XL passengers invade my economy class seat — and airlines let them

When Elisabeth Haas took her window seat on an American Airlines flight from Orlando to Dallas earlier this year, she discovered a problem – a very big problem.

“A morbidly obese seatmate encroached into my personal space,” she says. “He required a seat-belt extender and that the armrest divider be raised to accommodate his girth during the entire flight, including takeoff and landing. He also had to walk down the aisle oriented sideways and moved quite slowly.” (She sent me a photo of the offense, which I’ve published above.)

The problem of XL passengers on planes is hardly new, but their interactions with other passengers are creating a lot more friction lately. I know because over the American Thanksgiving holiday week, I reported about a man who says he had to stand on a flight between Anchorage and Philadelphia, and it became the talk of the town for about half a news cycle.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage. VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

I heard from lots of passengers who said they, too, have tussled with oversized seatmates.

Haas, who was returning from a trip to see her dying grandmother in Florida, says she couldn’t comfortably fit in her seat or stow her luggage under her seat because of the encroachment. She only had access to about one-third of her economy class seat for the duration of the flight.

“Do you understand the horrific discomfort of feeling someone’s massive, unrelenting, hot and sweaty flesh pressed into your body from shoulder to ankle?” she asks.

The American Airlines flight attendants were compassionate, and because it was a sold-out flight, they allowed her to sit in their jump seats. But when she wrote a polite letter suggesting that American Airlines change its rules to prevent this kind of thing from happening again, the best it could manage was to reply with a form letter.

Here’s an excerpt:

We are sorry for your discomfort on your recent flight with us to Dallas/Fort Worth.

Our seats are standard in size and are designed to comfortably accommodate our customers. Of course, our customers do come in all shapes and sizes.

If we are aware that customers are too large to sit in a coach seat, we do what we can to avoid an awkward and uncomfortable situation — for everyone concerned.

Our airport personnel must walk a fine line in order to satisfy the needs and rights of all of our customers. I am disappointed to hear that we were not more successful on this occasion, and I am genuinely sorry that the enjoyment of your flight was diminished as a result.

I have forwarded your comments to the appropriate personnel.

Ms. Haas, thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. Please give us another opportunity to welcome you aboard and the chance to provide you with a more enjoyable flight.

American Airlines didn’t address any of her safety concerns, nor did it pledge to change its rules.

Airline policies on XL passengers are at best, amorphous. Only Southwest Airlines has a clearly defined and well-publicized policy – it calls them “customers of size” — but the other major airlines tend to dance around the issue. It’s hard to find their policies online and they seem to be unevenly enforced.

When airlines do talk about their weighted customers, they do so in a tone that is usually reserved genocide victims, as if at any moment, these big passengers could shatter into a thousand pieces because someone called them fat. (Come to think of it, isn’t that how society deals with the problem of obesity?)

But the focus is one the wrong person. It isn’t the morbidly obese who are in need of special protection, but the folks seated next to them. Wedged next to them, actually. When the armrest is up, it can mean serious trouble for the other guy.

Norman Chance was the other guy on a recent flight between Anchorage and Chicago. Like Haas, he had a window seat in economy class, but found himself next to two “very large” people in the seats next to him.

“I had to sit sideways for the entire flight, in agony and pain,” says Chance, who owns an aviation company in Indianapolis. “They both fell asleep and would not move despite my requests. I ended up injuring my back, which was only resolved after visits to a chiropractor.”

He’s angry that airlines can allow two XL passengers to fly in economy class seats that are obviously too small, and he and Haas are upset that there isn’t a law to prevent it from repeating itself.

“This type of incident happens far too often,” he says.

And that’s the thing. There are no rules about passengers having to fit into the economy class seats. The closest the Federal Aviation Administration comes to addressing this issue is when it issues its guidance on passengers with disabilities, but it doesn’t specifically classify a passenger’s weight or size as a disability that is in need of protection. If it did, airlines would probably have to give every tall guy like me a first class seat, which, now that I think about it, wouldn’t be so bad.

But I think we’d all settle for a rule that says passengers are entitled to a minimum amount of legroom and personal space, whether they’re on American Airlines or any other airline. The Transportation Department already has those requirements in place for animals that fly, but curiously, not for humans seated in economy class.

Such a rule would prevent a bulk of these XL passenger incidents from happening, and make flying a far more humane experience — for all of us.

227 thoughts on “XL passengers invade my economy class seat — and airlines let them

  1. I’d have no problem if it were codified.  As it stands right now, the airlines can more or less claim that their hands are tied because there is no guidance from the FAA about what to do in case people are displaced by an obese passenger.

    I’m personally not one to rail against people just for being fat.  The last post on the subject really showed the ugly, meanspirited side of some people.

    1. What’s wrong with Southwest’s policy.  If you’re too big, you buy another seat.  If it’s sold out, you buy a FC seat.  If not, you need to catch another flight.  

      Nobody needs to blame, point fingers or humiliate the “of size” passenger.  But if you don’t fit without encroaching on another passenger, then you don’t fit.  And then you need to buy another seat so you DO fit.

    2.  I suspect a lot of companies are worried about some sort of discrimination lawsuit and a tearful overweight person recounting their alleged humiliation on prime time TV. In the situation described in this post on a full aircraft the only options are getting other passengers to put up with the situation or telling the overweight passenger that they should have bought 2 tickets and denying them entry to the flight. I’m guessing that hoping other passengers will silently put up with discomfort is judged to be less likely to get them sued.

  2. Why is it that we need a law for everything? Airline policies should be enough, and if airlines don’t enforce their policies, they wouldn’t enforce such a law anyways.
    Besides, a law would never pass since some fat people advocacy group would b*tch and moan to no end about ‘discrimination’.

    1. Airlines *don’t* have policies in many cases. And when they do, they’re inconsistently enforced. (Hey, I’m all for using common sense over the letter of the law. But there’s times the rule is there for a good reason!)

      Why would they enforce a law more than their own policy? Because the FAA (or whoever) would probably fine them for violating the law, and doesn’t give a cr*p about some inconsequential policy. 

  3. I admit it, I’m a large person. I fit comfortably in my own seat with my thighs, hips, stomach etc. I have never needed a seat belt extender, and I’m actually currently 30 lbs lighter than the last time I flew and I fit in a bulkhead seat then with armrest that didn’t move.

    But I have very broad shoulders, and no amount of weight loss will change the bone structure behind them. My mom who’s 100 lbs light than me has the very same broad shoulders. When we’re seated together ANYWHERE plane, theatre, waiting area etc, we’re both leaning. Fitting a butt into a seat is one thing, but airlines seem to forget we have other body parts.

    We aren’t cattle, we can’t be stacked one on top of the other. Have a few fewer passengers on each flight and make the seats a little wider. Heck the aisles are barely wide enough to fit beverage carts any more.

    1. I know that’s a common request, but we’re dealing with very expensive aircraft.  The average price of a new 737-800 is about $85 million.  A 767 is about twice that price.  A 747 is even more.  There’s a reason why the airlines want to pack their passengers in coach, or otherwise charge more for business and first class.  The alternative would be to charge more for all passengers.


      The reality is that there are ways to get around the limited space available in typical coach seats.  “Coach Plus” seating generally only achieves more legroom.  I have been in business class a few times (including once when my coach seat didn’t exist and the only empty seats were in business class), and even first class once.  I could have weighed 300 lbs with a 48 inch waist and still felt comfortable in those seats.

      1. There should be fewer, larger seats on planes and we should pay more to fly.  None of us wants to pay more but why in the world are ticket prices roughly the same as they were 20 years ago?

        1. “Why are ticket prices roughly the same as they were 20 years ago?”

          Good question. Even in a time where the price of a plane is more, the price of jet fuel is way more, the ticket prices aren’t really that different. Of course part of it is that now many of the costs are tacked on, when they used to be free. They don’t include meals, and sometimes don’t even have beverage without some extra charge. There were rumors about pay toilets on one airline (that used to be an Alaska Airlines commercial gag about where “other airlines” might be heading).

          However, what we do see in the real world is cutthroat competition for the lowest fares. People are looking on Travelocity, Expedia, Hotwire, Priceline, Kayak, and Orbitz for the lowest fares. People want low prices, but complain when there are change fees, reduced amenities, bag charges, etc. I remember when I used to fly as a kid, and could count on a meal, a deck of playing cards, free slippers, all the free beverages I wanted, and a smile. Those were the days.

        2. Most people, including myself, fit into a standard seat just fine, and aren’t willing to pay extra for more space.  If they were, business and first class would be more popular. Why should everyone have to pay more just because a few people don’t fit?

    2. “Have a few fewer passengers on each flight and make the seats a little wider.”  That is why there are first class and business class sections.  The public has voted with their wallets…they are not going to pay for wider seats.
      By the way, US airlines have not changed the size of the seat since 1960 (source: http://scrippsnews.com/content/bottom-line-waistlines-bigger-airline-seats-not, http://www.sacbee.com/2010/02/18/2545467/the-bottom-line-on-airline-seats.html).  Of course, the pitch (the distance between the rows) has changed.

      1. And what does it tell you that seats haven’t changed but people HAVE??  It says to me that people are getting older and, sometimes, wider.  Metabolisms change as we age.  Not all fat people are six feet wide, after all.  “Fat” as a descriptor is very subjective.  I’m a woman weighing nearly 300 pds. yet I don’t need an extender and there’s seat left over – even in the narrow and uncomfortable confines of American Airlines’ seats.

