While a lucky few are able to afford the spacious luxury of flying in first class, the majority of air travelers must pass the section with roomy leather seats and hot towels and head back toward the coach or economy section of the plane. Flying coach has some drawbacks, but with airlines being competitive, it is possible to find that flying coach is more pleasant.

Coach Basics

The bulk of seats on an airplane are in the coach section. A typical large plane, such as a Boeing 737, will have between 12 and 20 first-class seats and 130 to 160 coach seats, though some double-decker planes such as the Airbus A380 can hold as many as 800 passengers total. Some small planes have no first class section. First-class seats are almost always located behind the cockpit, with coach filling the middle and back of the plane. Typically coach is divided into two or three sections, with aisles running between the sections. Each section might have between one and four seats across.

Pros of Flying Coach

It's fitting that the other name for the coach section is economy – the biggest benefit of flying coach is that it's far cheaper than flying in first class. The price gap only widens when considering international flights. Availability is a also a benefit of flying coach; with few first-class seats on each flight, they might be filled up on the desired flight. Though most airlines no longer offer free food on coach flights, some, such as JetBlue, offer complimentary snacks. Some airlines also provide personal TV screens at each seat and access to in-flight wireless internet, though there is a fee per flight to use it.

Cons of Flying Coach

Flying coach tends to be uncomfortable for anyone of larger than average height or weight. The legroom is limited, so the knees might be cramped against the seat in front, and you might find your shoulders are pressed against your neighbor. Plus-size passengers might also find that the armrests are too close together to sit comfortably in one seat. The small space between rows also makes it difficult to get up from an inside chair and into the aisle when needing to use the bathroom, and sleeping is hard for some, because the seats only recline a few inches in coach.

Coach Alternatives

Depending on the airline, there might be the choice of booking a flight in business class or economy plus, a section that is akin to "coach with extras." This section is typically located between first-class and coach, though some smaller planes have a business section in place of a first-class cabin. Generally, there is about 8 inches of additional leg room and might have perks such as a personal TV screen, priority boarding and free checked baggage, but there is not the gourmet meals and luxurious seats of first class. Upgrading to business or economy plus will cost extra – sometimes nearly as much as first class, depending on the airline, availability and the luxuries offered.