Flying comfortably when you’re tall

We all know the problem. When you’re 5′ 11” or taller, you’re bound to find yourself curled up as a rumpled newspaper in an airplane seat. Airplane seats just do not offer much space. You can try to upgrade to seats with more leg room, but… you have to be lucky enough to find any available.

Once I flew from Amsterdam to the US with a friend. This was a nine-hour flight. We had tried to reserve extra leg room but sadly, these seats were taken. When the day of our trip had finally come, I found – to my surprise – our much desired seats occupied by 2 short Chinese people, laying there in those spacious seats! Whaattt!! All due respect to them, but they could have traveled easily and very comfortably in regular seats, minus the extra leg room! Our seats were in the back of the airplane. My friend and I spent a soul-crushing 9 hours, folded up knee-to-ear with heights of 5’11” and 6′ 5”. Utterly broken upon arrival. Do not think for a second that this made me hold a grudge against short(er) people, quite the opposite. I Love them!!

What surprises me is that it doesn’t seem to matter who needs the extra leg room most, but who is willing to pay most for it. It seems to me that that can’t be the idea behind extra leg room, right?

A friendly couple once told us that there was one occasion on which they couldn’t even fit between the seats on a Transavia flight. After miraculously pulling it off, he found himself legs-spread with the backrest of the woman in front of him shoved between them. The most plaguesome was that the woman seated in front of him was heavily pregnant and she couldn’t recline her back rest for fear of snapping his knees.

She was thus forced to travel seated upright throughout the entirety of the flight.

After having made an inquiry, luck would have it that there was a seat with extra leg room up front which had been canceled. My friend could take that seat, but only for additional payment.

Naturally, he complied, but I think it is preposterous that a pregnant woman should sit upright for 3 to 4 hours because the can’t change the position of the back rest. This because of a tall person behind her, who has nowhere to go in their seat. I am no safety expert, but I do find situations like these worrisome.

‘Safety first’ is the common slogan, but apparently not in this type of situation.

Airline companies have their cabins arranged in a manner where comfort is directly linked to the average price that has to be paid for a flight.

This is understandable, but I think they should start considering catering to the ever increasing average hight of the world’s population.

Luckily, there are plenty of airliners that do offer sufficient leg room. Did you know, for instance, that there is a list available on World Ticket Center’s website that details which companies offer the most and least leg room, both in economy class as well as business class.


Please do bear in mind that companies upgrade their fleet continually, causing anomalies in the statistics.

When airliners refer to leg room, they mean the distance between your back rest and the seat in front of you. So, it’s not the space between the end of your seat and the next seat as most people would expect. (I once measured this on a cheap airliner and there was only about 42 to 43 cm of room) Utterly impossible!!!

What stood out to me on the WTC list is that China airlines, Malaysia airlines and Thai Airways (the list goes on) offer the most leg room. Weird, considering the population of these countries is not very tall on average. Hats off to them for taking taller people’s needs into consideration!

Which good or bad experience do you have with airline companies? Perhaps you have an amusing anecdote? Let us know!!

Love, Mirjam x

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