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. Does anyone know about international flights? I’m supposed to fly to Korea next year. This is the first time I will have been on an airplane since the late 90’s. At 5’9″ and 350 or more lbs, I am concerned. I don’t want to embarrass myself at the airport. I’m already going to have a hard enough time as the only foreigner in a Korean family in Seoul, with all my large, tall, light hair and eyes self. My husband will be flying with me, and he is quite slim, so might that save us the extra seat issue? He only weighs about 165-170 and is 6′. My son may also come with us, so should that remedy our issue, if we can get a whole row to ourselves? Thanks in advance! 🙂

    • The best way to alleviate your concerns would be to make sure your family is sitting together. You can definitely arrange this in most cases with the airlines before the flight date (sometimes at a cost and sometimes not). Good luck to you!

  2. Stupid question but do airline have a seat at an airport we could go see if my husband will have to purchase a second seat or not? He will be setting next to my tiny 5 year old daughter so she won’t complain about him being in her space (she is usually right on top of him all the time anyways).. is there any airlines you suggest for being “size” friendly? I keep leaning towards southwest.. but the 3 hour drive each way has me vouching back and forth.

    • Hi Kimmykay, You might want to reference seatguru.com to find out exactly how large the seats are on your particular airline/flight. They have a lot of detailed information about the size of the seats on each airline.

  3. I’d like to travel more, but I have a great fear of getting stuck in an airplanes tiny bathroom. I’m 5’10” and 335lbs. Are the first class bathrooms larger? If so, if we are flying economy, are we allowed to use them? Are there hand rails in the bathrooms? I flew from PHX to LA and just held it till I got to the airport, but that could be troubling on a longer flight. Thanks.

    • Hi Belinda, I’m not aware that First Class bathrooms are larger on domestic flights, but the bathroom size also has something to do with the kind of aircraft you’re flying on. In general, you’re suppose to stay in Economy and not use the First Class amenities. As far as I know, there are not hand rails in most airplane bathrooms (which are quite small, as you know).

  4. Missy. You will have no issues fitting into seats or seat belts. This only became an issue for me when I hit 275, I’m 5’6″ and 302 lbs now. I still fit in the seatbelt just a little smooshed between the armrests.
    Fortunately I only fly on vacation and have my 2 children sitting with me. We lift up both arm rests then feel like we are sitting on a bench! Plenty of room. Aisle is a little more flexible seat except when drink cart is there. Best of luck ! Enjoy.

  5. im 5’5 230lbs. I’m wondering what would be a better choice Window or Aisle seat? I’ve always sat at the window thinking it gave me a little extra room but should I be sitting on the aisle?

    • It really comes down to personal preference, Missy. Some of the other folks on this thread may also have advice based on personal experience with certain airlines.

  6. I’ve flown recently and although I fit into the seat ok, I couldn’t get the belt around my belly. Too embarrassed to say anything, I tucked it and wasn’t asked about it on both the out/return flights. Now I must fly again for work and my boss will be there who I’m sure will make a big deal about it for safety purposes. Does United offer seat belt extenders?

  7. Hello,
    I just wanted to sincerely THANK YOU guys for writing this article and for all those who participate on the message board. I am 5’5″, 315lbs and have been dreading my flight in September. I’m flying with my mom, whom is smaller than I am, but none the less is also “a person of size”. We typically fly with smaller relatives and have them take the middle seat, but no such luxury this go round. I thought, to avoid the hassle of some poor unfortunate individual having to sit with us, I would purchase a third seat. I remembered on the news it being a requirment of SWA anyway and upon Googling for any information about it, came across this web article.
    I am so relieved. The tricky part for me will be purchasing the third seat. My name is on the itenarary but my mom purchased our tickets. I don’t want to mess up our flight as it stands. But I looked up our itenaarary and saw the link! labled “Customers of Size” with a telephone number to call to help make arrangments. Hopefully SouthWest will allow me to just purchase my extra seat iwth MY credit card so as not to complicate things for my mom.

    Does anyone have any suggestions are advice regarding adding the third seat purchased by the accompanying passenger? Or will it be as easy as modifying the itenarary with the third seat addition?

  8. I am flying for the first time (!) and will be flying United. Being a large person (5’6″, 290lbs) I am so worried about being embarrassed when I board. My husband’s company has bought the tickets, as it’s a business trip and spouses are coming along. So purchasing an extra seat is probably out of the question. I don’t mind asking for an extender if needed, although that would be embarrassing too. I guess I’m just so nervous… 1st flight and really have no idea what to expect.

    • Hi Amy, first time flyers are often anxious. It’s normal! I would reach out to United before you fly in order to soothe your nerves a bit. You can express your concerns. Usually, flight attendants go out of their way to offer discreet assistance with extenders – you should never be anything other than comfortable when traveling. If it’s any consolation, my mother-in-law (who is close to 70 and also a larger person), finally took HER first flight from Buffalo to Los Angeles just to visit the grandkids this year. Her verdict? It was a piece of cake and she’s going to do it again! You’ll be just fine. Good luck to you!

  9. Hailey, I know a bit about Frontier so I’ll let you know the good and the bad

    Good
    The middle seat is now 19.3″ wide (example on the 737 which southwest uses its 17.0″ Airbus A319/320/321 which Jetblue and Frontier uses is 17.8″)
    (http://money.cnn.com/2015/07/14/pf/frontier-airlines-middle-seat-wider/)
    As I said above the other seats on Frontier are 17.8 which is almost an inch wider than Southwest and other 737s

    Bad:
    1. Seats are “pre-reclined” which means you will not be able to find what level of recline you like
    2. Seats offer very little legroom 28-29″ inches the average is 31-32″ and Jetblue offers 34″
    (if you can afford it, I would go into your reservation and book their stretch seats they are 36-38″ of legroom and do recline…BTW the recline lever is in an unusal place it is in the front and under the seat just like the lever that you use in your car to move the seat up and back for more legroom)
    3. seats are supposedly not very comfortable, they have removed some of the padding in order to fit more seats. Stretch seats are supposed to have more padding but some people say they don’t.

    Some things to know in general
    1, Frontier has a STRICT 45 minute check-in policy you must have your bag checked and your boarding pass with you 45 minutes prior to flight time or they will deny you boarding. There are news artciles about how people who got to the counter with 43 minutes before departure time and were denied boarding. Also please be aware if you stand in a long line for 30 minutes and that causes you to not be checked in 45 minutes before departure, they will deny boarding they don’t care (by they I mean Frontier Corporate, not the agents they have no leway the computer won’t let them).
    2. Carry-on and checked baggage NEITHER are free. You get 1 personal item like a briefcase or a small backpack for free. Purchasing before you get to the airport will be lower
    3. Soda and snacks are not free. Water is available for free but only a cup poured from a big 2 liter bottle of water.

    So basically Frontier offers a great fare usually but isn’t the most pleasant airline

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