        I try to be considerate of others and always take the aisle seat either at bulkhead or way in the back next to the bathroom so that I am a) sitting with fewer people and b) not trapping people in their seats because I can rise and let people out of the row.  Perhaps there simply needs to be more consideration from passengers all ’round and some seat planning by the airlines.

        1. Have metabolisms changed since 1960?  I doubt it, and you didn’t see anywhere near this many fat people then.  For that matter, you don’t see many obese 80-year-olds – they just don’t make it that long.  Blaming your weight on you age is ridiculous.

    3. Seats haven’t gotten any narrower by more than an inch since the start of jet travel in the 70s.

      It really is people getting wider rather than seats getting narrower.

      1. And that isn’t going to change any time soon.

        So, either the airlines are going to have to acknowledge this and make wider seats, or wider people are going to have to stop flying.

        1. My vote is for wider people stop flying or buy a first class ticket where they fit.
          Airlines changing will only significantly drive up ticket prices and people still won’t fit.

        2. I don’t ask that they stop flying, just buy two seats.  They are well aware of their size and know the size of the seat.  They just don’t want to spend the extra money and don’t care thatt they are making their seat mate uncomfortable. 

          1. This is a hateful generalization.  Large people aren’t all of a mind anymore than skinny people are. 

            While I understand your frustration and anger it would be more productive to come up with solutions rather than moaning and whining.

          2. No one so large that they need two seats doesn’t know that they’re that big.  No one.  There’s nothing ‘hateful’ about saying that someone who knows they need two seats and chooses not to buy two seats is being selfish and unreasonable.

            Many have already suggested a solution: offload Jumbo, with a crane if necessary.

      2. I could swear I flew on jets in the ’60’s. In fact it took a lot less time back then to get from NY to LA. And if you wanted first class you just pId an extra $15.

  4. From what I understand, when you buy an airline ticket, you are buying the seat for an entire flight.  If an XL passenger is encroaching on your seat that violates the terms of the ticket sale and the affected passenger is entitled to compensation.

    1. When a heavy woman was trying to use half my seat on one flight and the stewardess was trying to get me to put the arm rest down, I told her I paid for a full seat and was not sharing with anyone!  I kept the rest down and the woman stpilled out into the aisle.  I got dirty looks from the staff but I was able to use my own seat the full 3-1/2 hours.

  5. “stow her luggage under her seat because of the encroachment.”  He was so large he overflowed under the seat in front of her?  And to be honest, that picture posted doesn’t give much support to her story.  I noticed in the picture the arm rest was down, the area in front of her seat was freely available, and other than the guy’s shoulder, didn’t appear to encroach her space.  It’s probably the angle, but to me, it sounds like the little kid in the back seat of the car, “Mommy!  Billy is touching me!”

    As a thought on how airlines could deal with the XL passengers, maybe they should enact a rule that if you need a seat belt extender, you also need an extra seat.

    1. This guy is really encroaching!  But along the lines of “Billy is touching me!”, please remember that the definition of Simple Assault is unwanted touching.  So, I am sure it would lead to many other problems trying to enforce it, but this is assault. 

    2. Yes, as Mrs. V said below, take a look closely.  The arm rest is UP not down. And the XL PAX is one third into her seat.  How comfortable would you be if you had a long haul flight and couldn’t have your full seat space?

    3. I thought the same thing, until I looked again and realized how well his navy pants blended in with the seat.  Also, the armrest is up.  The glare from the sun makes it look like it might be down, but look at the position of the section we can see, relative to the headrest – it’s clearly up, and was photographed end-on.  There’s no way the guy’s leg could be in that position if it were down.

    4. Looking at the picture again from another computer, I can see now the details missed the first time.  But the part about stowing her luggage still seems a bit exaggerated.

      1. We cannot tell from the picture, but it’s possible he was using her stowage area to stretch out and store his foot, as well.

      2. “But the part about stowing her luggage still seems a bit exaggerated.”

        I disagree. Stowing and accessing stuff under the seat in front of you typically requires you to bend sideways a bit to get down there and reach the bag with your hands. And if the guy next to you is taking up half your seat, there’s no way of leaning sideways without laying up against the guy, which clearly the lady didn’t want to do. (Note she had the window on her other side, so she couldn’t lean that direction.) She probably could have dumped her bag on the floor and pushed it forward under the seat with her feet, but getting access to it again during the flight would have been really tough.

    5. His leg is angled to the left into her seating area. It also appears to touch or nearly touch the seat row in front. That means his leg is too LONG to fit, rather than (necessarily) too wide. So while he may or may not be “morbidly obese”, he is certainly too tall to fit into his seat.

      And what can be done about that? We KNOW seat pitch has been reduced, while the population has gotten taller.

      1. If you don’t fit into the 1 seat you purchased, and are spilling over into the 2nd seat, then you need to pay for that seat.  Plain and simple.  Why some people think they are ENTITLED to more is beyond me – this guy CLEARLY encroached on her space, and it could not have been a surprise he was too big – he did need a belt extender, after all!

  6. No one as large as the guy in the picture could have any delusions about fitting into one seat – he knew he needed two, and chose to buy only one in the hopes of getting something for nothing.  He effectively stole half a seat from Ms. Haas, since she paid for it and he sat in it.  Legally, it should be treated the same way as if he’d stolen her purse or any other item.

    I can think of no reason whatsoever why he shouldn’t be kicked off with no compensation.  The financial loss might make him think more carefully about pulling the same stunt in the future.

    1. No airline makes it easy to buy a second seat for a single person.  I know from experience (I used to be 350 lbs and always bought a second seat.  Now at 265 I still occasionally do just so I don’t have someone spilling into my seat even though I fit comfortably in a single seat with wiggle room.)  Southwest (WN) tries to allow second seat purchases, but since they don’t have assigned seats, you still have to fight to keep people out of your second seat even when they see how large you are.

      While I agree that the person in the picture should know he was too big, I don’t find any way to purchase a second seat on the AA website. Maybe if airlines provided a simple way to purchase a second seat at a reasonable price through their websites, more people would do do.

      1. But why at a “reasonable price”?  I understand your point, if you’re buying a $400 ticket and actually need 2 seats (or more likely 1 1/2 seats), it costs you $800 which stinks.  But airlines are businesses so I don’t understand why they should be expected to sell you a second seat at say $100 just because you need one.  It’s not their problem you need a second seat.   

        1. Not saying the second seat should be at a discount. 
           What meant is that if you buy the first seat at the going rate, the second seat should not be at full Y fare.  You should be able to purchase both at the same price if you buy them at the same time.  No different than buying two seats for two people.

          1. Mark, we have addresses this issue before on a similar post ANC-PHL.

            The procedure is very easy:
            (1) Buy a second seat
            (2) Append EXST at the end of the given name of the same passenger on  the second seat. (Note EXST means extra seat.)
            (3) Call the airline and tell them that the second seat is an EXTRA SEAT for the primary passenger; -or- if you bought from a travel agent tell them to add an SSR EXST message.

            The call to airline should be FREE since you already have purchased the tickets online and you are merely telling them you need extra services.

          2. In addition, for Southwest booking online – all you need to do is enter “XS” for the middle name of passenger’s SECOND seat.
            SWA says that they may even price the 2nd seat as a child fare (cheaper).
            What a great airline!

      2. It’s very easy, I had to work on a flight recently and my ticket was really cheap, so I bought two. On the passenger page I listed Mr. Emanon, and Extra Seat Emanon as the passengers names.  I went through TSA with my boarding pass, and boarded the plane making sure the scanned both.  It was a piece of cake and I had tons of room to sprawl, I even shared it with the guy in the window seat.
         I easily fit in one seat with wise, but man, this was so nice.  It was like first class minus the meal.

  7. Maybe this solution is simplistic.  But when you get in your seat, armrest goes down.  If it’s already up and can’t or won’t go down, or someone is spilling into it so that you can’t e.g. retrieve your seatbelt, ask the flight attendant to either have it go down, or get IDB (involuntary denied boarding).  Do not sit down.  In this case you are compensated for your lost time significantly more than if you were to, say, volunteer on an overbooked flight.

    Do not sit down in an uncomfortable or unsafe seat or you lose your rights.

    1. I wonder how this would actually work on a flight?  If it turned out that the FA was having a really bad day and the unseated PAX were arrested for “interference with the flight” for refusing to sit down, it would be quite a news item.

