Should we ban overweight passengers?

Fact: one-third of Americans are obese.

Fact: No subject on this site is more incendiary — none — than overweight air travelers.

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Also a fact: On my last road trip, I gained a few pounds. Well, more than a few. So now I’m not just a tall guy, I’m also a big guy. My next flight is going to be a squeeze unless I start dieting now.

If you’re a subscriber to our daily email newsletter, you’ve had a front row seat to the lively discussion about personal space. (If you’re not, it’s really worth signing up for now. We have lots of newsletter-only content that you’re missing.)

Every discussion about XL passengers inevitably boils down to one simple question: Should we charge more for people who weigh more? After all, many passengers enthusiastically embrace the philosophy of “pay more, get more.” Why not be consistent?

We’ll get there in a minute, but first, let me set up the discussion. It started with a letter to the editor from reader Joan Grey:

On a recent flight, I sat next to a male who was extremely large, as in big framed, like a rugby player, rather than being overweight. In fact judging by his bulging muscles, he might have been extremely fit.

Still, I think he should have purchased business class considering his size.

During the entire flight, he hogged the armrest, and poked me with his elbows when eating as he just didn’t have enough space for his body.

I also suffered that problem of being hit by the meals trolley and people walking up and down the aisles as I was squashed in the side of my seat.

I can’t understand why people aren’t complaining more about this issue. After all, I purchased a seat and expected to be able to occupy 100% of it, not have to move over to accommodate some large passenger who couldn’t be bothered purchasing a seat big enough for himself.

That prompted the following response from reader Melissa Goodrich:

I sat on a Delta flight from ATL-AUS, 5 rows from the front in Economy, aisle seat which I selected the moment I bought the ticket 4 months out.

An extremely fat man (400 lbs? more? I have no idea- he was either a potential round-the-world cruise ship buffet line champion eater or had a severe metabolic disorder) with mobility problems and wheezing, sat next to me in the middle seat.

His largish wife occupied the window seat. They had traded one seat on a different row so they could sit together already.

They were nice, clean looking people. But when the wife asked if I would trade my aisle seat for the middle seat, I declined, nicely, saying I couldn’t. I like the aisle and am not comfortable with the middle seat … and don’t really like the window seat either, which she did not offer.

The man was all over my space, shoulder, elbows, thighs, calves; he couldn’t help it. He would have barely fit in a first or business class seat either. The two times he got up to use the facilities, he struggled.

I spent a lot of time standing in the back of the plane by the galley. This made the flight attendants nervous, as the governor of Texas was on the flight in economy and his aides took up much of the first couple of rows.

Seats and space are too small for the modern overweight American- the percentage of fat people is increasing while the airlines prefer to look the other way and the economy passenger suffers. Watch the incoming on a Southwest plane – the experienced passenger will go to a seat sitting next to a normal person rather than take chances with an empty row.

And that, in turn, prompted the following response from reader Kristin Rosmorduc, who writes:

I am a petite woman who also books my seats right when I book my flight. I am a frequent business traveler and know to do that. However, I believe I had a schedule change and ended up in a window rather than my customary aisle seat on a flight from Atlanta to Washington Dulles.

A very large man was assigned to the middle seat and he definitely encroached on my seat so that I had to sit twisted towards the window the whole flight. I have a bad back and I was in pain the whole time and had to visit my chiropractor when I got home.

That man had no business in that seat! And from a safety standpoint, if we were to crash, he would not have been able to easily let alone quickly dislodge himself and I would have also been stuck.

I found myself grateful that I am petite and nimble because I could crawl over the seat in front of me if I had to. The flight attendants looked at me with pity but the flight was full and there was no open seat to move me or that man.

I didn’t say anything in front of him to not hurt his feelings but I did stop and complain to the purser when I left. She told me to complain to Delta customer service which I did. All I was given was a $50 voucher.

They should have had to pay for pain and suffering. To add insult to injury, the man ate junk and drank multiple cokes the whole flight. I work out and eat right, that is a whole separate subject. But, airlines should not allow large people in economy for safety reasons alone.

I know they don’t like to offend certain types of people but either they increase the size of their seats and/or require heavy people to buy two or buy business class for safety reasons alone not to mention the huge inconvenience and stress these situations cause other passengers. The extra weight cramming one heavy person in a seat must also cause fuel costs to rise too.

To me this is an issue that passenger rights groups should take up and get the industry to address. Perhaps that would ease the PR concerns of the airlines she trying to deal with these situations on an ad hoc basis?

