My mum is up in arms about that fact that she sat next to a (very) obese gentleman on her flight causing sufficient discomfort for her to grab the cabin jumpseat in cruise.
The flight was a fully-booked shorthaul flight with BA from Heathrow.

Few airlines are willing to go the distance which for instance Southwest does with their customer of size policy, what can you do in this situation when it becomes unbearable?

  • 2
    Speak to the cabin crew?
    – Gagravarr
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 21:33
  • 21
    29 Sumo wrestlers on a plane
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 10:30
  • 1
    Whatever the situation, the traveler will have 10x the options before the door closes. If you are in this situation, the Gate Agent is best person to resolve it.
    – DTRT
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 18:04
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    Except you won’t know who you’re sitting next to until both of you boarded the plane (@Johns-305)
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 21:52
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    @Jan Unless your seatmate is the last to board, and there are no other issues with closing the flight, there's time to go forward to speak to them. Once they close the door, your stuck with whatever is on board.
    – DTRT
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 22:05

3 Answers 3


It is not a pleasant situation for both of them - the passenger or the large passenger. It is very uncomfortable for the passenger and totally embarrassing for the large guy. In addition to that, it is uncomfortable and embarrassing for the staff.

Unfortunately, there is no one single rule that applies here; each airline has its own policy regarding this.

What you should do before the flight takes off

If the large person's body is invading your space and you have noticed this during boarding, make sure to speak to one of the cabin crew members immediately. Make it their problem. You are paying for a seat and it is your right to get a full seat, not a part of one.

Remember, the only time you can report this case is on the ground. It is the perfect time for crew or ground staff to find another seat either for you or for the large person, or to find another solution in the case that there are no spare seats. Once the doors are closed and the plane is moving without you talking about it, you have given complicit agreement to this situation and no one can do much about it in most cases.

What the staff will do

This depends on the airline. Some airlines make large people pay; some others upgrade large people to business or first class for free as a part of their services (the airline I work for does this if no two seats are available in economy class). You could get lucky and get moved to a higher class and leave your seat for the other passenger. Either way, your problem should be solved before the plane takes off.

Things to keep in mind

This is an odd and embarrassing situation. Make sure to talk in private with the cabin crew to avoid embarrassing the sized passenger publicly. Depending on the airline, the sized passenger can be deplaned from the airplane or asked to pay for an extra seat. You may also be asked if you would like to wait for another flight! Anything is possible if no extra seats are available.

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    It is suprising that airlines have very strict rules on luggage, but not on passenger sizes.
    – Bernhard
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 6:04
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    @Berhard: Like a cage at the gate? "All passengers must be able to fit within this cage to be allowed boarding!" That would be very convenient. Or how would you define passenger size? (sarcasm intended) Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 9:22
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    Not to go too off-topic, but this is why I personally think that anti-discrimination rules should only apply if there are no logical reasons to discriminate. Firing someone because they're female or black is not a logical reason. telling an obese passenger that they have to book an extra seat because they don't fit a standard seat is a logical reason (can't fit someone with a 2 foot wide gut in a 1.5 feet seat).
    – Nzall
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 9:34
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo There is no scientific basis that a female cannot be an adequate driver, nor that a doctor knows less about medicine because they're black. However, there is scientific basis that a passenger with a 2 foot wide gut cannot fit in a 1.5 foot seat. those "logical" reasons for racism or sexism have nothing to do with science, but with deeply-rooted religious, political or social thoughts that have no scientific basis. But I don't wish to touch this subject anymore except maybe in chat. Let's just say with "Logical", I mean "with a scientific basis".
    – Nzall
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 9:52
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    @emmalgale I worked as a cabin crew for a decade, it is very rare for sized people to cause any problem, some passengers are a$$e$ by birth, they would complain about anything, they just need the smallest reason to do so, so if they see a sized passenger, they would just complain to be moved most likely just to be moved to another seat and not because the sized passenger, we usually move them to a real shitty seat (the middle one) just to see them ask us to move them back.. it happens all the time. Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 14:58

It's a health and safety issue. Depending on the airline and jurisdiction, they may have a legal duty to ensure you are not injured by being squashed up. A few years back a woman travelling with Virgin Atlantic received compensation for just such an injury, so most airlines are at least aware of the liability.

As Nean says, report it to the cabin crew. Don't be tempted to discuss it with the obese passenger, because even if they promise to try to keep from squashing you, they might fall asleep and do it anyway.



Find a different seat.

One way to do this is to bring cash. After you board, if you happen to be in a seat you don't like (e.g. because the person next to you is large), find a more preferable seat that seems to have a solo passenger in it, and make an attractive cash offer to the person who currently has that seat to switch with you. Be upfront with your reason for wanting to switch, as they will likely be suspicious otherwise.

  • seems...quite sketchy, proably against the rules of most airlines. Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 4:43

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