  8. “Airline policies on XL passengers are at best, amorphous. Only Southwest Airlines has a clearly defined and well-publicized policy – it calls them “customers of size” — but the other major airlines tend to dance around the issue.”
    US Airways do have a policy for POS (person of size).  If you were on an US Airways flight, US Airways has a one-inch policy. A person of size (POS) cannot intrude upon another passenger space any more than one inch. If this happens, the FA should inform the agent. The agent is required to either move said POS to a seat with nobody in the next seat, have them buy another seat, or book them on a flight where they can actually buy two seats (fees waived) or be on a later flight.
    Here is the cut and paste from the US Customer Service Manual that was posted by a US Airways FA at another site:
    “A CBS message regarding policy for seating passengers of size was sent out to F/As on 11/30/06, and the same information was sent out as reminder in a new CBS on August 6, 2007. I’ve copied the CBS information below for your convenience. The first message was sent out in 2006 when InFlight Policies and Procedures and Airport Services synchronized US Airways policy systemwide.
    Because the gate is generally responsible for handling these situations–which may involve reseating and rebooking, the full policy/procedure is outlined in the Customer Service Manual (CSM).
    The CSM outlines options for this situation, including: Reseating the customer next to an open seat. If the flight is full, offer the next flight availability to accommodate an extra seat (fees waived). If the flight is full and the customer still wants to travel, offer the option of purchasing an extra seat. (A volunteer will be compensated appropriately.)
    Ideally, seating for a passenger of size is handled prior to boarding, but is not always possible or practical. For instance, they may be seated next to a family member who is comfortable with the situation, cotravelers may be in separate reservations and not board together, or agents aren’t always able to determine whether a passenger will take up more room than their seat until they are actually seated onboard.
    As noted in the CBS message, please feel free to notify a gate agent or supervisor if you identify a situation that needs addressing, especially if a passenger brings it to your attention and advises of their discomfort.
    Kellie Simms
    Analyst, InFlight Policies and Procedures
    US Airways
    CBS November 30, 2006:
    Effective December 6th, the following is the updated policy for Flight Attendants regarding passengers of size:
    • An extra seat is required if a seat belt extension is needed and their body extends more than one inch beyond the out most edge of the armrest.
    • If a F/A determines a passenger needs a second seat, notify either a gate agent or supervisor, who will advise the customer of the situation.”
    I carry a print-out of this policy with me in case I run into a situation with a Person of Size (weight, tall or muscular) when I fly on US Airways.
    Enforcement is another issue.

    1. I’m curious about the POS being asked to buy another seat on the spot.  What price would that seat be sold at?  The price the person paid for the seat they originally bought?  Or the walk up fare? 

    2. Why does US Airways think it’s ok for a passenger to intrude on another’s space by up to one inch?  Yeah, it’s not much, but it shouldn’t be permitted at all.  And is that with the armrest up, or down?

  9. As a “person of size” (that’s what Southwest calls obese passengers) I ALWAYS purchase two seats.  I do that for my own comfort, and for the comfort of other passengers.  But, in the past, that has also created some problems.  I have been required to give up my second seat that I paid for in order for airlines to get one more person on the flight.  If obese passengers are required to pay for two seats, then they should be entitled to those two seats.  By the same token, other passengers are also entitled to their entire seat.

    1. I was on a NY-SF flight on UA about a year ago where a passenger brought two tickets to accommodate his size, he had the window and middle seat while I had the aisle seat.  It was a packed flight and he was “asked” to give up the extra seat so another passenger could use it.  He very politely explained that he purchased two seats b/c he didn’t want cause discomfort to another passenger and giving up the second seat would mean both he and the other passenger would be squeezed into a far too small space making them both miserable.  The UA rep actually argued with him that the other passenger HAD to get to SF and at one point suggested they would deplane HIM for causing a disturbance.  It was surreal.  The UA rep finally gave up but this poor man was treated horribly by the FAs for the entire flight. 

      Next time you buy two seats and are asked to give one up, stand your ground.  You are doing the right thing and the airlines need to respect that.

    2. Anyone who pays the going rate for two seats, regardless of why, should get all the perks of two seats – twice the carry-on and checked baggage allowance, two meals, etc.  You should have gotten IDB for the second seat.

  10. Once again, obese people are being treated like a protected class and normal sized folks are getting screwed.

    Fat (yes, I used the word) people do not deserve a first class seat on the airline’s dime. They deserve to pay for the two seats that their butts fill.

    Will the government regulate that? Doubt it, especially since there are groups trying to get obesity classified as a “disability.” I mean, why do we need a lobby group called “National Association for Advancement of Fat Acceptance!?!?” 

    On the flip side, I would like to see seat width and pitch increased for EVERYONE in coach. I don’t think the way they cram us in would be legal if we were dogs and cats!

          1. No, I’ve seen enough posts from this username now that it’s either outright trolling, or the person only knows how to insult others.

          1. “They should be persecuted” is about as trolly as a comment can get without getting racist or sexist.

          2. So who’s doing the spoofing then? You, when there’s already been such a problem with the name ‘Brooklyn’ in the past, or BenFranklin?

  11. One problem with making this an official rule is that there is no sensible way to enforce it. For tarmac delays and IDB compensation (for instance) there are official and semi-official records to show what happened.

    There can’t really be the same for large passengers unless weight/size is included on the manifest. Simple reporting “the passenger next to me was the size of a compact car” won’t really work either as people will tend not to tell the truth.

    1. It’s not that difficult.  If a passenger does not fit into the seat with both armrests down and portions of their butt or legs occupy any part of the seat on either side, they are too big.  Doesn’t matter if they are fat, muscular, are just large.

  12. It is delicate. Airlines are so scared of adverse publicity and they don’t want to discriminate against obese people, however in doing so they are infringing on normal sized people’s rights to a safe and comfortable flight. An airline policy will end up with discrimination claims, an FAA guideline; well it is not me go talk to the government.

    1. But that doesn’t fly (pardon the pun), because they CAN refuse to seat an obese person in the exit row, as they can be considered a safety risk.  Same safety risk if they cram soemone else into the corner!

  13. If this passenger feels that there is a safety issue, they should complaint to the Department of Transportation. It is only with sufficient complaints that the airlines will respond properly.

  14. “Do you understand the horrific discomfort of feeling someone’s massive,
    unrelenting, hot and sweaty flesh pressed into your body from shoulder
    to ankle?” she asks.

    Wow, he must have gotten dressed for the photo op.  Was she flying next to him or joining the mile high club?

    Yes, he is big. But with a vacant seat, is it unusual for ANY of us to encroach on the seat? You can’t blame the guy for having his legs spread out a bit when the seat is unoccupied.  I know when my seatmate leaves, I will claim some more legroom and an additional armrest.

    Chris–just out of curiosity, do you know how large Ms. Haas is?  It could make a difference.

      1. The fact that the flight attendants allowed her to use their jumpseats speaks volumes of her hardship. There is no reason to doubt her claim.

    1. You sprawl out into the next seat when the guy gets up to go the bathroom?  Seriously?  Claiming the armrest is one thing, but taking possession of someone else’s space when you know the seat isn’t empty seems rude… and pointless.  You’re just going to have to move when they come back in two minutes, so why bother?

          1. Actually, in my neck of the woods there’s a lot of signs visible from the public road saying – Private Driveway, No Entry, No Turnarounds.
            No trespassing means the same, I guess.

      1. I don’t claim it for the rest of the flight. But with airlines being as cramped as they are, we all take the opportunity to stretch our legs even for a little bit.  I did not mean to take possession of it. I also will put my legs out into the aisle when it can be done–of course bringing them in when there are people walking or the bev cart running.

  15. Please, can anyone tell me why requiring an OVERSIZED passenger to buy an extra seat is DISCRIMINATORY?

    I read these on another website. They make a lot sense to me.
    • You must be able to attach the seat belt, though you can can use
    one seat belt extension if necessary (airlines normally have these on
    the plane)

    • You must be able to sit with armrest(s) down for the entire flight if necessary

    • You must not significantly encroach on adjacent seat space
    Passengers who can’t comply with any of these three criteria are
    required to buy a second seat, unless there are two open seats adjacent
    to each other on the plane.

    Why can’t the DOT make the above a rule?

    1. I’m with you Tony.  Yes, having to buy two seats is expensive and would suck.  But that’s life, and in all facets of life, we pay for what we need.  An obese person can’t walk into a restaurant and get two meals for the price of one just because one meal would satisfy most peoples’ needs but isn’t filling for them.  Why should they get a second seat for free using that justification?

  16. My last 3 flights I was seated next to a “passenger of size”.  Not a pleasant trip.  Each time, I was begged by the flight sttendant to not say anything and suck it up as it would inconvenience the large passenger.  I was told I could be booted off and forced to take a later flight if I continued to complain, so the policies of the airline are not only not being followed, but turned against the squeezed passenger.  I, too spent time in a fold-down F/A seat on one flight in August. 

    1. That’s not fair. Why do you have to shut up when your space is being invaded? Why is it OK for you to be inconvenienced when you both paid for a similar seat? Buying an extra seat for oversized passengers should be mandatory. If they weigh our bags and charge for anything above 50 lbs., why can’t they do something similar for passengers? The airline should force them to buy an extra adjoining seat and leave you alone.

    2. Typical. The concerns of the fatties outweigh the concerns of people who are normal sized. I hope you write a NASTY letter to that airline and named the FAs as ineffective in protecting your safety.

      1. The concerns of the “FATTIES”??  Instead of whining about fat people why not spend your time learning how to respect other people’s differences and offering a ‘practical’ solution rather than insults?

        1. But, obviously, to you, the practical solution is to allow the FATTIES to fly in two seats for the price of one.  Sorry, but not fair when I have paid for a seat I can not use, just so you can sprawl out.

        2. Perhaps because the problem he’s ‘whining’ about was caused by fat people disrespecting him, his personal space, and the ticket he paid for?  If someone of any size decided to help themselves to half my seat, I’d call them much worse things than ‘fatty’.

