One of our most popular (and most polarizing posts) to date is Airline Polices for Overweight Persons Traveling This Summer, essentially designed to give people a one-stop-shop for the various airline polices regarding larger people. What we found is that there is still a lot of contention surrounding this issue.

5 Helpful Tips for Flying When You’re an Overweight Traveler

A dialogue is essential to effecting change in any case, so we’re going to continue a series of posts aimed at helping keep all paying passengers comfortable. Up first – what you can do if you’re a person of above-average size to assure a comfortable flight for you and your seat mates. We’ve also updated the original post to reflect any new changes from individual airlines.

Do your research
As with most topics these days, the Internet is your friend. You can do a ton of research online to find out which airlines and even schedules are friendly to persons of size. Seatguru will show you the individual specifications of 800 aircraft searchable by airline so you can see exactly how much space you have in any seat on a particular plane. Genius! Travel forums are another great resource to see what airlines are given a ‘person of size’ seal of approval. While JetBlue doesn’t take an official position on their website, a search of some popular travel forums show positive feedback from the community. Various travelers online give them two huge thumbs up owing in part to the extra one inch of seat width that comes standard on JetBlue aircraft, but also to their friendly and non-judgmental customer service. It pays to do a little bit of research before booking.

Book smarter
If you are a frequent traveler and a person of size you’re acutely aware that no one is super comfy anymore when flying. Airlines cram in as many seats as possible in an effort to maximize profits per flight. In an effort to mitigate some of the bad press (to admittedly mixed reviews), most of the larger domestic airlines have instituted policies that aim to keep everyone comfortable. While you can find a complete list of those policies in our updated post, our pick for most friendly airline to passengers of size is Southwest. Here’s why. Southwest offers one big perk to those who are in need of an extra seat for comfort. First, if you choose to pre-purchase an extra seat (which we recommend), after you fly, Southwest will refund you the cost of your extra seat regardless of WHETHER OR NOT THE FLIGHT WAS OVERBOOKED. You heard us right. The purchase of the second seat guarantees your comfort and you get the cost of that guarantee reimbursed. You do have to contact Southwest for the refund to be processed, but that’s just a small bit of busywork. The only other bit of logistics is that you have to advocate for yourself on the flight. Southwest will give you a placard stating that a seat is reserved for you to place on the accompanying seat. If someone tries to sit there, you’re going to have to point out the sign to them.

You can also take your chances that your flight will not be full (insuring an extra seat will be available) and forego the pre-payment option but we feel this leaves you open to the seating preferences of other passengers and potential embarrassment (if the flight is overbooked, you can and will be asked to forfeit your seat and take the next flight). No – for your money – the simple solution is to pay in advance for the extra room and then request a refund post-travel.

Befriend the gate agent
Here’s the thing. Being nice to the gate agent is kind of a generic catch-all bit of advice for any sort of flying problem/concern primarily because it’s a thankless job. People pretty much complain to you all day long in not terribly respectful voices (i.e. with attitude). It would seem like the smallest thing to do, but honestly, just taking the time to ask the gate agent how their day is going can go a long way. If you are a person of size and would like to pre-board for comfort/ease, nine times out of ten no one at the gate is going to bat an eye. You can tip the cards even further in your favor by letting the gate agent know when you arrive that you plan to do so. A bit of additional business – see if the flight isn’t full. If it isn’t and they can shuffle seats around a bit, you could end up with your row all to yourself. If you’ve been polite and friendly, you’ll have it made.

Aisle or Window?
Well, we’re pretty evenly split on this one. Like we said, flying ain’t a walk in the park for anyone these days. I’m inclined to a window seat, but I also prefer to avoid mid-flight bathroom breaks and climbing over the aisle seat people. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind stepping out into the aisle multiple times during a flight or need frequent bathroom runs, you know that already. You’re better off sitting on the aisle. There’s no great option for anyone unless you’re flying first class.

5 Helpful Tips for Flying When You’re an Overweight Traveler

Take a deep breath
When all else fails – just try to relax. It’s true. There are people on your flight that may be rude to you based on your size just as there are people on your flight who might be rude to new parents traveling with infants or to someone with an obvious disability. There will also be very nice people who’re just trying to get from point A to point B. You have just as much business traveling to visit friends or to see the Eiffel Tower or to lie on a beach. When you run into someone who treats you unkindly because of your size, remember that they too have their struggles and try not to let it bother you. And remember – in a few short hours you’re going to be sipping your margarita poolside or holding your new niece in your arms. In the meantime, take a deep breath, put in your headphones and chill out to some relaxing music. If you need a few more suggestions on how to decompress, read our 5 Simple Tips to Combat Air Anxiety and Help You Relax. Happy travels!

