Why Larger People Need To Buy That Extra Airline Seat

3 Mar

Now before you start flaming me with comments about my discrimination against large people, I am a woman of size myself. You don’t need to know exactly what size, but I am a regular shopper at Lane Bryant (which has really upgraded their styles).  But I digress.

I am a woman of size who happens to still fit into a seat, and without a seat belt extender.  But there are plenty of folks out there who just don’t fit into one airline seat, a seat that has gotten narrower and tighter in the past 10 years.  Lord knows, I feel your pain and sympathize.

British Airways Boeing 767 Club World seat Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Back in the day, before airlines cut seat capacity, most would just let a person of size on a flight and try to block a seat so that person and their seatmate would be comfortable.  But those days, kids, are long gone.

Southwest Airlines can be ruthless when it comes to dealing with people of size — just ask film director Kevin Smith.  But it’s a ruthlessness that’s needed to make sure that everyone is a comfortable as one can be crammed into a packed Boeing 737.  So if you don’t fit, airlines are much more likely to make you pay for an extra seat.

One of my worst flights ever was on Southwest  going from San Antonio to Baltimore. It was 3.5 hours of pure hell.  Why? My daughter was cozy and comfy sitting next to the window in her La-Z-Boy-like SkyMall stroller that turns into a car/airplane seat (every flying mother should have one of these bad boys).  I was sitting in the middle, and a gentleman who clearly should have been in 2 seats came and sat next to me.

I really don’t know how Southwest missed this guy. He even had to ask for a seat belt extender.  I should have called over a flight attendant to say this was just NOT going to work.  But I didn’t want to be rude, and I paid the price.

He tried to lift the arm rest between us, but I refused. I was crammed on both sides, and at one point, I had to ask him to move his leg out of my foot space area.  And he seemed to have a bit of an attitude with me.  This was clearly a person who needed an extra seat.

I haven’t encountered that again, but if I find myself in a similar situation, I will not *hesitate* to speak up.  And please — I don’t need to hear about how some people of size can’t help it.  Again, I sympathize. I can play the “Guess Which Diets I’ve Done” with the best of them. I can go on for hours about the number of pounds I’ve lost — and gained. 

But in the end, the thin person in seat 17 B who is unfortunate enough to be sitting next to one of you, my Rubenesque compadres, on a packed flight in seat 17 A or C does not care about your weight trouble or the fact that you can’t help your size.  They just want to get through the flight with a modicum of comfort.

In the 1982 movie “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (yes, I’m a Trekkie),” Spock said: “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. And Capt. Kirk responds: Or the one.  There you have it.

So will you “weigh” in? Am I being to harsh on my fellow large passengers, or am I on target?

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10 Responses to “Why Larger People Need To Buy That Extra Airline Seat”

  1. Rho March 3, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    I must agree with you Benet. As a frequent flier, I have encountered some VERY difficult situations because of folks who needed two seats but only purchased one. YOU MUST SPEAK UP or YOU will pay the price for that second seat–one way or another.

    I’ve been on a flight to EUROPE from CALIFORNIA where the guy in the middle seat next to me was about 400 pounds, seat extender and all. Sadly, I had the window seat and it was a horrific experience.

    But my absolute worst experience was on a regional jet. I was in bulkhead and there were only two seats–I had the window seat and was all settled in when a really large gal simply THREW up the armrest (seriously, with my arm still on it!) and proceeded to SIT ON TOP OF ME. All with the most sour look on her face that you can possible imagine. I was nearly crushed and was gasping for breath from her weight!

    I immediately hit the call button for the flight attendant who came over with her arms crossed and said in a nasty tone of voice, “Let me guess. You want another seat now.” “YES!”, I shouted. She may have been nasty about it, but she did find me another seat. I clearly could not have survived a 2.5-hour flight with this large person’s weight literally crushing the air out of my lungs.

    Yes, I felt very sorry for her. I can only imagine how humiliating this experience must be for her. EVERY TIME SHE FLIES.

    So I have to ask the question: Why buy one seat when you KNOW you won’t fit? When you KNOW that you will be creating problems for other people? I ABSOLUTELY would buy two seats to avoid this kind of humiliation–or I would not fly! Wouldn’t you?

    • Aviation Queen March 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

      Rho-thanks for sharing. I have two thoughts on why larger people don’t just buy the extra seat. One, pure denial. They may not want to actually face the fact that they are large enough to warrant 2 seats. That’s a harsh reality to face. And two, maybe they can’t afford to buy that second seat. But I agree with you — I will NEVER suffer in silence again!

    • Helen June 29, 2012 at 3:34 am #


      I am a female, 5’3 and 260 pounds and I LOVE traveling with my sister who is 5′ and 220 pounds. We always buy that “3rd” middle seat. I sit at one end, she on the other, and we raise the two armrests in pure comfort. (Neither of us need seat belt extenders.)

      Is an extra seat a lot of money? Of course! Is it worth me not being humiliated though? YES. Shouldn’t I, along with everyone else on the plane, be comfortable? DEFINITELY!

      P.S. Even when flying alone I get 2 seats. Many passenger has thanked me. :)

  2. Pam March 10, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    Benet let me point out another situation which should be rectified immediately when encountered…

    I was on a flight from SLC to LAX. It’s not quite 2 hours but I was in the aisle seat, sitting next to a couple who were married the day before. I found myself laying over the armrest and halfway into the aisle because the husband (middle seat) could not wait to start his honeymoon. Noises and hands were everywhere and I had a front row seat to their married life.

    The flight attendant finally noticed how uncomfortable I was (probably because half of my body blocked the cart each time it moved). She demanded that the husband sit in his own seat and stop groping his wife as this was an airplane, not a hotel.

    • Aviation Queen March 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

      I can’t decide which is worse – the overweight passenger who spills in your seat or an amorous couple that can’t stay in their seat AND you have to watch!! Ouch

  3. Phillip St Claire October 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    I’m a bit of a lard ass, and I can make no excuses for it. It sure as heck ain’t McDonalds’ fault, it’s not hormones, and it’s my choice if I allow myself to be swayed by marketing BS telling me to eat more. Yeah yeah, I know all about how tough it is to shed those kilos, but I should simply eat less and exercise more. It’s a darn simple equation that I happily accept. So when these fat – let’s call it what it is – passengers claim discrimination because they can’t fit into a seat, or beacuse they want to lay all over their unwilling companions, all I can say is “Come and join me back here in reality. Your decision to overindulge is making life miserable for others. Acknowledge that and adopt a less selfish outlook, including cutting back on the carbs and fats.”

    • Aviation Queen October 17, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

      Phillip-I’m a big girl myself. But I can fit into my seat — and not spill over in the next one. In the end, the person stuck in the seat next to a person “of size” doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your weight issues. All they know is they can’t sit in their eat comfortably. sad, but true.

      • Phillip St Claire October 25, 2011 at 3:14 am #

        Hello Aviation Queen! Thanks for the reply. Like I said, I consider myself to be fat, but when I sit in an economy seat, I do so without infringing on my companions’ space. When I see people who compromise the comfort of others, I am disappointed by their judgment. It’s like people who crank up the stereo at 3:00 am or play mailbox baseball. It’s selfish. I think that the overly large on aircraft should acknowledge the consequences of their lifestyle choices and adopt compensating behavior… by purchasing two seats, for example. As for me, I will never be slim, but I cycle to work, and I waved good-bye to bread and beer. It was tough doing that, but if it gives me another 10 years in the long run, then it sounds like a bargain to me. Being able to slot into a seat is trivial compared to that.


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