More Airlines Making Overweight Customers Buy Extra Seats?

More Airlines Making Overweight Customers Buy Extra Seats?

Alright, BGG2WL fam, we’ve done this dance before with the salon charging overweight and obese customers extra for “the additional damage they’re doing to the salon’s chairs.” While today’s story might be a different key, it’s definitely the same song:

AirTran is to force fat passengers on its planes to buy a second seat.

The new policy will bring the carrier into line with its parent company Southwest Airlines, which already requires its ‘customers of size’ to shell out two-fold.

The airline’s revised stance comes as obesity levels hit record proportions, with more than a third, 33.8 per cent, of American adults now obese.

Starting from March flight attendants and check-in staff will identify those who can’t sit in a single seat with the armrest lowered and require them to buy a second place.

Equality campaigners have denounced the policy as ‘humiliating’.

Peggy Howell, a spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution some passengers end up ’embarrassed and humiliated’ when they’re asked to buy a second seat at the airport.

‘I’m sorry to hear that they’re now going to be passing on their bad policy to another airline,’ Howell said. ‘We are paying customers.’

Howell also raised concerns that there are few guidelines for the enforcement of the policy, rather it is to be left to the judgement and discretion of staff.

The new policy follows the carrier’s acquisition of Air Tran in May this year.

Economy seats are 18 inches wide in Air Tran’s economy class according to, the website which gives details of airline seating plans and sizing.

Previously, the airline did not have a definitive ‘customers of size’ policy, but employees at the airport gate usually offered a second seat or an upgrade for a fee to passengers considered larger than average, Southwest said.

Southwest’s policy had been standing for 30 years but affects ‘less than half on one percent of customers, the airline said.

The policy states: ‘Customers of size,’ are those ‘who encroach upon any part of the neighbouring seat

[s]. … The armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats.’

If there are remaining seats on the plane, plus-size passengers who have been charged for an extra seat will be entitled apply for a refund.

Southwest introduced the policy following an increase in the number of complaints from passengers whose seat had been infringed upon by a large person, their website said.

‘We could no longer ignore complaints from customers who travelled without full access to their seat due to encroachment by a large seat-mate whose body extended into the neighbouring seat. These customers had uncomfortable [and sometimes painful] travel experiences,’ Southwest said.

Excess baggage fees on AirTran will also increase from $50 to $110 per item from April as part of the merger.

I think it’s interesting – of course, these are paying customers, but I suppose it depends upon whether you view the cost of a ticket as “paying for occupying one seat” or “paying for one person.” Because while a person is a person no matter the size, a seat is a seat. If you require more than one, then is it unfair?

But… at the same token, who is to say that they won’t shrink the seats again, requiring that customers who aren’t even generally overweight would have to pay more?

I will say this – considering the percentage of the population that is overweight, it sounds like lots of people will be taking their dollars to a company that doesn’t single them out for being larger. At least, that’s what I’d do to avoid the cost.

What about you? Have you been bit by this “extra seat” bug, or observed someone being assessed an additional fee for an extra seat?

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By | 2017-06-10T11:20:23+00:00 June 4th, 2015|Health News|35 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. Starry October 17, 2011 at 6:12 AM - Reply

    Hm, this is a tough-ish one. I can sort of see the airlines point when they mention customers who have complained that they have been unable to sit in their own seat because someone next to them has encroached on their space. I have been in this position myself on two occasions and it was a nightmare because of the discomfort (one person’s elbow was almost in the middle of my chest because they were quite large) and also because I am claustrophobic and on the second occasion was ‘hemmed in’ – that incident resulted in a full-blown panic attack for me on the plane which was just awful.

    Saying that, you mention a good point – are you paying for a seat or are you paying for yourself as an individual? I always assumed that I was paying for a seat on an aircraft/train and, if I needed more space, that I would pay for it.

    I’m curious to see how this will play out….

  2. fatboy kris October 17, 2011 at 8:43 AM - Reply

    Like the airline said, it’s about the customer who’s personal space is being invaded by the obese person. Folks are already cramped in their seat, now they gotta deal with someone’s body spilling over the armrest? I paid for this?!

    As a still big & formally obese dude, I totally support this sort of discrimination …space is a commodity on an airplane, it costs money.

  3. malpha October 17, 2011 at 10:14 AM - Reply

    I think having to pay for an entire whole seat is ridiculous, a small fee sounds more reasonable. It would also be better if airlines had a row with bigger seats that those who need extra space can sit in.

    I actually had the displeasure of flying Southwest Airlines last week for the first time. The ride was weird because the flights had this ‘open-seating’ policy where instead of having an assigned seat, you had an assigned order on which to board the plane and then you chose whatever seat you could find. Since I prefer window seats (I almost always fall asleep on the plane), it was such a PITA! But on one of the flights, it was actually almost full, there was only one extra seat and well, at first I was on the aisle seat next to a larger person and it really is uncomfortable. More so for me cause I hate touching other people and tend to scrunch up against the plane to have as much space as possible. The lady’s arm was pressed up against mind’s and that’s with me not even sitting all the way back in the chair because she was taking up some of the seat. The stewardess found me another seat as discretely as possible and I heard her asking the other lady if she could pull the armrest down. I assume she could because I didn’t hear any arguments afterward.