By the way, the debate isn’t over. We have another letter to the editor that will publish tomorrow. Apparently, someone took offense to the latest letter.

We could be nuanced about this, but why bother? As a big and tall guy, I think I have a little license to ask the tough questions. It’s not a matter of whether people should pay more to fly when they’re bigger than the average seat size. I think it’s a question of should they be allowed to fly at all?

fat guy

I mean, this can’t be safe.

Should there be a weight limit for air travel? If so, what should it be? 400 pounds? 600 pounds? Unable to fit into the seat?

Is weight a disability? (Honestly, as I sit here, I’m inclined to think it is.) How far should we go to protect the feelings of other passengers? Is being sensitive more important than being safe?

I have a lot of sympathy for the one-third of Americans who are obese. Losing weight is easier said than done. There’s also no evidence that an overweight passenger has caused any kind of airline disaster, ever. But that doesn’t mean it will never happen.

Should we ban overweight passengers?

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78 thoughts on “Should we ban overweight passengers?

  1. We should not ban passengers that some would consider overweight. The airlines, all of them, should make a large person buy 2 seats if that person cannot sit in a single seat with all the armrests down and have the seatbelt on without any extenders. Paying more for more room on a plane is no different than paying extra for larger sized clothes when you don’t fall into the “average” sizes.

    I happily pay for 2 seats on Southwest when I feel the need for some wiggle room.

    1. Here’s how they could do it, too – make you check a box stating that you can fit in a standard seat and fasten the buckle.

      Trouble I have is, men with wide shoulders. They’re forever shoving over into my space and forcing me into the aisle, where I get hit by passing passengers and the drink cart, or into the curved wall so my neck is killing me the entire time. It’d be great if folks had to check a box that your jacket size is more than, say, 48 for men or 22 for women. Or, actually, if the FAA – which we taxpayers fund – would get off its duff and enforce some seat minimums. Outrageous that we pay billions for the air traffic system and have so little say in how it’s managed.

      Between this, the TSA, flight delays and absurd bag fees, I’m about getting that if I can’t drive, I don’t go, with only a few exception destinations.

      1. Hi Pocahontas,

        I’d like to share how I dealt with a similar problem back in 2009, and met Chris at the same time. I was a big boy even then, still able to fit into a single seat (barely), and my standard plan was to board early, waddle to the rearmost row, and grab the aisle seat. Then, almost always, I wound up with an empty seat beside me.

        On the day of “the incident,” I was taking a Southwest flight from Sacramento to Ontario (CA). As usual, I boarded early, procured my usual back row aisle seat, then watched and hoped as the plane filled. Eventually, a man took the window seat in my row. He was what Southwest calls (I believe) “a passenger of size”. He was huge. He couldn’t get his seatbelt on, or the armrest between him and the middle seat down, but hey… no skin off my nose. We had an empty seat between us… and NOBODY was going to sit there.

        The plane filled, and as luck would have it there ended up being a single empty seat on the flight… the one between me and the window seat passenger in my row. Yes! But then, a Southwest employee came on from outside the plane, walked down the center aisle looking for empty seats, noted the open seat in my row, and walked back off the plane. A minute or two later, another passenger came aboard and attempted to shoehorn himself into that center seat. Because the window seat passenger was sprawled into the center seat (and I was no elf butt myself), there wasn’t enough room for the new passenger. The only way he could fit was by raising the armrest between his center seat and my aisle seat, leaving me crushed against the aisle-side armrest. The Southwest attendents just stood there and looked at my quandary with bovine indifference. What to do? What to do?

        Here’s what I did. There was a little girl sitting with her family in the row in front of us. I asked mom if she’d mind if her daughter switched seats with me. God love her, she said, “Sure,” and the little girl didn’t mind. She ESPECIALLY didn’t mind after I (with mom’s permission) gave her five dollars. 🙂

        After I got home from the flight, I was unhappy. Damn it, the Southwest attendents should have done something. So I emailed Southwest about it… and almost immediately received a telephone call from Customer Service rep Nancy McKinley. She was wonderful… a perfect example of how to respond to a disgruntled passenger, or an unhappy customer of any kind… apologetic, concerned, and patient. She took a considerable amount of time to just listen to me and let me vent. She even laughed when I told her how I had eventually paid the little girl in the next row five dollars to switch seats with me. By the end of the call I was smiling, and felt as if I had been talking to a friend. THEN, she refunded the amount of my fare, AND sent me a LUV voucher for the cost of another one. Whoa!

