AirTran adopting Southwest’s “passenger of size” policy

If you’re too round to fit between the armrests in an AirTran Airways coach seat, you’ll may soon have to purchase two seats in order to fly.

As I reported on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin, AirTran is being integrated into Southwest Airlines and, beginning March 1, 2012, the airline will adopt Southwest’s current “customers of size” policy.

According to AirTran’s recently updated contract of carriage, air travelers will be required to purchase an additional seat if the passenger, “in the carrier’s sole discretion, encroaches on an adjacent seat and/or is unable to sit in a single seat with the armrest lowered.”

That matches the wording of Southwest Airline’s customers of size policy, which states: “Customers who encroach upon any part of the neighboring seat(s) should proactively book the needed number of seats prior to travel. The armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats and measures 17 inches in width.”

The width of coach seats on AirTran’s current fleet of airplanes is 18 inches.

Previously, AirTran did not have a specific “customer of size” policy in its contract of carriage and, instead, gave gate staff and crew members authority and responsibility to work out seatmate-of-size solutions on a case-by-case basis.

“Did air travelers who are large pick AirTran over Southwest because AirTran didn’t have such a strict policy? I think they looked at the ticket price,” said Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com.

“AirTran is basically becoming Southwest,” Seaney said. “The two airlines are merging their boarding process, their fleets, their award program and their attitude. So this is just a normal course of business.”

George Hobica, president of AirFareWatchdog.com, said he’s not surprised to see AirTran adopting Southwest’s policies.

“It’s probably a good thing for the comfort of all,” he said. “But I wonder if [the policy] is observed more in the breach than the practice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen passengers that are way too big to fit in one seat getting a free pass.”

(Image courtesy msnbc.com)