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Tough to fly sitting pretty

Most U.S. airlines share the same overall pricing formula: Their cheap product is bad, and their good product is expensive.

If you don't mind cattle-car crowding _ and if you can buy your ticket at least 14 days in advance and stay at your destination over a Saturday night _ travel on inexpensive Coach/Economy excursion fares is generally a bargain. But for that price, you ride in ultra-narrow seats with little leg room. For a comfortable seat in Business or First Class, you might have to pay as much as six times the cheapest fare.

Fortunately, there are a few exceptions, and here are some of the few ways you can enjoy a comfortable, decently priced flight:

Two airlines offer coach seating that is roomier than you get on most big lines. On Midwest Express, coach is a lot roomier. The real drawback is that Midwest Express flies only from Milwaukee to a few major eastern, midwestern and California cities.

And on TWA, the new "Comfort Class" gives several inches more leg room in coach than any of its big competitors.

Three of the new start-up lines _ Kiwi, Midway and UltrAir _ contend they offer roomier seating than their giant competitors. That's true only by the margin of one or two extra inches of leg room. They're not as roomy as either Midwest Express or TWA.

Another way to get a roomy seat for a decent price is to find an airline that sells the better seating at a reasonable premium over coach. One such line is Tower, which, on most of its routes, puts you in a comfortable seat for just $50 more, each way, than you pay for coach. Unfortunately, Tower usually flies only from New York to Los Angeles, Miami, Paris, San Francisco, San Juan and to Tel Aviv, where you can upgrade to a roomy seat for $225 each way.

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