        Now, here’s how I met Chris… I was a reader of his blog, and often saw people bellyaching, but seldom giving “Attaboys” (girls?). So, I emailed him about my experience, and damned if he didn’t write an article about it. He’s since had MANY occasions to wish that he hadn’t… because I’ve been with him ever since.

        Should you HAVE to a pay a little girl five bucks. No… but it sure worked out for me. 🙂

        1. This is such a typical GRANT RITCHIE story … I ask you, who else would give a little kid $5 for doing him this favor? Who else would even THINK of asking the kid? Priceless story!

        2. Thanks for giving me a chuckle today. You took what was an uncomfortable situation and made it entertaining–for me anyway. Probably not so much for you at the time.

  2. Americans are getting bigger, while seats are getting smaller. This is going to have to stop. And it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the only way it can be stopped is if the FAA steps in and mandates minimum seat size. Or pretty soon the only ones who will fit in seats are kids! This is a safety issue as well as a consumer protection issue. The airlines are only concerned about cramming in more people, and not about our comfort. While overweight passengers are the most obvious point of friction on this issue, it’s really something that effects everyone.

    1. I think that is a red-herring in this discussion. Yes, seats are getting smaller, and that is certainly a problem and deserves discussion (and has recently been address on this blog). But, if a seat is 16 inches wide vs. 18 or even 19 inches, it will make little difference if an extremely large person sits in it next to you.

      Please let’s keep this discussion focused on the issue of people who’s size causes them to occupy more than just their own seat.

      1. I disagree that this is a red herring. Seat size determines how many people are going to fit in any given seat. Right now seats are designed so that almost half of all men’s shoulders are going to not fit in the seat. That means an uncomfortable trip for them and the person next to them. Shoulder width can’t be helped.

        Extremely overweight people are another part of the spectrum, but they’re not the only problem.

        1. And just for the record, it’s not just men. I’m 5’10”, “not thin”, but my bottom half still fits completely inside a standard economy seat and I’m many inches away from needing a seat extender – and rather hoping that I never get there.

          But for my entire adult life I’ve had shoulders that are wider than a standard seat (and, for the record, long enough legs that even at only 5’10” I have problems with reclining seats on many planes). I can’t do anything about my shoulder width or my hip-knee length. Why should I be forced to pay many many times extra for a business class seat just so the person in front of me can recline without injuring me?

          1. Ha!
            And I hope you never DO get there (needing a seat extender). The first time you have to ask for one is, shall we say, a moment of clarity. 🙂

      2. True, but if the seats are 18 or 19 inches wide versus the normal approx. 17 inches, then less people would “occupy more than just their seat” )Some still would continue to extend over). Every extra inch counts. Isn’t is amazing that we did not seem to hear about all this until a few short years ago when airlines began economizing. I understand the frustration from both sides. For now, I guess the only way is for some to have to purchase two adjoining seats in economy or pay for business/first seating. The only way the FAA is going to enter the fray is if safety is involved. If this affects how timely passengers can exit their seats and rows and get up or down an aisle to an emergency exit , then it might be dissuaded to act.

  3. The issue comes down to the large person’s claims that they should not be discriminated against, and other passengers rights to 100% of the seat they paid for.

    Now, is it really discriminatory to charge someone for the space they occupy? I’d say no. Airlines should charge passengers based on the number of seats they occupy.

    BTW, it should also be required for passengers, large enough that it is impossible to get past them to the aisle when exiting a row, to leave their seat to let other passengers access the aisle.

    1. I usually occupy an aisle seat when I fly. I ALWAYS get up to let out anyone who wants to get out to the aisle. With the seat pitch shrinking on planes, it’s nearly impossible for one full size adult to climb over another full size adult in the space between seats these days without getting uncomfortably intimate.

    2. I think an argument can be made that it’s fair to charge someone more if they want more (in this case, space). That shouldn’t necessarily be considered discrimination.

  4. Regarding weight as a disability. _IF_ it is, and that alone is an interesting argument (Some people simply won’t lose weight, others can’t, etc.) then airlines should be required to accommodate people with that disability, just like any other disability. This would mean the airline should provide the extra space for the “disabled” person and not force their other customers to do that.

    Now, if each flight were to lose, say 4 seats it is probably more), in order to accommodate large passengers, what do you think is going to happen to fares and fees?

    If we accept size as a disability, then I suspect that the “normal sized” passenger is going to pay the cost of transporting the larger passengers either by paying more up front, or by donating some of their seat space.

