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finding airline comfort for a big passenger

3 Ways to Increase Airline Comfort for a Big Passenger

The three main things that most affect airline comfort for a big passenger are seat belt extenders, seat space and restroom facilities.

How to Get More Airline Comfort for a Big Passenger

Seat Belt Extenders

If the seat belt on an airplane doesn’t fit you, you need to use a seat belt extender. All airplanes carry them — flight attendants use them to demonstrate how to fasten your seat belt. Airlines win points from their passengers for being discreet and polite with seat belt extenders. If you get a pre-assigned seat, you may be able to ask the airline or your travel agent to put an extender on the belt for that seat in advance. Otherwise, you can ask the flight attendant for one.

Some airlines require customers to use the seat belt extenders provided by the individual airline. You may not be able to use your own seat belt extender. However, if you want to purchase your own extender, Amazon sells various styles of seat belt extenders that work with the various styles of airplane seat belts.

Seat Space

Seat size varies from plane to plane (even within the same airline and model). New planes are likely to have similar-sized seats. But if an airline uses older planes or a variety of models, there’s no predicting how wide the seats will be or the amount of pitch (legroom). The airline service reps can tell you the type of plane that you will be flying on. Propeller and turbo-prop planes tend to have narrower seats than jets. Editor’s Note: Check out SeatGuru for seat measurements on airline body types of all major airlines.

  • Bulkhead or door seats do not have a row of seats in front of them, so you get more leg room, and no one will lower their chair into your face. However, the tray tables fold out of the arm rests and you can’t raise the arm rests.
  • Small plane with no physical divider between first class and coach, has seats directly behind the first class seats which tend to have the same pluses and minuses as bulkhead seats.
  • Larger plane, such as a 767 or 777, has seats which tend to be about an inch wider. There may have as much as two extra inches of legroom.
  • On all sizes of planes, exit row seats sometimes have more leg room. First class or business class seats tend to be wider with more leg room, but the arm rests usually can’t be raised.

Tips to Get a Wider Seating Area

The size of the seat and the legroom make a big difference in the airline comfort for a big passenger. To get a few extra inches of space, board as soon as possible, and when you sit down, immediately lift the arm rest. If someone sits next to you, they generally won’t bother to put the arm rest back down, and you’ll both have more room.

To increase your chance of having an empty seat next to you, try the following:

  • Travel on middle of the week flights and red-eye (late night) flights, which are rarely full.
  • Ask to be seated in an aisle or window seat toward the back of the plane (they fill the plane from front to back). However, note that the seats in the last row usually don’t recline.
  • If you are traveling with someone, ask for a window and an aisle in the same row. If someone ends up in the middle, they will probably be happy to switch with one of you.
  • Tell the airline when you make your reservation that you’re a large person and ask to be seated next to an empty seat.
  • Check in early (usually the gate check-in opens an hour before the flight) and ask to be seated next to an empty seat. You don’t need to explain why you want one because people of all sizes want to move their seats…and asking to be seated next to an empty seat is a common request.

If you are very large, some airlines require you to buy two seats which may, or may not, be refundable. Call ahead so they don’t surprise you at the gate. Some airlines will sell you the second seat for half price. Others will only make you buy the second seat if the flight is full. It might be cheaper to ask for an upgrade into a section of the plane where there is greater distance between the seats and rows.

Getting Comfortable on the Airplane

Airplane tray tables restrict airline comfort for a big passenger. They get in the way of the stomachs of some people. Try these solutions:

  • If you’re seated next to an empty seat, use that seat’s table.
  • Tilt your seat all the way back.
  • Balance the tray on a pillow on your lap.
  • Bring your own food and avoid using the tray table.
  • Ask the person seated beside you if you can put your drink on their table.

Restroom Facilities

Airplane restrooms are very small and often uncomfortable for some larger bodies. Depending on where you carry your weight, some restrooms may be impossible for you to use. Consider these two tips:

  • When reserving your seats, request a seat near the disabled-access restroom. These restrooms tend to be a little larger and provide a little more entry and exit room for larger bodies.
  • Try to avoid having to use the restroom altogether, using the airport restroom immediately before and after your flight.

Original copyright held by Stef Jones ([email protected]). Article content updated by GrandStyle.

GrandStyle also has great tips on selecting a comfortable seat on a size-friendly airline. Need more travel info? Check out GrandStyle’s recent plus size travel posts.

aisle inside airplane

5 Steps to Getting a Comfortable Airline Seat

Small seats, limited legroom and planes packed to capacity all can keep you from getting a comfortable airline seat, particularly if you are a plus size passenger.

