- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2006

Though this is not breaking news for many travelers, all airline seats are not created equal.

Yes, first-class and business-class seats have more legroom and more amenities than your basic cattle-car economy, but even those desirable front-of-the-plane seats have differences — among airlines and sometimes aboard the same plane.

Beyond the widely known idea that exit rows have more legroom (some don’t, by the way), the average airline passenger doesn’t know that:

• Rows 11 through 26 on a JetBlue Airbus A320 have two inches of extra legroom.

• Seats 10E and F, both business-class seats on a United Airlines Boeing 767, have reduced seat width and a misaligned window and are directly across from the galley.

• Seats 28B and J on a British Airways Boeing 747 are the only two solo seats available on the plane. They feature extra legroom and a footrest connected to the seat.

These are just a few of the hundreds of tips and comments, both positive and negative, available on a free travel Web site, www.SeatGuru.com.

The Web site is the brainchild of Matthew Daimler, a computer-engineer-turned-champion of airline seating. The idea for SeatGuru.com was conceived in early 2001 when Mr. Daimler was working on a contract in Europe and began flying frequently between his West Coast office and several European cities.

Because he flew on many of the same flights, he began to notice that some seats were better than others.

He began to keep track of the differences, such as a certain seat having a few extra inches of legroom — a difference in comfort when a passenger is sitting in coach class for 10 hours — and to use them when booking trips.

Realizing that no unbiased collection of airline seating charts was available, he officially introduced SeatGuru.com in October 2001 with one plane type — a United Boeing 757. As the demand increased throughout that year, he began adding seating charts by soliciting reviews from travelers, most of them frequent fliers.

By the summer of 2002, the Web site became his full-time job and featured all the seating charts of the Big Six airlines: US Airways, Delta, United, American, Northwest and Continental. The Web site has grown to include information on 29 airlines, both domestic and international, and 250 plane models, with more being added as they are reviewed.

As more people take to the skies each year, seating is becoming one of the most important factors in attempting to create a pleasurable flying experience.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ latest report, U.S. airlines are flying at an average load factor of 77.2 percent, meaning the chances of an empty row of seats or an unoccupied middle seat are very low.

These numbers are the result of many airlines operating smaller planes to lower costs and also rearranging cabins to fit the maximum number of passengers.

These factors have contributed to a hectic and, in some cases, extremely uncomfortable experience for many air travelers.

Many fliers have become accustomed to using the seating charts available with the airline or booking through Web sites such as Expedia.com and Orbitz.com. Though informative, these Web sites don’t offer seat reviews or let you know that passengers know a seat has limited recline and is across from a lavatory.

SeatGuru.com is user-driven, with fliers submitting reviews and comments regarding particular seats.

To date, more than 12,000 comments have gone into the information available on the Web site.

Seats are color-coded (green for a good seat, yellow for a seat to be aware of, red for an undesirable seat) and specific seat information is made visible by scrolling over the seat. With each plane type, SeatGuru.com offers information on in-flight amenities, including audio, video, food, in-seat power options and infant policies.

Though the bulk of comments have to do with legroom and seat width, some offer more in-depth analysis, such as this comment that seats 61H and K on a Singapore Airlines Boeing 747 “are standard economy seats but … some of the only two-somes available in economy that are perfect when traveling with a partner. There is also extra space at the window for storage but some complain that it prohibits you from leaning against the wall when you want to sleep.”

After mainly offering seating charts and other in-flight information, the Web site recently underwent an upgrade and redesign, branching out to become a one-stop travel Web site or, as the site claims, “the ultimate source for airline seating, in-flight amenities and airline information.”

The site also has included a section called General Information for each airline. Under this heading, visitors can learn all the details about a particular airline, from airline codes and reservation numbers to Internet links for lounge information and what magazines are offered on board.

Baggage limitations, check-in times and policies on pets and minors are among other information available.

Because the site’s visitors are people on the go, Mr. Daimler has developed a mobile version of the Web site: mobile.seat guru.com.

The mobile version doesn’t offer as much information as the main site, but the bulk of material is quick and easy to find.

Being an interactive Web site, SeatGuru.com seeks reviews and comments from travelers. The Web site features a print option, which allows patrons to print out seating charts and take them along for their flight. Included on the printed sheet is a comment section where fliers can fill in their review, fax it to SeatGuru and become part of the process.

With new airlines and frequent new seating configurations, Mr. Daimler continues to update the Web site as often as possible. “Our goal is to become the airline travel equivalent to the AAA TripTik,” he said during a recent interview.

After the recent upgrade, SeatGuru.com is becoming just that. Now, if Mr. Daimler could only develop a way to make finding cheap airfares as easy as finding a good seat.

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