  5. One concept to consider here is what economists call ‘externalities’. When my choices or behavior affects another, then the other should be compensated for how I am adversely affecting them. In this case, the 1/3 (obese) are adversely affecting the 2/3 without any penalty. Airlines benefit b/c they don’t have to raise prices for the obese, and thus more of the obese will fly at the lower price, while the 2/3 ‘pay for the obese’ by being more uncomfortable. Do airlines really enforce the ‘buy 2 seats’ rule very often, or fairly? Perhaps we should change the seat model to couch-like seating with movable arm rests/dividers? Then airlines could sell seats by the inch of hip room… just kidding, maybe.

    1. As a “Customer of size” (as Southwest euphemistically refers to my fat self), I have to agree with you. Did you know that Southwest gives fatties like me a free seat? Of course, I love it, and I’m hypocrite enough to take advantage of it, but it damned sure isn’t fair to those of you WITHOUT “overactive fork syndrome” who have to subsidize me.

      I think the airlines are afraid to stand up to people like me, because as soon as they do, someone will run to DOT and play the “disabled” card. Bull (not to put too fine a point on it) butter. I’m not disabled. I’m just fat… by my own hand. Make me pay my own damned freight.

      1. I like people who take responsibility for their actions! And people who don’t mince their words. Your comments remind me of the old 19th century expression that people ‘dig their grave with their fork’.

      2. I agree with you to a point. But right now seats are so narrow nearly half of men’s shoulders can’t fit. I’m not sure where the limit is – should seats fit 90% of the population? 95%? I don’t know, but not fitting half the male population on an attribute that can’t be helped isn’t right.

  6. No, overweight passengers shouldn’t be banned. They should simply have to purchase a second seat if they don’t fit in one. My mom and I were on a full flight once, when a huge (we’re talking 500 lbs huge) sat next to her. I was in the window, and unfortunately she was in the middle. We went and discreetly complained, and were told there was nothing they could do as the flight was completely full. So she sat pretty much in my lap for the first 30 minutes. Then the man started eating some awful smelling food and got terrible gas. Seriosuly, I don’t know how to nicely say this, but he was burping and farting so bad that my weak stomached mom actually got physically sick. Between the gas and the body odor that all morbidly obese people have, it made my stomach turn too. So she ended up in the back of the plane, with the flight attendants. And to top it off, the obese man was extremely rude. He saw my mom starting to throw up and got nasty with both of us when she had to get up. Because it was so difficult for him to get up to let her out. Then made a nasty comment to me that I had better not have to get up because he wasn’t moving again.

    1. Obesity does not cause rudeness. Nor does it cause gas. I suspect something would have been done if your mom had refused to sit in the partly occupied seat.

      1. Agreed 100% I was more just saying that it made the situation way worse because he was rude. And the something that was done was my mom was allowed to sit in the seats where the flight attendants normally sit.

    2. Lets ban babies also since they ALL have gas and diaper odor.. Your comment above was extremely rude.. not all people who have a weight issue smell..

      1. I really don’t think @Rebecca was saying all large sized people exhibit those traits. She was just sharing a personal experience. Her vote was to NOT ban large passengers, but to require them to pay for the space they use.

          1. You are indeed correct. I missed it. Perhaps it was an accident on the poster’s part. But, I agree with you such comments have no place here.

  7. There are baggage sizers for carry on bags. I suggest a passenger sizer: “If you can’t walk through this doorway facing front, you need two seats.” It would cover those who are wide in the belly as well as those who are broad of shoulders.

    Of course, there could be premium economy seats that are wider than “normal,” just as there already are premium economy seats for the long-legged. Then we could add super-premium economy with long leg and wide bottom seats, which is business class, come to think of it.

    Just don’t blame the victims large and small, for the sins of the airlines.

    1. OK, who owns a plastic production facility? Here you go: Create a seat attachment. Clip it to the armrest to form a rigid, vertical definition of your seat space. Everyone stays put in their purchased seat.

  8. No. As annoying and painful as it can be to be seated next to someone who is obese, not allowing them to fly at all would solve no problems. It would be fair to require them to pay for extra seats for themselves so that the airlines don’t offer the seats around them to unsuspecting passengers, but that’s all.

  9. The issue isn’t if someone large should or should not fly. The real issue is the extent of the impact. In flying we expect some inconvenience, such as a large shoulder guy, a crying baby, someone that has to use the bathroom. That happens and is “normal” for the flying experience. We deal with it. The problem comes when a passenger impacts others to the point of their harm. A person shouldn’t be wedged against the side of the seat such that it causes physical pain. A person should be able to get up and use the toilet. When someone impacts others more than “the norm” then they need to be responsible for it and mitigate their impact. If that means buying more expensive seats then that is what is needed.

