How big is "too big" for an airline seat? At what point will you be required to buy two tickets?

  • 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?

    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.

    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!!!

    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.

    But will she fit in the seat? It might be very uncomfortable

    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.

  • 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.

    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.)

    The source for the figures is SeatGuru (linked).

    easyJet's own site says 17 1/2". I don't find SeatGuru that reliable (unsurprisingly).

    "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).

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM