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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?

  • 23
    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
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    Thank you so much JQR!!! Our family is taking a trip to Mexico in November, and I am trying to lose some weight for me personally. But I have been really worried about flying because I am a big girl, I'm 5'6" and close to 350lbs. We are supposed to be flying Southwest, which seats are small. So thank you for reassuring all of us that even though we may be curvy, we can still fly without paying more for our curves!!! – user31794 Jul 14 '15 at 2:40
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    Mate, she'll be alright I reckon.I am 6'2 and used to be over 300 lbs when I flew a dozen domestic airlines in the US and a bunch of international (including European) flights. I have never had any problem fitting in the seats and neither have I ever been asked to buy two tickets. – happybuddha Dec 2 '15 at 12:30
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    But will she fit in the seat? It might be very uncomfortable – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Apr 24 '16 at 17:04
  • Many airlines offer a discount on the second seat for Passengers of Size. I think Southwest's is 50%. Also, if you are seated next to a Pax of Size and feel your experience is hindered, tell the Flight Attendant or Agent before they close the door. If you choose not to fly, there is a very good chance they will re-accommodate you at no charge. – Johns-305 Aug 23 '16 at 17:34

10 Answers 10

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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" (43 cm) in Economy and 18.5" (47 cm) 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" (46 cm) seat width) or Boeing 737 (with 17" (43 cm) seat width) depending on which flight you take with no difference in business class.

Ryanair has the same 17" (43 cm) seat width as BA, and easyJet has 18" (46 cm) seat width - the difference is that seat pitch (distance) is a good 4-5" (10–13 cm) 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.

  • 4
    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
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    The source for the figures is SeatGuru (linked). – Ankur Banerjee Nov 9 '11 at 10:28
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    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
  • "buying two seats on a budget airline will be cheaper". If you do buy two seats on a budget airline, check if will you be able to get these two seats next to each other? Last time I flew EasyJet, I could pay £4.50 (?) extra for a specific seat booking, but other budget airlines might not offer this (and indeed, there are suspicions they go out out their way to separate seats booked together in order to upsell a premium service). – Nick Dec 3 '18 at 16:55
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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.

31

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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Not sure if this is useful, but based on experience I would say that someone the size of your mother will be fine.

My girlfriend is 5'4" and almost 450lbs right now, and she is just getting to the point where a second seat is truly necessary--up until recently she could squish (albeit uncomfortably) and with the courtesy of the other passengers and a single extension she could do just fine. At 300lbs she had no real problems at all. The seats were a little tight, but the armrests could still go down at that point. :)

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Recently watched a show on TLC called My 600-lb Life and a lady who was 661 lbs. was shown flying on a US based flight on an unmentioned airline (although it appears to be a Southwest plane seat) and who required three seats with a belt extender. If one is of this size or smaller, it would seem that accommodations exist for one to fly.

Here is a screen shot from the show of the lady sitting in and requiring three (3) seats of the plane:

Lady weighing 661 pounds shown sitting in and using three airline seats.

(My 600-lb Life | Erica's Story | Feb 8, 2017 | Copyright © 2017 Discovery Communications, LLC.)

  • The question is 'when do you need to buy a second ticket', so while your answer tells us that you can fly when you need three tickets, it does not tell when you start paying the second (and third) ticket. – Willeke Feb 11 '17 at 19:34
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    Correct, however I feel this information is relevant to the conversation as we now have a data point that is referenced. I would assume that all airlines have their own rules and polices, so I doubt that the question can be answered directly. – Jayson Feb 11 '17 at 19:54
  • True enough, but this site does not do conversations and other options for a question. It does 'all answers have to answer the question asked at the top.' – Willeke Feb 11 '17 at 20:11
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I've flown Southwest for years and never had an issue until my last trip I got home from yesterday. I'm a big girl 5'6 and close to 400 ( working on it) and usually fly 1-2 times a year. I've actually lost weight since the last time I flew. I generally ask for a seatbelt extender and I'm good and I can get the arm rests down... its tight but it works. Last Saturday though I was sitting at the gate waiting for my flight when I was loudly humiliated by a Southwest supervisor telling me very loudly and classlessly that I needed an additional seat to fly with them ... they did not charge me for the extra seat but the humiliation of that moment and flight I will never recover from. It was terrible. Which is what brought me to this page. Others mentioned it but seeing if the airline has policies about it is helpful but also totally depends on your body shape too. Sounds like your mom is smaller than me and I've literally never had an issue until last week.

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If you're willing to buy her an extra seat to avoid embarrassment, then why not just buy an extra seat anyway for their comfort?

I think this is less an issue of what's allowed and more an issue of what makes sense. Most domestic or intra-European flights fly planes with slim seats that make even slim seats uncomfortable.

If you can afford it, I'm sure your mom would appreciate the "business-class" seats. Or... perhaps even look at upgrading them to business class. It may be the same price as 3-tickets and they'll have much wider comfortable seats with nicer service.

  • While going Business Class is generally a good idea, check out the seat sizes before doing so, Club Europe (BA's European business class) seats are exactly the same size as the economy ones, but you are guaranteed a spare seat next to you. While this sounds great a lot of the seats the armrest doesn't move (I believe they do on the aisle seats) – JenniP May 14 '18 at 8:11
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I have a few larger family members so I’m extremely sensitive to situations as this. However, I fly several times a year and am constantly sitting next to someone who is too big for their seat and it’s unbelieveably uncomfortable. In fact, I’m currently on my third flight in the past 2 weeks and am currently leaning into the aisleway to make room for the other passenger. Like I said, I'm sensitive to these situations and wouldn’t dare do or say anything to embarrass the passengers, but if you can, I would buy the extra ticket. It’s probably just as uncomfortable for them. I know you wouldn’t be bothering other passengers, but your father deserves to be comfortable too.

Also, my friend is a flight attendant and she usually just hands certain passengers the belt extenders as they board to avoid the embarrassment of them having to ask later. Once a passenger needed one and was given one but didn’t use it. She kept a blanket over the lap so they didn’t notice till the end of the flight. His is a felony and was such a silly reason to get into so much trouble.

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I am 5'4 and roughly 256. The seatbelt fit around me ok, but it does depend on the way your weight is distributed throughout your body. Southwest is pretty strict on making people buy a second seat if they are intruding on the person next to them. I recently flew march 10,2017 and there was a guy on the plane who had to purchase a second ticket and he was given two seats. It all depends on the way your body is shaped really. I hope this at least helped a little bit for anyone that is reading this.

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I've flown reasonably comfortably (with an extender) at close to 400 lbs (and 6'-2"). Ask for an extender if she can't get the belt locked, as stated above they won't bat an eye, and there's a good chance they've got one in their apron anticipating her need. If she's pear shaped, it might be more uncomfortable for her as she may not fit in between the seats very well. I'm broad across the shoulders so that tends to be where I might interfere with other passengers. However, I generally fly with my petite wife, so that's generally not a problem.

I try to always sit in aisle seats, and I always look at the seating charts to find where the most room around the seats exists. EG: there's a spot on Boeing 777 planes where the tail starts to taper, and there's about an extra foot or so of shoulder room and there are only two seats instead of three around the first 2-3 rows of the taper, then it's back down to the normal aisle width (where I'll constantly get hit by carts in the shoulder).

If she's right handed, she'll probably want to sit on the right side of the plane looking forward. When you move to the left side, the clasps are on the other side and I find it more difficult to manage the seatbelts. Don't take this to the bank, but we generally fly United or Delta on long haul flights, other airlines may have different layouts.

I'm now around 340 lbs and can almost always close the seat belt without an extender except when flying on smaller airlines in SE Asia where their clientele are generally smaller than a lot of Americans / westerners. On a flight from Malaysia to Cambodia on a small carrier, last year I had to get an extender, the belt ends didn't get within 6" of each other (and I was about the same weight as I am now).

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