Planning Leads to a Comfortable Airline Seat

Traveling on an airplane does not have to be uncomfortable. With a little planning, you can meet the challenges of airline travel by following a few time-tested tips:

  1. Select a size-friendly airline – Some airlines are more sensitive to the plus size traveler. Others are just plain rude. GrandStyle has a helpful recap of which airlines treat big people well.
  2. Schedule flights during non-busy times – Weekday evening and overnight flights usually have fewer passengers than an early morning or late afternoon flight. Less passengers increases your chance of having an empty seat next to you — which will certainly give you a more comfortable flight.
  3. Research size-friendly seat accommodations before booking the flight – Each style of airplane has a different seat layout — seat 10B could be an aisle seat on some airlines and a middle seat on other airlines. The airline can tell you the type of aircraft used on a specific flight and you can research the airplane’s layout on the airline’s website or on a seat research site such as SeatGuru or check out the legroom info provided by CheapFlights.com. Knowing the plane’s layout will help you to arrange for a comfortable seat.
  4. Eat and use the restroom before boarding – Eating, drinking and using the restroom during a flight can be an uncomfortable situation for a plus size body. The tray table may not lay down completely flat, making it difficult to use with food and drinks. Airplane restrooms are very small and may be too small for some passengers to use.
  5. Board early – Take advantage of the opportunity for early boarding. Having a little extra time can come in handy getting down the jet way, settling into your seat or getting your seat belt extender ready-to-use.

For More Help and Ideas on Plus Size Airline Travel

Need more travel info? Check out GrandStyle’s recent plus size travel posts.


How to Find a Size-Friendly Airline

The goal of this article is to help you find a size-friendly airline that will have comfortable seats and a welcoming attitude for plus size, big or tall travelers. This is a compilation of comments made about various airlines by larger passengers. It’s by no means exhaustive.

Most airline seats are only 17″ wide with a pitch (distance between rows) as short as 28.” For detailed information which compares airline seat widths and pitches on various aircraft, find your airline and aircraft on SeatGuru. On the day of departure you should recheck if the type of aircraft is changed at the last minute and then recheck the seat width and pitch on the newly-assigned aircraft.

Very Size-Friendly Airlines


Delta will not require passengers to purchase an additional seat; however, a statement on their website recommends that larger passengers purchase an additional seat. They will try to seat a larger passenger next to an empty seat. But, if the flight is full, the larger passenger may be asked to move or take a later flight.

Hawaiian Airlines

Very friendly to big folks. This airlines goes out of their way to make you comfortable, arranging for extra seats at no cost when available. If no extra seats are available, a passenger must purchase an upgrade or second seat.

Somewhat Size-Friendly Airline

Air Canada

Their policy calls for a free extra seat to be available to passengers within Canada who have medical approval. For flights outside of Canada, the fare for the extra seat will vary.

American Airlines/American Eagle Airlines

Friendly to big folks. If you ask, they will try to place an empty seat beside you by “blocking” the empty seat on the airline’s computer. You may need to ask ahead for a seat belt extender. Their policy requires very large people to purchase two seats at the same rate if they cannot fit within the seat with the armrests lowered. And, they require the seat belt to be buckled with no more than one extender.

Continental (Merged with United Airlines)

Friendly to big folks. Their policy does require passengers to fit within one seat with the seat belt buckled using up to one seatbelt extender. Or, the passenger can purchase a second seat at the same fare as the original seat.

United Airlines

Friendly to big folks; but they require passengers to fit within one seat with the seat belt buckled using up to one seat belt extender. If this is not possible, the policy is that the passenger must purchase a second seat for the same fare as the first seat.

Virgin America Airlines

Requires passengers to fit within one seat or to purchase second seat. If flight departs with empty seats, cost of second seat will be refunded to passenger upon request. Main cabin seats have a 32-inch seat pitch (distance between rows). Seat pitch increases to 38 inches in their Main Cabin Select cabin and 55 inches in First Class.

Not As Size-Friendly Airlines

Jet Blue

They advertise that their seats are “frequently” wider than other airlines and that there is additional legroom. Be sure to check the seat width of your scheduled aircraft on SeatGuru. Jet Blue’s policy requires passengers to purchase a second seat if they cannot lower the armrest. There is no refund on the second seat if the flight is not full. Tip: Don’t rely on the boarding agent to “guarantee” an open seat next to you. If the seat next to you is assigned, and if the boarding agent can not/will not reseat you next to an open seat, you might need to purchase your two seats in a more expensive section of the airplane.

Southwest Airlines

Their policy is to require passengers to fit within one seat with the seat belt buckled using up to one seat belt extender, either the seat belt provided by the flight attendant or a seat belt extender that you bring with you. If this is not possible, they encourage the customer of size to purchase a refundable second seat at the lowest fair available. The passenger can request a refund after the flight.

Here’s how it works: Customers of size who cannot sit in a 17″ wide seat without lifting the armrest can purchase a refundable second seat. They must see a Customer Service Agent when they check in to obtain an Extra Seat Boarding document as well as a Reserved Seat Document and a Refund Advice Slip which will be required for their refund for the additional seat(s) purchased. Customers with an Extra Seat Boarding document can preboard or board with all other passengers.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines’ policy is to require passengers to purchase an additional seat before boarding if they cannot comfortably fit within one seat (17″ for coach and 21″ for first class) with armrests in the down position. However, if a need for the second seat is discovered after the customer has boarded, the customer will have to leave the plane and book two seats on the next available flight. Customers will be eligible for a refund after the flight if there was a open seat available on the flight. Seat belt length is about 46 inches; but, if available from the flight attendant, a seat belt extender will add 25 inches to the length.

Original copyright held by Stef Jones ([email protected]). Article updated by GrandStyle.