  10. I was on a Delta flight from MSP to LNK on a CRJ-200. I had been placed on that flight due to delays the night before. When I boarded, my seat was the window on a 2-seat wide row. Of course, there was a guy bigger than any Husker linebacker sitting there, taking up most of both seats. There was practically zilch space for me to sit, in fact, I could not get my belt out from under him! After we took off, I got him to stand in the aisle and I went to the front of the aircraft where the flight attendant was. She told me I could sit in the flip down flight attendant seat in the back until landing, and then had to return to my seat. I told her I’d be glad to just belt in there and ride it out. It was in the final seconds before landing that the cockpit crew relented and let me stay there as long as I didn’t complain to DL about it.

  11. Going to out myself as a large man.

    I am 5′ 11″, 290 pounds, and have shoulders that are just over 23 inches wide. I fly. A lot. I spend an average of 4.5 days a week in a plane. A typical week is Flight Out Monday, Meeting in the afternoon, Meeting Tuesday Am, Flight Out Tuesday PM, Meeting Wednesday AM and PM, Flight Out Wednesday, Meeting Thursday AM and PM then Flight Home Friday, or Meeting Thursday Am and Flight Home Thursday PM.

    I am a former athlete. (Ice Hockey, Field Events, and Rugby for those keeping score at home) I am not in the best of shape, but can still leg press 600 pounds with no issue.

    I am just a large man. I don’t have issues with seat belts on my flights, and always make it a point to get a window seat for the extra shoulder room it provides (I can wedge my shoulder into the window relief)

    The fact of the matter is that seats are far smaller than they were before deregulation yet the average American is much larger.

    Even if I lost 100 pounds, my shoulders would still be close to the same width.

    Something has to give.

  12. Lets ban or charge anyone that infringes on our flight. people who smell, people too tall, people with crying children, people with annoying habits, people on flights where the attendants are having a less than stellar day, people who are too large, people old, frail or unlikely to be able to move quickly in an emergency, people who bring pets on board, people with allergies who mean we can’t have peanuts. If you happen to be part of the ever shrinking percentage of Americans in small shape (not good, but small) than you have solved but one aspect of the annoyingness of flying but here’s betting you occupy another annoying space in the travel sphere.
    We’re all doing a great job of vilifying eachother when we should be vilifying the airlines. If we went at them with half the vitriol we use against eachother in these discussions, we’d have a passenger bill of rights. I wish these posts focused on how to accomplish THAT.

  13. This topic is a simple one turned into a complex one for no discernable reason. It’s not the weight, it’s the width of a person. People who don’t fit in a coach seat have two choices: purchase a business/first class ticket or purchase two coach seats. This is not a discrimination problem, it should not be made into someone’s political agenda, there’s really nothing to discuss. It’s simple. If you’re too wide to fit in a coach seat, you can’t fly in one.

    1. Great solution Judy! We’ve all seen how the airlines operate–soon seats will be 12 inches wide to ensure everybody has to buy 2 seats, and increase their revenue!

      Airlines have to have their seat plans approved based on evacuation time required. Generally, airlines invite their fittest and smallest cabin crew to be the test-passengers for an evacuation(Seriously)–this is clearly BS and the practice is actively a safety hazzard. If the FAA were to require evacuation drills be completed to time-standards with ACTUAL passengers, I doubt that any of the US airlines would maintain their airworthiness-certificates.

      1. I can see that happening. It’s the airline equivalent of the Grocery Shrink Ray. A bag of chips is about 3.5 ounces these days. I have to buy 2 just to equal what a bag was back in the day. I don’t buy ’em since I don’t want to be a Passenger of Size (although I am not exactly a thin person).
        I wish the FAA would use regular-sized folks (like the auto companies do with their crash-test dummies). That way, as you said, there would be accurate data to review.

        1. You found the solution! Seat test dummies!

          If they can’t stack the plane full of seat test dummies with a size distribution typical of flyers, they can’t use the configuration.

  14. I just love passengers thatvlike to discriminate. You should be complaining tonthe airlines. Instead of making seats bigger and more comfortable Western Airlines are making them smaller and less comfortable.

    Interesting I fly Middle Eastern Carriers. Emirates and Qatar have 17.5 and 18 inch seats in economy. And never accuse these airlines of not packing them in.

    And the service. Why I dread having to fly home to the US. The carriers are miserable. Including staff. The US need passenger rights and compensation like the Europeans.

    I was flying home via IAH. Had to connect to a commuter flight. I was delayed coming through immigration and customs. Got a nasty gate agent becuase I just barely made the flight. But she said I missed it even with the door and gate still open. But she had already put standby passengers onbaord.

