Seat Class

first classOnce total emissions for a flight are known, emissions per passenger can be calculated. It is important to note that calculators differ in how they take into account cargo versus passenger load, seat occupancy rate, and seat class.

Seat class is a key factor in determining the emissions an individual is accountable for on a given flight. Seating area is limited in an aircraft. A plane that is configured with all economy-class seats accommodates the highest number of passengers. First- and business-class seats take up more space and fit fewer passengers. Weight is another consideration: the seats and entertainment systems for business- and first-class are larger and heavier than for economy seats. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence indicates that families traveling in economy often have more luggage. It might be possible to generalize that vacation and pleasure travelers tend to travel economy class and with more luggage, whereas upper-class seats are usually occupied by business travelers who aim to minimize their luggage.

Some calculators consider weight to be the primary determinant with regards to seat class. However, since an aircraft’s weight is determined largely by the airframe and fuel on board, the weight of passengers on board has a small impact on the marginal increase in fuel consumption. What is true for occupancy rates applies to seat class also: more passengers means lower per person emissions. Since higher class passengers de-facto replace more economy passengers, emissions should be allocated by space (i.e. each upper-class passenger is allocated the emissions of the number of economy passengers that could have been seated in the same space).

To illustrate this with an example: A Boeing 767-300ER accommodates 350 passengers if it is configured as an all economy-class flight. The same airplane only accommodates 269/218 passengers in a two/three- class configuration (info taken from www.boeing.com/commercial). In other words, in a three-class setup there are 132 fewer passengers (38% less) and the emissions therefore have to be divided among fewer people. To do so fairly, business and first class passengers should be allocated the emissions in proportion to the space they occupy relative to economy passengers they displace. In the table below, for example, an international first class passenger takes up an average of 3.13 economy seats and is therefore responsible for 3.13 times the emissions of an economy traveler.

Average Seat Room Based on Seat Class*

Seat Class

Average Seat Pitch (inches)

Average Seat Width (inches)

Smallest Seat Area (square inches)

Largest Seat Area (square inches)

Average Area (square inches)

Average Area as Percentage of Economy Class

U.S. Domestic Economy

31.8

17.4

520

648

554

100%

International Economy

32.2

17.3

512

630

555

100%

Premium Economy

38.5

18.9

677

1029

729

131%

U.S. Domestic First/Business Class

40.0

20.4

663

1462

816

147%

International or Long-Haul Business Class**

57.6

20.4

684

2054

1163

210%

International First Class

77.9

22.3

1160

2485

1735

313%

* Calculations based on information from seatguru.com

** Does not include suites (mini-cabins that include flat bed, work station, and TV).