As always, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below. You can also tweet to us @CheapAir.


  1. Book first class because the seats are usually very wide, lots of space, and you can customise the food for special dietary restrictions -requests (just like coach)–but the food is much better.

    It is a combo of us “food,” diet, exercise, depression, toxic country, endless stress, constant wars, job insecurity, no real health care, etc.. that causes such obesity prevalence. Sad for many many folks.

    Thank you.

  2. I booked flights through a travel agency. I have not flown in over 40 years, so it didn’t occur to me to ask about seating for an overweight person. The travel agent informed me that SWA does not fly to my destination. My flight is now booked and paid, so it is to late to change airlines. I am flying American Airline [airbus]. Does anyone have any feedback? I did call to ask the airline about overweight passengers, they totally ignored my concern on suggestions for seating etc. Anyone have info?

  3. Hi, I am very interested in awareness, solutions, and advocacy for issues related to persons of size, specifically with respect to air travel. I think we need solutions that balance the needs of everyone involved from the persons of size, to their adjacent travellers, to the airline employees. Towards that goal, I’ve created with short articles I have written about different aspects of the subject. I’ll be adding more over time – and on the site I ask for your feedback. I hope it is helpful to you.

  4. Hi I’m both big and tall 6’5. I’m flying transcontinental NY-CA. After looking at all the airlines policies and seating charts. I narrowed my choice down to JetBlue either 2 seats plus adding the “even more space” for both seats or a Mint seat (in the row with the single seat suite 22in wide seat pitch 60) I was able to book the Mint seat 3 months before and it ended up being $240 cheaper then purchasing the 2 seats with even more space. Hope I’m comfy without the extra seat next to me.

  5. Hello. I already know about SWA and there refund policy on purchasing an extra seat but I am trying to get to Dubai from Birmingham, AL this year. I dont mind purchasing the extra seat as long as I get my money back. Does SWA fly around the world? If not, who else is similar to them?

    • Hi LaShan, Southwest is primarily a domestic North American carrier (they also do fly to a few select destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean). Southwest has (historically) gone it alone – so I can’t offer you a list of international airlines that they codeshare with (codesharing is a group of airlines working in cooperation to share some flights so they tend to have the same sort of administrative rules/features, etc.) I would look into airlines like United/American, etc. that do work with a North American clientele to get the best service. Having said that, it’s certainly worth it to have a chat with Emirates. They have one of the best customer service reps in the business – so it can’t hurt to ask about their policy on purchasing an extra seat.

  6. Don’t cast blame to Topshelf so quickly. If you allow yourself to be of a certain size, your confort is at the expense of the comfort of those beside you. Please be courteous to those of us of normal size and purchase the extra seat if your measurements are beyond the constraint of the seat. I’m not trying to be insulting pr confrontational, the act of allowing your body into my chair is subsidizing my confort for yours.

    • I am in complete agreement with you especially as a very large man I feel it is my responsibility to purchase another seat but I should not be degraded by a jerk because of it

  7. Why should an airline accomodate a large person by giving them a seat next to an empty seat? I am not fat, but I would like to sit next to an empty seat as well. Who wouldn’t? As far as an airline employee being discreet about handing a large person a seat belt extender – what is the point? Everyone can already see that a particular person is fat whether or not they happen to hear mention of a seat belt extender or not. As for the arm rests – fat flyers always ask if I mind if they put them up. This is code for asking “do you mind if I occupy half of the seat you paid for with my fat butt and thighs?” I always reply that I would prefer them down. I should be allowed to to enjoy every inch of the seat I paid for without being crushed by the sweaty flesh of my neighbor. Finally, fat people should not be given an aisle seat, for safety reasons. If I am seated inboard of a fat person, my ability to get from my seat to an aisle, and on to an exit, is compromised if I cannot get past the fat person on the aisle who takes a long time to get out of the seat and a long time to waddle toward the exit.

    • I fly a lot and while I don’t have the issues a large person has traveling I appreciate the information for those that are getting past the nerves of flying because of their weight. I’m amazed at the few that feel it necessary to air their meanness at people they don’t know. TopShelf is just mean and you’ve added nothing to this helpful post except to show what kind of person you are.

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