The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler
The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Squeezing into Tiny Spaces
As airline seats continue to shrink, flying is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for plus-size passengers. Seat width on some major US airlines has decreased from 18.5 inches to 17 inches in recent years. This means larger travelers are literally squeezed into spaces too small for their bodies.
Trying to fit into cramped airline seats can be embarrassing, undignified, and even unsafe. Arms, thighs, and hips are crushed against armrests and neighbors. Seatbelts barely stretch over bellies. The physical and mental toll this takes is immense.
In online forums, plus-size flyers share stories of bruises from jamming into seats and shame from asking fellow passengers to raise armrests. They strategize over “fat flight hacks” like booking bulkhead seats with movable armrests or carrying seatbelt extenders. But these are imperfect solutions.
Another described flying coach as “a cramped and humiliating experience from start to finish.” From waiting anxiously during group boarding to see if a seatbelt will fit, to enduring elbows and squished knees for hours, flying leaves many plus-size people distressed.
And the safety risks are real. A too-small seatbelt can catastrophically fail in turbulence or a crash. A heavyset person wedged into a tiny space can have trouble evacuating quickly. These risks are rarely discussed but hugely consequential.
What else is in this post?
- The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Squeezing into Tiny Spaces
- The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Calling for Wider Seats
- The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Paying More for Extra Space
- The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Seeking Comfort in First Class
- The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Coping Strategies for Tight Quarters
- The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Advocating for Change
- The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Airline Regulations on Size Limits
- The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - The Challenges of Air Travel for Plus-Sized Fliers
The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Calling for Wider Seats
As seats shrink, calls for mandatory minimum widths are mounting. Advocates argue that airplanes’ cramped seating unfairly discriminates against larger passengers. Wider seats would allow fuller-figured travelers to fly with dignity – not to mention comfort and safety.
Carriers claim narrower seats let them add more rows without reducing legroom. This lets them transport more customers at lower fares. But advocates counter that packing planes like sardine cans should not come at the expense of human rights. For larger flyers, standard 17-inch seats guarantee serious discomfort and potential health risks.
In 2017, passenger advocacy group FlyersRights.org petitioned the FAA to establish minimum seat dimensions. They proposed a minimum of 18 inches for regular seats and 20 inches for first class. Bulkhead and exit rows would have a minimum width of 22 inches.
18 inches is the width of older economy seats. 20 inches is the minimum required width of bus seats by the Department of Transportation. Wider seats would permit fuller-figured travelers to fly safely with some personal space.
“I suffered excruciating pain the entire flight because the seats are not built to accommodate normal sized people, much less someone like myself who is 6’3” and 280lb,” wrote one man.
FlyersRights contends that airlines’ seat squeezing highlights weight-based discrimination in society at large. They liken it to charging obese passengers for two seats without justification. The group awaits a ruling on their petition.
The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Paying More for Extra Space
Squeezing into cramped seats is unpleasant for anyone, but for plus-size flyers it can mean serious discomfort and safety issues. Some airlines now enable larger passengers to purchase extra space for more comfort. But is paying more to not be squished unfair discrimination?
Most carriers let travelers pay extra for roomier Economy Plus or similar seats towards the front with more legroom. Many also allow pre-booking empty adjoining seats for more width. Prices vary. On United, for example, Economy Plus upgrades start around $50 each way for domestic flights. Reserving an empty seat costs $125 each way on Spirit Airlines.
These options beat being packed in tightly. But some plus-size flyers object to fees they view as penalties for being heavy. “Passengers come in all shapes and sizes. We should not have to pay more to be accommodated,” argued one woman squeezed into an undersized seatbelt. Advocates say airlines should provide reasonably spacious seating for all as a basic safety issue.
Still, many heavy travelers opt to pay more when possible to endure flights pleasantly. Extra legroom allows knees and hips to overhang seats without banging into tray tables and seatbacks. Empty adjoining seats offer sorely needed width. “I need to be considerate of my seatmates, so I always book an extra seat,” shared a frequent flyer.
A few airlines do require large passengers to buy additional seats. Critics blast this as discriminatory. But some carriers argue it's an economic necessity when very overweight fliers physically overflow into other seats. Most airlines, however, now rely on passengers to assess their own needs and pay for more space if desired.
The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Seeking Comfort in First Class
For plus-size air travelers who can afford it, upgrading to first class can be a game-changer. While hardly cheap, booking those coveted front-of-the-plane seats provides markedly more space and comfort.
