Trying to get a comfortable plus size airline flight can be a nightmare for the larger person. Small seats with limited legroom, narrow aisles, the long walk from the check-in area to the gate, holiday crowds, and the frequent insensitivity of passengers and crew can all contribute to an unpleasant flying experience.
But, with careful planning, your flight can be safe and enjoyable. Follow the guidelines listed below in order to maximize your comfort while flying.
Tips to Getting a Comfortable Plus Size Airline Flight
1. Book Carefully
Book your flight carefully, avoiding “rush-hour” air time. Take advantage of “red-eye special” deals, where the plane is less likely to be full. The chance of the seat next to yours remaining empty is 0% if you are flying out of LAX at 0600 on a Monday morning.
2. Sit by an Empty Seat
Tell the airline that you are large and ask that the seat next to yours remain empty if at all possible. The worst the airline can do is say “No;” but, most airlines will at least attempt to accommodate. Editor’s Note: Many of the major airline carriers require passengers to purchase a second seat if they are unable to sit in the seat with the armrests down. Check with the airline when booking your flight. The second seat may be refundable.
3. Get a Seat Belt Extender
Request a seat belt extender when you book your flight, and/or ask for one when you board the plane. Do not wait for the flight attendant’s animated safety speech to discuss your need. Editor’s Note: Many airlines are now requiring customers to only use the seat belt provided by the airline. If you are a frequent airline traveler on an airline that allows you to bring your own seat belt, you can select and purchase your own seat belt extender from Amazon or DestinationXLDestination XL.
4. Shop for Wider Seat Sizes
When you book your flight ask specifically for the seat measurements of the plane you will be on. Explain your need and ask for the largest seat in your section of the plane. Even one inch can make a big difference. Editor’s Note: Check out SeatGuru for seat measurements on airline body types of all major airlines.
5. Request an Aisle or Window Seat
Request a seat assignment for the aisle or window, where you will have a little more room, and make sure that you don’t have a bulkhead seat. While you have more leg-room in bulkhead, the armrests in the bulkhead do not raise, and the tray tables come out of the armrest across your lap. Large size flyers might wish to request an aisle seat in a row where the outside armrests are movable, making it easier to slide into the row.
Even mid-size people have trouble squeezing down the micro-sized center aisle of most planes, and this task is even more difficult the plane is already plump with passengers. For this reason, you should pre-board the plane with the rest of the passengers who need extra time in boarding. The gate agent probably won’t hassle you, but if he/she asks, just say that you’re a large person and need a little extra time.
7. Get the Armrest Up Early
When you get to your seat during pre-boarding, raise the armrest between seats. This may give you the inch or two of extra space you need during flight. The chances are that the passenger who will be seated next to you won’t say anything; if they do, smile pleasantly and say that you’ll both be more comfortable if the armrest is up. Editor’s Note: Many of the major airline carriers require passengers to purchase a second seat if they are unable to sit in the seat with the armrests down. So be prepared to lower the armrest to show how you fit in the seat if requested by the flight crew.
8. Avoid the Restrooms
Use the airport restroom before boarding your plane. Ask when booking your trip if handicapped facilities are available on your particular flight. If not, you may want to change your plans and fly on a plane equipped with an accessible restroom.
9. Get Comfortable with the Tray Table
If you cannot bring down the tray table, have the flight attendant ask the passenger in front of you to put their seat to the full upright position for mealtime. If this doesn’t help, set a pillow on your lap, and your meal tray on the pillow.
10. Agree to Be Bumped
Consider being bumped voluntarily. Not only can this be extremely profitable for frequent flyers, but your chances of being re-assigned to a partially full plane are greatly enhanced. You won’t mind the inconvenience of an odd departure/arrival time if your next trip by air is at a greatly reduced price.
11. Manage Your Second Seat
If you have purchased a second seat for comfort, be sure to let the flight attendant know as you board the plane. This will avoid embarrassment, as an unknowing flight attendant may try to fill your second seat. Editor’s Note: Some major airline carriers require passengers to purchase a second seat if they are unable to sit in the seat with the armrests down. The cost of this seat may be refundable. Be sure to obtain the necessary documents to request your refund.
12. Look for an Exit Row Seat
The exit row seats over the wings of most planes have considerably more leg room than the rest of the seats in economy class. While Federal regulations state that exit row seating may be denied to larger passengers, requesting an exit row seat may be a viable option for larger people who are tall and those with reasonably good health and mobility.
13. Use Gate Transportation
It’s usually a long walk between curbside check-in and the gate, or between gates when you have connecting flights. When making your reservations, make sure to tell the agent if you will need special services, such as the airport tram or an armless wheelchair and attendant.
The most important thing to remember is that you have the right to fly anywhere you want to go. Your needs deserve to be met, but it may be up to you to remind them of this simple fact. If you experience problems despite your precautions, write a letter of complaint to the airline. Remember, you have a right to accessible transportation.
Contributors: Jean Soncrant and Lynn McAffee.
©NAAFA Re-published with permission from NAAFA, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. Reformatted for readability and then updated by GrandStyle to reflect current airline procedures.