    I causally sat down. And said when you are done we need to chat about compensation. She rudely said why would I get compensation i was late. I said you should ask your supervisor.

    Supervisor came. Asked if I really came from Europe. Insaod yes. She whispered in the agents ear but could hear. Indo not care what you do. You get him.on that plane.

    So they pulled a crew personnel off.

    So stop complaining about passengers and force airlines to pay for their mistakes.

    And stop being rude to fellow passengers blame the airline.

  15. here is the issue. in this age i would say 99% of all tickets are bought online or over the phone- should there be a “and what is your BMI?” button/question?– it would make no difference because people would just lie.

    but that is where the airline takes the payment. Now you have passengers of size showing up for a flight and it’s up to the gate agent to ask “would you like to take a later flight when I can get you a full row?”

    my husband is over 300 pounds- when I went to the bathroom the GA thought he was traveling alone when she gave that offer. (large people traveling with non large spouses and kids get more leeway.)

    As a personal policy we will now NEVER travel less then business class, so he will always have plenty of space (this is at least true for our fav airline Virgin.)
    Right now, that is all the airline can do; hope that big people will “do the appropriate thing” and buy a more expensive ticket.- BUT this is not reasonable for all incomes.

    so as of now skinny people stuck next to a large person are just stuck.

    1. just shared this with my husband and he had an interesting idea; make a bmi button/question and if you put in a high number you will be given the option of a flight where you can have 2 seats together AND the computer will auto book the 2 seats TOGETHER (to avoid stories of how 1 obese person will try to do the right thing and book 2 seats only to get the 2 seats auto separated by the reservation system.)

      this can be used by large people OR people who have a disability that would require more room.
      This will NOT be a discounted option, maybe make it 1.25X the cost of buying 2 normal seats (because of the added guarantee.)

      it’s worth a try.

  16. that’s not necessarily an airline thing so much as a seat manufacturer thing. It varies between airplanes, not just fleet types and airlines.

  17. Actually median and average not the same.
    Average is what you’ve been thinking it is.
    Median is the middle value of the elements in the list.
    Ex: 1,5,7. You have 3 numbers, the total is 13. The average is 13/3 = 4.33. The median is 5.

  18. Tricky subject this. The airlines did start making fatties buy two seats a while back and then abandoned it – obviously there were too many lawsuits. I think it all comes down to one thing; if you want comfort, pay for it.

  19. The airlines and passengers need to be realistic. They can’t keep cutting seat sizes when people keep getting bigger, even if it cuts costs. It is not a legitimate cost cutting measure. Maybe they should make a special “sardine” class for people who are smaller and let them have some cheap seats. I am not all that small but I don’t bulge over into the next seat.

  20. I am a plus-size person who flies quite a bit. Where possible, I book a first-class seat. If that is not possible, I buy two coach seats, usually a window and middle seat. I don’t care to rub up against anyone and I try to be considerate. I have had people say ” oh good, the middle seat is empty,” and proceed to shove their bags under it, use that tray as well as their own, etc. When I point out, politely, that the seat is not, in fact, empty, but my space for the duration of the flight, most people are understanding and either stop using the space or ask if they can use it for a few minutes (no big deal to me). However, some people get extremely upset and are hideously rude and obnoxious. They insist on encroaching on my space, even though I ask them not to, and act as if I am at fault when their drinks slop all over me or their trash ends up on one of the seats I paid for and so on.

    The point is, it goes both ways. I will do my best not to encroach on your space (I don’t even recline my seat unless it’s a long haul flight), and I expect you to not encroach on my space. If I buy two seats, then I am entitled to have that space. Just sharing a different perspective… Yes, it would be nice if the US airlines treated their passengers as human beings instead of cargo to be crammed in as much as possible, but I don’t foresee that happening as long as they can rake in the money.

    Oh, and please don’t call me or any other plus-size person “fatties.” That is derogatory and reduces us to things, not people. I don’t smell, either. Those two comments stand out in what has been an otherwise very civil discussion. I’ve read this website for many years and this is the first discussion I have joined.

    1. Yeah, I thought this was suppoesd to be a “kinder, gentler” forum, but it’s really not when they allow comments like the ones you mention to be posted.

      1. Hi Lindy,

        We’re trying for “a kinder, gentler forum,” and doing our best to screen objectionable comments, but occasionally one slips past us. In the case of the, “Between the gas and the body odor that all morbidly obese people have” comment, I just edited it to change the “all” to “some.” As for the “fattie” comment, that was mine… referring to myself. Should I really have to edit that?

