Too Big to Fly? No, You’re Not

My recent column for Fox News on airlines and fat-shaming struck a chord with some; while we’re seeing less of this than in the past, if you’re a bigger-than-average-passenger, you know how small today’s seats are. You also should know you may be asked to buy two seats.

Three other things you should know.

LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney weighs in.

1. Don’t worry about too-big-to-fly weigh-ins

As far as we can determine, only two airlines are using scales on passengers. Neither one is in the U.S.

  • According to news reports, Uzbekistan Airlines (a carrier based in the former Soviet republic) weighs passengers with their baggage. This is supposedly being done on an experimental basis to help them figure out the weight load of an aircraft (possibly to figure out jet fuel needs). If you travel through Tashkent frequently, you might run into this but don’t worry about it otherwise.
  • According to its website, tiny Samoa Air does base its airfare prices by weight; call it the passenger-by-the pound school of retailing but then weight is important when your largest aircraft only holds nine passengers. However, if you don’t live in the South Pacific, chances are slim you’ll ever board any of Samoa Air’s three planes.

2. Airlines don’t want you uncomfortable

This is true both physically and mentally.

When film director/writer Kevin Smith was told to get off his plane because he was allegedly too fat to fit in his seat, his ensuing expletive-laden Twitter rant let all airlines know about the power of social media. No airline likes to be publicly called out, but airlines also know some people cannot fit comfortably in a single seat so they’ve put fairly clear policies about bigger passengers and seats on their websites. If you have doubts about needing one seat or two, check out the rules by looking under ‘passengers with special needs’ or Googling the airline name + ‘seats’ or ‘customers of size’.

Tip: Most airlines say if you are unable to sit in your seat without encroaching into the seat next to you while the armrest is down, buy a second one.

3. The best airline deal for big passengers

Southwest Airlines doesn’t only offer free bags, it offers a free second seat to those who need one. Their attitude seems to be no one’s too big to fly. But you must follow the rules:

  • Book and pay for a second seat when you purchase the first (you may need to call the airline to be sure of getting two seats side by side)
  • After the flight, apply for a refund for the second seat

Find more information on Southwest’s policy here.


Updated: September 30, 2015