  17. I once flew AA from DFW to Frankfurt. The gentleman in the middle seat was not obese, he was simply a big guy, muscular build, looked like he might have played football. He literally had to spend the entire flight leaning forward because there was not enough roomfor his very broad shoulders if he sat back.

    Sad to say, I doubt the airlines will do anything regarding the morbidly obese passengers because if they did, it might make those passengers feel “bad,” and it today’s politically correct society, it seems we never want to do that.

    1. This is the reason why we should use the term oversized instead of obese. The ~17 inch wide standard seat with armrests both down can only fit a certain size of  a person safely. Some people are just too big for the standard seat. So they need 2 adjoining seats. Unfortunately, we have become too stupid or too paralyzed to use common sense in solving this issue. Or, maybe the people who have the power to resolve this problem do not sit in the economy section of the airplane.

    2. I had a similar experience flying to Frankfurt.  I was in Economy Plus, aisle seat, and the guy next to me was very tall, too tall to fit comfortably in his seat.  When I boarded he had his legs stretched out under the seat in front of my seat.  I store a small carry on bag in that space and had to ask him to move his legs.  He did but during the long flight he would periodically stretch his legs back into the space under the seat in front of mine (I tend to curl up on my seat so I wasn’t using the area for my feet).  I felt sorry for him and finally moved my carry on to an overhead bin. 

      I agree that airlines won’t do anything but it has nothing to do with making obese passengers feel “bad” or being “politically correct”, it has everything to do with airlines simply not caring about their customers.

  18. It is not the fault of the airline that someone purchases a seat that is to small. It is the fault of the airline that some is allowed to occupy a seat that is to small. The information regarding how far a seat will recline, the leg room and seat width is available for every flight. As a condition of purchase the customer should be aware that fitting in the seat in the class purchased is required. If at check it is determined that the passenger does not fit within the width of the seat purchased they should be required to PAY for a second seat or an upgrade.

  19. Airlines charge extra for more space – whether it is in first or business class, or even extra legroom in “Economy Plus” – it would seem only fair if they provided significant compensation if space is taken away due to the airlines seating an XL passenger in a seat that doesn’t fit.

    1. Compensation would not solve the immediate problem of the displaced passenger, unless the compensation is an immediate upgrade. If an average size person were encroaching on your space you or the flight attendant would likely ask the offender to move. It doesn’t matter why the person is too big (health issues, over-eating, or a person whose weight is in correct proportion to height) there is no right to take part of my seat.

      1. Agreed.
        I know that it is difficult being larger than average (I am in height) but that does not translate into the right to make things uncomfortable for others.

        I’ve been squeezed into a corner by wide people and this ought to be a problem for the airlines and wide travelers to solve – not the person who is seated next to them.

  20. We cannot have rules for each and every exigency.  Employees should be empowered to use common sense.  Modern quality management dictates employees have this ability.

    Next thing we will hear is an ample passenger could not get out of the rest room seat and a rule created for more space to accomodate 300-pound people.  With modern medicine, being fat is a choice…a choice for a premature death and making a lot of people uncomfortable along the way.  In fact, many consider morbid obesity to be more dangerous than smoking. 

    1. I disagree being fat is a choice.  Both my parents, in fact, most of my extended family are overweight.  Some are obese due to poor eating habits and laziness but none were “skinny” or “thin” to begin with.  They were all big as kids, teens, and adults.  It’s just their genetic makeup. 

      1. It is a choice when you refuse to do anything about it. Genetic makeup is a cop out, genetics play maybe 2% into the equation with regards to fat. Yes when you were little you couldn’t help what was put in front of you. But you are an adult now and can CHOOSE to eat right and exercise.
        Now there are the very few people, who have certain disorders (thyroid issues, etc) that can make them overweight, but that percentage of people is negligible and in that case it should be defined as a handicap situation.

        1. Passengers of Extra Sizes need not apologize to anyone for their size. No one has the right to berate obese people. The cause of obesity and whether people can or should do anything about it is IRRELEVANT to this topic. The issue here is whether big people “should” buy an extra adjoining seat because they are too big for the standard seat. My answer is YES.

          1. Exactly – let’s keep the prejudices out of the equation – there a lots of reason you may be oversized for one seat — and FATTIES are not the only offenders.  I had to sit next to an football player – his shoulders ALONE had me leaning into the aisle the entire time! 

        2. Daniepwils my mother is overweight.  She was a big kid and has always been big.  She eats healthy, exercises constantly and she’s still big.  The only time she’s been at a weight considered “thin” (160lbs was her lowest as an adult) was when she was on such a restricted diet that a serving of bread was 1/2 a slice of diet bread.  She was “thin” but her hair was falling out. 

          She goes to the gym, goes for a walk, rides her bike, or kayaks daily and yet most would still consider her overweight.  Does she have a thyroid issue?  no.  Does she need a seatbelt extender or does she encroach on other’s seats?  No.  But she’s still far from “thin”. 

          Now people who refuse to do anything, that is a choice, but not everyone makes that choice.  Some people DO eat right and workout but being thin just isn’t how their body is meant to be. 

  21. I had the same problem on Southwest, and the over sized person was in the center seat, a paraplegic by the window. Southwest refunded my money for that leg of the trip, but I have severe arthritis, and I hurt from the strain for days.

  22. “..who was returning from a trip to see her dying grandmother in Florida,..”

    What exactly did that add?  it’s always someone dying or some tragedy to elicit sympathy.  Lame.

        1. Another spoof, another e-mail address.

          I guess it might not take much more to sway me away from the completely anonymous posting that Christopher allows here.

        2. yes, it is being mean, she was just relaying the facts as she knows them.  Maybe to you it’s not relevant, but to her it is important.  Be a little tolerant please.  

  23. One of the loveliest flights I ever had was a long one from the Northwest to DFW.  I was in an aisle seat and the large gentleman in the window had purchased two seats.  I was also on another flight in which 2 very obese people were sitting together (aisle and middle) and hung out so far over the aisle the attendants had to struggle to get through.  The aisle seat one actually sat with her leg and butt in the aisle.  Fortunately, I was not in the window seat.
    I’m sure most people who are this large realize it but don’t want to pay for the extra seat and don’t care how they inconvenience others

  24. Airline seats are designed for “average people.”  The averages include infants…  So are smaller than the median adult. 

    Here is one of any discussions talking about *average shoulder width* and indicating it is 18.3 inches:



    “I’ve also looked into anthropometric databases. For an adult male the
    average head width is 6.1″ whereas the shoulder line is 18.3″. This is a
    shoulder line to head width ratio of 3.

    For a small person, the head width can be no smaller than 5.6″ and the
    shoulder line no smaller than 15.8″. This is a ratio of 2.82.

    For a large person, the head width can be no larger than 6.7″ and the shoulder line no larger than 20.6″ ”

    The 17-inch wide seat is absurd for that reason alone.

  25. Like Sammy, I am broad shouldered & while I normally can get an aisle seat because of my Frequent Flyer Status, I am constantly banged about by other passengers & crew alike as they make their way down the aisle. It;s the passanger with a backpack, purse & other carry-on items that swing around, hittinganyone & everyone in their path that bothers me more.

  26. I had a similar experience with American on a completely full flight from DFW to FLL this summer. In my case, the armrest did go down (barely) but this gentleman’s copious “arm flab” (which I have no better word) for was tightly pressed against my right side the entire flight. He immediately went to sleep and snored like a buzz saw. When I got off my flight, my dress shirt was completely drenched in a perfect oval from his arm fat sweating on me.

    Incidentally, there was a teen couple in front of us and the girl (about 16) reclined her seat as far as it would go in front of the overweight gentleman (who didn’t notice because he was asleep). I heard her commenting to her boyfriend for him to recline as well (in front of me) so they could “cuddle.” I immediately put my hand on the back of his seat and said “DON’T recline. I have no space here.” Well then I had to endure dirty looks from them the rest of the flight too.

    I did write American and was told, basically, that they had investigated (which c’mon, we know no one did) and that too bad so sad but here’s 1,000 frequent flyer points to shut you up.

    See if I choose American next time!

  27. Hey Chris Elliott. As a consumer advocate, where do really you stand on this issue? What can be done to solve this?

    I have yet to read a law or a rule that gives a passenger the right to some defined unencumbered space .

    It is interesting to note that (some of the poorest) US States have standards that provide a minimum of 25 square ft. per inmate in jails. For Pete’s sake why don’t have minimum encumbered space requirements for law-abiding, paying passengers on airlines? The “personal” space in an airline should be easy to define since it is determined by the seat and the space directly infront, above and below it (and to some extent behind it since the seat reclines).

    IMO, the airlines should be penalized for depriving a passenger of his/her unencumbered space. For starters, it should be a full refund (not a voucher) of the fare plus additional compensation.

    As a matter of fact, when airlines advertise on TV, the internet or in print ads, they show a very happy and content cabin. So why isn’t that deceptive advertising when obviously the OP didn’t get an experience anywhere close to what those ads portray?

    The airlines have the ability to solve this problem. Southwest has. Why can’t the others do it?

      1. Is there a way to petition the DOT to add this to their ongoing Enhancing Airline Passenger Protection (EAPP) rulemaking process?

