Comfortable plus size air travel for men and women requires planning and asking a lot of questions. Airlines no longer fly partially full, which used to allow everyone to "spread out" and get comfortable. Instead, the current full flights result in cramped, uncomfortable air travel, particularly for larger and taller bodies. There are, however, things you can do to have a more comfortable flight.
Selecting An Airline
Pick a size-friendly airline. Some airlines, such as American, United, US Air, and Hawaiian Air tend to be very accommodating to larger passengers, arranging for seating next to empty seats when available.
Some airlines, such as Southwest, want larger passengers to voluntarily purchase a second seat when they book their flight - but, they may reimburse the passenger for the additional seat after the flight if the flight is not full. Boarding agents on any leg of a Southwest flight have the authority to mandate the purchase of a second seat if they feel that the passenger is too large to fit in a seat without raising the arm rests. Tip: Sometimes the Southwest fares are so discounted that purchasing two airline seats may still be a good value!
Selecting a Flight
The most convenient or discounted flight may not be the most comfortable for plus size air travel. For maximum comfort, you should:
- Fly when flights are not heavily booked: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday flights are best. Mid day, late evening or overnight flights tend to be the least crowded.
- Avoid connecting flights: Direct flights keep you from having to walk through the airport to find the gate of the second flight, get resettled in a second seat on a second flight and run the risk of your seat assignment being changed on the second leg of your flight due to a change in plane models.
Selecting a Seat
Once you have selected your flight, check the type of plane used on your flight (e.g., 737 or 747) before you make your final flight and seat decision. Once you know your plane type, you can check SeatGuru for the specific measurements and seat layout on the plane that your flight would be using.
The space available in an airline seat is based on three factors - the width of the seat to accommodate hips, the location of the seat in the row to accommodate shoulders and the pitch, the amount of space between the rows for legroom.
Seat width in economy coach varies from about 17-18". The pitch (legroom) varies from about 31-34". In general:
- Larger planes, such as a 767 or 777, have wider seats and more legroom.
- Business class and first class usually have wider seats and more legroom; however, the armrests usually contain the tray table and can't be raised. The tray table may be unusable if you are not able to raise it high from the armrest to fit across your lap.
- Small planes such as turbo-props tend to have narrower seats and reduced legroom.
- The first row of seats (the bulkhead) and the exit row seats usually have the most legroom.
- The backs of the seats in the last row of the plane do not recline.
If you are making an online reservation and you are not able to select your seat online, call the airlines reservation agent immediately after you make the reservation and reserve your preferred seat.
One week before the flight, be sure to call the airline and confirm your seat assignment to make sure that the aircraft type and/or your seat assignment has not been changed by the airline.
One the day of your flight, check-in online to see if you can change your seat assignment to a more comfortable location. For example, many airlines do not assign the seats in exit rows or behind the bulkhead until the day of the flight.
You can be more comfortable during the flight if you use a seat belt extender, push up your arm rest to gain a few more inches of hip room and recline your seat back a few inches to increase the space behind the row in front of you.
Even if you fit into the seat, your body shape may cause you to need a seat belt extender. All airplanes carry seat belt extenders. Often they are used by flight attendants to demonstrate how to operate your seatbelt. Just request one from a flight attendant when you board the plane.
If you do a lot of airline traveling, you might want to consider purchasing your own seatbelt extender. Each airline uses one of four styles of extenders. So you can either purchase all four extenders or only buy the extender(s) for the airline(s) you travel on most frequently. Extenders can be purchased from several online sources including LivingXL, Extend-Its, and Amplestuff.