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.

71 Comments

  1. I’m a overweight girl, who’s wide in the hips. I’m flying wth frontier airlines. Are their seats and seat belts a decent size?

    • I believe Frontier does offer seatbelt extenders (if needed). All commercial airline seats are on the small side these days. Good luck to you. Perhaps some others on the thread have suggestions for flying Frontier specifically.

    • Just flew them from slc to atlanta. Worst seats, worst everything ever! It was a horrible mess. Their seats are small and uncomfortable, the arm rest is little, its too small to use, but big enough to stab you. No entertainment, seats dont recline…..none of them.
      Hopefully they have other planes, but for us, never again. I didnt mention the endless delays, check out the comments people make on their page and on trio advisor first. I wish i had.

    • Hi Lori. This is a good question, but a really personal choice to be honest. Perhaps other folks on the thread can help. Flying first class is probably going to be more expensive, but if you can afford the ticket might offer the best service and comfort. Purchasing two seats is another very solid tactic. It just boils down to personal preference and budget.

  2. Hi, I have a few questions. If anyone could help point me in the right direction that would be great. So I’m 33 and iv never flown.(because of fear not weight) but yes I’m qute overweight at 5’8 300lbs. But I want take to take my 75yr old mother to Ireland before it’s too late.(and for that I must face my fear) So was wondering if anyone had experience with flying to Ireland (from the USA) while plus size? What airlines are best to work with? If you had to purchase an extra set or not. I know I’m fat, I know it’s not good for my health… yes I know all that… but hell I get one life might as well enjoy fat or not. But I can also understand others of average size not wanting my extra”ness” all up on them. I don’t want them under me just the same. So just looking for any advice to help both myself and fellow travelers enjoy the few hours time we must spend together…. oh and if your advice is to lose weight… yes I’m sure that would be best. However save yourself and me the time. That is not the advice I’m seeking.
    Thanks for any help/points in the right direction. Lolly

    • Thank you for understanding your size is actually part of the problem. Consider comparing prices between buying three economy seats for the two of you vs. two business class seats…or worst case, one business, one economy.

      • tired of elephants you are obviously a very hateful ignorant person who doesn’t have anything better to do than to get on here and give answers that obviously help no one. Maybe you should use your time more wisely to work on your nonexistent people skills instead of spouting of at the mouth just to try to hurt people.

        • No one is trying to hurt anyone!! I dont want a stranger sitting in my seat! Is that so reduculous? If so, why dont you make a point of sitting right to someone this big on your future flights? Save someone who feels he needs to sit all by himself in his own, paid for seat some relief.

    • In 2016 I flew from Texas to Sweden via British Airways. I am a tall and wide hipped woman. About a size 2X. I did research on their seat widths and leg room and paid extra money to fly business class. While I did end up with extra leg room, the seats width did not help me at all. I had lots of empty seats next to me but as mentioned by a previous comment, the arms did not go up. They were a stationary solid piece of metal in which the lap trays folded into. The seat belt did just barely go around without the extender. But I was miserable the entire flight and was so crammed in that I had tears from the pain and was sore to the touch of my thighs for days later. On the small flight from London to Gothenburg I had way more hip room than the transatlantic flight! I fly out again in Feb. 2017 to see a new grandbaby. I am going to try the two seat option this time. I am also going to check out some other airlines. Not to happy with British airways customer service. A flight attendant kept trying to get me to use the lap tray. I had to explain to her that it would not lay flat due t my thighs. All my life even when I was younger and 100 pounds lighter I have had large muscular thighs and long legs that did not fit under trays and desks. I filed a complaint about several issues but never heard back from them.

      • Also on the British Airway Business class seat…The solid metal seats contain the buttons to lower and raise your back rest. Yes the buttons are on the inside wall, right wear my heavy thighs sat. Every time I attempted to get comfortable the seat would shift. And at landing I was unable to raise the back without getting help. Very embarrassing.

    • Hi there, I’m tall and wide and flew to Great Britain and Paris several times. American and United are about the same, width wise, and British Airways was narrower but I fit into it anyways. You have the right mind set, don’t put off your trip with Mom due to your size! Try to get an extra seat if possible. Once I had to come back very ill (how rude of me) and the flight attendants gave me three seats. Also, for everyone telling us how rude it is: I’d rather my hip rub yours for five hours instead of missing a family event. You can use me as a big pillow to lean on as you sleep, I won’t mind. Being uncomfortable is part of the deal.

      • You would rather have your hip rub against someone else for five hours? You can be used as a big pillow for someone to lean on? It IS extremely rude for you to decide it is your place to make decisions for other people. You clearly don’t care if you make other people uncomfortable, obviously the only one that matters is you. Sure, take up part of someone else’s seat, tough luck for them, right?