  28. The political correctness around this issue needs to end.  Fat people [whatever, people of size . . . people of too much food] need to buy a second seat.   Im not talking about TALL people or those with broad shoulders – tall people may need to go first or business class – and broad shouldered or large framed [NOT fat] but you know of whom I speak –

    In a car or bus, well, seating is less structured.  In an airplane, it is a safety issue.  Pure and simple.  FORGET comfort – it is a violation of the FAR’s to PREVENT someone from being able to sit flat in their seat – the seat belt and restraint system is not designed to restrain someone sitting sideways. 

    STOP complaining to the airlines and start complaining to the FAA – COPY the airline on the complaint letter- but send it to the FAA.

    Last time this happened on a full flight I raised a stink, asked the Captain to come back and had a chat around his responsibility as pilot in command for my safety.  Neither the gate agent nor the FA’s liked that step but I was polite and firm and it was a safety issue – Yes -= they gave me the option of taking the next flight in an upgraded cabin or removing the offending fatty [who easily topped the scales at 400#] and having my seat. 

    I deplaned.  It just seemed like the better option on that route. 

  29. Why not create a couple of rows of “Economy Wide” in each plane, with fewer seats than in a regular row?  A passenger that can’t fit into a regular seat should be required to pay a 50% premium for a Wide seat on the spot, or (s)he is denied boarding.  That should be resolved at the gate.  The airline can “auction off” the remaining Wide seats for miles or money, just like they currently sell upgrades at the check-in kiosk.  This way there will be virtually no lost revenue, even if the base fares stay the same.

    1. what do you do then when the “Economy Wide” section is purchased not by “people of size” but rather by average joe’s who just want more room?  Or parents who want space for their kid?

      1. I think that it would be best NOT to pre-sell these seats.  They should be available as upgrades during check-in.  The airline should reserve the right to refund the upgrade fee and downgrade the passenger back to the regular Economy should the need arise.

        1. I’m not getting how that would work.  You’re suggesting airlines put in seats that they are not going to sell to the public but that they will offer as upgrades when people check in or at the airport?  Wouldn’t that be a costly upgrade?  How many people would do that vs. doing what they do now and just hoping there is a free seat next to them or not caring how the person next to them feels? 

          I’ve never bought an upgrade when they are offered to me.  Do people, normal people, often buy them?

          1. I don’t fly often.  Once I was offered an upgrade to Business for $69 or so.  I declined, but, apparently, some people accepted, as they were called up during boarding.  So YES, normal people buy upgrades.  As for costly — well…  You answered yourself in your previous post, when you suggested that “average joe’s who just want more room” or “parents who want space for their kid” would snatch up those seats, even at a premium.
            If everything else fails — I think the airlines and passengers can swing a 3% fare increase.  Math: 25 rows in Economy, 6 seats each = 150 seats; 2 Wide rows with 4 seats each means 4 fewer seats; 4 / 150 = 2.6%.
            P.S. “Not caring how the person next to them feels” will be impossible if the airlines enforce the rules.  Armrest down, or pay 50% for Wide seat, or you are not flying anywhere.

          2. There’s always a desire for more room or better amenities at no extra cost.

            There’s a reason why a bulkhead or exit row seats are among the most desirable coach seats on a plane. However, those are also seats where they place certain restrictions, such as being able to open the emergency door if needed, and being conversant in the crew’s primary language. I’ve been on an international flight where there was a large group of students that didn’t speak English. One was in my emergency exit row, and a flight attendant had that student switch places with a teacher who understood some basic English language commands.

          3. I’ve been on a flight where a woman who was clearly suffering from mental illness was allowed to sit in the exit row because her travelling companion/handler was a Delta Diamond Miler. It was ridiculous.

            I’ve also been on a flight (SWA) where two very elderly people–one of which required a cane to make it down the jetway–were allowed to sit in the exit row. I sent SWA an email about it and got a blow off response. I should’ve taken a picture and tweeted it. RIDICULOUS! You’re messing with my safety in both of these situations.

    2. Andrew, a “wide” seat will be about ~21″ wide. So now you are talking business class. Economy Wide ain’t happening.

    3. If the seats aren’t pre-sold, and are only available as upgrades at the gate, that means a ‘full’ flight will have a row of empty seats somewhere – maybe the wide seats, maybe the normal ones, but there will be empty seats.  I think that would end up raising prices for everyone.

      1. Jennifer: You misunderstood.  I’m suggesting that ALL seats are sold at the same price.  Then, during check-in, two things happen: 1) all fatso’s pay extra 50% of their fare and get a wide seat; 2) remaining wide seats are sold as upgrades to everyone.  There should be a provision that a “regular” person can have his upgrade revoked — and fee refunded — if some fatso sneaks into the plane but can’t fit into a regular seat.  If not enough people buy upgrades — oh well, some lucky ones will get wide seats for free.  That’s at most a 2-3% decrease in airline revenue (math above).  Fine, increase fares by this much.
        Tony: A wide seat will be 17″ + 50% = 25″, not 21″.  However, this ain’t business class.  Business class includes large armrests, more legroom, better entertainment and food, nicer flight attendants, cleaner bathrooms, etc.  So if you are suggesting that airlines will lose business class revenue to people seeking wide economy, I don’t think it will happen.  Nevertheless, that’s one of the reasons why I’m only suggesting selling these seats as an upgrade, so that a passenger can’t guarantee himself such a seat beforehand.

  30. I am tall, 270 and fit neatly in my seat with armrests down. I insist that the armrest be lowered and if you too are large for that seat, I have the attendant addess the situation. 9 out of 10 times they move one of us to an aisle seat that allows too big person to flop into the aisle. Frequent flyers also know to book away from the holidays as that’s when the hardest time to manipulate seating occurs.

    1. The challenge with this is that now the airlines are charging more for the aisle seat, so the person that paid for that privilege doesn’t want to switch to a less-desirable seat.

      1. I remember once reserving a window seat only to find another passenger in my reserved seat.  I just took the aisle seat, which left an entire seat between us.  We shared that seat to stash our stuff, and were able to lif the armrests.

        Of course she was rather petite, so it wasn’t a situation wehere anyone was spilling over into someone else’s space.

  31. “I have forwarded your comments to the appropriate personnel.
    Ms. Haas, thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. Please give us another opportunity to welcome you aboard and the chance to provide you with a more enjoyable flight.”
    The customer service equivalent of “Sit down, shut up or just go away”.
    If the note had been passed on to the appropriate personnel, why didn’t THEY contact the OP?
    Am I the only one who sees a monkey trained to recognize key words in messages and then taught to send them the correct “thanks for letting us know about _____” letter or e-mail?  When done correctly he gets a banana.
    For so long as the airlines treat us all like we’re idiots, we will resent them and demand better.  Why do they insist on doing this, in spite of the customer’s understanding of the process?

  32. When I visited the air & space museum in Dayton OH some years ago they had plexiglass arches at the bottom of the stairs to several planes with a sign to the affect that if you couldn’t fit through the archway comfortably you couldn’t get down the aisle of the plane you were going on. Sort of like the “check your bag” template at the gate. If you don’t fit through the arch you pay for two seats???

  33. How about requiring the hambeasts to sit in the aisle that doesn’t recline and the armrests don’t go up? If they can’t fold their rolls into their space, they have to buy another seat in a normal row!

  34. When I worked for a in town brick and mortar agency, we had large people come in and most of us were not comfortable in ‘recommending’ two seats, yet that is what they needed.  Only once have I had someone realize that their size was an issue and ask to purchase two seats. 

    Now large size people aren’t always obese.  I sat behind a young man on a flight from SFO to LIH (flight time was approx 5 1/2 hours) who was very broad in the shoulders.  Poor guy was given a middle seat and his bride, they were on their honeymoon, was seated elsewhere on the plane.  I am sure had they been able to get seats together he would have been more comfortable, as well as his seat mates, but for most of the flight he sat with his arms straight out and held on to the seat in front of him.  Towards the end of the flight he stood back in the galley until we had to prepare for landing. 

    1. Asking someone if they want to purchase 2 seats would be an incredibly difficult and uncomfortable conversation to have, both for the travel agent and for the customer.  The customer is likely to be offended and leave which means the TA loses the sale/ commission and possibly gets negative feedback out within the community.  It’s easier for all involved to just sell one seat and hope for the best, which is how the airlines seem to want to deal with it.  Hopefully there will be a free seat, hopefully they will be seated next to a child, etc.  The path of least resistance and least negative publicity.

    2. This is the reason why it has to be a rule from the FAA/DOT (the gov’t.). I can recall us getting a lot of flack from customers when we asked for their gender and date of birth since this is required as part of Secure Flight Passenger Data of the TSA. So we simply showed them the rule and they shut up.

      This issue is really a matter of size (physics) since the seat size is limited. It’s not about obesity, heredity, ethnicity, etc.
      If the government does not get involved by creating clear rules then this problem will just get bigger and bigger (like my waist size especially after Thanksgiving and Xmas).

  35. I would imagine that the airlines already have a rule that offers a solution to the problem.  What governs the position of the arm rest… is it up or down?  I would think if one person wants the arm rest down, it must be down. 
    If the fat (or take your choice of: overweight, plump, stout, portly, obese, heavy, large, big, corpulent, lard-ass, flabby) person can’t or won’t fit into the seat with the arm rests down, they it is they who must purchase and extra seat or a wider seat.
    I recently paid a fee because my checked luggage was five pounds over the limit for free baggage.  I weigh 142.  Add my 142 to the 5 pounds overage that makes 147… that 285 pound Goliath pays just the regular air fare.  Unfair.