        1. Should you really have to edit that? Probably. If you can use that term, then so can others.

          Doing so may be seen by some as overly politically correct. But, sometimes that is the price of being a leader (and by leader, I mean all of the people who contribute to these comments and offer people ways to think about their issues).

          1. Agree. Even calling yourself that suggests that it is okay. It’s not. Be good to others, and be good to yourself!

        2. Actually, your comment about yourself was not the one to which I was referring. There was another person who made a fairly critical comment about “the fatties.” As I said, the conversation has been pretty civilized, given the fact that none of us want to be squished on planes!

          1. It’s from Laura616. What a sobering post this has been. I thought humanity was better than this on this forum, but I’m disappointed. People who are overweight are fair game for shame and ridicule, even here.

    2. Hi Holly,
      I’m a fattie, or plus-size if you wish, and fly Southwest exclusively. I don’t know how it works on other airlines, but on Southwest, not only do they give me a second seat for free, they also give me a “Reserved” card to place on the second seat. Lesson to be gleaned here? Fly Southwest. And if you can’t (my sympathies), print your own “Reserved” card. It works!

      1. I’ll take plus-sized, thanks.:) I like Southwest and they are good about accommodating pretty much everyone. I also have a “Reserved” card that I use on the second seat, which most people accept. There have been some interesting people, however, who have ignored it or who have been actively hostile about it. Usually it’s people wanting to use the middle tray for their drinks or personal stuff who get fussed. I’m just trying to point out it’s not just plus-sized people who create the problems with personal space on planes, and to look at the issue from a different perspective as well.

  21. In stage coach days you paid not only for the distance you wanted to cover but also per 100 pounds weight, or part thereof. This would make sense in that other energy intensive form of transportation – airplanes.

  22. Airlines should have a seat at the airport where if you don’t fit in it you should have to buy an adjoining empty seat, if available. If not available you cannot board on that flight. Similar to the carry on baggage bin. It may or may not be fault that you are so big but you should not be allowed to steal my space either.

  23. Do you really believe 2″ more seat width is going to accommodate someone who extends over the arm rest into another seat. We are not talking basic comfort here, this topic is about larger than average people who cannot, by a large margin (no pun intended) fit into a regular coach seat.

  24. There is no easy solution here, because of the interplay between costs and comfort. But because safety trumps all, I think the seat size and pitch should be adjusted for an average set of airline passengers to deplane in the required minimum time. If the FAA was really on the ball, they would randomly assign 1 in every thousand flights (or even 1 in ten thousand) with an extra early departure time and test the speed of deplaning with real people, not paid test subjects. I bet that would prove the need for more room for safety.

    I do have to note that as a largish man, I have tremendous sympathy for those sitting next to me. While I’ve recently been able to significantly reduce (going from unable to fit into those desk/seats at Parent teacher night to having plenty of room), and am not super broad shouldered, I always prefer traveling with my family than alone, because I can sit next to my more petite wife, or even better, my very petite (though adult) daughter.

  25. The poll question is misphrased. Instead of “banning” large passengers, we should do as Southwest already does and make them buy a second seat if in coach. If they book Business or First (on other carriers) then they already have enough space.

    1. Correction, Alan… as a fatty myself, Southwest does make me buy a second seat, but credits me 100% of the cost if I call them after the flight. I’m not sure why they do it that way, because it’s inconvenient… but who’s going to complain when you’re getting the second seat free. I had my doubts the first time I called for my refund. Any other airline would have screwed it up, but not Southwest. I’ve requested and received second seat refunds half a dozen times and they’ve never missed a beat. 🙂

      1. Hey Grant, it makes me sad to see you put yourself down. From what I’ve read, you are really awesome. You can sit next to me anytime. 🙂

        1. Hi Travelnut,
          Put myself down? Not a bit of it! Just ask these birds I work with. I have so much self-esteem, it’s disgusting. 😮 I’m a gimpy. old, short, bald, fattie… and I love myself. I wear every one of those appellations (and a few more) as badges of honor. It makes me sad when I see people get so upset by what are, after all is said and done, just words. And words can only hurt if you decide you’re going to allow them to hurt. Look at the African-American community. The “N-word” is, more often than not, a term of endearment, and that’s what my “names” are to me. I like you, T… you can call me “Fat boy.” Oh, and you only THINK you’d be OK with sitting beside me. I’m like Jacksonville, Florida or Houston, Texas… I SPRAWL. 🙂

  26. I’m a 5’10 male who wears a 38R jacket. I weigh 180 lbs. This means that I’m almost exactly average, and I barely fit in economy seats. This further means that the half of the male population that is larger or heavier than me is probably impinging on your side of the armrest. So I don’t think this is a fat issue. Sure, no matter how big you makes the seats, there’ll be someone out there who’s too fat to fit, but we can make the seats big enough so that most people will fit. The alternative is making everyone buy their tickets in person, so that the agent can measure you and make you step on the scale before allowing you to swipe your card.

