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Plus Size Holiday Airline Travel: 4 Hacks for Success

Plus size holiday airline travel can become unbearable. In addition to the small seats on the airplane, the holidays add the stress of crowded airports and planes.

Tips for Plus Size Holiday Airline Travel

To maximize your comfort and minimize your stress, consider these four travel hacks:

1. Travel when the plane is least crowded.

Even during the holidays, planes are less crowded over night (i.e. from 9 PM to 6 AM). Flying on the holiday itself will also be significantly less crowded than flying a few days before or after the holiday. For example, two uncrowded flight dates are Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

2. Fly on a size-friendly airline.

Unfortunately, not all airlines are size-friendly. Some have procedures that automatically charge a large passenger for two seats or have been known to ask the passenger to disembark if they won’t pay for the additional seat. Others have histories of flight attendants being openly rude to larger passengers after being asked for a seat belt extender.

In addition to price and flight schedules, be sure to consider whether the airline is size-friendly.

3. Reserve the best seat on the plane.

Not all airline seats are the same. Different types of planes have different seating configurations (such as the amount of leg room) and they have different widths of seats.

Before you make your reservation, check out the type of airplane which is assigned to the plane trip you are considering. It is usually shown on the airline’s website along with arrival and departure times of a particular flight. Then, check the seat dimensions of that particular type of airplane on SeatGuru. Seat dimensions in coach can range from 17 to 20 inches.

Once you pick your flight, SeatGuru is also an excellent way to decide which seat numbers will be the most comfortable. Their airplane seat maps show which rows are 2-across versus which are 3-across and which have more legroom.

4. Bring your own seat belt extender.

The flight attendants use seat belt extenders to demonstrate how to latch and unlatch your seat belt. After the demonstration, they provide the extenders to passengers who need a little more length to latch their seat belt. All passengers must be latched in with a seat belt before the plane takes off. If there are not enough seat belt extenders, one or more large-size passengers run the risk of being asked off the plane.

Consider purchasing your own seat belt extender. Many seat belt extenders can also be used in your automobile.

Don’t let your size keep you from having an enjoyable flight. A little pre-trip planning can result in more comfortable, lower stress plus size holiday airline travel.

airline seat pitch

Which Airlines Have the Most Airplane Legroom?

To have a comfortable airline experience you need a comfortable, wide seat and enough airplane legroom to avoid touching the seat in front of you.

Some airlines are size-friendly with wide seats and ample legroom. Other airlines are increasing the number of seats on an airplane to increase profits, making seating more cramped with narrow seats and very limited space between the rows. Some airlines, such as Delta, American and United, have created “super economy” fares which limit seat width, legroom and limit carry on baggage.

Airplane Legroom Winners and Losers

Budgettravel.com reports the North American airlines that provide the most and least pitch:

Airlines with Most Legroom

  • Air Canada – Pitch of 32 to 34 inches. Air Canada, Canada’s largest airline, also has low prices and wide seats.
  • Interjet – Pitch of 34 inches. This Mexican, low-cost, airline flies from U.S. cities to Mexico, Central America and South America.
  • JetBlue – Pitch of 32-34 inches.
  • Southwest – Pitch of 32-33 inches. Southwest is often the lowest cost carrier in a route; but, the seat widths are very narrow, making the seat uncomfortable for many plus size and big and tall passengers.
  • Virgin America – Pitch of 32 inches.

Airlines with Less Legroom

  • Alaska Airlines – Pitch of 31-32 inches. Want more room? Then look for “Preferred Plus Seats” with 4 inches of extra legroom starting at an extra $15.
  • American Airlines – Pitch of 30-32 inches.
  • Delta – Pitch of 31 inches.
  • Hawaiian Airlines – Pitch of 31 inches; but, the seats tend to be wider than many airlines flying to and from Hawaii and Figi.
  • United – Pitch of 31-32 inches.
  • Allegiant – Pitch of 30 inches.
  • Spirit – Pitch of 28 inches.
  • Frontier – Pitch of 28 inches.

Research for Legroom

The key to a comfortable airline seat is research. You can check out the seating details (seating widths and pitch) of an airliner on Seat Guru. Just enter the airline and flight number and the seat details and seat layout of that flight are presented graphically on Seat Guru along with the class of service of each seat (for example, first class, main cabin extra and main cabin).

How to Upgrade for More Legroom

Seat pitch tends to increase as the seat cost increases. For example, first class has more pitch than coach. Within coach there may be several subclasses of coach, each with slightly more pitch. For example United offers more legroom in “Economy Plus” and Allegiant offered up to four extra inches of legroom in their “Legroom+ Seats.”

To get more legroom you can upgrade your ticket, paying for the additional comfort. Or, you may be able to get a free upgrade. Loyalty programs (frequent flyer programs) often offer free seat upgrades in exchange for a number of miles already flown on their airline. The check-in agent may be willing to give you an upgrade if you are a member of their loyalty program and if the flight is not full. Tip: Keep checking the airline’s app to see which seats are open as you get closer to departure time.

In summary: To get a comfortable seat you need to: Do your research. Know where you do (and don’t!) want to sit on a specific airplane. Pay or ask for an upgrade. Need more travel info? Check out GrandStyle’s recent plus size travel posts.

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.