First class seats on most airlines are several inches wider than economy seats. United's first class seats, for example, are up to 21 inches wide on many aircraft types — four inches more than in regular coach. This extra width eases the cramped feeling larger flyers get when thighs and hips overflow narrow seats.
"I cannot adequately describe the relief I felt stretching out in a luxuriously spacious first class seat," wrote one plus-size blogger after a longhaul overseas trip. "No painful squishing of my arms or spilling into the neighboring seat."
Wider first class seats also mean seat belts easily wrap around thicker waists. This provides much-needed peace of mind that the restraint will operate properly in flight. Few feelings match the stress of barely clicking a seatbelt over your lap and hoping it holds in turbulence.
Additionally, first class passengers can raise generously padded armrests on most carriers, creating more lateral space. This allows larger bodies to spread out within a single seat without infringing on neighbors. Down below, ample legroom reduces uncomfortable contorting to avoid banging knees on fronts eats.
All this sizeable space means flying first class permits fuller-figured travelers to finally relax. No more hunching shoulders to avoid bumping seatmates. No more sauna-like sweating from pressing against cabin walls. No more anxious waiting to be shoehorned out last on deplaning.
"I cannot describe the relief I felt being able to sit comfortably without disturbing nearby passengers," commented one plus-size traveler after using miles to upgrade. While costly, she deemed first class a worthy splurge for long flights.
Of course, these premium seats cost a pretty penny. Domestic first class upgrades normally run $100-$500 each way depending on flight length. Long haul international trips can require shelling out thousands for a roundtrip ticket. But for infrequent special occasion trips or using miles, many plus-size jetsetters say it's money well spent.
"No amount of money can buy a comfortable economy seat if you're larger," reasoned one frequent flyer who saves upgrades for important trips. While not budget-friendly, he's learned firsthand that ample space tops creature comforts like champagne and lobster tails.
The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Coping Strategies for Tight Quarters
Cramming into tiny airline seats can leave plus-size flyers sore, sweaty and anxious. But over the years, fuller-figured travelers have devised clever tricks to ease the pain of squished flying. From strategic wardrobe selections to gear hacks, these coping strategies help create a bit more space.
Firstly, comfort starts with what you wear. Breathable, stretchy fabrics allow bodies to expand without constriction. “I always wear leggings and a loose top to maximize movement,” advised one seasoned traveler. Compression socks boost circulation in cramped quarters. And slip-on shoes simplify shoe removal when feet swell.
Layering is key for temperature regulation. “I dress lightly but pack a cardigan and scarf to stay warm without running hot,” shared a clever passenger. Speaking of heat, miniature personal fans provide welcome relief when wedged tightly between other bodies.
In terms of gear, travel pillows allow necks to rest comfortably despite lack of head support from squished seats. Small inflatable lumbar cushions or folded blankets provide extra padding against unyielding seatbacks. Some plus-size flyers even pack folding stools for resting overflowing legs in the galley area during long flights.
Electronics like e-readers or tablets keep passengers distracted from physical discomfort for hours. Noise-canceling headphones and sleep masks promote relaxation. Comfort items like lip balm and hand lotion refresh during long, dry flights.
Booking the right seats is also essential. Window seats allow bellies and hips to hang into aisles freely. “I always pick the window for the extra breathing room,” explained a savvy passenger. Bulkhead seats offer ample legroom, and many have movable armrests.
Preboarding reduces public squeezing into tight rows. Some airlines allow early boarding for passengers needing extra time. Requesting extenders discreetly from flight attendants avoids embarrassment hunting under seats during busy boarding.
Finally, mental outlook affects perceived comfort. “I focus on the excitement of reaching my destination versus fretting about tight seats,” revealed one frequent flyer. Lighthearted humor defuses stressful situations gracefully. Patience and understanding for airlines’ economic constraints ease resentment.
Simple courtesies also help enormously. “I always apologize in advance to my seatmates for possibly crowding them,” noted a considerate passenger. Flight attendants appreciate knowing to provide discreet assistance squeezing down aisles.
The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Advocating for Change
Airline seats have shrunk drastically in recent decades while Americans’ average sizes have increased. This squeeze has profound consequences for plus-size travelers’ comfort, health, and dignity. Advocacy groups like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) argue airlines must make changes to accommodate diverse bodies fairly.