    1. What if the 285 pound goliath can fit in his seat and get up and down the aisle?

      The counter and ramp agent still has to handle your overweight bag.

  36. I find it bizarre that the airlines are willing to do basically anything else to increase their profits but they draw the line at making obese people buy two seats. They codify what size a carryon can be, how heavy bags can be, etc. There’s no reason they can’t decide anybody over X weight or Y girth is required to buy two seats.

    1. They draw the line because groups like the ACLU have decided that being overweight is a disability and therefore they get protection under ADA. Since it can cost millions to defend the ACLU lawsuit, the airlines choose the route of least resistance and stick it to the rest of us.

      1. There is a very good explanation about this in
        Southwest Airline’s Customer of Size Q&A page
        has this explanation:
        Doesn’t your policy violate the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Air Carrier Access Act?

        Interstate airline travel is specifically excluded from the Title II of
        the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by Section 12141(2). Airline
        travel is instead covered by the Air Carrier Access Act, 49 U.S.C.
        1374(c) and the regulations implementing the Act issued by the
        Department of Transportation as 14 CFR part 382, et seq. The air Carrier
        Access Act (ACAA) preceded the ADA, and Congress excluded air carriers
        and other air transportation services from the scope of ADA. As
        regulated under 14 CFR §382.87, airlines are “not required to furnish
        more than one seat per ticket.”

        It seems like they need to sue airlines successfully under 14CFR Part 382. But IMO it is oversized passengers who refuse to buy a second adjoining seat that are possibly impinging  on the rights of passengers seating beside them.

        1. Tony I don’t disagree with you but I would think that the airlines are more afraid of the big payout (imagine all of the airfares they’d have to refund plus the punitive damages for those who are large and did the right thing buying two seats), the large legal bill from just defending the lawsuit and the scary precedent it would set.
          It just easier to paint us as uncaring because we aren’t willing to have our space invaded.

          1. I think the thought of bad publicity is probably what goes into the minds of airline employees. They’re sort of stuck in a bad place since the bad publicity can come from both sides.

          2. That is exactly the reason why the DOT should come out with a clear cut RULE. This will provide the airlines with sufficient “cover” to make life better for everyone. The way it is right now is totally unacceptable. Lots of peoples rights (17″ tiny ones) are being trampled on.

  37. I had the same problem on a US Airways flight in from Phoenix to Los Angeles.  Thankfully it was a relatively short flight but I was seated next to a XXL person who, since it was August, had on shorts as did I and kept having to get up to go to the lavatory and wipe his disgusting sweat off of me.  The guy was nice and the flight was full so there was no point of embarrassing him publicly on the flight but I did send a letter to US Airways and received a form letter as well.

  38. Just wondering why the airlines can’t take out the 3 seats in a row or two and replace two larger seats in Economy and charge 1 1/2 times the rate. The airline gets the same $$$, larger passengers and others are all more comfortable.  Do we really need to test fit passengers into a template like carry-ons (which often also encroaches on others space).  

    1. No but we can force oversized passengers to comply with a new rule such as:

      Please note that the average seat width is 17 inches and the average seat belt length is 47 inches. For safety reasons, you must be able to sit on your assigned seat with both armrests down and with your seatbelt fastened AND NO PART OF YOUR BODY SHALL SPILL OVER TO THE SEAT BESIDE YOU UNLESS THAT SEAT IS EMPTY AND NOT OCCUPIED BY ANOTHER PASSENGER. If you are not able to comply with this rule, you must make arrangments with your air carrier to purchase an additional adjacent seat or procure a ticket on a different cabin where the seats are larger.

  39. The two topics with regards to air travel that never fail to bring the most heated debate are large passengers encroaching on other people’s seats and people reclining their seats into the faces and laps of large and/or tall passengers. It’s LONG past time that the FAA required airlines to allow enough seat space for passengers to sit comfortably without crowding/hurting others.

    1. Excellent point York! There must be a lot more passengers getting squeezed by oversized neighbors and overzealous recliners than those stuck in tarmacs for more than 3 hours. Yet, this important seat issue does not even get lip service from the FAA/DOT. Maybe Obama should tell his commissioners to take a couple of flights in the cramped economy section of US carriers.

  40. I could be the guy in that photo.  Problem is that the airlines refuse to acknowledge that people need a certain amount of space in order to be comfortable.  I can fit in seats in theaters, stadiums, even thrill-rides without a problem.  Airlines, however, have a cattle-car mentality that shoves as many people into as small a space as possible.
    Animals transported on aircraft are afforded more relative space than passengers.

    1. If you’ve ever shipped an animal as cargo, you’ll know that it costs just as much as an economy ticket for the same route, and can cost significantly more for a large dog that weighs as much as a person.  Yes, they have more relative space, and they darned well should, for what it costs to ship them!  That may have been what Eric was getting at.

      Larger seats mean fewer seats on the plane, which means a higher cost per seat.  I’m small enough to be ‘comfortable’ in an airline seat, and most people larger than me can fit in one, and aren’t willing to pay more just to be more comfortable (those who feel otherwise tend to spring for Business or First).  Why should I and everyone else who doesn’t need a larger seat have to pay more for our tickets just because you do?  You’re the one who needs more space, so you’re the one who should pay for more space.  I shouldn’t have to pay more for a seat that can fit two of me just because that’s the size you need.

  41. Like I posted earlier, a 737-800 costs about $85 million.  A 767 goes for $265 million.  A 747 is about $340 million.

    When it costs that much to buy an airplane, they have two choices to try and turn a profit. The first is to pack more passengers in economy, or charge a premium for additional room. If you really want it, then there is business class. I’ve flown on business class several times, and large people will fit comfortably.

    1. Well then, maybe the solution is for the airline to decree that if your waste size is over X inches, you either buy two adjoining coach seats, or buy a first class seat.  If there is only one coach seat left on a given flight, you’re outa luck, chunky.

  42. I don’t need business class. I prefer the idea of a wider economy seat. I would gladly pay 50% extra for more width and a premuim for legroom as well while keeping coach service. I could live with economy restrictions on my ticket.

  43. And it would be great if the rules included the amount of space between one row and the next! But unfortunately it’s too late for that one.

    1. It’s never too late, if our Representatives would just grow a pair.  Airlines have shown it is possible to retrofit a plane to shrink the space, logically it can work the other way as well.

  44. On a flight from SFO to LHR I once was given Hobson’s choice: sitting beside a morbidly obese person or in front of a teenager who wedged his feet into my seat back (pushing me forward of vertical) and whose father screamed obscenities at my seatmate. The oversize dad threatened the flight attendant who attempted to soothe him. I picked the obese person when the FA refused to move me to Business Class, where I could see empty seats. Not a happy experience. I think that now I’d firmly demand to be moved up, to First Class if necessary.

    1. This is exactly the reason why Passenger Rights should be expanded to protect people like you. Hurling obscenities or threatening behavior should be banned from any flight within the USA (even on foreign carriers). The TSA or the police should be called to drag those passengers out of the airplane.

  45. If this happened to me, I’d demand to be let off the plane and re-booked on another flight rather than be compressed into a diamond by a fat seatmate.  So the large person could pay for my seat and I take a different flight.  I also am coming around to the concept of ticket prices based on weight.  Just like luggage, the first 250 pounds are included in the base ticket price, after that, the price goes up by a dollar a pound.

  46. My other issue is that when you do purchase an additional, the airline will not guarantee that the two seats are together (I had a friend it happened to).  Also, you do not get the frequent flier miles on the purchase of the second seat either.

    Until we get rid of the cattle car mentality, flying will cease to be comfortable for anyone who is any shape or size.

    1. Happened to me. I was told an off duty flight attendant needed my seat. I mentioned that I paid for the seat and she could pay me for it….at the last minute walkup fare. I kept my empty seat.

      1. mike, could you demand a BOARDING PASS for the extra seat? I am not sure the second “passenger” (the other half of your body) will actually check in. If so,  then the ticket (coupon) will be lifted and a boarding pass printed as if 2 people actually boarded. I’ve never worked as a check-in /gate agent so I don’t know how this works in reality. Maybe flutiefan could set me straight. 

        1. They put a special name on the extra seat, so as not to appear as a dupe. Something like EXSEAT/MIKEGUN. You then check in yourself and the extra seat and obtain 2 boarding passes.

          I think the FA didn’t realize that I had paid for the seat and said something to the effect of “use it or lose it”. I didn’t need it for size issues, just wanted to do some work and spread out files on the empty seat.

          After my response she turned to the gate agent on board who kind of gave her a look that indicated she was out of line and confirmed I bought the seat.

    2. While you really cannot get a 100% guarantee the second seat assignment will be adjacent, you can certainly do a lot in YOUR PART to make that happen.

      Ultimate seat assignments are done by the check-in agents using the airline’s Departure Control System (DCS) prior to boarding. But the DCS is seeded by the airlines’s own Reservation (RES) systems which mostly support Advance Seat Reservation (ARS).