  3. Thank you very much for this information and for the comments. It is comforting to know I am not alone in my fear of flying because of my size. I will be taking my dream vacation to Tahiti on Monday and I unfortunately did not have an option for airlines and the flights are full so no option of moving seats around. Luckily I am surrounded by friends who will be understanding but that does not lessen the embarrassment. I did not know that SWA offered such a fantastic perk and I will take advantage of this in the future, if even for the sake of the friends I am traveling with. I especially appreciate the tip of simply taking a deep breathe, realizing the scoffers have their own issues and remember that in the end I will be in paradise.

    • The problem the “scoffers” have is you taking up half of their seat. If you can’t fit in one, buy two. Simple solution to avoid being so rude to the innocent passengers who don’t want you sitting on them the entire flight. Can’t afford two? Save $ buy eating less.

      • What a horrible little person you are. Did making that comment help you feel move valued as a human being? Of a person could just eat less and be sskinny don’t you think we all would? Heres an idea.. why don’t skinny people buy 2 seats to keep us fat people away from there hurtful negativity. Also ask the attendant quietly for a gag to shut you up. Happy travels.

      • Clearly, this thread is full of people who are concerned about everyone’s comfort around them, so your rude remarks are uncalled for. People like you deserve to be uncomfortable in every aspect of life.

      • How rude and ignorant you are, I hope and pray I never have to fly with you….grow up and have respect for everyone regardless. I feel so sorry for you.

  4. Any experience flying with Wow Air? Wondering if it’s worth prebooking my seat? I fly out on Sunday. Wondering if I should book a window seat so I can kind of sit sideways if necessary to make more room. Not sure if armrests go up on this airline but thought if I had a window seat and the arm rest near the wall went up it might provide some extra room?

    • Hi Jamie, No experience in-house but perhaps the others on this thread will have some insight. Also, might be a good idea to call the airline in advance just to touch base about any concern. Good luck to you.

    • If you already know you wont fit, why arent you doing the right thing and but another seat, or a first class seat. More expensive,,yes but sitting part of your body on someone elses seat is inconsiderate and rude. The person next to you is going to have a miserable flight due to no fault if their own. Please, it is what it is. You cant go on some rides at DL if you are too big. If your body is sitting on a seat you did not pay for, get out and gind another place to sit. Sorry if this is harsh, but it is true. Just deal with it and plan to spend more for your flights.

      • the big person should off 50 dollars for short flights and 100 dollars to long domestic flights to the person next to them, who is uncomfortable, with tightness of seats if the plane is full.

  5. The company I work for purchased me a business select ticket on Southwest Airlines (SWA) just hours before travel. I am onesie, weighing in at 365 pounds. I knew nothing of their program to lock out an accompanying seat for us larger people. As I waited in line at position A9 to board a SWA company representative approached me with a “seat reserved” boarding paper. He was very discreet and respectful. He explained it’s purpose and was off on his way without drawing any attention. As I entered the aircraft I asked the greeting flight attendant if I could have a seatbelt extension. He quietly said that he will get one to me. I sat in my seat and a few minutes later I simply looked at the flight attendant who was near my seat and she (a different flight attendant) simply nodded and got me my seatbelt extender, which she very tactfully gave me the required device. This was a very pleasant experience and I am very greatfull to SWA for it. Oh, and by the way that flight from San Antonio to Chicago was a full flight. That experience juxtaposed to two weeks later flying on Delta Airlines from Louisville to Atlanta was a horrible experience. When I was checking in my luggage ($25) I kindly asked if Delta had a similar program as SWA. The representative laughed and said “no, Delta is interested in making money by selling seats”. As I got to the gate I again kindly asked the gate agent if it were possible to reassign my seat to an open adjacent seat. Unfortunately the flight was full. As I boarded the aircraft I asked the greeting flight attendant if I could get a seatbelt extender. She couldn’t find one as she asked a boarding passenger to “scoot up a step so I [she] can get a seat extension for this gentleman”. Again she couldn’t find one. I squeezed into the isle seat (19C) and had to ask for a seat extender twice more. On taxi out I literally had to put my arm across the isle to stop the flight attendant as he was walking down the isle. He quickly got it to me with no attempt to conceal it at all. In all fairness the Delta Airlines connecting flight from Atlanta to Shreveport was not a full flight and I was fortunate enough to have the middle seat open between a deadheading Delta pilot and myself.
    As I type this my wife and son were talking about driving to Jacksonville NC to visit my Marine son at Camp LaJuine. I would have to fly back but because of the above experience I am going to rent a car and drive 2.5 hours to Raligh Durham so I can fly Southwest Airlines back home for work. I certainly do LOVE SWA. I❤️SWA.

    • Do the arm rests go up on SWA seats? Last time I flew, one flight had arm rests that moved and the other didn’t. The seats with arm rests that I cloud slide up were very comfortable but the seats without that option I had to cram myself into and it was actually painful. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had bought 3 seats because my hips were being crushed by the arm rests. I want to fly to a family reunion this summer but I’m not willing to have that experience again.