NAAFA contends uniformly tiny seats discriminate against larger passengers. They liken charging heavy flyers for extra seats to reprehensible policies like levying “fat taxes” on plus-size clothing. Airlines counter that slimmer seats allow more passengers at lower fares. But advocates say human rights should take priority over squeezing in revenue rows.
In 2015, NAAFA launched an online petition calling on carriers to install a percentage of wider seats on every flight. This reasonable request merely echoed DOT regulations already requiring vehicles like buses and railcars to maintain minimum seat dimensions. NAAFA highlighted how cramped plane seats jeopardize heavy passengers’ safety in crashes and emergencies. Reluctantly, some airlines began testing slightly roomier seats.
NAAFA also presses airlines to update weight limits for seatbelts. Current restraints are only tested to withstand forces exerted by occupants weighing 250 pounds or less in crashes. Heavier passengers' seatbelts could catastrophically fail, though airlines deny this risk. In 2018, Congressional delegates proposed a Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act directing the FAA to establish minimum seat standards considering passenger size trends. Airlines lobbied fiercely against this “unlawful government overreach.”
Advocates stress air travel’s narrow seats and aisles already pose impediments for disabled travelers and seniors. Airlines tout extensive accommodations for various special needs. Yet the challenges uniquely faced by plus-size flyers remain unaddressed. Big-boned travelers are told to proactively buy upgrades, shelling out more money to not be packed in painfully.
The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - Airline Regulations on Size Limits
Controversial airline policies restricting plus-size passengers highlight contentious debates over size acceptance versus safety realities. Many carriers cap customer weights and dimensions, sparking accusations of discrimination. But airlines contend rules shielding smaller travelers are economic and operational necessities.
American, United and Delta all refuse transport to mobility device users exceeding maximum weight limits around 600 pounds. Meanwhile Southwest requires “Customers of Size” unable to lower both armrests to purchase additional seats. Critics condemn this as blatant sizeism. Yet carriers assert fully reclined seats jeopardize others’ space and safety.
In the anything-for-a-buck world of ultra low-cost-carriers, size rules grow even stricter. Spirit famously removed Kevin Smith as a passenger in 2010 after he couldn’t buckle his seatbelt preflight. The humiliated actor blasted the airline online for unfair “sizercism.”
Jetstar Airways strictly caps waist circumferences for Aussie flyers to ensure seatbelts fit. Frontier measures travelers unable to fit between armrests as occupying two seats. Allegiant suggests large passengers buy seats in rows with movable armrests to avoid being reassigned involuntarily.
Advocates argue caps singles out plus-size paying customers unfairly. Lawsuits claiming discriminatory treatment by airlines on the basis of obesity or weight routinely fail, however. Courts usually rule carriers can enact policies ensuring all passengers safety and comfort, even if seemingly sizeist. Airlines contend squeezing into ill-fitting seats jeopardizes not only fuller-figured travelers but also neighboring passengers in emergencies.
The Ongoing Debate Over Extra Airline Seats for Larger Passengers:Getting Comfortable: Navigating Airline Seat Sizes as a Plus-Size Traveler - The Challenges of Air Travel for Plus-Sized Fliers
The squeeze is real. As airline seats continue shrinking while American waistlines expand, flying is becoming increasingly problematic for plus-size passengers. Standard 17-inch wide economy seats simply cannot contain larger human bodies comfortably or safely. Yet the travel challenges uniquely faced by heavyset flyers remain largely overlooked amid broader conversations around improving accessibility.
Fuller-figured jetsetters share stories of chronic indignities and discomforts while airborne. Thighs chafed raw from unforgiving armrests. Breathing labored as seatbelts dig cruelly into bellies. Spines twisted after hours without lumbar support. And don’t forget the stares and sighs from neighboring passengers as fatty flesh overflows into their personal space. Big bodies jammed into spaces too small cause real suffering.
But beyond mere discomfort looms the specter of danger. Ill-fitting restraints raise terrifying risks of catastrophic failure in turbulence or crashes. Massive travelers wedged into miniscule spaces cannot exit quickly in emergencies. And medical issues like deep vein thrombosis strike plus-size flyers immobilized in tiny seats. All these safety issues demand urgent attention.
Of course, airlines know slimming seats while fattening wallets with svelte high-density cabins is hugely profitable. Efforts to install a handful of wider seats or update dated weight limits for seatbelts inevitably get shot down by bean counters. Still, treating plus-size patrons as revenue optimization problems rather than valued customers seems shortsighted. What about simple kindness and decency?