    But even with that experience, I still feel it’s an extortionist policy. I think there has to be a middle ground where bigger people can not be punished and demeaned, while others don’t have to be uncomfortable.

    • Janice October 17, 2011 at 1:45 PM - Reply

      “I think having to pay for an entire whole seat is ridiculous, a small fee sounds more reasonable.”
      yes, but think about it…the airline could be selling that seat to another person for full price. it’s simply economics.

  4. Tope October 17, 2011 at 10:20 AM - Reply

    i don’t know but i wouldn’t want to seat next a really fat person especially on a long flight.i pay for a little bit of comfort but we all know its never comfortable on an air having an obese person taking more of my personal space is not on

  5. Eliza October 17, 2011 at 10:20 AM - Reply

    I don’t mean to be mean but when I fly, especially on long trips, I like to be comfortable… And if someone’s body or parts of their body are all into my seat, touching me I’ll definitely feel aggravated.

  6. Daphne October 17, 2011 at 10:24 AM - Reply

    I have not observed this in action, but then, I purchase a second seat when I fly coach/economy. That, or I make sure I travel with family or friends who don’t mind my size. As someone who has been fat most of my life, I actually don’t have a problem with this policy. But then, my mindset is when I purchase airfare, it is for one seat (or two, when applicable) vs a person.

    I don’t think that a slim(mer) passenger should be made uncomfortable because a stranger takes up part of their seat. And I don’t mean touching, though I know some people are very sensitive about that. But honestly? Those of us who are really fat are fully aware when we’re taking up additional space (dare I say, measuring these things is a part of the mental makeup), and you can’t really hide this. So I’m not sure I understand what’s humiliating about purchasing a second seat? Is it less so to squeeze into one seat, be visibly uncomfortable, possibly unable to move for the bulk of the flight? Look, I’m all for being treated with respect and dignity, but I don’t think this policy is necessarily in conflict with those values.

    Of course, the policy gets squirrelly for customers who may not be slim, but aren’t fat, either. That said, I’m not sure how much of the resistance is from these individuals.

    This probably won’t sound nice, but if I purchase a second seat, I don’t share that space. *I* shelled out the money for it, for my comfort as well as the comfort of those who may sit in the same row. But no – the other person(s) cannot put personal items in the seat, share the space, seat their smaller child there, etc. I’m firm about this, and it’s interesting how people get miffed about it. Well, too bad so sad.

    • charles armendariz August 22, 2012 at 9:00 AM - Reply

      I agree with that.If you pay for an extra seat,it is yours.It is not my extra space to put my stuff on or stretch out

  7. alicia October 17, 2011 at 11:47 AM - Reply

    i can sympathize, of course……and it’s unfortunate that people may have to pay for 2 seats. however, it really is not fair to the people who may be cramped in their seats because somebody is taking up more than their fair (paid) share.

  8. MMM October 17, 2011 at 12:31 PM - Reply

    I agree with Erika, if I were of size I would take my business elsewhere.

    However I can not fault the airline for charging extra. I would feel uncomfortable if I couldn’t get my full seat because an overweight person was next to me. You pay per seat on an airline, not person. Why else would babies not get charged?

    I honestly don’t see the airline shrinking the seats anytime soon.

  9. Rene October 17, 2011 at 2:23 PM - Reply

    As an employee of a major airline I have seen this play out in various ways. After 5 yrs on the job I have only seen one person who needed the extra room and didn’t purchase it in advance. He called a few days prior to the flight to see if seats were still available and when he heard they were, he decided to wait till he arrived and see if the gate agent was willing to seat him on an aisle with the middle seat open. Some airline agents will do that as long as the seat is available. I have to say though, most people who need the extra room know it and they generally take care of it up front. Just like the people who need seatbelt extensions know it and ask for it up front. For people who say the airlines should have special seats for larger passengers, that’s not fair. Are they going to pay more for that extra room? And if I want one of those seats but don’t need it can I pay for the extra room? Yes I can, its called the first class cabin. And as for Daphne who doesn’t share that extra space – You have every right not to! You paid for that extra seat and someone who chose not to buy their infant a ticket should not get upset when you say they can’t use your seat! I’ve also seen people who are claustraphobic (sp?) purchase extra seats so they don’t feel as closed in.
    Thats my 2 cents!

  10. Gisele October 17, 2011 at 2:52 PM - Reply

    As someone who has been hemmed in by other passengers too large for their own seat, I can’t say I am sorry to hear about this new policy at all. Like every passenger I pay for a full seat, not to receive just 2/3rds of a seat with the other 1/3 filled by another person.

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