. Every metric that matters improved in September for JetBlue, and they are also climbing year to date. Revenue passenger miles grew 7.1% last month and were up 4.6% in 2014. Available seat miles were up 5.1% and 4.4%, respectively, over the same time frames. Revenue passengers were up 8.1% and 4.2%. JetBlue is filling its planes and flying more customers to more places.

Spirit Airlines is enjoying similar growth, but because of its amenities. "The only unexpected result is that Spirit Airlines, with 28 inches of pitch, isn't at the very bottom of the results, which were adjusted for airline size," Hobica said.

Perhaps the disparity is because fliers know what they're getting from Spirit? Extra fees and cheesy marketing are par for the course. And yet, in September the carrier flew with its planes 81.5% full as revenue passenger miles improved 13.5% year over year. Analysts expect Spirit's earnings to rise just over 26% in fiscal 2014.

Spirit Airlines' cramped quarters still don't rank last, perhaps thanks to a mixture of options for those willing to pay a bit more. Credit: The Motley Fool.

Either way, the financial results suggest that both carriers are delivering on their brand promise to passengers. Which would you invest in right now? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.

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The article Can You Guess Which Airline Has the Comfiest Seats? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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