      Therefore, if you go online and select both of your seats early, then you have a higher probability that they will be together. In addition, you can call the airline and they will mark your reservation accordingly so that the check-in agent does the right thing.

      Even with Southwest’s free seating style, they provide you with a CARD that you can print and place on the seat beside you.

      There really is no reason other than ignorance, lack of money or willingness to buy another seat for anyone who needs one for as long as they do it early.

    3. FWIW, I’d be more than happy to switch seats on an airplane so that an obese passenger could have two seats next to each other.  If they’re willing to buy two seats so they don’t get into someone else’s personal space, I’m willing to meet them halfway.

  47. Why should I, an 150lb passenger, pay the same price as someone who weighs 300lbs?

    Extra ass needs extra seat. Pony up and pay…..or use your dollars for a nutritionist and a personal trainer.

  48. My husband is a big man and we only travel by air when we go to Europe on a European airline.  I always order our tickets and seats at least six to nine months ahead of time so we can get the pick of good seats.  He has lost 60 lbs so the seat isn’t so tight anymore but he still is uncomfortable the whole flight. I always take the middle seat with him on the aisle.  The newer planes you can’t pull the armrests up so a large tall person is just stuck.  Of course not flying on American planes, I am not sure if this is true of American flights.  Many times I am stuck with another person of a large/tall persuasion sitting next to the window, who leaves me in a predicament.  But, I know that if I paid for a FC seat,  I wouldn’t be in this situation.   Oh yes,  one of the reasons that I fly European airlines as we don’t run into rude comments as some of them that I have read today.

    1. Most Boeing 777s have 17.5 to 18″ seat widths. I’ve taken the Air France 380 from CDG to JFK and I believe that has an 19″ width. Next ticket I buy to Asia, will probably be on Korean Air’s A380 with 18″ seats. So pick your airlines by their seats (check seatguru website first). And as far as obnoxious passengers are concerned, the US does not have a monopoly. That trait is truly global. Earplugs work pretty well…

  49. Plain and simple this is a safety issue.  If the plane had crashed it would be extremely difficult if not impossible for Ms. Haas to deplane safely with her seat mate in the way.  There should be standardized rules to address this situation.

  50. I am a XL person. I do not need a seat belt extender though. I  am disabled also. Even before I became disabled and I was in shape, it was uncomfortable to fit shoulder to shoulder with another passenger, especially another male. I do think that airlines need to be aware that a persons comfort should come before profits! (Like that will happen) With the planes getting smaller, the airlines just want to put as many passengers into the plane as possible.

  51. Many of the suggestions include the need for a seat belt extender as the criteria for needing to buy an extra seat. I am overweight, but do fit into an economy seat. However, all seat belts are NOT created equal. I have had seat belts on the same type of plane and same airline that were fine. Some barely fit. And on a couple of occasions I had to ask for an extender. No difference in my weight. Why is that? You would think that all seat belts would be the same length, but they’re not.

  52. magoo: my grandson is too large. SW Airlines charged him for 2 seats-then, because the flight wasn’t sold out refunded the additional fare.
    I believe this a common sense remedy-what’s happened to c”common sense”?

  53. I agree with Southwest. If you are too large for a seat, buy two. Nobody should have to raise the armrest to allow a larger person to flop over into their seat. You paid for a seat “between the armrests”, not one half a seat. 

  54. People need to stop being so PASSIVE……If someone was disgustingly filling over into my space I would make the biggest pain-in-the-Azz- of myself…..just keep getting up and down, standing in the aisle, hovering over the guy, even making comments how I have no room to sit comfortably, etc.   Why are these disgusting HOGS allowed to be comfortable and I am not ??

  55. Continuing…….Make this HOG get up and down many, many times while I keep needing to get up – torture HIM and keep saying how  uncomfortable I AM.   Maybe he/she will think twice about flying in one seat instead of two.   Sorry, some people just need to be shamed or embarrassed – why do we have to “accept” people being rude, intrusive and obnoxious to us – all in the name of being politically correct ?????  

  56. They should have a standard seat at the gate, and if the flight is full(which today, most are!), if you cannot fit into that space, you would be required to purchase two seats.

  57. I have not noticed airline seats getting smaller as people seem to state.  I do think leg room has diminished, but I still fit comfortably between both arm rests.  What annoys me is any encroachment, not just people of size.  I have noticed some people my size and smaller will just encroach.  They put their leg in front of me, put their arm well above the arm rest elbowing me in the side, cross their leg putting their foot on my lap.  That is equally as annoying.  I have noticed people of size seem to be a little more cautious about spreading out, where these people I am referring to simply have an attitude that this is their plane and everyone else is in their way.  My other weird observation with people of size is that they often seem to be in the middle seat.  Why is that?  Either way, if you want or need more space, I think people should pay for it.

  58. I’m a pretty big guy.  I just took a flight on a regional jet that seats 50 people.  They aren’t very big, that’s for sure.

    They sat a fairly large woman next to me.  However, we both fit into our seats, neither of us used a seatbelt extender and the middle arm rest stayed down.

    Although I used probably 100% of my seat, I could not encroach upon my seatmate’s space because she was using 100% of her seat.

    My point is that someone who uses more space than I do, can’t put the middle armest down, etc needs to purchase a first class or extra seat.

    American Airlines was not truthful in my opinion, when they said they would work things out for “all concerned”.  Kind of reminds me how they used to show consideration for non smokers in the 70’s (they didn’t).

    Smarten up airlines.  This is stupid.  People pay for their small space they get, your gate agent has NO RIGHT to allow someone to take my already small seat.

    If you are in the window seat, ask the big person to get up to let you in, plop that arm rest down and don’t let it come back up again.

  59. I’m a fairly big person – 6’3 AND 300+ pounds and it can be a real challenge to get comfortable on some airplanes – particularly the smaller ones. However, to date, I have had no trouble fitting myself into a single seat and although it gets close sometimes, I have never needed an extender for my seat belt.
    I would have to agree that the truly morbidly obese folk (you know who you are – heavy enough to make the shuttle bus rise a couple inches when you step off) should absolutely be required to buy two seats – no ifs ands or buts.

  60. I used to weight well over 300 pounds and would buy two tickets when I flew. I didn’t spill over into the next seat but it was tight and I hated the feeling so I spent the extra money to be really comfortable. Yet almost every single time I flew, I would get people wanting to sit in my extra seat so they could talk to my friend, FA wanting to seat people in my extra seat despite me telling them I paid for that seat and no-they couldn’t sit there. I stood my ground every time because I paid for the seat so I could be comfortable and unless they wanted to pony up twice the price of the ticket in cash, that seat was going to remain empty.

    Now that I am 150 pounds lighter, I only buy one seat. I do have wide shoulders-which will never change, so I sit by the window and lean into the window and keep my shoulder and arm off the middle arm-rest. Courtesy towards seatmates-how hard is it? Apparently pretty hard, judging by the tales I read on Chris’s blog.

    1. I’ve been reading this blog for quite some tme now. While there are certainly some rude and discourteous remarks here – this topic seems to bring them out – I believe that most of the “discourtesy” you refer to is in reaction to another’s prior discourtesy. Whether that be an obese passenger who doesn’t care enough about fellow passengers to purchase two tickets, or someone else who’s kicking the back of the seat in front of them, or the person who tries to load his/her full 29 inch suitcase into the overhead bin, I think what you’re hearing is the frustration of dealing with not-so-common courtesy from others. In general, people do not like confrontation; they’ll put up with so much more than they would imagine in order to avoid “a scene”. This blog seems to be an outlet for that. I guarantee that some of the most vocal folks in this forum would quietly and meekly accept the situation without saying a word if it happened to them in real life. That’s just human nature.

  61. As a large person, I spent time and money to make sure I had milage for a first-class seat as often as possible, specifically for situations like this.  I like the room, the spaciousness, the lack of feeling like I’m being crushed.

    Then the last time I flew, I was informed at the gate – having pre-checked-in the previous day, insured I had my first-class seat, the whole thing – that they had overbooked first class and that I would have to be bumped to coach.

    (And no, I was not getting my miles back for that flight.)

    I asked if I could be on a later flight, and they said that no, there was nothing that could be worked out without having to wait for the next day, and then they couldn’t promise me anything then.

    I asked for a few minutes, called Delta’s customer service department, explained my situation, and was told the exact same thing, including that I would not get the miles back.

    So when I got on the plane, to my coach seat, I handed the person next to me a note and said, “That’s my name and Delta’s customer care number; they bumped me from first class or I wouldn’t be here.  If you want to call and complain, you’ll need that information.”

    They did not give me the option of a second seat; they took away my options and ability to take any kind of action to not cause problems for other people.  And claimed they could do it without giving me my miles, used for that purpose, back to me.

    Next time I think I’ll take the train.  I did a cross-country trip a couple of years ago and it was much less irritating.

  62. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; if you have a large person spilling over into your seat, you have to complain about it BEFORE THE FLIGHT LEAVES THE GATE. That’s the point at which the flight attendants can reseat you, reseat the large person, or bump one of you from the flight (and be aware, the skinny person might be the one who gets bumped).  Once the plane doors are closed, there’s nothing the flight attendants can do.  SPEAK UP!!

    By the way, I’m a large person.  I fit into a seat without a seat belt extender and the armrest can stay down, but I still garner plenty of dirty looks when I get on an airplane.  

