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Airline Interior

13 Tips for a Comfortable Plus Size Airline Flight

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.

6. Pre-Board

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.

Be sure to check out the other GrandStyle travel articles for more tips on achieving a comfortable plus size airline flight.

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.