    1. Tour helicopters typically weigh all of their passengers and charge for a “comfort seat” if the passenger is over 250 lbs, due to the strict weight limitation of the helicopter. The comfort seat is just two seats next to each other, but the price is only 1.5X the regular price; and only if the flight was fully booked.

      Weighing airline passengers won’t work most of the time due to differing BMI types, so with all of the newfangled technology, perhaps a laser-measuring system could be employed to determine if a certain body size will fit into a seat without noticeably encroaching upon others.

      As for airline seat width, it has not changed on the typical 3×3 narrow-body plane since the ’70s, but the passengers have. On some wide-body planes like the 777, which was originally designed for 2-4-2 seating, some airlines do spec narrower seats to squeeze in a 2-5-2 configuration. In the end, it’s still up to the passenger to decide if they want to give their business to those airlines.

  27. I played football, rugby and have competed as a bodybuilder. At 13 I was already 5’10” and 185#. My tuchus fits in a 17″ wide seat but my shoulders spill over. I used to sit in the window seat but the changes in pitch have misaligned everything and I can no longer easily slip my shoulder into that space for my comfort and consideration of others. I have been forced to sit in a middle seat and try to minimize my impact. Now, I prefer an aisle seat and again try to minimize as much as I can. I never recline my seat because I have adopted the use of a soft cervical collar to go with ear plugs to enable me to easily and ‘comfortably’ sleep upright.

    In short, I am a big guy. I am tall enough I can easily see over top of the seats in front of me. At my lightest contest weight, I was still 241# but so many said I looked ill. On Beech 1900D’s and Bombardier Q400’s I have been asked to move for Weight and Balance reasons and as a Private Pilot I completely understand. It’s not my fault; I’m an extra large in a medium world.

    Frankly, I look forward to the upcoming C-Series from Bombardier simply because the middle seat is 20″.

    Oh, as to being a polite passenger, I am Canadian so it is part of our culture to be that way. Also, in Canada it is Federal Law that oversize passengers can have two seats without paying anything extra. Yes, 2 seats for the price of 1.

    If I could control my size then I would and therefore paying by size makes sense, almost. I can’t, so I am against the concept. I blame the profitability of the airborne package industry for the costs we see when people fly now. When 185# (the new ICAO standard passenger size, just increased from 175#) of packages generates $1,000’s then the airlines want the same revenue. Darn you United Federal HL, darn you!

  28. I am a season ticket holder for football games at a major university. This year we bought seat backs to be put on our seats because people kept cramming in more and more people until you couldn’t find your seat much less where to sit in it. Guess what? The seat delineates our seats and have an edge such that the guy next to me knows where his seat starts. Airline seats should work the same way and if someone doesn’t fit into that airline seat, then they should have to buy two seats. I agree part of this is the airlines fault for the continual reduction in seat sizes. I had a similar situation to Grant but I didn’t think to give the kid five dollars to switch. Shame on me. I don’t think the ADA would allow large folks to be kicked off an airplane but it sure does seem like a safety issue just the same as having older folks with walkers or wheelchairs poses a safety question. Only answer I see is mandatory seat sizes and mandatory purchases of enough seat size to accommodate a large person. But, be careful,this may be the plan of the airlines. Nothing better than to fill up a plane with large people who have to buy two seats but only take the time of one person.

  29. Reality is that airlines are in the business of making a profit and that means flying full and with as many people as possible. The airlines know that people come in a variety of sizes and a variety of mindsets. Some are fine with Southwest’s format for seating and others want United’s . Bottom line – It is important for everyone to remember life is not always fair, so each of us need to have compassion and consideration for those around us! If the airline is not going to make it work then it is up to each of us to find a way to be good neighbors!


  31. How does the ever increasing size (ie., weight) affect the total weight limits of the planes we fly in? I’m certain that the “average” passenger size used in the past is no longer even close to the average size now. And any new standard will require real measurements of passenger size, not some fictitious “adjustment” made to the old standards. We’ve grown a LOT! Doesn’t this go to a very real safety issue, of which the FAA should be aware?

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