  63. I haven’t had to deal with sitting next to an obese passenger, but IMHO the real issue is that the seats are too small for just about everyone. I was recently on a CRJ700 from Houston to Detroit (and that’s another issue – can we stop pretending these are “regional jets” when the airlines are making us miserable flying halfway across the country in them?) seated next to a man who I’d describe as somewhat large but certainly not obese. I couldn’t even tell if he was actually overweight or just very muscular. Anyway, he had the aisle seat and I was in the window seat. I’m 6’1″ and 190 pounds, and I had to spend the entire 2.5 hour flight contorting myself to keep my leg from pressing against his.

    Also, height/long legs can be as much of a problem on planes as weight, and I haven’t seen a single study yet that suggests tall people with long legs can change with diet and exercise…

  64. I think fliers need to provide the number of cubic inches they require. Even providing a size guide.  A large person should be able to purchase the space they need and an average person should be able to have the space they purchase.  Blue jeans aren’t one size fits all and with the snugness of plane seats, neither are plane seats. At 5’7″ and 140 lbs, I’m just barely comfortable.  Please airlines, let me buy the space I need without having to buy an overpriced first class seat!

  65. We all pay for our seats, I’m not interested in sharing… I want the WHOLE thing I paid for and I want the entire space I paid for.  I’m tired of being cramped by people that are too large for their spaces and haven’t the common courtesy to deal with that.  I’m sick and tired of the ‘discrimination’ word.  I’M being discriminated against for choosing to be average size.  AND I’m not ragging on overweight people here, I’m ragging on the attitude of those that put others in the position described in this article.

    People KNOW they don’t fit in the seats, they KNOW they have options to not make other people on the plan uncomfortable and they don’t take them. 

    YES the airlines should be dealing with this… SWA is right on.  There have been suggestions to offer ‘extra width room’ seats in addition to ‘extra leg room’ seats for minimal cost upgrades… sure.  I don’t see this problem as any different than trying to park your big ole SUV in the increasingly tiny parking spots.  Sure, I can rail against the mall for making the parking spots too small… but that’s the way things are, SO my choice is to park where I may make it very difficult for someone to get in and out of their car OR because I choose to have a big SUV I can park out further and inconvenience myself.  The analogy only goes so far, but the point is that the people themselves have to take responsibility.  They put the airlines and the people around them in a bad position for something that is for most (not all, but most) their choice. 

  66. I’ve said it before.  It’s a toughie when it comes to paying for an extra seat. Who really wants to pay more? A lot of passengers would prefer an exit row to get the extra legroom without paying for a business class or first class fare.  Parents will show up with a infant and child restraint without paying for an extra seat.  A lap child is actually free on domestic routes on most US airlines, and if there’s an empty seat suitable for a child restraint, they’ll allow it to be used.  Otherwise, they’ll check in the restraint for free.

    There are also the cases where people have specifically booked an extra seat or bumped up to a larger seat only to have that taken away without compensation or recourse.  Is there an outrage when that happens, or do people think “fatso deserved it for being so fat”?

  67. About 2-yrs ago, my wife and I flew from SMF to STL.  The flight was full with no empty seats left. We sat separately (not by choice) but in adjacent rows.  Unfortunately, near the end of the boarding process, an XL female squeezed into the last seat available next to my wife.  It was very uncomfortable for my wife as the XL passenger’s body (arms/legs) flowed over into my wife’s area.  My wife did not complain to the FA, so she just “sucked” it up all the way to STL.  After we got home, we wrote SWA an email explaining her displeasure with the incident.  SWA, without our requesting anything, graciously refunded the entire portion of the fare and even gave her a $50 voucher good on a next ticket within the next year.  KUDOS to SWA!

  68. (copied from another web site)
    You need to say something before departure. In front of the ground complaint resolution officer and the captain (whom you have called for if the flight attendant did not succeed in finding an empty seat somewhere for you). And preferably not in front of the larger passenger except that you might need to point out to them that the seat you were assigned to has someone in it.
    Jump right to the suggestion that they find you an empty seat. But don’t say out loud right away where (can be a jump seat or first class) or say that they can move the larger person instead, which they can. Let them figure that out. If they don’t seem to be getting anywhere then you can overtly suggest out loud that they ask for volunteers to be bumped.
    Do not volunteer yourself quickly at that time. You do not want to look like the purpose of what you are doing is trying to score a bump voucher.
    Now I did hear on a radio news program recently a flight attendant (I forget the airline) saying that his/her job was to ensure you a safe and comfortable and enjoyable flight. This was in connection with actor Alec Baldwin’s being taken off of a flight. You can work this into your conversation if you want to.
    Psst! Don’t tell them this out loud  but the captain wants to wrap up the conversation with you quickly so he can depart and this increases the chance he will ask for volunteers. And, if the airline chooses to bump the person taking up more seats than he booked, then the airline does not have to pay compensation.

  69. We sure do need something stating minimum space guidelines for airlines and not because I’m being encroached upon but because I’m the encroacher.  It’s not any more fun for us than it is for you.  To sit there trying to squeeze into a seat that’s 17.2″ wide while the person next to you is staring daggers at you, is humiliating.  Even though my husband and I always buy an extra seat, just the looks you get as you’re walking down the aisle (sideways) to your seat is humiliating. You can just about hear the prayers going out… “please God, don’t let them sit next to me.”  How about making a few seats on every plane that are larger, with easier access for people of size?  Make the person show proof of their weight in order to reserve one of these seats, sort of like proving your age to get a senior discount.  I would fly exclusively on the first airline to offer something like this.  Or what about just making a plane with a reasonable seat size, I mean come on, 17.2″…?  That’s just ridiculous.

    1. Amy, I understand what it is like to experience those humiliating daggers.  Have you tried doing anything about that?  Not to put too fine of a point on this, but losing weight, while difficult, is quite possible!  
      Just about every airline has a few seats on every plane that are larger, and have easier access.  They are located in the front of the plane and are called “First Class”.  
      I do agree with you on the issue of reasonable seat size.  17.2 is not wide enough to comfortably accommodate many Americans.  

    2. Food for thought:

      1.  I hated those “daggers” you are talking about.  Went to the gym, lost the weight.  No more “daggers”.  It was difficult, but possible.

      2.  Most airlines have a “few seats on every plane that are larger, with easier access for people of size”.  You don’t even have to disclose your weight to reserve them!  They are located in the front of the plane, and are, usually, referred to as the “First Class”.  

      3.  17.2 is not a reasonable seat size for an average american.  I think it is time we realize that we have surpassed that, and get the next size up.  Of course, that would mean less seats on the plane, and more cost per passenger, but I don’t mind paying a few extra bucks for the comfort of a larger seat.  

  70. I think if the person doesn’t fit in the seat, then they need a second seat. The real question is whether they should pay for it, or whether the airline should provide it.

  71. Every business except the airlines expects people to pay more if they want or need more. I guarantee that these large passengers to do approach the Hertz counter after their flight and say, “I need a large size car because I cannot fit in a compact car, but I only want to pay for the compact car rate. So don’t discriminate against my “disability” and don’t hurt my feelings – just ignore my obesity and give me a luxury car for the price of a compact”. They don’t go to McDonalds and say, “I need to supersize my meal to maintain my weight, but I only want to pay for a kid’s meal”. And yet they go to the airlines, pay for a coach seat, and expect to get 1.5 coach seats. What makes it worse if that this extra half a seat is taken from a passenger that paid for an entire seat. This would be like having half of your steak taken away by the waitress to give to the fat person at the next table. When the airlines sell a coach ticket, they are selling 18 inches of space. They are not agreeing to transport one person from point A to point B, because if that were true, lap children would not be free, and pregnant ladies would pay double. The airlines charge more for first class because it IS more, and they are simply selling space. So if you cannot fit into a coach seat, buy 2, or buy a first class seat.

  72. This happened to me and I had to sit sideways from AMS to DTW. I wrote a thoughtful letter to the then NW Airlines, and they personally answered my letter, sent me a voucher for $250 and gave me extra miles for my discomfort. While my flight was miserable, the flight attendants were aware of the issue, but were unable to reseat me due to a full flight. I was pleasantly surprised with the response.

  73. If their flying acceptance measures are for supposedly normal women’s min-max.(75-175 lbs) and mens min-max (125-250 lbs) then for sure they will have a quarter or more of people that can not fit those bloody tiny seats. Instead of squeezing the most possible persons on the plane for the profitability purpose, they should redesign the plane seats configuration in order to add a certain percentage of non business class larger seats. If the obesity societal figures statistics says that 15-25 percent of people in North America are into that category then the planes configuration should reflect that reality. Example : on a 250 passengers capacity plane they should have 10 percent in first class: 25 passengers at 500$-more, 40 inches-more width seats, 20 percent in larger accommodating seats : 50 passengers at 200-300$-more. 36-40 inches width seats and the rest of the plane: 175 passengers in economy at 99$-200$, 31-34 inches width normal seats. And i think that everybody would be happy, the transporters, the obeses and the rest of normal skinny people. First Class, Accommodating Class and Normal Class. That’s it That’s all !!!

  74. If they would not be so greedy and keep on shrinking the seating there would be no problem, ALL people need to travel and the smarmy stuck up types do not like bigger people on THEIR flight, just get a life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: