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As I said in another question, I'm bringing my parents to visit me here in Sweden next year.

My mother is around 280-300 pounds and 5'6" (130-135kg, 1.67m). I am concerned that she might be asked at the airport to buy a second seat. If it's likely I would rather just buy the second seat in advance, because I don't want her to be embarassed/humiliated by some random employee. As well, I won't be there, they will be travelling alone and aren't used to dealing with airports and they won't know what their rights are.

In terms of how it will affect other passengers, it's not important, she will get a window seat and my dad will sit in the middle seat, so I don't see it affecting anybody.

She insists it's fine, "the last time I flew I fit easily!" but that was 20 years ago when she was half the size.

They will be flying BA or SAS, definitely not Ryanair.

So - where is the cutoff? Is a 300 pound 5'6" woman going to be too big to fit in a single airline seat? Or am I worrying about nothing?

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I was once travel companion to a guy who was so big that the standard seat belt wouldn't fit round him, not even at maximum extension. The stewardess brought him an extra extension without batting an eye lid. It was clearly not her first time. I don't know in terms of height/pounds what he was but it was fine. –  user1247 Nov 8 '11 at 23:31

3 Answers 3

up vote 27 down vote accepted

The reason why airlines implement a policy of asking overweight people to get two seats is an air safety issue of whether they can be strapped in properly. The guideline used for this is whether a passenger can fit between the armrests. If a passenger requires two seats, then the policy differs from airline-to-airline if/what the passenger should be charged for it.

On London to Sweden flights, British Airways flies Airbus A319/A320-100/200 aircraft with a seat width of 17" in Economy and 18.5" in Premium Economy ("World Traveller Plus"). Premium economy is not as expensive as business class and if you have frequent flyer points, you may be able to get the upgrade cheap. SAS flies either McDonnell Douglas MD-80 (18" seat width) or Boeing 737 (with 17" seat width) depending on which flight you take with no difference in business class.

Ryanair has the same 17" seat width as BA, and easyJet has 18" seat width - the difference is that seat pitch (distance) is a good 4-5" less than 'full-cost' airlines. If that's not a concern, buying two seats on a budget airline will be cheaper.

EDIT: BA does not offer premium economy class for short-haul flights.

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Not sure that I believe all those figures. I was under the impression easyJet used 17.5" and BA the same on A320 series. (There also aren't any A320-100 still flying (they're the ones without wingfences). Both BA and Air France retired the limited number made a few years ago.) –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Nov 8 '11 at 23:40
    
The source for the figures is SeatGuru (linked). –  Ankur Banerjee Nov 9 '11 at 10:28
    
easyJet's own site says 17 1/2". easyjet.com/en/book/regulations.html#seatrequirements I don't find SeatGuru that reliable (unsurprisingly). –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Nov 23 '11 at 15:12

Firstly, good on you for being concerned about her and asking about it on a public forum where others who may not be able to can hopefully benefit from this as well. I hope you come back with your findings from the airlines/trips they take!

Basically, it comes down to the airline. You can see what their policy is by looking up their Conditions of Carriage. Very few do specify exactly something about weight/height/size, but will merely talk about 'a passenger's physical state causing discomfort to other passengers or crew', which is more likely to be used against those intoxicated, or if you tried to board while say, covered in manure??

A friend just came back on a flight from Honololu to Auckland with Air New Zealand (see related query on Travel.SE), and the person next to them was physically unable to fit into a chair with the armrest down. As a result, all three in the row were forced to endure an awkward and uncomfortable 12 hour flight. Air New Zealand's conditions of carriage only mention 'physical state', but at the time we looked around and found airlines like Southwest in the US are starting to actually mention size/weight in their conditions of carriage.

Your best bet is probably to look up the conditions of carriage, and if it's a little ambiguous, tweet or email the airline and ask them directly. If you have a statement from them in writing saying that there's no problem, that's a very easy document to have your folks print out and take along, just in case there's a problem. If there's not, no embarrassment, it just stays in their bag and they get to tell you there was never anything to worry about ;)

EDIT

An update, I had a flight a few months back with Qantas, where I was wedged between two very large women. The one on my left was big enough that the food tray couldn't be lowered, and she couldn't locate her own headphone jack in her seat. I found at the end of the flight her similar-sized husband was a row back, because the two of them physically couldn't sit next to each other on the same flight.

It was, as you might imagine, uncomfortable. I spoke with Qantas afterwards about their policies, which they were a bit evasive about, but tried the line "we can't tell how big passengers are until they arrive at checkin". I pointed out that the same applies to my baggage, but they have a size limit on that :/

Their current policy seems to be that if they can, they'll move the inconvenienced passengers, but if it's a full flight, tough luck, and IF you complain enough, you'll get a token appreciation in frequent flyer miles, which is a shame.

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I am 6'3" and pushing 400 pounds and I have never had a problem on BA flights. Yes I need a seatbelt extension but only so I will be comfortable. I admittedly do fit between the armrests.

I do feel bad for people next to me because my shoulders are quite broad but I try to get an aisle seat so I can at least lean out.

Since your mother is travelling with your father it should be fine. They will even be able to put he armrest up if she needs more space.

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