      • Hi Amy, Great question. I don’t think these are standardized across airlines, since (you may or may not know) a lot of airplanes are bought and traded amongst the players in the airline industry. I would call the airline to find out if specific routes use specific planes (that then may have standardized seating) so you have an idea. I do know that Southwest tends to have good reviews from our customers of size – they do their best to accommodate.

        • Seatguru specified which rows had arm rests that flipped up and which didn’t. I made a call to switch from row 1 to row 11 so my extra seat gives me the hip and movement room I need. Try there first and if not call the reservation number.

      • If you are raising the arm rest, is that to allow you more room in your seat by occupying part of the seat next to you? If this is TRUE, and the person next to is a friend or family member who has agreed to share their seat with you, this is perfect! However, I have had people of size sit next to me and they raise the armrest up and by doing do encroach onto my seat. I paid for my seat, all of it. I did not agree to have my neighbor on the flight sit in my seat, squishing me against the wall.
        If you think of the person next to you WANTS you in their seat…you are WRONG…SO VERY WRONG. SEATING SUCKS AS IT IS, IT IS SOMETIMES DIFFICULT FOR PPL OF NORMAL SIZE TO BE COMFORTABLE IN THE FIRST PLACE WITHOUT HAVING SOMEONE RAISE THE ARM REST AND SIT ON THEM! YOU may reconsider raising up that armrest. If you are so large that you occupy some of the seat next to you, you still have choices, but one of these choices is NOT to sit on your neighbors seat! We dont like it, but don’t want to be rude! So we usually just deal with it, but trust me, we are unhappy and will report it.
        Your choices are 1. Dont fly. It is NOT a right! I agree the seats suck, but when I fly I sit in my seat, not the person next to me’s seat. Choice 2. Buy a first class seat. They cost more but will accommodate you without your causing issues with the ppl next to you in coach. You may just have to accept the fact that a first class seat IS your seat if any part of you encroaches in anyone else. That means huge shoulders as well.
        Oh and those of you who think its OK to get your laptop out and type while dumping me with your elbow..you guys are uber annoying! Back to the larger ppl issue, These ppl dont want you sitting on them! 3. You can purchase 2 seats. Whatever you do, just remember the person next to you paid 100 percent for their seat, you paid 0% for their seat, so dont lift the arm rest and claim real estate that is NOT UP FOR SALE. IT IS JUST PLAIN AND SIMPLY RUDE!

        • I understand where your coming from, but you are a very rude person and people of size, color, race and everything else have the same rights as anyone else and should not have to pay for two seats, or pay for 1st class. There are many many medical reasons why someone maybe obese and penalizing them or embarrassing them should not be an option. Have a little compassion for people, open your mind and your heart, you may be in that same situation one day.

  6. FYI, I have recently flown with Southwest a few times. On two of those flights, they were overbooked. I requested the extra seat at the ticket counter (I did not purchase one ahead of time), and they STILL gave me the extra seat. They were making announcements asking for volunteers to fly on a later flight in exchange for a travel credit, and I still got my extra seat. Plus, they allow people who need the extra seat to preboard (along with one companion), which is a huge advantage on Southwest. You get to pick your seat! Pretty much the only people who get on before you will be folks in wheelchairs. Honestly, after these experiences, I will never fly on another airline unless I absolutely have to.

  7. How are seatbelt lengths measured? I am assuming since the belt doesn’t go behind you and just goes from one side to.the other that if I measure from the back side of one hip to the other that is how the seatbelt length is measured as well?

    • Hi Leslie, I would reach out to the airline to ask this question. Your assumption seems like it should probably be correct, but since the airlines are not required by law to post information about their seatbelts, I would reach out and simply ask someone.

    • All airlines offer seatbelt extenders. Once you are seated just kindly ask the flight attendant for a seat belt extender and she will bring you one.

  8. Thanks for the info about southest and the extra paid seat. I retired, have some travelling money, but quit flying because of the space issue and getting cramps in my legs. I have thyroid issues which make losing weight difficult. Not morbidly obese, we are just big, tall people who love to fly but are very discouraged. Have given up dreams of flying to Europe and Asia even though we have the travel fund. First class is beyond our means, though

    • Don’t give uo! Try Air Canada and Brussels air. I have flown to Africa on them. Several inches of extra leg room where my knees are normally locked into the seat in front of me and a wider seat. Also not packed in like sardines. Going and returning had empty seats next to me. Let the airlines know when you are checking in.

      • Needed this info. Planning a trio to Africa soon and was quite worried about seating because of my size. Will look into these airlines.

    • Dont be discouraged to fly out of the united states as long as you fly with foreign airlines (Singapore air) these type of companies cater to the customer a lot more than the Domestic companies…

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