Site promises to find the best airline seats

If you fly, chances are you have a story to tell about an uncomfortable airline seat.

Vicki Morwitz of New York does. Hers involves a long-haul plane trip, a minuscule economy-class enclosure and a circuitous routing that deposited her at her destination exhausted and irritated.

Then she discovered an online booking site that evaluates airline seats for their comfort. That site, Routehappy (www.routehappy.com), promises showing the best possible flights based on price, seat comfort and schedule. It could change the way people fly.

For years, airlines enthusiastically embraced the idea that in economy class, a seat is a seat. Most seats in the back of the plane shrank to a standard 17-1/2-inch width with 31 inches of “pitch,” or space between seats.

For the average American adult, that effectively turned a transcontinental flight into a grueling ordeal and made an international flight almost unbearable.

It wasn’t until the industry stumbled upon the idea that it could charge more for certain economy-class seats and extract more money for an exit row seat or an aisle seat, the concept that all seats are equal started to unravel.

Morwitz already knew that when she signed in to Routehappy to book a flight from New York to Istanbul. But the nonstop flight by her preferred carrier had been discontinued. Routehappy suggested an alternate route with more comfortable seats, via Moscow on Aeroflot.

It also ranked the flight based on seat comfort, in-flight entertainment systems, available wireless Internet connection and aircraft type, assigning the routing a score from 1 to 10.

Routehappy may debunk a few persistent and unhelpful myths, especially the oft-repeated mantra that air travelers care only about price. Air carriers used it to justify moving seats closer together and adding new surcharges to their ticket prices. Passengers, they claimed, asked them to do it by insisting that a low price trumped everything.

“While I agree that everyone cares about price, oftentimes consumers are comparing 10 or more options at the same price,” said Robert Albert, Routehappy’s founder.

“Why wouldn’t you choose an extra inch or two of legroom, streaming television or WiFi over a cramped seat with no amenities?”

The detailed information on seat comfort and amenities, previously hidden from the traveling public, could undermine the highly profitable loyalty programs, driving customers to book the best ticket for them rather than one that helps them accumulate the most frequent-flier miles.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “Scammed.” Read more travel tips on his blog, www.elliott.org or email him at celliott@ngs.org.

© 2013 Christopher Elliott/ Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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